How One Startup Turned Empty Spaces Into Productive Places

JulienWhen co-founder & CEO Julien Smith launched Breather two years ago, he was working on a risky assumption: the idea that businesses would be willing to pay to rent temporary spaces from strangers for meetings, brainstorms, and other team events. Since then, the “Airbnb for meeting- and work-spaces” has grown into the go-to app for everything from business pitches to marriage proposals(!), and his service helps folks with an extra 1,000 ft. on their hands in one of five Breather cities see that property as a new revenue potential.

We’re going to learn more about this office space-on-demand concept when Smith’s company leads a Startup Tour as part of our Enterprise Summit in NYC next week (Feb. 24–25).

What’s the most unusual space someone has listed through Breather?

We [recently] launched a space in New York that was actually a very large storage closet but is now a beautiful, small Breather.

When someone wants to rent their space, what are your requirements for them?

We love spaces that are about the size of a meeting room (under 1,000 square feet), with lots of great light and enough room to seat a small group of people. Couches, great tables to meet at, and lots of other things impact how well a space does.

What’s something people are using Breather for that you didn’t expect?

There have been a lot of surprising use cases. Probably the most delightful is those that have proposed to their significant others in our spaces (there have been quite a few!) and small weddings that we’ve hosted.

What was the company’s MVP when you first started, and how has that changed over time?

We hit on the service we wanted very early on and there was very little pivoting. The spaces have become more friendly to business over time (business meetings are a big use case) but we’ve been on the same track, rightly, for a long time now.

What’s the riskiest hypothesis that you’ve tested with Breather, and how did that test turn out in the end?

There was zero evidence for the demand we’ve seen. Now that we’ve run the service, we know how big our market is, but it would be VERY difficult to figure that out if you didn’t feel the need yourself. So, starting this from zero was the riskiest thing of all.

What have you learned about your audience that’s different than the assumptions you had about them in your early days of thinking about the company?

Many more business users than we intended. Lots of need for larger spaces. More technology, which we resisted (projectors, for example).

What was a big fail that turned into an excellent learning moment?

We tried to keep price stable for a very long time. This turned out to be totally wrong. Variability won out over consistency here.

How has Lean Startup methodology come into your product and/or process?

We try to look for evidence for everything we do. Iterating from a bad first draft is a part of our nature.

Why are you excited to host a Lean Startup group at Breather (or what is your team planning on focusing on when our tour comes through your office)?

Startups are hard — we have to learn from each other to succeed. Being able to see where we came from, and seeing a now successful startup scaling, can help anyone feel that they have what it takes.


Jump on the Startup Tours as part of our Feb. 24-25 NYC Enterprise Summit by registering now.

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