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Member Spotlight: Rebel Desk Revolutionizes the Way We Work

Don’t just sit there! Rebel Desk is revolutionizing the way we work. This D.C.-based startup founded in October 2013 offers an alternative to the sitting culture that seems omnipresent in workplaces today. Rebel Desk features treadmill desks that allow anyone to walk or just stand while working in an office.

With new products on the way, including desks with wheels, more variety when it comes to desktops and even an app, Rebel Desk continues to grow and expand at 1776.  1776 sat down (although we probably should have stood) with Kathleen Hale, the CEO and founder of Rebel Desk to discuss her story and the company’s success.

You were a practicing attorney before you became part of the entrepreneurial sphere. What motivated you to create Rebel Desk?

I was motivated by how awesome I felt after I started using a treadmill desk and my realization that everyone should have the choice to stand or walk during the day. It wasn’t hard to give people that choice, and I didn’t feel like anyone was bringing the solution that I would like to see in the market.

What was it like transitioning from a more traditional career to life as the CEO of a startup?

The biggest challenges are dealing with the stress of having to earn your own income and being able to separate yourself from your work. I was always very involved in my work as an attorney, and it was hard to distance myself and not think about my clients. But when it’s a business that you run and your mistakes could have very huge implications for whether you earn money, your family earns money or your partners earn money, you think about it even more.

On a more positive side, you have the freedom to create something and implement ideas that you want to see come to life within an organizational structure. And with Rebel Desk specifically, I was able to create a product and promote a certain lifestyle.

And in what ways has your legal training aided you?

My legal training certainly helped me in starting the business, in that I understand intellectual property challenges, risks and the need for protection. I did a lot of work litigating for insurance companies when I was a practicing attorney so I understood what it meant to get the right insurance and how to negotiate with insurance brokers. I think that being able to draft contracts and deal with legal issues adds a level of credibility when dealing with third parties.

What advice would you give to those in more traditional careers who might want to pursue a new venture?

Leaving a traditional career to pursue an entrepreneurial career is not for the faint of heart. There are definitely days when I miss having a stable, more traditional job—but usually that thought is pretty fleeting. I realize all the benefits of doing what I want to do, and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

However, the pressure to create and to survive is often not necessarily talked about when people discuss entrepreneurship. Often running a startup can be glorified as this awesome career path where you have a large amount of freedom and can change the world, which is sometimes true—but at some point you have to put food on the table and pay rent. When you come from a traditional job and you’re used to enjoying certain luxuries, it is important that you are prepared to adjust to a new lifestyle.

What have been some of the toughest challenges and were they surprising to you?

My cofounder is my husband so I would say we deal with the traditional challenges that families or couples who go into business together face. A big problem for us is separating ourselves from the business when we are not working. It is a challenge but in some ways it is a good thing; it means we are really passionate about what we are doing.

Have you faced any specific challenges when it comes to your product? Has it been difficult to get people to adopt this treadmill desk when it takes up so much space?

One of the goals for our products is to create something that eliminates all the excuses people have for avoiding treadmill desks. The Rebel Desk is very stylish so it doesn’t look like a piece of exercise equipment in your office. It is compact and can fit in a standard cubicle, affordable (not just for the corner office) and very quiet. We thought about this ahead of time: Why don’t people want to take that leap and get a treadmill desk? Let’s make a product that solves this problem.

We certainly have not been without our challenges; having a large product is difficult. We now use a freight company; that was something that we didn’t have experience with, and we didn’t necessarily think of it as something that would be a challenge. But ultimately that is a third party finishing the transaction for you and dealing with the customer. They are the face of your company—but you don’t have control over them. When the product doesn’t show up on time or something doesn’t happen right, the customer typically sees it as a reflection on Rebel Desk for not having met their expectations even though there is usually almost nothing we can do about it.

What is next for Rebel Desk?

We are considering developing an app that would work with the treadmill and standing desk. In a few weeks we will be offering some new product features, such as selling the bases of our desks separate from the desktops so that people can add their own tops. To increase the versatility of our product we are also adding casters. This will create an entirely mobile treadmill desk solution.

Why did you choose to expand your business in Washington, D.C., rather than a different city?

The decision for us to start our business here in D.C. was initially driven by the fact that we have kids. We were very reluctant to move our children. D.C. is also a great city to incorporate movement into your life, which is important to us.

We considered moving to Boulder (Colorado) because of the vibrant startup community and the abundance of resources and connections in the area. However, after meeting (Foundry Group cofounder and venture capitalist) Brad Feld and learning about 1776, we had confidence that D.C. was going to pick up in the startup game. We wanted to stick around and be a part of the exciting and new startup culture in D.C.

How did you get involved with 1776 and how has it helped you grow so far?

It has been critical for us to be a part of 1776 for many reasons. It is important for us to know that other people in the startup community are having challenges, too. You read a lot of articles and just hear success stories, but creating something valuable out of nothing is a lot of hard work.

1776 has also given us a built-in community of mentors, supporters, people to bounce ideas off of and education programs. There have been very influential people who have helped us in terms of advice and suggestions relating to our business. We would have never had access to these resources without being able to say, “I am a member of 1776.”

Carolyn Peyser

Carolyn is a senior at Tufts University majoring in Sociology and minoring in Communications and Media Studies.