Every year, more and more companies like room-booking startup Airbnb crop up to cater to the lifestyle of the “digital nomad.” Untethered from an office or even a home, they travel from place to place looking for interesting spaces to be productive or serendipitously connect with others building intriguing projects.
LiquidSpace, backed with $1.3 million from Greylock Ventures and Mike Maples Floodgate Fund, is yet another. It wants to make it easy to find comfortable and wired workspaces everywhere in the world.
Founded by a team that already has two companies behind them, LiquidSpace is taking a mobile-only strategy. It’s forgoing a web search product in favor of an iPhone app that lets users look for nearby places that are open and have amenities like food and wi-fi. Users can specify whether they like to work alone, with other people or whether they need a quiet area.
The company splits workplaces into three categories: 1) public spaces, like coffee shops or Starbucks where there’s ready wi-fi and outlets 2) priced spaces, like business centers at hotels and airport lounges and 3) private spaces, like unused spaces in law firms, or corporate offices.
“Private’s really the iceberg,” said Doug Marinaro, the company’s chief operating officer. “It represents all of that underutilized space that sits inside corporate offices around the world.”
In the app, they’ve built a passport and visa system that lets venue owners describe the kinds of people they want their space to accommodate. For example, a venture fund might want to make its offices open only to its portfolio companies. Only people with the right visa (the right set of permissions) will be able to see the listing.
LiquidSpace’s chief executive Mark Gilbreath spent several years studying the commercial real estate market through his previous company, VengaWorks. They would create “smart work centers” that local businesses or entrepreneurs could rent out temporarily instead of signing up for multi-year leases.
“We noticed that there were lots of free agents looking for space to use on an as-needed basis,” he said. “The second thing we saw was that a lot of real estate sits idle. We’re going after a play that would unlock all of this value.”
To seed the supply side of the market, the pair are looking to start with the San Francisco Bay Area. They’re looking at co-working spaces, business centers and then private venues like venture capital firms, attorney offices and corporate tech companies that have extra unused space.
They pulled in LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman as a board observer and investor. There is lots of potential for the company to integrate with either LinkedIn or Facebook; users might want to find where their friends or co-workers are working the Places API. Or they might want to extend their company’s space to friends or friends of friends.
“This could be a check-in for business,” Gilbreath said. They’re building viral mechanisms into the product as well; users will have the opportunity to share their workspace with collaborators.
The business model in the long-run will probably center around transaction fees for paid or private venues. If a user books a space at the Marriott, for example, LiquidSpace could take a small cut of that transaction. The company’s still working on the details for what that share would be.