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An office in other people's homes

Matt Chittock

How your start-up could find a new space in someone else’s home

Right, so you’ve finally decided to launch your own start-up. You’ve got the slide deck sorted out, built your perfect team and told your friends and family that they won’t see you for the foreseeable future. There’s just one problem: where on Earth are you all going to work?

As the estimated 600,000 businesses that launch every year in the UK often find, sourcing the right space is a big barrier to success. Obviously, renting ‘proper’ office space (especially in a big city) will be out until you’re flush with VC cash. And until then even shared workplaces can be an expensive investment for a big team, while working from home will often feel isolating.

Matthew Beatty is a doctor-turned-entrepreneur who believes his company might have the answer. He’s CEO and founder of Spacehop, an Airbnb-style platform where people with spare space at home rent it out to freelancers and start-ups looking for somewhere different to work.

“Initially I think the concept was sparked when I moved to London,” he says. “I was working as a doctor and I found that I was paying an absolute fortune in rent, but our apartment in South London was empty all day – and so were all the other apartments that were next to us. It just got me thinking: why are all these spaces not being put to better use during the day?”

The penny really dropped when in the early days Spacehop found it difficult to find a space where the team could work and congregate.
“We came to the realisation that if the Spacehop idea would work for us then it should definitely work for others too,” he says.

On paper it sounds like the perfect coming together of two urban tribes. On the one hand cities are currently packed with freelancers and start-ups sick of shunting their laptops from coffee shop to Wi-Fi hot spot. And on the other, high property prices mean that home-owners are often open to new ways to monetise their living space.

If this trend for “residential sharing” catches on (and it could – so far there’s 100 spaces listed on the Spacehop website, and interest is growing) then it’ll be the latest in a long list of ways start-up culture has disrupted the traditional office.

For instance, the co-working spaces pioneered in Silicon Valley are becoming a more accepted way to work all over the world. This means that even super-traditional corporate companies like KPMG see the benefits of renting out desks in uber-trendy shared offices.

So how have potential space-seekers reacted to the idea of working from someone else’s home? “I think that it’s like anything new: once people try it they immediately get it and buy into it,” says Beatty. “It’s a much better alternative to working in your local coffee shop, and brilliant for the people who don’t like working at home.

“I think that any new concept takes a while to be seen as the norm. I mean, ten years ago if I told people they’d be holidaying in each other’s homes through Airbnb they’d probably have just laughed. Now it’s really normal.”

The “Airbnb effect” also means that potential hosts are happy with the idea of turning over their home to strangers – especially since Spacehop performs stringent ID checks to vet workers and has an insurance policy in place. And just like Airbnb, the drivers for renting out a space aren’t purely financial.

“Everyone’s different,” says Beatty. “The vast majority of hosts aren’t present during the day. However, some of the hosts actually work alongside the people they have in – and for them it might not be the money that’s the driving force. It might be the ability for them to have a little community or be involved in something different.”

Spacehop is currently open for investment – see https://www.crowdcube.com/investment/spacehop-21081

Co-working to co-living

…and while city co-working spaces are catching on, start-ups are also pioneering new ways of co-living too. In New York, Common offers three different co-living locations across Brooklyn designed as a natural extension of the shared workplace.

The idea is slap-bang between the concept of a co-op and an American-style college dorm. Tenants get a ready-made community (plus a cleaner) in a space where making connections is encouraged. So, you get the ideal blend of big city living with none of the loneliness, or the hassle of drafting in a housemate who may well hate you.

Find out more in this entertaining feature by Lizzie Widdicombe in the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/16/the-rise-of-the-co-living-startup

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