Breather is the brainchild of Caterina Rizzi and Julien Smith, two long-standing friends whose ambitions and paths crossed when technology met design to deliver Breather.com.
Breather was born after countless business trips, time spent in distracting co-working spaces, and noisy coffee shops putting a dent in productivity. It removes these factors and enables people to work in a professional, tech ready, highly designed and private space without any distractions, flexibly, in global cities, at affordable prices.
Canadian entrepreneur and co-founder Julien Smith discusses Breather’s rapid growth in the last three years and plans for the future. There are currently 200 spaces in operation spanning 10 global cities with a very simple message – you can use it to work, meet or relax at a time and place that suits you.
What exactly is your business and how does it help people?
Breather allows users to book high design office and meeting room space on demand by the hour, for as little as £50 in central London, all accessed by our app. The app also acts as the key to your chosen meeting space, unlocking it via a secure code.
We’ve already seen the app take off in New York, San Francisco, Boston, Montreal and Chicago and our aim is to do the same here in London. Breather offers an inexpensive, flexible alternative to the ordinary office space – they are generally pretty bland and err towards the expensive and inflexible. Breather is the tonic to remedy that. Whether you’re looking for a place to impress new or potential clients, need a quiet space to enable creativity, or are just looking for a change of office scenery, Breather can accommodate.
What was your inspiration and motivation to get started in business?
I travelled the world as a business writer and found myself gravitating to coffee shops like Starbucks to meet people. It is comfortable, safe, clean and more importantly consistent – no matter where you are in the world, their formula is universal – but it is transient. I felt there was a need for flexible spaces that the travelling tourist, business person, student could drop into around the world in major cities.
What’s more and what we have learned is that spiralling real estate prices in global cities is only going one way. This means there simply isn’t scope for a start-up or new business to sign a lease on a space that is centrally located, well equipped, and looks good. We wanted to help businesses of all size combat this, which is why our on-demand service allows you to take a workspace in Manhattan, London, and San Francisco without needing to go heavily in debt as a start-up – this removes one of the constricting factors small businesses face.
Our users might work in design, creative industries, or consultancy and when they need to meet a client, talk confidentially, deliver a sense of professionalism that doesn’t allow you to meet in a coffee shop, restaurant or pub, this is where Breather comes in. No contracts, no hidden costs, no waiting times, just flexibility businesses need to meet their hectic schedules, delivered through technology that works for the user – you can be in the taxi on the way to our London sites booking them and by the time you arrive you can have the access code and be conducting your business seamlessly. This is agility at its best and combined with a low cost model means that our users can focus their energies on delivering for their clients, growing their business, without the fear of being tied into financially pressurised lease agreements.
How did your friends and family react to you starting a business?
I’ve always been curious about the world, those within it, what motivates and inspires people and this is the same with my approach to business. My previous life as a writer is testament to that so my support network has always been supportive and keen to spur me on early twenties and my friends and family have always been supportive. They loved the idea of Breather from the very start, and realised there was a gap in the market for something like this.
How have you managed a work/life balance?
There is no doubt that when you start something you own it and the dedication ensures that you are consumed by its success. I’m on call 24/7, but I always make time for friends and family, they inspire me, are my greatest sounding board, and allow me to maintain a sense of purpose throughout the .
What are the biggest challenges you have faced and how did you overcome them?
Challenges are what refine your idea so they need to be embraced and addressed in order to evolve. Every stage of the process is another hurdle – the conception of the core idea, the creation of a team to bring this to life, the attraction of funding, and the meticulous planning needed to scale and grow. Each challenge has its own pitfalls and merits, but living your idea and believing in it is the way to ensure you overcome them.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start their own business?
Be meticulous in your plan from beta to meta. All of the planning is your real-time education. The failed plans and ideas help you hone your final version so be brave and be prepared to final and have an idea that doesn’t quite hit the mark as it will sharpen your resolve for the final iteration. Don’t be scared to ask for help. Surround yourself with people you trust. Commit to your idea and your people. No one is perfect and often things go wrong, but if you plan for the worst you will find starting and running a business so much easier.
How do you expect your business to develop in the future?
To look ahead we have to look back – to date we have raised $27.5M in funding from multiple investors so the attraction of future funding will ensure we can continue to grow and I expect us to do so at a greater scale. We’re currently growing by 20-30 units per month so if the next few years resemble our past at all we should be in 50 cities, with plans for much more of a network that can benefit the people within it. We took the team up to 100 employees in such a short time to ensure we could fulfil our ambitions and I think we will continue on the upward growth curve.