Beyond The Bio: 16 Questions With Blitz Co-Founder Seth Hanley
This series profiles men and women in commercial real estate who have profoundly transformed our neighborhoods and reshaped our cities, businesses and lifestyles.
Seth Hanley had cleaned out his desk. His belongings were packed in a cardboard box.
In 2009, in the midst of the economic recession, Hanley and his then girlfriend and now wife, Melissa, had been laid off from their jobs at an architecture firm.
"Our firm was suffering the impact of the construction industry crash," Hanley said. "We collected our boxes and we just looked at each other."
They wondered what came next.
The industry was reeling. Unemployment was high.
At a nearby coffee shop, discussing their 401(k)s, they had an epiphany.
"We have to start our own company," Seth Hanley recalled the two discussing. "We had been talking about it for a while so now was the best time to do it. It was exciting. It should have been scary, but I enjoyed it."
Ten years later, their company, Blitz, has designed and implemented nearly 300 projects across more than 5.5M SF throughout the U.S., Western Europe, Australia and Asia.
"The company grew very rapidly," he said. "We crushed it because we had to."
In the midst of a tech boom that drove creative office concepts in the Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, Blitz secured Skype as a client early on, designing the startup's 90K SF headquarters in the Stanford Research Park.
Blitz then began securing clients from other tech companies like Google, Microsoft, YouTube, Spotify and Dropbox.
The company, which began in San Francisco, opened a Los Angeles office last fall and plans to expand to a 3K SF office there.
Looking back, Hanley said the best part of his journey has been working with his wife and co-founder, Melissa.
"It's wonderful," he said. "We get so much done together. She's wicked smart and incredibly driven."
Bisnow: How do you describe your job to people who are not in the industry?
Hanley: I say that my job is to help people feel a lot happier about going to work. After all, we spend most of our waking hours in the workplace. Each project is a meaningful opportunity to have a positive impact on the workplace environment, regardless of size or scope, and every design decision creates the potential to improve someone’s everyday experience.
Bisnow: If you weren’t in commercial real estate, what would you do?
Hanley: I might have been a journalist. Words and buildings both move me. It’s this interrelation of left- and right-brain approaches that inspires me to create environments that are both logical and delightful.
Bisnow: What is the worst job you ever had?
Hanley: When I worked 12-hour night shifts in a bread factory cleaning dough off the floor.
Bisnow: What was your first big deal?
Hanley: My partner Melissa and I started the firm one day after being laid off during the economic meltdown of 2009. When we landed our first major project, then-startup Skype’s North American headquarters in Silicon Valley, it was a major coup. We won the contract in our first year of business and we’ve never looked back. Since then, we’ve had the great fortune of working with some of the most innovative and industry-changing organizations in the world, including household names like Google, Square, Yahoo, Levi’s, Microsoft, Dropbox, Fitbit, Zendesk and scores of others.
Bisnow: What deal do you consider to be your biggest failure?
Hanley: Honestly, we haven’t had one (yet). I believe our success is derived from the can-do attitude in which we approach each project. This creates a platform for great work, incredible collaborations with clients, and a generous spirit that’s felt in everything we do.
Bisnow: If you could change one thing about the commercial real estate industry, what would it be?
Hanley: I’d pay architects as much as brokers. I say this because, as architects, we have a passion for good design and unlimited energy for creativity to act as formidable partners and client advocates. We view our clients as friends and collaborators, and projects as shared endeavors reflecting common values. In addition to designer and architect, we shift into the role of educator and adviser to guide organizations toward design solutions that support their people and culture, while boosting the bottom line.
Bisnow: What is your biggest pet peeve?
Hanley: When contractors ask questions that are already answered in the drawings (basically, when contractors don’t read my drawings). We produce thorough design and construction documents in advance of construction to afford the design team an early opportunity to coordinate architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical information for identifying potential conflicts before the crews arrive on-site. This ultimately saves our clients time and money.
Bisnow: Who is your greatest mentor?
Hanley: My friends growing up were tremendous mentors. I credit much of my success to having ambitious and talented friends who inspired me to raise my game throughout life. We’re still friends today, more than 30 years later. I’ll buy them a drink and say thank you next time I’m back in London.
Bisnow: What is the best and worst professional advice you've ever gotten?
Hanley: Best: You only have to be better than the worst person in your business making money.
Worst: Same advice.
Bisnow: What is your greatest extravagance?
Hanley: I constantly use Uber to get around — a chauffeur might actually save me some money.
Bisnow: What is your favorite restaurant in the world?
Hanley: Actually, I’ll tell you my favorite bar in the world. It’s Kronenhalle in Zürich, Switzerland.
Bisnow: If you could sit down with President Donald Trump, what would you say?
Hanley: That our nation is at its greatest when its people are united.
Bisnow: What's the biggest risk you have ever taken?
Hanley: To add to our existing San Francisco headquarters, we launched a studio in Los Angeles this year — and it’s been the best risk I’ve ever taken. Our firm has experienced substantial growth as existing clients have desired design services in the city. Los Angeles is bustling with possibilities — especially the opportunities offered by Silicon Beach and the creative set in entertainment — and the design pulse of the region is palpable. The city’s rich creative culture has an unmistakably distinct voice, and is an ideal atmosphere for our growing studio. With plans to double in the next three years, it was a natural next step for Blitz.
Bisnow: What is your favorite place to visit in your hometown?
Hanley: As I’m a Londoner, it would have to be the Tate Modern. It reminds me to think BIG.
Bisnow: What keeps you up at night?
Hanley: Details. I’m kind of obsessed with how things are made and how they connect. This obsession stems from when I was a young child. I was always designing and building things with Legos as a kid, and I had my first drawing board when I was 12 years old. It also relates to my dedication to the craft of architecture, as well as its art and design, and finding technical solutions in constructability and agency compliance.
Bisnow: Outside of your work, what are you most passionate about?
Hanley: Design. It’s not work for me. It’s more of a hobby that pays me a salary. I consider myself incredibly privileged to be a part of an industry that I love.
Bisnow: Any interesting information that people may not know about you?
Hanley: If you haven’t gathered from my responses above, I’m from Britain, and yes, I have an accent. I’ve proudly made the United States my home for more than 16 years. My career started internationally in design sectors completely outside of commercial real estate, including affordable housing, healthcare, medical planning, higher education, hospitality and civic buildings. I believe the exposure I gained working in these varying typologies has influenced a fresh perspective toward workplace design.