Breather – Peace & Quiet on Demand

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On Friday, all of my meetings were downtown but I had a two hour open window in the late morning.  Instead of schlepping to RRE’s office in Midtown East or sitting in a noisy Starbucks with spotty wifi, I decided to give Breather a try.  Breather is a newly launched mobile app that provides on-demand rooms in large urban areas. It is the brain child of Julien Smith a Montreal-based writer and entrepreneur.  The service currently operates in Montreal and NYC, costs $25 / per hour and is available seven days a week from 6am to 10pm. 

The main goal of the app is to provide a quiet place to hold a meeting, work in private or just take a break for an hour or two. While the service is perceived as “odd,” novel and unproven, I can imagine a growing market for this type of flexible space. Demand will likely come from small companies with virtual organizations, freelancers, visiting executives and employees and even tourists. The timing for something like Breather to emerge couldn’t be any better since asset sharing, co-working and freelancing have become important pieces of the innovation economy for nearly a decade. 

The end-to-end experience was seamless, easy and surprisingly enjoyable. After I downloaded and registered for the app, I was able to easily search for Breathers in my area. As you can see the NYC locations are conveniently placed in SOHO, Flatiron and Penn Station: 

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Because my meetings were south of 14th St., I selected Soho and then received information on the location and the space: 

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I was then able to select the desired day and time using a simple interface:   

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Once the booking process was complete, I received a text message confirming the transaction and the countdown began: 

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When I arrived at the location in Soho on Friday morning, I checked into the space using the app: 

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Within a second of confirming my check in, I received an in app message containing a unique door code for this one time-use: 

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I then entered the code into the keypad found near the door handle: 

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And voila! I found peace and quiet for a two hour email blitz:

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The space was well designed, comfortable and very clean. It could comfortably accommodate eight people since there is a table for six, two lounge chairs and a love seat. The room also contained an “idea wall” for brainstorming, pens and paper, Tootsie Rolls, free wifi for surfing the web, plenty of plugs and a magazine rack.  Because I was running around all morning and wasn’t prepared, the only two items I wish the room had was a bathroom (located in the hallway) and some bottled water. image

When I was finished using the space, I cleaned up after myself, packed my bags and just walked out the door.  That was it. Very simple without any friction. Julien and his team nailed the product from a UX / UI perspective but wish they made the app a bit more social and rewarding so I can earn incentives by getting my friends and co-workers to sign up.  I’m sure that will come shortly.  

Since Breather just launched in NYC, the service still has a lot to prove but I’m excited to see how this experiment unfolds. My four biggest questions are related to price, utilization, cleanliness and vandalism. Is $25 per hour too much when competing with a free alternative like Starbucks? Can Breather acquire affordable leases and maintain a high utilization rate to make it a viable business? How does the company ensure cleanliness? Finally, will the spaces be used for illegal activities that will undermine the spirit of the community and company?   

Overall, the process was very ‘Uberesque’ which is the highest praise one can give a mobile service these days. I’m excited Breather chose NYC as a test market because I personally have a business need for this type of on demand space. If they can answer some of the big questions I noted above, I believe Breather has the potential to be a viable business and a valuable service in major urban centers around the globe. 

The Author

A VC in NYC

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