#Asia Need some breathing room at short notice? This app wants to be the Airbnb for offices



As a yoga buff who does her deep “breathe in, breathe out” drill religiously, my heart skipped a beat when I came across the term “BreathingRoom”. What, an app that gives me a room to do my favorite morning thing! Well, not quite, it turned out; but neither was I too off the mark.

Are you a cash crunched, space scrunched startup? Are you a work-from-home entrepreneur? Are you someone who needs to travel for your business? Or maybe you are part of the evolving trend of operating out of a virtual office. If any of these categories describes you, an office space would be one of your preeminent needs now and then, right?

The standard practice is to resort to a quick fix – a cafe, or a hotel. Both have their drawbacks; coffee shops can be noisy and crowded, and hotels, expensive. Moreover, you risk over-caffeinating yourself, coffee shops after all are commercial places, and hotel infrastructure is usually not geared for office requirements. Whether you’re a startup or a business traveler, ideally you would want a professional, functional, workplace. This is where BreathingRoom could be your go-to option.

Founded by Kaushal Sanghavi and Mehernosh Bathena, BreathingRoom gives you the flexibility of getting an office room, on demand. Be it for meetings, conferences, training sessions, recruitments, or just to do your work at a desk, from wherever, and whenever, at short notice, for as short a period as just an hour, or just a day, according to your needs. And it won’t cost you a bomb.

The prices range from INR 79 (US$ 1.18) an hour for single seater hot desks, to INR 399 (US$ 5.98) an hour meeting rooms for four to six people, to INR 599 (US$ 8.98) an hour for boardrooms and training rooms that seat 8 to 14 and 15 plus, respectively. And they come equipped with free wifi, whiteboards, projector/LED display, air conditioning, plus tea and coffee.

The BreathingRoom app is available on Android and iOS devices. For now, their services are available in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore, and Delhi.

A room with a view


Needless to say, I wanted to try out booking a BreathingRoom for myself. The app, even for a non-geek like me, turned out to be pretty easy to use. All I needed to do was install it, login with my Facebook or LinkedIn, which is done to verify identity – you are assured that they’ll never post to Facebook on your behalf. Once the app opens, you can browse through photos of BreathingRooms, along with the specifics of each, such as the location, size, cost, and amenities. Once you pick one, you tap the ‘book now’ button, choose your time slot, make your payment, and that’s it.

As for owners of office spaces, there’s a ‘got space’ option on the BreathingRoom site where you can list your space for free.

While the photos of the BreathingRooms were picture perfect on the app, I wanted to check out one for myself. When Kaushal heard I was a yoga buff, he thought he had the perfect one for me in Koregaon Park – a facility, which is a wellness center, conducting meditation, spiritual healing, self empowerment workshops, and so on, and lets out its space to BreathingRoom. So there was my yoga connect.

Off I trotted to Koregaon Park on Sunday. But first, let me tell you a little about Koregaon Park. About fifteen years back, when I moved to Pune, Koregaon Park – called KP for short – was my first address in the city. KP was a tranquil crisscross of tree-lined lanes and bylanes, where old Parsi bungalows nestled. With hardly any traffic, the air you breathed was morning dew fresh, filled with birdsong, and the few people who moseyed along the lanes were genial Parsis or the maroon-robed Oshoites from the Osho commune located in KP – it used to be called Rajneesh ashram those days.

Today, the lanes and bylanes of KP still exist, the trees still cling to the sidewalks, but share space with eateries, cafes, microbreweries, myriad shops, offices, mushrooming apartment complexes, and so on, which have sprouted up – in short, a reflection of Pune transforming from what used to be a sleepy pensioners’ paradise to a burgeoning young metropolis.

And, while rush hour traffic chokes the main artery of KP on weekdays these days, on Sundays it reverts back to the tranquility of the past, including a few Oshoites strolling about. So, it was on a tranquil little KP bylane that I found the BreathingRoom I had set out for. Inside, was a reception-cum-lounging room, which led to three spacious rooms geared with the office amenities as described, a pantry where I glimpsed tea and coffee knickknacks, and a spic and span loo. The big windows framed leafy trees and the monsoon swollen Mula-Mutha river rippling by. And yes, the training session was going on in one of the rooms.

Hiral Drona, the person conducting the training session, told me that he uses this BreathingRoom at Koregaon Park two or three times a month, usually for eight hour periods. “For me, having an office space, set up with all the amenities like internet, will be very costly. So renting it on an hourly basis is much cheaper,” he said. They also arrange lunch for the users, for which they are charged.

Discontent spurs inventiveness


Kaushal Sanghavi and Mehernosh Bathena, co-founders of BreathingRoom.

With a BA in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley, along with an MBA from the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, Kaushal was working with Amazon before he ventured into entrepreneurship with BreathingRoom. Mehernosh describes himself as chief geek at BreathingRoom, and is a computer science grad. Both of them had worked together at Saffronart, an online art auction house, and also were together at CK-12, an education tech non-profit organization.

“Even though both of us are from Mumbai, we’ve both loved Pune, and have enjoyed setting up BreathingRoom out of here,” says Kaushal.

So what was the reason behind the creation of BreathingRoom? Well, as is often the case, discontent spurs inventiveness. Kaushal Sanghavi explains: “It starts from a few different places, I travel for business and I often found myself stuck in coffee shops, next to loud social gatherings, some of them older, some of them teenagers – that’s when it hit me first!”

But it was when Kaushal was setting up an office in India for a non-profit, based in the US, that he began looking at this problem a little deeper, “When I was doing that, lots of friends started offering their office space to me, I realized that clearly there were these spaces that I should be using instead, especially for when I had just a few hours here and there. I mean, I had options all across Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore, so I figured there were options everywhere, so I thought: why was I stuck to going to a coffee shop!”

Kaushal realized that even when people spend time searching for a place to work in, they were :either going to a Regus (a multinational corporation that provides office spaces globally) or a 4 or 5 star hotel – both options tend to cater to high end corporate customers, willing and capable of paying top dollars for such places, “But these don’t make sense for a ‘well, let me get some work done’ kind of scenario for most Indian businesses, right?”

Hence, after talking to lots of folks on his professional network, it struck him, “If these were the places people were going to, and were already pulling out their wallets for, why don’t we direct them to all these fully functional workspaces that we knew about, that were not being used for most of the day, which were economical, and, importantly, were curated by us.”

The matchmaking


Kaushal tells me he comes from a real estate family background, as in selling real estate commercially for a living for generations. He would always hear them crib about spaces lying dead, their money locked in, and no liquidity. “I was in Amazon, so I never really thought about this as a problem. I thought it was people just talking, you know. On the face of it they seemed super successful.”

He continues, “But then, I dug a little deeper and I found all these reports saying that a large percent of office spaces tend to be underutilized, and that’s when I thought, wow, this is a huge problem even from the supply side!”

According to realty consultancy firm JLL India, 20 percent of Mumbai office space lies vacant, and in Delhi-NCR, it’s almost 32 percent. The all-India level is 15 percent. And a Cushman & Wakefield study says 42.4 percent of Grade A category office space is lying vacant in Kolkata. Clearly, underutilized office spaces were a reality across Indian cities. And that’s when Kaushal and his team figured that BreathingRoom could be an Airbnb or Uber for office spaces.

So, BreathingRoom seeks to do that by bringing together users scouting for office spaces at cost-effective rates, and the owners of underutilized commercial spaces, via their app. The users get fully functional, comfortable, well located, private work spaces without the major financial commitment required to build their own offices. And the owners get the opportunity to monetize their underutilized spaces. BreathingRoom takes a cut from the monetary transaction made.

Kaushal says they’re self-funded, and profitable.

Competition is good all around


I wondered who exactly were the people using BreathingRoom for their workplace needs? Business travellers? Freelancers? SMEs? Startups? And, Kaushal gave me an interesting insight.

While indeed he believes there’s a pain point for business travelers, because that’s where it stemmed from for him, and they do use them, he realized that the problem is much more acute for top executives of companies, small to large.

For example, the sales head of a company needs a place to meet the sales team, the HR head needs a place where they can do a training program for new employees, or, to interview people they’re thinking of hiring in a city where they may not have an office, then there are CEOs who want to meet potential investors, of course. “Today, these are the people who are actively seeking us out,” he explains.

Kaushal mentions Regus as competition, though he says it’s three times more expensive than what he has on offer. Plus, Regus is not geared towards the short-term office space usage that BreathingRoom has, he claims. Awfis is another on the same track.

There are several co-working spaces in Indian cities today – BHive, Innov8, 91Springboard, and so on.

Competition is good all around. If you want to be the Airbnb of office space, your service has to be equivalent, if not better than them. And Kaushal and his team are confident BreathingRoom is up for the challenge.

** Converted Indian Rupees to US dollars at the rate of US$1 = INR 66.71.

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