Londoners can search for available desks on their phone and pay for access for as little or long as they need, thanks to a startup by serial tech founder Mark Smukler.
Smukler sold his residential management platform, Bixby, to Hello Alfred at the start of 2020 and after an 18-month earn-out is back on the startup journey with Flow.
Smukler saw the “great resignation” and working from home trends emerge and started researching solutions to take advantage of the shift in working and living patterns.
He found there were hot-desking services like Liquid Space, Meetings Booker and Deskpass. However, Smukler believes none provided the immediacy and frictionless experience he was looking for, which would avoid membership or advanced booking and be closer to Lime bikes or Uber.
“The way we interact with the spaces, places, and experiences around us is changing like never before. Due to an increase in remote and hybrid work policies, people have greater autonomy than ever, driving a preference for flexibility, variety, and spontaneity rather than long-term commitment. Flow provides that frictionless discoverability and accessibility that people crave, enabling them to flow through spaces depending on what environment they want or need in that particular moment.”
People want to interact in a more flexible way and property needs to react with a more suitable offer – Smukler believes there is an opportunity for a consumer-driven way of solving that supply-demand gap.
What he thought was missing was flexible access. An in-app map allows immediate discovery of space, followed by instant access and payment for time used by the minute or hour. Pricing is typically £1-10/hour. The location operator controls the pricing. So far 50 locations have signed up: 30 office, 10 gym and 10 spas. The target is to have 300 locations signed up by the end of the year.
Smukler and his small team have found operators keen to try new things as they seek cash after a difficult 18 months. Operators typically earn 20% to 30% more revenue by using Flow, according to Smukler. He wants the process to be “invisible” for the property owners and managers and not burden them with admin.
By asking friends and family to sign up and invite people in the early beta months Smukler has seen 150 users sign up across London since March. These early adopters are using the app twice a week on average and spending between £50 and £100 a month.
If he can successfully “write the playbook” for space-as-a-service in London, Smukler hopes to take Flow worldwide and be in all major cities within five years.
Flow will branch out from office, fitness and wellness to other vertical markets in due course. The criteria being controlled access to the space, such as turnstiles or barriers, and a fixed-fee payment model.
Smukler raised £150,000 from Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator in his native New York City, deliberately starting small to avoid the pressure of a heavyweight VC breathing down his neck.