William Johnson is an Ottawa-based blogger who writes at notionport.org about creative people doing creative things.
You’re a professional on the go. You’re sick of holding meetings in coffee shops; you’re sick of taking phone-calls on the bus or on the noisy street; or perhaps you’re just looking for somewhere to rest — somewhere to take a break. Enter Breather, the latest firm to add mass to Ottawa’s sharing economy. Breather, founded in 2013, allows customers — including individuals and organizations— to rent well-designed, quiet, Wi-Fi equipped spaces on-demand.
Often referred to as an ‘Uber for private spaces’, the service launched here last night with three spaces, one in the ByWard Market (78 George St.), one in the financial district (162 Metcalfe), and a space in Centretown (356 MacLaren). A small party with cocktails and appetizers was held at the Market location, which can hold about 12-15 individuals comfortably; the Metcalfe and McLaren locations hold 4-5 people and 3-4 people, respectively, according to Eric McRae, Breather partner and Ottawa manager, who’d like to see the service expand to have at least six locations.
“I’d like to get another location in the downtown core,” he said. “And then look at some of the other areas like Preston Street, Hintonburg, Westboro as well, so that we can provide a network of spaces where people can access them.”
To use the service, users simply download an app (available on iOS and Android), pull up a map — similar to how other peer-to-peer economy apps, including Uber and Airbnb work — and reserve a space. “Grab your phone, open an app. Reserve a room near you, anytime, anywhere,” is how founder Julien Smith put when he announced the service over a year ago, which originally launched in Montreal and San Francisco, then made it’s way to New York City. Ottawa, perhaps unexpectedly, can now count itself among three of the worlds most sophisticated cities that have the service.
“They weren’t looking at Ottawa initially,” says McRae. “I approached them, and asked them, because I recognized that there’s a certain market opportunity in Ottawa. It’s a very different city, and it has different needs and different demands from some of the larger cities, but I thought that the market could still really support it…somewhere where people can just kind of stop, connect, take a break, relax, or just to focus on their work.”
The company describes its spaces as ‘agnostic’, as in noncommittal to specific uses. Breather does, however, assess certain city factors before selecting potential spaces, including urban density, traffic, and levels of pedestrian movement.
“What I loved about Breather is that it takes a centralized come-to-my-office type of space, and explodes it out across the city so it becomes local and close to where you want and need to be,” said McRae. “So it’s not necessarily prescribed to a specific location.”
“When I was discussing that concept with [founder] Julien Smith, that’s what really caught my attention,” he said. “It becomes what you need it to be.”
McRae leases and has revenue sharing agreements with Breather with the spaces he manages, and he sees appealing to diverse segments of the population from lawyers, to creatives, to regular people. “Lawyers, who are travelling from other cities, from other places to work in Ottawa, they need places to meet with clients. We look at psychologists and people who are in therapy—they need access to spaces that are close to their clients,” he said.
“Accountants who work from home, and need to meet with their clients once or twice a year—they can easily book a space for those things. And for myself, what I liked about Breather was that the spaces were really designed in such a way that they can be used based on what your needs are, not necessarily prescribed based on the set-up of the design.”
Breather spaces in Ottawa are available for $20/hour, seven days a week, and from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.