Signing a long-term office lease is a big risk even for big companies. It’s hard to know what space you’ll need in a year or two. And, if something goes wrong, you could be left with empty desks and serious bills to pay. Equally, entrepreneurs don’t want to start paying for real estate in the Empire State Building until they know a project is going to fly.
PivotDesk thinks it can help both groups. A website for linking up people with spare space with folks needing a desk or two, it aims to help organizations be more flexible, and take some sting out of the leasing market.
"The real estate industry is a very static structure that makes it hard to plan," says co-founder David Mandell. "We try to give companies more flexibility."
Mandell says he got the idea from starting three of his own businesses, and mentoring dozens of startups through the TechStars network. He says it’s "asinine" for young entrepreneurs to spend lots of time looking for space, when "they don’t know if they’re going to be in business two months from now."
Since starting PivotDesk last year, more than 1,000 people have signed up, and 300 are using the service actively. They include Seattle-based humor network Cheezburger, which both leases out space and buys it for salespeople in New York, education site General Assembly, and VerbalizeIt, a translation platform.
The matching process is simple. Hosts list how many people they can take, what amenities they offer (furniture, Wi-Fi, kitchen), and how much cash they want. Guests get in touch through the site. There are no formal leases. The two parties agree a license period, but either side can back out at any time, provided they give 30 days notice.
PivotDesk currently lists space in New York, San Francisco, Boulder and Denver. Boston, Portland and Seattle are on the horizon (it already helps some companies in those cities). Space in Manhattan is currently going for between $375 and $650 per person, per month.
PivotDesk takes 10% of each license fee, but doesn’t look to get involved in the negotiating process. If hosts want to charge extra for use of the coffee machine, say, they can ask guests to contribute something.
Does it work? It’s still early days. But Mandell suggests that guests concentrate on finding a cultural fit, rather than, say, whether a place has exposed brickwork. It’s a good idea, he says, to find out how noisy a place is, and how much people talk with another.
"When you’re sharing office space, it’s important that you’re working with compatible people. When people first try the system, they say 'I want this location, and this spec.' But we tell them that’s not really what you need. What you really need is the right culture where you can be flexible and grow."