For people who work remotely or travel often for business, finding the perfect coffee shop can be an arduous task.
Julien Smith knew this all too well. Smith is an entrepreneur who has written three books and often travels for public speaking gigs.
“I was travelling a lot for work, but I found it hard to be productive in coffee shops,” Smith told Business Insider. “Trying to find a spot to relax in Starbucks was a hassle.”
To solve the problem, Smith and longtime friend Caterina Rizzo created Breather, a startup that allows anyone to rent small, private office spaces through a mobile app.
Each Breather space is 500 square feet or less, and they’re all located in office buildings. You pay an hourly rate for the rooms ranging from $US25 to $US70, depending on the size and amenities provided.
The private workspaces are intended to be used for a wide range of purposes, from a spot to get some work done to a place to catch an hour of rest during a tiring business trip. A therapist could rent a space for a few hours a week to cut back on costs. Smith claims one Breather investor even used a space to propose to his girlfriend.
“Sometimes you just need a space that isn’t your office,” Smith said.
Splash, for example, a startup that makes event marketing software in New York, has a Breather account that employees can use to host meetings and training sessions or simply take a nap.
“As coworking is becoming more popular, a desk is all a lot of people get, plus conference rooms for conversations,” Smith said. “A private office is the picture of luxury. That ability to get luxury on demand is super valuable.”
Since starting the company in 2012, Smith and Rizzo have expanded Breather to include more than 80 spaces in New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Montreal, and Ottawa.
How it works
When I opened the Breather app, it presented a list of locations near me.
I booked a space in New York’s Flatiron District, off Madison Square Park on 24th Street.
A page on the app told me everything I needed to know about the space’s features.
This particular room could accommodate 10 people and came equipped with a couch, desk, white board, pencils, notepads, yoga mat, and free wifi.
It cost $US36 an hour.
When I got to the building, the doorman sent me up to the second floor, where I found a large, vault-like metal door with a keypad.
At the time of my appointment, a code appeared on the Breather app on my phone, so I entered it on the keypad and the door opened up.
The room was arranged beautifully, with lots of natural light filtering in from outside.
A collection of books about startups and creativity lined the wall behind the couch.
There was even a jar of Tootsie Rolls, in case I needed some sugar reinforcement.
As I was just using the space to make some phone calls, a white board wasn’t exactly useful to me, but I can imagine it would be great for brainstorming with a group.
And on one side there was a desk and plenty of plugs.
One of the things that struck me about the room was just how quiet it was.
“Privacy is a really important thing for people, and productivity is influenced by that,” Smith said. “It’s not that we don’t like coworking — things like WeWork are obviously really successful. It’s just a different way of thinking.”
There was even a yoga mat sitting in one corner.
Breather has raised $US7.5 million in two rounds of funding, and it’s growing rapidly.
Though at the beginning the company purchased the spaces they leased out, they now present Breather as an opportunity for property owners to have a professional designer spruce up and make the most of their unused space.
“Property owners often come to us now,” Smith said.