ShareDesk catapults out of beta to offer shared desk space in 65 countries

By Michael Carney , written on July 22, 2013

From The News Desk

It’s likely that if you live in a prominent startup community, there’s a local co-working space that is a central hub of the ecosystem. Entrepreneurs move in and out of the space as they spin up new companies, recruit talent, and otherwise socialize. If the space is run by a brand name like WeWork, Regus, or General Assembly, there are likely several locations around town, or around the country, that operate in the same network. But one startup is looking to up the ante and is launching out of beta today with more than 1,500 locations in 65 countries.

Vancouver-based ShareDesk describes itself as the “world’s largest platform for flexible workplaces” and the “AirBnB of office space.” The company offers individuals and small teams access to its network of shared workplaces on flexible hourly, daily, monthly, or extended terms. With this network expected to grow to 4,000 within the next 12 months, this is like instantly getting access to the offices of every company in 500 Startups’ global investment portfolio.

In true sharing economy fashion, ShareDesk spaces are provided by a combination individuals, small businesses, and large corporations that have idle office space. The price can vary widely depending on location and term, but a user should expect to pay between $50 to $500 for a monthly desk rental. The company collects a 15 percent commission from the host for its matchmaking services.

Like most coworking companies, ShareDesk began by focusing on individuals and small teams. But given the size of its global footprint, the company is now looking to move into the enterprise market. It’s no secret that corporate workforces are growing more distributed and more mobile -- ShareDesk says there are over 1 billion mobile workers, representing 37 percent of the global workforce. The idea of its move up-market is that companies can offer their employees access to external workspaces and meeting rooms on demand and in most locations.

As GitHub co-founder Tom Preston-Werner told a San Francisco PandoMonthly audience, “If you only hire in the Valley, you don’t have the best talent.” His follow-up to that message was that to make distributed workforces effective, it’s crucial that remote workers feel like first-class members of your team. From ShareDesk’s perspective, that means, among other things, not having to work and schedule meetings in a Starbucks or a hotel lobby.

Traditionally, real estate is a costly and inflexible proposition. Couple this with the dynamic needs of most entrepreneurs and companies and it’s a recipe for conflict. With this in mind, workspace is the ideal category for sharing economy-style disruption. This isn’t to say that it’s easy, however.

The real estate industry is one of enormous and deeply entrenched powers that are less than thrilled when new business models begin creeping in on their turf. See AirBnB as Exhibit 1A for how that can turn out. Not only will ShareDesk need to compete with the several other startup competitors, but it will need to navigate the world of real estate brokers, property managers, and property owners, all of which will be quick to push back if they feel a pinch in the wallet.

Most leases already have a clause preventing unauthorized subleasing. Simply enforcing this provision more stringently could put a serious cramp in ShareDesk’s collaborative consumption mojo. ShareDesk doesn’t have to be a bad thing for the real estate industry, however. In fact, it has the potential to help reduce vacancies by helping companies better monetize space which is currently out of their budget but which they hope to grow into.

For those host companies offering space, the model has proven a good way to attract new talent or potential business development opportunities. Tenants get a good sense of the host’s corporate culture and the host gets to get to know the tenant over time in a no-pressure environment. Certain ShareDesk clients have even mandated that those renting desk space be engineers. With ShareDesk now targeting enterprise customers, however, this could become a touchy subject if talent poaching becomes a regular occurrence.

ShareDesk, which has yet to announce any outside financing, enters a crowded market that includes LiquidSpace (40 US states), PivotDesk (NYC, SF, Denver, & Boulder), Desktime (Chicago), Neardesk (UK), and Deskwanted (Germany), among others. Each has a unique twist on the model and in most cases geographic limitations (whether they are temporary or permanent).

LiquidSpaces focuses on short-term rentals of a day or less and also offers its booking software for internal use within large corporations. Like ShareDesk, it recently moved beyond the consumer-facing market to target enterprise workers. PivotDesk, on the other hand, goes beyond renting a single desk to offer whole (small) companies the opportunity to cowork or sublease from other companies with excess space. Desktime is a nationwide marketplace of third-party coworking spaces. LooseCubes attempted to offer New Yorkers a members-only coworking network, but the company was free to use and shut down in November, just five months after raising $7.8 million. In the commercial retail market, StoreFront helps match online retailers and indie-designers with vacant retail space for use as pop-up shops.

Time will tell if ShareDesk’s is the model that ultimately cracks the code, but the company has at least built an impressive global network of workspaces. Reach alone is a big advantage in this game. The company’s next challenge will be to attract enough renters to build sufficient liquidity into the system for its hosts.