Tech & Work

Book private meeting spaces by the hour with new service, Breather

Breather seeks to make private space accessible for on-the-go business needs. They are only in three cities for now, but are in the process of expanding to 10.

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Image: Melanie Dusseault

Anyone who's searched for an available electrical outlet in a coffeeshop has felt the pain of sharing public space to get work done.

This particular strain of business stress is something a new startup called Breather is trying to alleviate. Breather (which raised $1.5 million in June) is a service that allows users to find available private space in New York City, San Francisco, and Montreal, and book it for a short length of time - 30 to 120 minutes — for a price of about $25 an hour.

A passcode lets them into a room that's cleaned after every use, has Wi-Fi, and can be used as a place to hold a meeting, or even just for a literal breather in between other business engagements.

The idea for Breather came from CEO Julien Smith's traveling. He said as a speaker and writer, he's been in countless hotels in about 20 different countries, and it got him into thinking about space - what it's supposed to be and how it's supposed to feel.

In a city, space is a tricky commodity. If it's public space, it's relatively easy to access. If it's private, it's much more difficult.

"Space is super inefficient and only a few people have the keys to most of the doors," Smith said. "So you end up with this space that's mostly empty all the time and that a lot of people could get access to if they could find a way to do that."

Finding a way to make Breather happen starts with finding spaces in the first place. Smith said they work with partners, whether it's a hotel or property owner who has an available room. The rooms must meet certain size requirements - not too big or too small - and Breather suggests the decor, going off the idea that a certain look will go further in attracting users. The look is supposed to be appropriate to a professional meeting room.

"I'm OK if [users] are surprised in a good way like, 'Oh this is affordable,' or 'Oh, this is so nice,' but if they're like, 'This is a crack den, and I just brought my boss here,' then it's really not a good idea. We're careful about quality," Smith said.

In maintaining quality, Breather has its rooms cleaned after use. "It's one of our hardest jobs but we've found ways to make it work," Smith said.

The other big challenge is finding space to keep up with demand. (As of Thursday, they announced a new space on Wall Street that's going for $25 an hour.) Before launching in a new city, for example, Breather sets up a network in advance before going through the process of promoting and offering specials.

"Launching cities is not tough, but it's long, so you have to work really hard at doing it for quite a long time," he said.

Within the next twelve months, Smith said Breather aims to be in 10 cities.

Since launching, Breather's learned that uses for the rooms, which Smith described as "agnostic," run the gamut from professionals using them for business meetings, to new moms using them to breastfeed.

"We're always surprised by use cases that people show up with, like somebody just had a fundraiser just a few days ago in one of our spaces, and then last month there was a wine tasting in one of them," Smith said.

William Coles has been using Breather multiple times a month. He's the CEO of a branding and design consultancy startup called DreamLand, and found that meeting at a coffeeshop wasn't cutting it.

"As we continue to grow as a company, we needed a more quiet space," he said.

They've been using Breather rooms for meetings. So far, he said he's appreciated the rooms being clean, comfortable, affordable, and in good locations, like in Midtown Manhattan. Plus, there are Tootsie Rolls in the some of the rooms, which was a bonus.

Now, when Smith finds himself in San Francisco, for example, he uses his own service.

"To me personally, it gives me a place where I feel like I'm at home, and since I travel so much, a huge thing for me is just to go take my shoes off and be able to relax," Smith said.

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About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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