Expedia employees know a thing or two about travel, but this is something else entirely.
The online travel giant is reportedly set to announce plans to move its corporate headquarters from Bellevue, Wash., to the former Amgen complex on the Seattle waterfront — a mere 12.5 miles across Lake Washington, but a very different world, for better and for worse.
Bryan Trussel has done this before, on a smaller scale. As the CEO of Glympse, he and his team at the location technology startup moved from Redmond to Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood three years ago, giving him first-hand experience with the challenge awaiting Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and his company.
By far the toughest part was the practical impact on employees, Trussel said, responding last night to GeekWire’s questions about the experience: “Almost the entire company went from a 5 minute commute, and free parking, to a 25-40 minute commute + Bridge Toll + Parking Fees,” he explained.
These charts shows the difference. They were created by INRIX general manager Kevin Foreman using data from the Kirkland-based traffic technology startup. By shifting to a new Seattle location, Expedia will significantly reduce the geographic area within a 30-minute commute of its headquarters, translating into a longer commute for many employees.
The data is based on the commute at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, which is most representative of drive times, Foreman explained. The big risk is that some employees will ultimately decide to quit rather than continue to make the longer commute. The risk is especially large with technical employees, who are in high demand and have many other options for employment.
In the case of Expedia, employees won’t need to worry as much about parking, given the large garage on the former Amgen campus. But the location of the property, on the far western edge of the city, will create an additional challenge, requiring them to not only get across the bridge but to navigate the city.
The potential for an Expedia employee shuttle service, similar to one operated by Microsoft, will be a key question this morning at a news conference at Seattle City Hall, where the move is expected to be announced. Expedia has an estimated 3,000 people in the region, out of 15,000 employees worldwide.
But if the commute is the big drawback, there have also been plenty of upsides in the experience of Glympse. The biggest benefit has been on the recruiting side, Trussell said. As the company has grown, a majority of its employees are now from Seattle, living in neighborhoods such as Green Lake and Capitol Hill.
There have also been drawbacks on the recruiting front. It’s tougher to recruit new employees from the Eastside, but the company still pulls it off, including its new vice president of engineering, BJ Fox, who decided to take the plunge despite his concern about the commute.
A secondary benefit has been the ability to be closer to the region’s “center of gravity” for startups and innovation, close to many people and events, Trussel said. In addition, with Glympse’s status as a mobile and consumer product, he noted, “it’s more aligned with our brand to be in the center of the action” in the city of Seattle.
An Eastsider’s perspective
Longtime startup advocate Marcelo Calbucci, the co-founder and CTO at EveryMove, is an Eastsider working in Seattle, and he understands the appeal. “It’s much easier to arrange meetings with investors, partners, candidates and even out-of-towners” from a location in the city, he says.
Calbucci noted, “Eastsiders are quite comfortable driving and working in Seattle. There are great bus routes (from park-and-rides), carpools, and even crossing the bridges, particularly 520, is pretty good going East-West in the morning (not so much for Seattleites working in the Eastside).”
At the same time, he added, he’s surprised at Expedia’s reported choice of location on the waterfront, which is not one of the four hot areas for tech talent in Seattle — South Lake Union, Pioneer Square, downtown Seattle or the University District.
Real estate brokers familiar with the company’s thinking have told GeekWire that Expedia wants to own its own headquarters, and that could be a major driver of the decision. Amgen owns the picturesque, 40-acre waterfront campus as a result of its acquisition of Immunex, the biotech startup that assembled the land through a series of real estate deals more than a decade ago. As a result, Amgen would be in a position to sell the land to Expedia.
Representatives from both companies declined to comment in advance of the official announcement.
Rich Barton, the investor and Zillow co-founder who founded Expedia as a Microsoft spin-off in the 1990s, said he hasn’t had any recent discussions with people inside the online travel company about the reported move. We asked him if he sees the reported Expedia move impacting the “balance of power” between Seattle and the Eastside.
“I’m all in favor of having another high-tech talent magnet like Expedia in Seattle,” he said via email. “The more power we have to lure smart people to move to Seattle, the better. … That said, I’ve always kind of considered Seattle and the East Side as in the same magnetic field.”
How it turned out for Glympse
Glympse managed to make the headquarters move without losing anyone, said Trussel, who himself still commutes from the Eastside. “We have pretty passionate folks working for us. We tried to mitigate some of the impact by providing a Bus Pass which I would say about 1/4 of our employees use. For me personally, I try to minimize the commute impact by scheduling calls on my drive in and home (to Redmond).”
Three years later, Trussel is glad that his company made the move. In fact, Glympse is moving again in June, but the company is staying in Seattle, and going to the Capitol Hill neighborhood. “So we just had the opportunity to reverse our original decision to move to Seattle,” he said, “but we’ve been very happy with our choice here, so we never really considered moving back to Eastside.”
Stay tuned for full coverage of the expected Expedia announcement later this morning on GeekWire.