There’s no denying that New York is full of coffee shops and coworking spaces where a person can hunker down and get things done, but there’s something to be said about a little privacy. And that’s the gist of a buzzy startup called Breather. It wants to offer up an on-demand batch of stylish, carefully curated rooms for people who need to work or take it easy for a few moments. Or anything else, really.
“Breather is all about peace and quiet on demand,” founder and CEO Julian Smith told me. “But there are all these potential use cases that we can’t expect; Breather is agnostic that way.”
Breather first started picking up media steam this past June when it announced its mission and a $1.5 million capital infusion from Real Ventures, social media/wine guru Gary Vaynerchuk, and Loic Le Meur to name a few. On some level, it’s not hard to see why these people and their checkbooks have gravitated toward this venture — the lure of a private space in cities defined by their hustle and bustle seems like a hard one to resist.
That said, the startup’s grand rollout is taking a little longer than expected. The team was originally hoping to get users in New York into those well-furnished, Wi-Fi-equipped Breather rooms by October, but Smith confirmed to me over the phone that they’ve had to fiddle with that launch window considerably. Now he hopes to officially launch Breather in the Big Apple in January, with outposts in (where else?) San Francisco to follow soon afterward.
For the time being, the startup is still quietly testing the concept with about 100 users in Smith’s native Montreal. To hear him tell it, that delayed launch isn’t about a flawed concept (the beta is purportedly going “very well”) as it is a side-effect of supply.
At least part of the problem are those smartphone-friendly electronic locks that the Breather concept hinges on… or the lack thereof. Startups like Lockitron promise to make the prospect of remotely allowing users into secured spaces drastically easier — there’s no more need for a set of easily lost keys to physically change hands any more — but there just aren’t enough of them available to power the expansion Breather is planning on.
Even so, those sorts of early hurdles have done little to dampen Smith’s spirits. He ultimately wants to get Breather rooms up and running in “every major city,” a task that apparently isn’t as arduous as it would seem at first glance. To hear Smith tell it, the amount of demand necessary to make opening a new location worthwhile is lower than one might think.
“All I need is 250 users to support a single location,” he said. “Even in, like, South Dakota, there are 250 users in a sort of village that need a private space.” Building or venue staff will still be responsible for keeping the room in good shape (though most of that ultimately comes to the service’s users), but the largely hands-on slant to the Breather concept means that all it takes to scale in a big way are some willing landlords with some unused space and enough smart locks to go with it.