“How did you go bankrupt?" Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”
Gradually, then suddenly. That phrase seems to encapsulate much of what’s happened in the past few years. In relation to the benevolence or otherwise of the technology which has infiltrated almost every waking moment of our lives, to climate change, to equality and a host of other things which weren’t really part of the mainstream consciousness, until they very noticeably were.
Gradually, then suddenly also relates to our changing relationship with the office, which I’ve written about before.
It’s why I wanted to speak to Jonny Rosenblatt, co-founder of Spacemade.
Jonny started his first business in 2012. Headspace was a flexible coworking environment before WeWork was a thing. After selling in 2017, he went on to co-found Spacemade in 2019, with his now business partner Dan Silverman.
SD: Tell me a little bit about Spacemade?
JR: After I sold Headspace I had a lot of landlords approaching me and asking how they could create environments which would appeal to tenants in a way that WeWork did.
At the time Dan was working for a big property company. They owned a lot of commercial real estate and were struggling with the same problem. How can we attract people to our CAT A (empty shell) space when around the corner there’s the most unbelievable offices being offered on incredibly flexible terms.
It soon became apparent that this was an issue in the market, so we set up Spacemade to deliver co-working spaces on behalf of landlords. We’ll take an operating agreement for say a ten year period, but it’s still the landlord's space. We run the fit out, the branding, the operations and the finance. We deliver them a white labelled space that’s unique to the building, and its location.
With Headspace I used to look for a building that could fit our brand. Now we look at a building and then think about what brand and product we can create for the location, and the target market.
SD: I can remember in the late 2000’s, you’d see photos of Google or Facebook’s offices and people’s reaction was incredible. It was like, “oh my goodness, it’s amazing, there’s free meals and there’s table tennis tables”! And then WeWork came along.
JR: Those big tech companies were really the first to do it, and then a lot of flexible workspace providers came along and tried to democratise that. In truth, WeWork did it brilliantly.
They (WeWork) brought to people’s attention that coworking is something desirable. And they curated amazing environments. But most of all they created an incredible brand.
SD: How has the Pandemic affected the appeal of your offering to landlords?
JR: Covid has brought the concept of hybrid working with flexible hours and a “work where you’re most effective” attitude more into the mainstream.
Flexible workspace has been a small niche of commercial real estate for a long time, and suddenly the doors are open and there’s an opportunity to create really interesting products.
We’re trying to ensure that people have access to an office in a more attainable way. You don’t have to take a five or ten year lease, but instead you can use whatever space you need on a day to day basis. We’re building a network of these spaces around London neighbourhoods where people live, as well as in city centres.
But we’re not just competing with other flexible providers or office space in general, we’re also competing with home.
It’s somebody’s spare room, home office or kitchen table. And that’s a place where there’s a lot of comfort.
So you have to make the office really attractive.
Not only at a brand level but also on an amenity level. What the building offers over and above a place to work. Whatever space we’re creating, it has to be so much more engaging than home.
You have to create events and networking opportunities. You’ve got to bring people together in a way that you just simply wouldn’t if everyone was sitting on a Zoom call.
SD: I guess areas like Queens Park are a good example. You’re probably not going to get one tenant taking an entire building anymore. Whereas if you can offer a shared workspace, where someone can wake up and decide that today they want to work locally, somewhere that’s a short walk round the corner, they can. It’s almost like working from home but without a week of screaming kids during half term.
JR: If you live in Queens Park, you want something different to the person that lives in London Fields. So our space there is totally different and for example also we’ve got a space on the Strand which is a little more sophisticated. In one location we’re appealing to Barristers, and in another it’s more of a creative vibe, where someone is cycling into work and bringing their dog. Our buildings have to reflect the locations and communities that they exist in.
SD: The feelings that you are describing - “this really is a space for someone like me” – whether you’re a barrister or a creative, in other aspects of people's lives that kind of curation is possible. The type of gym you belong to, the places you go to eat or even the cinema you choose.
It never existed for workspace, that granular decision making process. You’re providing people with what they actually want, not something which just happens to be close to them. It’s more, “I’ve chosen to live in Queens Park and this workspace reflects the reasons why I’ve chosen to live here”.
JR: Exactly. And we do it consciously and subconsciously with every brand that we choose. Anyone can drive any car, right? It gets you from A to B, but what you choose says something about you as a person. You’re trying to articulate something. Whatever that might be. I don’t see why workspace is any different at all.
We are providing access in a way that has not really been done before. The landlord is getting what they need, they are rentalising their space, they’re just not rentalising it in the way that they used to.
The local market for that building is also being served, and you’re building interesting communities. So for us, it’s a marketplace and it’s double-edged. There's a lot of shared benefit.
SD: What’s next? Will we be seeing Spacemade in the Metaverse?
JR: We have six buildings now. We should have ten buildings by the summer and then the plan is to double year on year for the next couple of years. So, we should have a good sized network of spaces. I think that with a really interesting mix of buildings you can really create a great network of users. People can take one membership but have access to all the different spaces.
I don’t know which Metaverse we’ll all end up in, but it’s interesting. If you run a business with a lot of employees then on any given day, some of them will be at home, some will be in HQ, some will be in satellite offices.
Zoom is very useful but I think we’ll look back on it in years to come as very analogue compared to where we’ll get to in the not too distant future. I think from a meeting and a collaboration perspective, there’s quite an interesting story around what’s going to happen with office space and Metaverse alongside each other, but we haven’t advanced that particularly.
That’s just the kind of general thought. I think there’s enough to do in real life before we start thinking about the Metaverse!
Things I’ve been inspired by this week
My friend Penny Sainsbury of Peridot PR has had a busy fortnight.
Together with Gemma Martinez de Ana, founder and creative director of Bonadea, they have organised an exceptional one off auction of items to raise funds for the British Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal.
The online auction is being supported by The Prince’s Foundation, the charity that specialises in education and training in sustainable and traditional crafts and practices, who are hosting a physical week-long preview open to all at their exhibition space The Garrison Chapel, Chelsea Barracks until Saturday 26 March.
The auction is live on the Roseberys auction website until Monday 28 March.
You can see (and bid) on the items here, or by clicking the image below.