4. July 2013–
Take a casual glance into some of the cafes that offer free WiFi in Berlin Mitte and it always seems like the majority of customers there are busily working away on their latest startup/article/design/novel/remix. For the many people working independently or as freelancers, hiring an office seems too permanent and expensive for them, making cafes the cheaper (albeit noisier) alternative. Enter ShareDesk, the Vancouver-launched startup that wants to change this by providing a "Airbnb for workspaces"...
Hi Enrico, can you tell me a bit about what you're doing?
Hi, I'm one of the founders of ShareDesk, a website that helps freelancers, entrepreneurs, startups and SMEs find flexible office space to rent – we do this by connecting people who need these workspaces with people that offer them. This is great for anyone looking for affordable places to work, plus business owners can monetise their unused office space while attracting talent to their workplace.
How did you come across your idea?
I came up with the idea, registered the domain and immediately created a landing page in 2009. That was right when the word "coworking" was starting to trend.
At the time, I was traveling between Torino and Berlin and meeting friends that were living somewhere else in Europe – so like many other internet services, ShareDesk started from a personal need. I was freelancing and I wanted to be work as professionally as I could be for my clients and to enlarge my professional network – and not only online.
Coworking or a shared office space was the obvious answer to my problem, but at that time not even Google's "places for business" had a category named "coworking". I manually started collecting workspaces out of curiosity and ended up using that list for ShareDesk.
Who are the founders and how did you find each other?
ShareDesk has three founders – Kia Rahmani, Dario Aschero and I, but I would also "unofficially" add Javier Jimenez to the list and mention Enrico Cassinelli because they've both been supporting the project since day one.
Before meeting each other and creating ShareDesk, Kia was getting his MBA, founding a coworking space in Vancouver and working at Plug and Play Tech Center, which is a Silicon Valley accelerator. Javier, Dario and I were freelancing and working with companies around Europe and North America
Dario and I used to team up and work together with other freelancers on big projects, I met Javier while working for another Berlin-based startup (sort of a "ShareDesk for restaurant tables") and we met Kia when he contacted us to talk about our little project – that was when it was in the "alpha version". He was looking for technical partners, we were looking for somebody that could help us structure the company and do things we weren't really good at, like "coming up with a good business plan", you could say!
What makes you different from everyone else?
We cover every possible setup that a shared workplace might be offering their customers and we display it in the most creative and usable way possible. ShareDesk allows its hosts to set up a workspace and start to rent out idle office space in less than five minutes thanks to the handcrafted user interface and for the same reason is an incredibly easy and quick way to find, compare and reserve flexible office space.
On top of that, ShareDesk evolves based on suggestions from the community – making it a product that's made by nomad workers for nomad workers.
What is your business model? And how big is the market potential?
So far, our business model is simple: we charge the host (the workplace) a 15 per cent commission fee for successful transactions, which means the service is completely free to use. Only hosts get charged, and only when we sell their offers.
The market potential is pretty huge. Look at Airbnb's success and try to imagine the total square metres of unused space that coworking spaces, private offices, SMEs and large corporations could potentially rent out. Then consider the constantly growing number of solo professionals and startups that need flexible office space. If you connect the two and add the "trust and community effect" that like-minded professionals could establish, you get the market potential of ShareDesk.
Who's financing you?
We are a venture-backed startup with funding from prominent Silicon Valley investors like Tim Draper, along with others. We're looking forward to making key announcements on our funding in the coming months.
Is there something that you're missing?
As a startup we are always missing something or somebody, but I can assure you that we have office space!
Who would you like to have lunch with and what would you talk about?
I'd love to have a chat with the three Airbnb founders (Nathan, Brian and Joe) to understand in depth the problems that they had and how things evolved for them. I could definitely learn something from them.
Any advice for fellow startups?
I think "do and dare" applies to anyone trying to make their new company succeed.
Where will you be in a year's time?
ShareDesk's future includes a corporate solution that will allow companies of all sizes to understand, organise and eventually share their unused office space, which means people can easily work or meet in the closest available facility at any given time.
This will help business owners reduce management inefficiency costs by instantly monetising unused spaces, while on the other hand it reduces commutes, improves productivity and happiness by allowing people to work in places they love and helping them establish a better work-life balance. I like to think of ShareDesk's future as making little steps towards changing the way we work. I think we need that.
Image credit: Flickr user hyku
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