(Editor’s note: This post on Surf Office is part of our Tech Tuesday series. Surf Office’s secret sauce is an automated on-boarding process. Unlike most corporate events companies, the totally remote company also has an integrated global network.)
Lisbon is known for its vibrant surf scene. As a matter of fact, one of my Portuguese professors once told me that her son chose the university where he studied in the United States with surfing in mind, having grown up riding the waves near Portugal’s capital.
Surfing also attracts travelers to Lisbon from all over the world as well as digital nomads who move to Lisbon to surf as often as they want.
That’s why Surf Office, founded in 2013, made perfect sense to me when I discovered it. Surf Office is a startup which offers company retreats closely associated with surfing activities. Even more impressive, though, is the company has become about more than just surfing. It has extended to various locations around the world using technology to tailor retreats according to the needs of the client.
Slovakian expat Peter Fabor, founder of Surf Office, tells me the story of how his startup began and shares an uncommon opinion about funding for startups:
Sarah Nagaty: How did you get the idea for Surf Office? What is it about the surfing environment that works with company retreats?
Peter Fabor: Surf Office started initially as a co-living and co-working experience for digital nomads. We pivoted to company off-sites in 2017. The initial idea was connected to surfing, but now this is not the case if you look at our locations. However, surfing is still a very popular team building activity in many of our locations. Surfing can be understood as “we surf your office to Lisbon for a week.”
SN: There is a big startup scene in Lisbon at the moment. As a startup headquartered in Lisbon, what particularly drew you to the Portuguese capital given that your activity covers many cities in Europe and North America?
PF: We had a co-working and co-living space in Lisbon before the pivot in 2017. That’s probably the main connection. I personally did Erasmus in Lisbon 15 years ago and since then I’ve been in love with the city, visiting regularly. It was a natural evolution to connect Lisbon with Surf Office.
Now we are a fully distributed company with no HQ, but we have a couple of people who are based in Lisbon. Lisbon is an amazing hub that combines good connectivity with flights, weather, hospitality and super nice people. Before there was affordability but that benefit is slowly disappearing, unfortunately.
SN: Many young entrepreneurs out there dream of starting their own startup. However, it is usually funding which people find the most challenging. What is your funding story? Any advice for new startups out there when it comes to that?
PF: We are a bootstrapped business, profitable from day one. So, no real advice about fundraising. If you are building something people want, then you probably should ask them for money. Then you decide if you really need funding. It’s amazing to have optionality.
Most of the businesses that try to raise money, in my opinion, don’t have to and they should instead focus on talking to customers. Raising money is a nice distraction from the actual work and validating your market and business idea.
Of course, if you are going to build rockets, you need funding. But most people don’t build rockets. I’m telling it from my own experience. I was also obsessed with raising money at some point and believed that’s the only way. Because that’s what you read in the media – “Who raised how much, etc.”
SN: And what are your plans for Surf Office in the future?
PF: We would like to add more retreat locations and expand to new markets. We are quite strong in Europe and there is a lot of potential to grow in the U.S. Building a remote company is a challenge in itself. I’m curious about how it is going to play out once we double the number of employees. We are always hiring smart people who love the combination of tech and hospitality.
If that’s you, please reach out.
Surf Office has operations in 61 cities across the globe and 31 cities in Europe from Lisbon to Istanbul.
Sarah Nagaty has a PhD in cultural studies, She’s lived in Portugal for six years.
As a student of cultural studies, Sarah is drawn to what connects people from different backgrounds to new cultures and places, how they relate to their new surroundings and what kind of activities they could engage with in their new hometowns.