Some “Boston-based” companies are barely here

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Clearly, a Boston company.

But when the EverTrue office lease expires in January, Grinna has no plans to renew it. Amid the pandemic, Grinna and her family moved to Narragansett, RI, about a 90-minute drive from the office. “When we started the company, our first 30 hires were all in the greater Boston area,” says Grinna. But of the 23 people he has hired since COVID closed its offices last March, only three live in or near Boston. “We also supported three employees who moved from Boston to Maine, Colorado and Rhode Island – me,” Grinna says.

“It’s hard to imagine coming back to a world where we care about how close to Boston Harbor a candidate lives,” or if he will move here, he adds.

EverTrue is not unique. Josh Walker co-founded Sports Innovation Lab, a research company that focuses on trends in the world of professional sports and had offices in a WeWork building near the TD Garden. He and his wife, who works for another Boston startup, decided to move to Manchester, Vermont, last summer, in part so their kids could go to school in person. He sees the company probably getting together in Boston for rallies at all levels, but says, “I can’t imagine putting monthly rent and multi-year leases back on our books any time soon.”

And Eric Groves, CEO of startup Alignable, said his company also gave up its Boston lease in late 2020 – and about half of its new hires this year live outside Massachusetts. “Almost everyone enjoys the two hours each day of their life that they have recovered” from their commute, he says. “We do a lot of small face-to-face meetings and also schedule a full offsite team twice a year. “

Alignable recently hosted the first of these at a corporate retreat center in southern New Hampshire. (Groves now lives full time on Cape Cod; before the pandemic, he also owned a home in the Boston area.) The company operates a website that helps small businesses refer customers to each other.

Yes, these are small and medium-sized startups, not giant employers like State Street, Wayfair, or Blue Cross Blue Shield. But startups are often faster at deciding where they’re willing to hire people and often have shorter-term leases than behemoths. Even though these fast-growing companies estimate they need half the office space they had before the pandemic and will do half of their hires outside of Massachusetts, this appears to be a trend that, over time, will affect the economy. local employment scene, office space, and even house prices and the tax base. (Some indicators already suggest more people are leaving Boston than are moving here.)

What happens to the notion of ecosystem – that there is an advantage for startups located in the same city when it comes to finding investors and employees, or just sharing advice or to learn new technology? Part of that created a gravitational pull that gave businesses a reason to pay a premium to be in Boston rather than Nashua or Providence.

Much of this activity now takes place – where else? – on Zoom.

“I remember those days” of face-to-face conferences and networking events, says Jonah Lopin, CEO of Crayon, which sells software to help companies understand what competitors are doing. “That organic, community, and ecosystem stuff isn’t happening right now.” Some could return when tech workers with children at home get them vaccinated, he predicts. “But you can get on a Zoom with someone from San Francisco and get advice on a challenge you’re facing. The community becomes a little more disaggregated.

Before the pandemic, Crayon had 16,000 square feet of office space in the seaport. He now has half of it. In May, the company provided $ 22 million in additional financing. “Normally we build an office and we have the budget for it,” Lopin explains. “But with 10 or 20 people coming into the office every day, we don’t do it now. Since her children have not yet been vaccinated, Lopin works from home in Newton.

At a time when more and more tech companies are ready to hire people to work from anywhere, “the pressure is on companies and cities to create an attractive place to live and work,” says the capital. -risker Rob Go, whose company still has an office near South Station. . “Cities have to compete based on the enthusiasm for the talent to be there,” instead of assuming people will move there or stay there after college, in order to get a job, he says.

From her headquarters in Rhode Island, Grinna notes that it will become more difficult to know exactly where in the world venture capital money is flowing and which cities have thriving entrepreneurial scenes.

Life is also getting more complicated for journalists. I used to stop by the office of a company that was having problems every now and then, to see if the lights were still on. You can’t do that anymore – and even when a company’s old office is put on the market for subletting, it could just mean it has chosen to move away altogether.

And when people introduce me – and other Globe editors – to companies we should be covering, there are a lot of questions as to whether they can really qualify as “Boston-based.”

Take Invicti Security, for example. It has the characteristics of a business to watch. Its product helps businesses and government agencies test software applications that will run on the web to make sure they are safe from hackers. It raised $ 625 million last month and the main investor is a Boston company, Summit Partners. Its new chief executive, Michael George, is based in Boston, as are a handful of other key executives, including chief product officer Sonali Shah.

But Invicti’s offices are in Austin, Istanbul and Malta. Most of the job postings on its website are tagged as “remote authorizes”. Of those few postings that require an employee to be based near a particular office, none specifies Boston.

Is it a Boston company? Who knows?

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