Squarespace confirms plans for big Portland outpost, hiring dozens this year and dozens more later

Squarespace, a big New York website builder, says it’s chosen Portland for a major customer-service office to open this spring. The company plans to hire dozens of employees this year and “hundreds” within the next few years.

The Oregonian reported last month that Squarespace was scouting Portland sites and had posted job listings that indicated the company might put a big customer care operation in the city. Chief operating officer Jesse Hertzberg was in Portland last week to see prospective offices in person, and confirmed Squarespace had settled on Portland.

“We plan on growing this operation very quickly. I think we’ll be 80 people by the end of the year,” he said, and a few hundred in the next few years.

Squarespace opened a customer-service office in Dublin, Ireland last summer, to supplement existing customer care operations in the New York office. Hertzberg said the company considered several cities in the Pacific time zone, narrowing the list to Seattle, Portland and Las Vegas.

Seattle and Portland seemed the best cultural fit, he said, and Portland won out in part because operating costs are lower, and in part because the competition is a little less fierce for skilled workers.

Squarespace is the latest in a long string of tech businesses to choose Oregon for a remote site. Intel, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Xerox have long operated in the Silicon Forest.

In recent years a new generation of company has set up offices here, too – notably and San Francisco startup New Relic. Another San Francisco startup, Airbnb, is also scouting Portland locations for a customer-service outpost and has job listings posted.

“We’ve got this great ecosystem, and we’ve got a really strong base of talent that allows these companies to grow,” said Jared Wiener, business development coordinator with the Portland Development Commission.

In addition, he said, Portland stands out for its proximity to tech hubs in Seattle and the Bay Area, and a comparatively low cost of doing business.

The PDC first connected with Squarespace through Bill Lynch, Jive Software co-founder and now the agency’s volunteer entrepreneur-in-residence. Lynch’s wife Jenn, a Portland venture capitalist, went to business school with Hertzberg.

So the PDC is helping Squarespace scout locations; Wiener said they’ve discussed incentive programs, too, which could help Squarespace customize whatever location it chooses.

The new Squarespace office will open in temporary quarters in March or April, according to Hertzberg, and move to a larger site shortly afterward. He said Squarespace is looking seriously at three downtown locations for a long-term lease, sites that reflect the urban character of the company’s headquarters in the trendy SoHo neighborhood in lower Manhattan.

The biggest challenge has been finding a place that can accommodate the company’s planned growth. Squarespace will open need about 10,000 to 15,000 square feet initially, but plans to grow to 30,000 to 50,000 square feet in short order.

Rapid growth has been a problem for some of Portland’s homegrown startups, too. Vacancy is low, and landlords are willing to wait on long-term tenants.

Companies including Jama Software and Elemental Technologies have spread their employees among multiple sites while searching for a single space that could accommodate their growing workforces.

Telecom company Integra announced last year that it will move to the former Hewlett-Packard Co. campus in Vancouver, consolidating its employees into a single facility after years of having workers scattered among three buildings in the Lloyd District.

But Squarespace is also exactly the kind of tenant that Portland’s biggest landlords are trying to land as law firms and financial services companies, the real-estate market’s traditional heavyweights, are in contraction mode. And tech companies, especially those coming from New York or San Francisco, are usually willing to pay top dollar by Portland standards.

That has some of Portland’s flashiest office towers tearing out ceiling tiles and corner offices to try and recreate the feel of a repurposed warehouse.

“I refuse to even go inside,” Hertzberg said. “We're looking for something unique.”

Hertzberg is primarily looking at downtown turn-of-the-century or midcentury office towers. He's also toured properties in the Pearl District, but said there's little available that matched the company's aesthetic.

Squarespace will hire a director and manager to run the Portland office and oversee a staff that Hertzberg hopes will replicate the diverse backgrounds of the company’s customer-service employees in New York.

“We hire on personality,” he said, often pulling from the retail industry or from creative jobs.

“Our office in New York is full of writers and musicians and artists and photographers,” he said. “There’s a lot of that here.”

Squarespace’s technology builds and hosts websites, but Hertzberg said prospective employees don’t need technical skills.

“The training is pretty comprehensive,” Hertzberg said. “You don’t need to have a CS (computer science) background. You don’t need to know JavaScript. We will teach you a lot.”

Clarification: This article has been updated to note that Squarespace's Dublin office opened last summer.