You’ve got five seconds to come up with a start-up idea to solve this problem: nearly one in five Brisbane offices are vacant.
You’ve got one? Too late. Entrepreneur Jake Dimarco’s already there with his start-up, Spare Workspace, an online platform to match businesses and individuals with spare workspaces. We’re talking hot desks, meeting rooms and office spaces.
He’s been beta testing the platform since July and launched it in September.
“There’s a huge market for businesses with unused space and for people needing on-demand short term space. After 12 months of working on the platform, we’ve made it easy for businesses to advertise and share their workspace,” Dimarco says.
It’s aimed at freelancers or startups needing an affordable and efficient workspace, small professional services teams or business travellers.
Through the platform, a ‘host’ venue lists for free and can accept bookings in real time. Already 500 spaces, mostly in Brisbane and Sydney, have listed. Spare Workspace’s cut is about 10 per cent of each booking. You can book for an hour up to a year and the look and feel of the platform is much like booking a hotel, says 26-year-old, Dimarco.
He found his unique selling point by not charging an advertising fee.
Inspired by personal needs
Dimarco, who has a sales and marketing background with Apple, Samsung and Vodafone, came up with the idea after needing workspace on demand himself. He had co-founded an outdoor fitness company that needed indoor space to host classes in wet weather.
“After looking at all our options, every space required complex legal agreements, advanced bookings and were cost-prohibitive,” he says.
At about the same time, Dimarco was at a cafe in an old warehouse which closed at 3pm.
“This cafe was huge and would have been perfect as a wet weather venue for our training classes. It was then I realised not only could our fitness studio use the space on an ad-hoc basis, but there was no limit to who else could. Pop-up restaurants, catering companies, yoga teachers or event companies could use the space while empty and the cafe can earn money outside of the core business hours.”
As he researched the idea, he found there were direct and indirect competitors to his business idea “charging hundreds of dollars just to advertise”. He found his unique selling point by not charging an advertising fee.
Partnerships mean perks
Spare Workspace has already partnered with Australian companies including Wotso Workspace, Microsoft BizSpark, PIN Payments, Uber and Corporate House.
“We’re not just providing workspaces, but creating a community of hosts and guests of B2B companies. Part of our guest experience is if you have an active booking, you’ll get access to some amazing perks we’ve created for you through Uber, Microsoft and other start-ups to promote their products and services,” says Dimarco.
Microsoft’s BizSpark start-up program is one such partner.
Program co-ordinator Ester Gergis, says: “We saw the potential in the marketplace Jake has built, as so many of our start-up community are often seeking somewhere to work away from their home or an office space while travelling. Seeing the demand, we are confident that Spare Workspace will address the needs of many start-ups or small teams as it launches across Australia.”
“My feedback from the market is that the one size fits all approach doesn’t fit all."
The sharing economy model always comes with challenges
A key challenge, though, was creating workable sub-leasing agreements – it had to be simple.
“The agreements can be complex, lengthy and almost a road block in terms of sharing space. Hosts don’t know how to draw one up and it can be expensive to do it yourself. Guests don’t have time to do it either. I’m not a lawyer, so I consulted a fantastic law firm who put this together and consulted property lawyers.
“I did have input as to what I thought the agreement should look like. It was also based on feedback from the market. We had spent months interviewing and researching what short term workspace is in Australia, their pain points and what the co-working spaces agreements were like.”
Spare Workspace’s agreements act as a foundation, so each host can opt to add their own venue rules, which guests review and accept before booking.
One size doesn’t fit all
“My feedback from the market is that the one size fits all approach doesn’t fit all. There are so many types of commercial spaces out there.
In all, he spent a year full time developing his business idea with 22 people working for him at different times – including a few interns.
“One thing I also did from day one was surround myself with other people who work on their own start-ups, who have experience. As I am the sole founder, I have to have friends to bounce ideas off,” he says.
“Call me crazy, but I wasn’t ready then. I just wanted to concentrate on getting the product right."
‘No’ to an angel investment…for now
In June, an investor approached him to offer a “small amount of capital”.
“Call me crazy, but I wasn’t ready then. I just wanted to concentrate on getting the product right, launching and delivering our best product out there. That investor has been very persistent. I’ve built this model so it can be self-sustaining and this investment will really help things take off by allowing us to pay for key hires in sales and marketing in the coming months.”
He’s also looking to boost content marketing and add functionality to the platform so hosts can upload virtual tours and videos about their workspaces. Dimarco’s also investigating growth areas such as hair salons with unused chairs or a café’s kitchen outside of opening hours.
Former Sunday Age staff journalist, Margaret Paton (formerly Jakovac) has written widely for corporations/government departments and more than 100 online/hard copy mastheads in regional NSW, Sydney, Melbourne and Europe.