Finding flexible workspace in New York or London is straightforward enough. The rise in hybrid working has kept supply and demand high. But what if you live somewhere a little more out of the way?
For Dan Hillman, the answer was simple: borrow what Airbnb does with short stays and bring it over to coworking. People with spare space in their homes – potentially remodelled with a bit of lockdown DIY – could rent it out to others in their community as a place to work.
Expected to launch this summer, Hillman’s startup Jarvo is looking to amass a distributed network of flexible offices across the UK.
There will be traditional coworking space thanks to partnerships with the likes of Huckletree and The Office Group, along with unused public spaces in theatres and galleries, but Hillman’s focus is the residential angle.
Opening up the suburbs
Hillman tells PlaceTech that the idea came from personal frustrations: “I don’t live centric to a city, so for me to go to a coworking space… that would mean half an hour commute by train or car, paying for parking to then go and use a coworking space.”
Jarvo, whose waiting list already has close to 4,000 users according to Hillman, could have the potential to fill that gap. Homeowners will be able to list space in their homes if they meet certain criteria and provide amenities, such as “mega fast Wi-Fi”, ergonomic chairs, plugs and chargers.
Each host will be able to set their own rate, with Jarvo providing guidance based on local data. Users can then review their workspace as they would a stay at an Airbnb.
“A lot of people think that it’s just a room that someone’s got, or some space under the stairs,” says Hillman, adding that the workspaces he has seen in people’s homes are much more than that.
“Honestly, if you spent the morning or a day at the start of the week [at these spaces], you’d be so inspired to and motivated to continue the rest of your week at home because they’re just incredible environments.”
Hillman hopes to create a community-driven network, not a “cold, corporate-led workspace aggregator”. “If that means scaling slower for the benefit of the community that we’re building, then even better,” he says.
Although Jarvo appears to have ambitions growth plans – a recent announcement from the company said it’s targeting 20,000 workspaces in the next 12 months – Hillman’s concern lies elsewhere.
He says: “For us, the story isn’t about scaling to get as many workspaces as possible. It’s about building that community, build those raving fans that absolutely adore Jarvo.”
Role of traditional coworking
While having community-driven ideals is all well and good, Hillman concedes there is a limit to how far that will take his network of workspaces – at least initially.
Partnerships with co-working spaces like Huckletree will help fill geographical gaps “where we don’t have any feet on the ground”. Having that foothold in those areas will help spread the word and let people know they can rent out their own space if they want to, Hillman says.
After all, Jarvo’s success will depend in part on its ability to deliver its nationwide – and, eventually, international – network. “I get daily, if not hourly, messages asking if we’ve got spaces in Yorkshire, Scotland, Nottingham,” Hillman says. All those places will need homeowners happy to rent out their workspace.
Timing is everything
Jarvo isn’t the first startup to try to break into the residential workspace market. Other startups like Vrumi and Spacehop tried to do the same thing a few years ago, ultimately failing to make it work.
Hillman is aware of those startups but, far from putting him off his idea, he sees them as trailblazers who were ahead of their time. “The fundamental point of any startup is timing,” he says.
He uses Google Glass – the smart glasses that briefly tried to revolutionise wearable tech before fading away into obscurity – as an example. “It was so ahead of its time, so innovative. But it was a flop because it was way too early.”
Jarvo is betting that the time is right to try the Vrumi concept again. The startup has yet to raise any money but is now planning its pre-seed funding round. Depending on how quickly investors come on board, Jarvo could soon be in a home near you.