Peter Thiel-backed "Airbnb for work space" eyes London

 
Lynsey Barber
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Book office space just for a half hour meeting with Breather

Move over co-working spaces, there's a new way of working in town.

A US startup similar to Airbnb but for renting office space and meeting rooms in the short-term that's backed by Peter Thiel's Valar Ventures has expanded to London.

Targeting startups which often want to keep costs low, as well as those looking for a more professional alternative to meeting clients than a busy Starbucks, Breather offers easy booking of work spaces across cities, cutting out the high costs of longer term renting for businesses.

Read more: Brexit could deter international startups from getting settled in the UK

Breather is expanding to London in its first move outside North America where it offers office rentals in more than 100 locations in cities such as San Francisco, New York City, Boston, Chicago and Montreal, for as little as 30 minutes to an entire day.

Backed by multi-million dollar investment since setting up four years ago, it now boasts clients such as Uber, Facebook and Buzzfeed among high-profile clients signalling that even large corporations are looking to become more flexible with their workspace.

“We know that rents, rates and overheads in global cities are constricting factors that hamper growth and the establishment of a startup," said co-founder and chief executive Julien Smith.

"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."

Five facts about Breather

1. Founded by Julien Smith and Caterina Rizzi in Montreal in 2012.

2. Office spaces are decorated in a similar style so users know what to expect whichever city they are in.

3. Valar Ventures, the VC fund of Paypal founder Peter Thiel, along with RRE Ventures, Slow Ventures and early Uber investor Mike Walsh are among investors to back Breather with $27.5m (£20.7m).

4. Users can search for and book Breather spaces via the smartphone app. They can access the spaces simply with their smartphone which is sent an entry pin when they arrive.

5. The average stay in a breather office is between two and three hours.

Smith's ideas came from his own experience as a business writer having to work in crowded coffee shops in Montreal.

Expanding from Canada to the big US cities, the success of New York offered a glimpse of the opportunity awaiting in London with its large and high density population and workers who commute. It set up in the capital in June, initially with three spaces located in Soho and Shoreditch.

Smith told City A.M. the firm was surprised with the pace of how things are going in just a few weeks and that business is already growing more rapidly than when it first entered New York - and Breather remains bullish despite the potential for Brexit to unsettle the city.

"We don't think about it. We take a long view on cities that are economic powerhouses. There's nothing that isn't going to make New York City not New York City for example," said Smith. "It [Brexit] doesn't really affect us. We're bullish in terms of the city and we don't see that changing."

Read more: Peter Thiel's Valar Ventures invests $11m in London startup Lystable

Smith points towards the four-year-old startup benefiting as a result of both any upward or downward trend in the property market.

"People will need temporary space more in a downturn as they're more reluctant to take on something in the long-term."

This focus on major cities means plans for further expansion will likely be in other European cities rather than other locations in the UK for now.

"Offices will never go away, they're fundamentally needed - the traditional workstation will never go away complexly. But, there are different patterns [of work] and space has to become sliced according to time to become efficient," said Smith.

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