For 17 years, Sonos has been working to perfect what it calls the “sound experience,” with its commitment to multi-room wireless home audio. In an expansive new office space in Seattle, the company is celebrating the software platform and speakers it creates — as well as the music that comes out of them.
In a move to the Bank of America Fifth Avenue Plaza, across from the F5 and Columbia Tower buildings, Sonos has made room for 163 employees — the fastest growing office anywhere for the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based company. The 40,000-square-foot space also has room for 50 Sonos speakers, strategically placed throughout to provide a soundtrack to the product and software development taking place.
Sonos, which went public last year, first opened a Seattle office in 2015, with just 10 employees at the Bullitt Center in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Three years later they had reached capacity at 90 employees and began placing bodies at a WeWork space downtown.
Now they’re all under one roof again, with room to welcome more in the years ahead. It’s a challenge the company believes it is well positioned for in a town where the battle is waged daily for software talent.
“One of the interesting things about opening our first office here is that in a sense it was a bit of an experiment to see if a company like us could show up here and hire people in the midst of companies like Amazon and Microsoft and every notable software tech company,” said Antoine Leblond, vice president of software for Sonos. “To me, the symbolism of this new office is the end of that experiment and realizing that, yeah, actually we could do quite well hiring people here.”
The office looks and sounds a bit like it could be home to a record label.
Huge photographs on the walls pay homage to musical legends such as Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin and David Bowie. A cluster of album covers on a wall near the main entry includes releases from Pearl Jam, Heart, Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Kendrick Lamar and more.
Twenty-six conference rooms are all named for Seattle-based bands or music venues, including Macklemore, Modest Mouse, Shabazz Palaces, the Showbox and Soundgarden. There are quotes from famous artists stenciled onto hallway walls — “Do not fear mistakes. There are none,” a Miles Davis quote reads.
In a central hub featuring local snacks and drinks, including kombucha on tap, bi-weekly catered lunch is a regular perk. And a wall is decorated with printed out screenshots featuring what employees were streaming at the moment they were asked to capture it.
Music is playing everywhere. And employees can lower the volume or change songs in various zones from touchscreens located throughout.
During a visit this week, Seattle jazz saxophonist Kenny G was playing in a game room with a ping pong / pool table, an Xbox console and a liquor cart.
“I think we offer something kind of unique to people who are looking for their next job in tech,” said Leblond, whose “next job in tech” came after 25 years at Microsoft. “We hire people who love music. Part of why they want to come to Sonos is because they love music. They love being around people who love music, they love the products, the company’s mission around bringing music into people’s homes and things like that.”
The office, with a sleek black-and-white color palette throughout to match the line of speakers it makes, also has comfortable collaboration areas, quiet rooms, listening rooms to test products, wellness rooms for working mothers and six phone booths for yet another quiet and private space to work.
A lineup of products greets visitors in the main lobby, from its Beam soundbar to its subwoofer to the new portable Move bluetooth speaker. And those products are all put to the test in a “living room” of sorts, where the intent is to appreciate sound quality — especially while it’s being showcased with the gooey, crackling effects of a “Stranger Things” episode or the engineering mastery of a Radiohead track.
With a platform that will play more than 100 streaming services as well as work with voice assistants from Google and Amazon, Leblond is extremely bullish about what his software team builds to make all of Sonos’ speakers special. It can appear to be an interesting partner-competitor dynamic, especially in the case of Amazon, as the tech giant up the street looks to improve upon its own speaker lineup with the recent introduction of the new Echo Studio.
But Leblond’s take is as worth listening to as what’s playing over his shoulder in the Sonos office.
“Every big partner that we have in some sense, you could look at and say, ‘Well, you compete with those guys.’ Apple and Amazon and Google, they’re all people who we partner with day in and day out. And they’re also people who build speakers,” Leblond said. “We tend to be able to partner really well with those companies because we’re in it for different things, I would say. Amazon, they’re in it for Alexa, right?
“We’re in it for the music,” he concluded.