This is a bit of a departure from our usual posts, but it seemed like such a cool concept that we couldn’t pass up the chance to write about it.
Here’s the idea: Plenty of companies—especially rapidly-growing ones like ours—have a little extra room, and would love a little extra cash to offset their rent expense.
Popular websites such as Roomorama and Airbnb have already proven that the model of short-term renting out your residential space online works. So why not offer the same opportunity to businesses that have extra space, or professionals who need a place to work?
The branding practically writes itself: Not Airbnb, but AirB2B.
A service such as this could not only match the needs of people who have and need space, but also create networking opportunities and generate new business for companies on either side of the transaction.
How Would It Work?
Picture this: You’re a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who’s spending a few days in Austin, Texas on business. Each day you’ve got morning meetings, but for the rest of those days, you want to get some work done, as if you were back in the office.
But you don’t want to be confined to a hotel room—you need to be able to connect to network printers, spread out your stuff and get a little privacy. And you and your co-founder really want to do a whiteboarding session about the architecture of your next release.
So what’s an entrepreneur to do? Pull up the AirB2B app and search for an office where you two can crash.
First, use the filters to select the amount of space you need: in this case, two desks or cubicles. You enter your desired location: the SoCo neighborhood of Austin, since you want to check out some of this live music you’ve been hearing about.
You need the space for two days, so you fill that in, as well. You specify that you’ll need a conference room with a whiteboard and network access to a printer. And you’ll also need a space with a front desk receptionist, since your attorney is FedExing you the final documents for your next round of funding and you won’t be at your hotel to get them.
And, presto! The app populates a list of businesses in SoCo with space for rent that meets your criteria. It turns out that Software Advice has a space available for the days you desired and with the amenities you need—so you and your co-founder submit your request.
Software Advice accepts short-term rental payments using PayPal, and the app’s integration makes that process seamless.
Your registration complete, the app then releases access permissions to you: the wireless network login information, directions to Software Advice and instructions for after-hours access, since the doors will automatically be locked after 6 p.m.
Rental rates will, of course, vary based on location, size, duration and available amenities. Since budget tends to be more of a constraint for growing companies, we expect that startups would be the most enthusiastic participants in such a service.
At Software Advice, we are actually tapped out on space at the moment—but last year, we had a lot of extra space we would have loved to advertise on a place like this.
There are also situations in which big companies could benefit. Consider an organization like Amazon Web Services: they always want to be the cloud infrastructure for the next big startup, and to better understand the needs of entrepreneurs.
They could benefit from providing short-term office space like this, and it would be an opportunity for them to network with entrepreneurs and better understand their needs while subtly marketing their newest capabilities.
Creating Networking Opportunities
Through this service, there would be an option for both businesses and individuals to create more in-depth profiles if they are also seeking networking opportunities.
As our Silicon Valley entrepreneur, maybe you decide that you’d like the opportunity to talk shop with some like-minded folks or domain experts after your workday is through. So you log back into the app, and within your profile, select that you’re also interested in networking opportunities.
You fill in the industry you work in, what you do and your professional interests: in this case, with your product about to become available, you’re starting to think about building an inside sales team. Luckily, Software Advice matches your networking criteria, too. So you make an appointment to grab a drink with Austin Merritt, who built Software Advice’s inside sales team.
Filling the Gaps
A service such as this would not only fill a gap in the short-term and individual-level rental market for office space, it would also disrupt some of the unfavorable practices currently conducted by companies that rent short-term commercial office space.
For example, when Software Advice first moved to Austin from San Francisco, we rented a space from Regus, and they tried to charge us in the neighborhood of $1,000 a month just for internet access. And there were fees for just about everything.
Through this service, businesses that have extra space would make some extra money, and companies or workers that need space would get it for a much better rate than those provided by the currently-dominant “flexible workplace” companies.
As business becomes increasingly digitized and more professionals work remotely or on a freelance basis, there is a growing interest in coworking spaces. Those who are offering coworking facilities and those who are seeking such spaces could easily meet their needs with a service like this one.
And many who seek coworking spaces are also interested in fostering project-based or long-term business opportunities.
This could even be an integration opportunity for companies such as HomeAway or Airbnb. For example, if a group of professionals are working on an off-site project and the office space they rent is too far to commute from, they could simultaneously find a place to stay for the duration of the project.
Through the networking feature, they could even find places to stay with other professionals in their industry.
People already have space to offer and need space to work in. Why not bring them together?