As Big Tech doubles down on Austin, startups are moving to its cooler neighbor. Take a look at how one startup is bringing Silicon Valley style to East Austin.

Business Insider Finance 0 month ago
  • The Zebra, an insurance startup backed by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Accel, moved to trendy East Austin in October when it outgrew its downtown office space. 
  • High rents for office space in downtown Austin have pushed startups like The Zebra to look for larger spaces in up and coming neighborhoods like East Austin.
  • Accel led The Zebra's $40 million Series B in 2017, which valued the startup at $96 million, according to Pitchbook. Several Austin-based investors also participated.
  • Cofounder and COO Josh Dziabiak told Business Insider that he chose to move The Zebra to Austin after a visit to the city during its annual music and arts festival Austin City Limits.
  • See their new office in one of Austin's fastest growing neighborhoods for startups.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

When you step inside The Zebra's massive new office, you think you've been teleported more than 1,700 miles northwest to Silicon Valley. 

The buzzy car insurance startup is headquartered in East Austin — a trendy, fast-growing neighborhood outside the Texas capitol. As Apple, Google, Facebook, and other tech titans start putting down deeper roots in the city, it's increasingly forcing startups like The Zebra to leave the city center and go to areas where real estate is cheaper and more plentiful.

"When we moved here, Austin was really still at the early stages of kind of being this buzzy, trendy, startup destination place," The Zebra cofounder and COO Josh Dziabiak told Business Insider.

The Zebra originally occupied a penthouse in one of Austin's downtown skyscrapers. Now, it's in a two-story office with four times more space, in a building flanked by hip breweries and luxury apartments. What the new space lacks in centrality, Dziabiak said, it makes up for in feeling more like a home.

The new office itself is stocked with perks that mirror the best of Silicon Valley. There is an in-house barista seated in the lobby with an array of milk and milk-alternative beverage options. The open floor plan features mounted monitors displaying real-time data about the company. There is a bike room for employees that choose to cycle to work — after all, it's a tougher commute for many employees than it used to be. 

There are the other Silicon Valley must-haves like kombucha on tap, a ping pong table, and a fun conference room naming theme. But there are also features that you would likely never see at a Californian tech company, like the three massive siloes filled with rainwater outside.

The decision to set up in Austin at all was an easy one, said Dziabiak. The Zebra was originally founded in Pittsburgh, but Austin felt like a more natural home for the company: the South by Southwest tech and media conference, the pool of talent, and Austin's famously easygoing culture all made for an appealing confluence of factors.

"All these signals just kind of pointed to, if we had to place a bet on where this growth is going to happen, it was going to be Austin," Dziabiak.

But it wasn't easy to recruit talent to a young startup in Austin, Dziabiak said. In fact, the company decided to change the name from Insurance Zebra to The Zebra because being associated with a "stodgy" industry was turning off would-be employees. Now, the growing team hails from all over the country, in what Dziabiak credits to a more generally pleasant lifestyle.

"Anecdotally, it feels like we moved a lot of people here from California," Dziabiak said. "A lot of it has to do with the cost of living."

Take a look inside The Zebra's new space, that is bringing a taste of Silicon Valley startup life to Austin's hip East side.

The Zebra, a car insurance startup, features shredded insurance documents behind a neon sign in its spacious lobby. Dziabiak told Business Insider that the startup removed "Insurance" from its name after they realized it made recruiting engineers much harder.

The Zebra's new office in East Austin is four times larger than its previous office in downtown Austin, and features several references to the company's namesake animal throughout the two-floor space.

The office was built for The Zebra by a local architecture firm called Interior Architects. The light-filled space contrasted with dark walls and industrial elements. A company spokesperson told Business Insider that the design was a step up from the company's first office that "looked like it was designed by a 22-year-old" with graffiti art installations and concrete floors.

The office interior was designed by Connecticut-based Chrystal Toth Designs. The Zebra cofounder and CEO Adam Lyons worked with Chrystal Toth on his family home in Connecticut — and was so pleased with the result he contracted the firm to work on The Zebra's office.

There are 40 glass-walled conference rooms with full audiovisual capabilities. Each office is named after a different animal that corresponds to the size of the room. For example, a two-person phone booth was named "Rat," while the largest room was named "Kraken."

The office currently holds 154 employees with capacity up to 300, and features typical Silicon Valley-style perks like standing desks and an in-house barista.

Although The Zebra's last office was in the penthouse of an iconic office downtown, a company spokesperson said employees were supportive of the move because of the extra space and abundant natural light.

The office has several work spaces scattered throughout to promote collaboration, a key feature the team worked with Interior Architecture to create, the spokesperson said. Employees also have access to bike storage and kombucha on tap.

The fast-growing east side of Austin is only 1.5 miles from downtown, and The Zebra is within walking distance to multiple apartment buildings, breweries, coffee shops, and local transportation.

Part of the startup's initiative in building a new space was sustainability, a spokesperson said. They brought three large siloes to fill with rainwater which they recycle for use on-site.

The startup's substantial outdoor space features seating, artificial turf, and grills. But most striking is the mural, commissioned by the company from local muralist Luis Angulo.

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