Zigzagging the stage at Le Web London 2013 as he pitched his new startup Breather, Julien Smith said that for all their myriad virtues, cities have one particular downside — which, paradoxically, is the very thing that made them great in the first place: people. Smith and cofounder Alex Payne, (the CTO of BankSimple) are setting out to solve the issue with Breather, a start-up which launched at the event. Their solution is a new spin on the sharing economy : an app for paid-up members which unlocks a network of private spaces which can be used for meetings, catching up with work or simply for a bit of alone-time.
People are clogging up urban centers all over the world at an unprecedented rate (by nearly 60 million a year, estimates the WHO). “We like people, but we just don’t like them all the time,” says Smith, a seasoned public speaker, New York Times bestselling author and entrepreneur..
As human congestion bites further, city centers will increasingly lack private space, Smith predicted, creating pent up demand. Currently visitors craving privacy — and even locals stranded downtown, with work to do between meetings — have little more to choose from than a hotel room or coffee shop. In sum, pPrivate space is broken,” says Smith.
“In the sharing economy of the future everything has to be small and agile to work,” he says. “It has to be frictionless.” If you can order a taxi, takeaway or any number of services with a few taps of a smart-phone, he reasoned, then why shouldn’t you be able to walk through a city and order a private space too, whenever and wherever you need it?
Breather’s website likens the service to “a distributed private club.” It will offer “safe and clean” spaces which can be rented for anything from 30 minutes to an entire day. Rooms will be unlocked with smartphones, using Lockitron technology. According to one report, rates will be around $20 an hour. “Fundamentally what the spaces provide is peace and quiet on demand,” said Smith. The app will soon be available in selected cities.