Taking a Breather

Taking a Breather

A Canadian-borne company that offers a network of on-demand meeting rooms and work-spaces via an easy to use mobile app has expanded across the pond into London as it continues to increase its global footprint. BQ’s Bryce Wilcock caught up with Breather co-founder Julien Smith

Flexible workspace provider Breather has launched in London with spaces available in Soho and Shoreditch having already made a huge impact in New York, Chicago, Montreal and San Francisco.

The service allows Londoners the opportunity to rent secure, highly-aesthetic, centrally-located private rooms on demand, by the hour, for only £50. 

Co-founded by Julien Smith and Caterina Rizzi in 2012, Breather has seen rapid growth in the last three years and currently boasts 200 spaces spanning 10 cities.

To date the company has raised US$27.5m in funding from multiple investors, including Peter Thiel’s, Valar Ventures, and Smith has ambitious plans for the company.

Speaking to BQ, he said: “Breather allows users to book high design office and meeting room space on demand by the hour, for as little as £50 in central London, all accessed by our app. The app also acts as the key to your chosen meeting space, unlocking it via a secure code.

“We’ve already seen the app take off in 10 global cities including New York, San Francisco, Boston, Montreal and Chicago and our aim is to do the same here in London. Breather offers an inexpensive, flexible alternative to the ordinary office space – they are generally pretty bland and err towards the expensive and inflexible. 

“Breather is the tonic to remedy that. Whether you’re looking for a place to impress new or potential clients, need a quiet space to enable creativity, or are just looking for a change of office scenery, Breather can accommodate.”

The app uses proximity mapping to geo-target a user’s phone and display the nearby available rooms overlaid on a map. The user selects a room for a distinct block of time, that has a price allocated to it, and when the reservation begins, a code appears on the phone that he or she can use to unlock a keypad on the door to the room. Users are charged to the debit or credit card they have on file with Breather for the length of their stay.

Smith explains further: “We know that rents, rates and overheads in global cities are constricting factors that hamper growth and the establishment of a start-up. Our users might work in design, creative industries, or consultancy and when they need to meet a client, talk confidentially, deliver a sense of professionalism that doesn’t allow you to meet in a coffee shop or pub, this is where Breather comes in.

Breether Workspace

"No contracts, no hidden costs, just a flexible arrangement that means entrepreneurs can keep their costs down, remain agile, and can focus their energies on delivering for their clients, growing their business,  without the fear of being tied into financially pressurised lease agreements.”

A business author in his previous life, Smith had travelled the world and found the ability to find suitable workspaces on his travels a particular problem. Having spent the majority of his time in coffee shops connecting to free wifi, he came up with the idea to launch Breather.

“I travelled the world as a business writer and found myself gravitating to coffee shops like Starbucks to meet people. It is comfortable, safe, clean and more importantly consistent – no matter where you are in the world, their formula is universal – but it is transient. I felt there was a need for flexible spaces that the travelling tourist, business person, student could drop into around the world in major cities.

“What’s more and what we have learned is that spiralling real estate prices in global cities is only going one way. This means there simply isn’t scope for a start-up or new business to sign a lease on a space that is centrally located, well equipped, and looks good. We wanted to help businesses of all size combat this, which is why our on-demand service allows you to take a workspace in Manhattan, London, and San Francisco without needing to go heavily in debt as a start-up – this removes one of the constricting factors small businesses face.”

Speaking about the company’s expansion into London, Smith added: “London is a global force and our offering is made for cities like London with our success in New York, LA, Montreal, and San Francisco being testament to that.   

 “You could be based anywhere in the UK, but if you need an on demand space in Central London at short notice, you can use one of our spaces knowing that the setting is optimum, the tech works, the place is clean, reflects well on your organisation and will impress your clients or prospects that you are meeting.”

Breether Books

Having already housed blue chip companies such as Spotify, UBER and Facebook, it isn’t just the large corporate of the City that Breather is looking to attract.

“We work with a broad range of organisations from the micro business to the global behemoths. Spotify, Uber, Etsy, Facebook have used our services, but so too has the music teacher that needs a beautiful space to inspire students, professors who want to conduct a lecture out of a stuffy hall, advertising agencies delivering creative workshops, strategists planning for the next move politically, we’ve had all sorts of businesses that share a commonalty – wanting an aesthetically high end, tech ready, comfortable space in a major city but not having to pay inordinate fees or get locked into a five or 10 year lease along the way.”

Having already established itself as one of the major disrupters of the sharing economy in North America, the company led by Smith and Rizzi is now determined to increase its market share across Europe, starting with London.

Julian concluded: “To look ahead we have to look back – as previously mentioned we have already raised US$27.5m in funding from multiple investors so the attraction of future funding will ensure we can continue to grow and I expect us to do so at a greater scale.

“We’re currently growing by 20-30 units per month so if the next few years resemble our past at all we should be in 50 cities, with plans for much more of a network that can benefit the people within it.

"We took the team up to 100 employees in such a short time to ensure we could fulfil our ambitions and I think we will continue on the upward growth curve.”