Business Rx: TouchdownSpace

May 5, 2013
The entrepreneur

For the growing number of people whose offices exist only virtually, a coffee shop might seem like the best option for an important business meeting. Caleb Parker thought there must be a better solution. In February, he started TouchdownSpace to fill the void.

Parker made the leap from a small business he co-founded in 2009, which provided furnished office space with flexible terms through a network of shared office operators. As technology advanced, many of his clients no longer needed a permanent office to work from each day. However, they did still need occasional access to physical space for meetings or presentations.

The pitch

Parker

“TouchdownSpace provides professional office or meeting space, on demand (think Uber, the on-demand private car service, but for professional offices and board rooms). The nature of work is changing. People used to go to the office every day because that’s where work was. But today, people are doing more work outside of the office than ever before. Technology has given people the ability to work anywhere, any time. Many people work from home now, or the closest Starbucks. But what happens when you need to meet an important client?

“In the old model of commercial real estate, you had two options: sign a long-term lease for a large space in an office building or sublease space from a company that has already done that. There’s a lot of underutilized space out there. Empty space is expensive! We already had a network of furnished office space. So we built our core technology to make these premium spaces available on demand through one platform. Our members can use the TouchdownSpace Web site and mobile app to search for and book space by the hour or day, removing the need for expensive long-term leases.

“We launched in the D.C. metropolitan area as our first market in February. We currently have 65 premium locations with 240 different spaces available, from open desks to private offices, and board rooms to large meeting spaces. We’ll soon add 300 locations in 21 states to our platform for the traveling executive, so inventory is definitely not a problem for us.

“Our biggest challenge, like many start-ups I suppose, is letting our market know that we have a solution to their problem. They don’t have to have important business meetings at a coffee shop, or sign a permanent office lease. There is something in between. As a start-up with limited resources, how do you do that in the most cost-effective way?”

Advice

Elana Fine, managing director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“You’re asking the million-dollar question — trying to get the attention of customers who may not know they have a problem. Meeting in a Starbucks has become very much the norm, not just for start-ups, but for many businesses. You should back up and talk to your customers to really understand if this is a problem for them. Know the users’ needs and how often they might rent a space. Among users, spreading awareness about TouchdownSpace is all about word-of-mouth marketing. You could also consider partnering with an entity that has other offerings for start-ups, such as Microsoft’s BizSpark program or StartUp America.

I also think you really need to understand the difference between your users and your customers. Whoever has the most to gain will be the most likely to help you. Consider approaching the problem from the other side — think of your customer as the entity trying to get rid of the excess office space. The leasing companies that are providing the extra inventory of office space have the incentive to fill their unused space and could be the key to getting the word out to customers. They can offer TouchdownSpace’s service as another product offering.”

Reaction

Parker

“We acquired our first customers through word-of-mouth marketing, so we definitely see value here. Partnering with membership organizations and associations is part of our customer acquisition strategy. Being in D.C. is great because we have access to nearly 2,000 associations to reach small-business customers through. The challenge is targeting the right ones.”

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