I Took a Breather Last Week

Last Thursday, I started my day with a coffee meeting on the Upper West Side.  My next in-person meeting was a few hours later at the Columbia Startup Lab.  In between, I’d scheduled two calls for InSITE.

I hate taking calls at coffee shops.  It was way too cold and noisy to take them outside.  I was too far from school, home and my office to pop in for the calls.  And my go-to downtown shared workspace (my friend Matt’s apt/Wandering Bear HQ) was unavailable.  I finally found an excuse to try out Breather.   Here’s how it went:

Signing up:  This is ridiculously easy.  Sign in using facebook and immediately start browsing availability.  My only hiccup in the sign-up process was that I was on the 1 train and kept losing service.  No credit card required to sign up and look around.

Browsing/Choosing:   Also super intuitive.  You just drag around the map and click into the little Breather icons.  It doesn’t look like there are a ton of options in NYC yet, but they’re strategically placed in high traffic areas like Grand Central, Soho, Rock Center, Bryant Park, NoMad, Washington Square, etc.  Unfortunately, there weren’t any options exactly on my route, but I decided to go a bit out of the way and try it anyway.  I saw five options in Washington Square and clicked through to shop by price (note: it’s not simple to shop by price- need to click into each listing).  I didn’t really care about any amenities because I was literally just looking for peace, quiet, cell service and wifi.  Prices ranged from $25-40/hr, based (I think) on size and seating.  Unfortunately the $25/hr option (Washington Square #2) was booked, so I went with the $30/hr option (Washington Square #3). Here’s what the map looked like (took screenshot afterward):

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Booking:  Booking was a breeze.  I clicked through to a calendar and drag to my desired times.  Next step was to link a credit card, which took maybe 30 seconds.  The UX was so smooth, it felt painless to register my card and spend $45 on something I didn’t actually need…

One issue I had was with the hold/deposit.  Breather puts a $250 hold on your card at the time of booking.  I don’t really know why they do this, but I checked “Agree’ anyway.  The first time I tried to book, I got an error message and an email from Amex with a $250 fraud alert.  The merchant, curiously, was listed as Stripe, not Breather.  I know what Stripe is, so I approved it.  After a couple clicks in my email/Amex website, the charge was approved and I was back to Breather app for round 2 (total detour: maybe 3 minutes).  Sidenote- I wonder if “normal” people who don’t know about Stripe would have quit, called their card company, panicked or what.

Back to booking- here’s what the calendar looks like:

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FYI I went back to my Amex bill to see if the charge showed up as Stripe or Breather.  Here’s what it looks like:

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Once I booked my room, I reviewed the instructions and headed over:

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Using the Room:  Check-in was super easy.  I entered the code to the building as if I lived there.  I went upstairs to the second floor and saw a clearly marker Breather door and walked in.  Once inside, there were 5 more doors clearly marked 1-5.  I tried the knob on #3 but it was locked.  That’s because I hadn’t unlocked it.  I went back into the app and found the unique key code, typed it in, and heard the door unlock.  Magic.  The room was exactly as advertised.  Clean, spacious, simple, with a big window, table, a couch and some Tootsie Rolls.  I had quiet for my calls and was generally satisfied.  There was also a cop drama being filmed outside the window, so that was fun to watch during my calls.

Before my time was up, the next tenant actually walked into the room, realized I was still there, apologized profusely and walked out.  I totally didn’t care that he walked in, but I was surprised that Breather allowed this to happen.  Either a) the door wasn’t locked (it should lock every time it closes) b) the door didn’t close all the way (my fault) or c) he was able to use his unique unlock code before his scheduled time (he shouldn’t be able to).   Anyway, not a problem for me at all, but likely a bug of some sort.

Here are some bad photos of the room:image

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Business Model:This space was clearly owned/leased, decorated and operated by Breather.  I mistakenly assumed that Breather was a marketplace (connecting sellers with buyers a la AirBNB), but it’s definitely a vendor right now (selling its own product to buyers).  As a marketplace, I was curious how they’d do quality control, consistency, etc, but all that is irrelevant as a vendor.  This model begs capital efficiency/up front investment/fixed cost optimization questions.  Maybe I’ll do a post about the unit economics for a business like Breather later on, but you get the idea.

It looks like they’re at least thinking about rolling out a marketplace once they’ve validated customer demand.  How do I know that? Check out http://breather.com/submit-your-space.

Verdict:  Cool idea, nice space, easy to use, BUT too expensive for me to do solo phone calls.  Maybe I’d use a Breather for a bigger meeting and try to split the cost.

However, I would definitely be interested in a tiny phone booth room with a chair and wifi for less than $10 an hour.  In terms of square footage, my room easily could have been 6-8 phone-only rooms.

I’d encourage you to check out Breather and see for yourself.

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