🎙Founder Stories : James’s Startup journey as the co-founder of NearU

Five minutes before my podcast, I crashed around our dining area trying to get my headphones and microphone connected in time, tech was letting me down once again.

I’m meeting James Solomides, the co-founder of NearU. I like to think of them as the Uber for on demand workspaces, but James describes it very well. 👉 “NearU is an On-Demand Workspace Booking App

I’d like to start using coworking spaces in 2022, and to know that NearU has created a booking app to help me make workspace bookings on the exact days I choose, is just awesome. This means that I can work from a different workspace every week if I chose to. No subscriptions or credit cards necessary. 💳

So here goes… but before we get into this month’s blog, I’d love to connect with you!

Soooo, let’s do it follow me on twitter (DMs always open) 📨

Welcome to the Founder Stories Podcast James, and thank you for joining us today.  I’m interested in finding out about you and your journey into entrepreneurship.

💡 Tell us about your background

I consider myself an industry veteran to some degree, I’ve been in the flexible workspace sector for just over 11yrs. I’m a family man, with a wife and three (soon to be four) young children, along with our one-year-old Cavapoo puppy, Buddy.

I’m a big Formula 1 fan, and I started learning the guitar during the first lockdown in 2020. I also love being outdoors and try to get on my paddleboard as frequently as I can, it’s a great activity to focus the mind.

Prior to co-founding NearU with Dan, I worked with Instant group for over a decade, they’re one of the largest flexible workspace brokers in the industry. I’ve been fortunate enough to have built a lot of relationships and contacts during those 11 years and they’ve really helped us at NearU.

💡 Where did your Startup journey begin

In terms of my journey, I’m very much a co-founder. My business partner Dan founded the company and created the booking platform about 7 months ago.

My involvement with NearU came when Dan started looking for a business partner to help him grow the platform in the coworking industry. Given that he had limited experience in that area, he reached out to me and we discussed the possibility of working together, the rest as they say is history.

💡 Where did the idea for your Startup come from?

We actually started out with a different name which I’ll go into a little later.

Interestingly, Dan came up with the idea whilst at university. He regularly struggled to find library space while he was studying, it was quite frustrating actually. He would buy a train ticket and travel into town, only to find that there was nowhere to sit down and work once he got there. There had to be a better way.

So, he built a workspace app for students. An on-demand study space booking app that guaranteed study space in a hotel, a local library or a coworking space for £5. It was simple but effective, each location provided a desk, some coffee and Wi-Fi access.

As things started to take-off with our app in the student community, COVID hit and everything changed. We had no choice but to pivot into what we have today. A workspace booking app that enables individuals and businesses to easily find the right workspaces or meeting rooms for their needs without memberships, subscriptions or credits.

💡 NearU, I like the name. How did you come up with it?

Previously we were called Narau. If you searched for Narau on Google, I think it’s an island in the middle of the South Pacific. Several people thought the name was linked to the Island, but it really wasn’t.

We went for Narau because we felt that it was quirky, and at the time, so was the word “co-working”. Coworking was a relatively new concept then, and the general public were still getting used to it. It was the new age of working, businesses were adopting a flexible new approach to working and we went with a name that reflected that sentiment.  

The trouble we had with the name, was that different people pronounced it in different ways, so we came to the conclusion that it was an unnecessary hinderance.

It was hard enough getting your name out there and even more difficult getting people to remember the name without mispronouncing it. So, we decided to change it to something that worked a little better, and we used that change as a PR opportunity.

The name change allowed us to feature in a number of podcasts and a few marketing journals wrote about us. Now I think the name makes sense and it’s a fantastic name if you like helping businesses and individuals find space near you! “NearU”

💡 What do you think the future holds for on-demand workspaces?

I don’t think I have all the statistics about coworking spaces to hand, but there was one I found recently. This was from JLL, which reported that, the percentage of workers using co-working spaces is set to rise by around 30%. In terms of the way things have changed, I have seen an evolution in this space first-hand, things have evolved during the pandemic but even more so in the last 10 years.

a decade ago, the term coworking was seen as a “dirty word”, it was something that was only used by Startups and freelancers. The perception back then was that, it gave the impression that you weren’t an established business, it suggested that you weren’t serious about having a large office footprint. This was back when conventional office lease tenures were between10 and 15 years.

This changed dramatically over the last 12 years, almost a complete U-turn. If you don’t have an element of flexible service like an on-demand workspace, you aren’t growing quickly enough and you are a stagnant business that is not innovative is not growing is not hiring the right people

Coworking has very much become a “services on demand” industry. The software industry has “Software as a Service” (SaaS) and now we’re creating “Space as a Service”. Our on-demand booking app gives businesses the freedom to focus on what they do on a day-to-day basis, which is “run their businesses”.

The coworking industry will only continue to evolve and personally, that’s quite exciting for us. There are lots of opinions, research, and data regarding how fast-growing Startups and established corporates use on-demand workspaces, but no one truly knows how big the workspace industry will become in the next 10 years.

💡 Are on-demand workspaces taking over from traditional offices?

Two years ago, everybody said that the office was dead, we all thought no one was going back to the office, this was absolutely not true. Offices are fundamental, but we are just going to use it differently.

Instead of five days a week, where we all head to the same location as we did pre-COVID, we’re choosing to work from our local working spaces 1 – 3 days a week, with the occasional venture into the office

As company owners, we often underestimated the level of involvement, including time, resources and money that is taken up with the management of conventional leased spaces, but things are changing. Now there’s a diverse range of work spaces to choose from.

For me, it just doesn’t make sense to do what used to be called “the conventional commercial leasing” and take on those elements yourself.

💡 What’s been your biggest challenge?

In the beginning we had a classic “multi-sided marketplace” challenge, a chicken and egg scenario where the corporates clients were not coming on to our platform until we had enough coworking spaces, and the coworking spaces were delaying coming onboard until we had more corporates.

We had to think of a way to work around this problem, which we did by continuing our conversations with corporates in the background whilst bringing in a team of individuals to help us make the connections with the coworking spaces and increase the volume of the spaces we had listed on the platform.

One area we absolutely have to keep our finger on the pulse on, is the fact that we’re in a rapidly evolving market. This time last year, there were a handful of similar on-demand coworking booking platforms, if we look at the landscape today there are new on-demand coworking Startups launching every day, so for us, staying on top of the changes in our industry is a huge challenge.

We are also navigating other challenges, like making sure that we maintain focus on what the next 6-12 months is going to look like. We’re evaluating this from financial, sales and marketing perspectives to help us shape the future of NearU.

💡 What advice would you give to a first time founder?

For me the advice would be to hire the best possible talent you can find, and really take time to make sure that the people you bring into the early team at your Startup have the right skill set.

I listened to a podcast 🎙 called “finding greatness” and they said that you needed to have your own special list of undiscovered awesome people , your UAP list. Keep a list of the people you’ve worked with in the past, specifically those individuals that you know have more talent than they are currently recognized for.

As a Startup the benefit is that they are probably being paid a salary that is below what they would command once they’ve been discovered. You know that they will be able to bring additional skills to the role you’re hiring for.

As a Startup with a team of 3 – 5 people, every individual that comes into your founding team must be very talented and multifaceted with the right mindset. This gives you as the founder a lot of confidence that the area of the business is being worked on as well as you would work on it yourself. It also gives you the ability to focus on other areas and continue to grow.

💡 How do you plan on growing NearU?

I’m looking at how we can continue to grow the business in terms of new accounts of varying sizes, how do we maintain relationships and how we continue to expand.

So, for me it’s very interesting to find out that not many people within the flexible workspace industry actually know that platforms like NearU exist. Outside of our industry there’s an even smaller percentage of people that know about Startups like us, yet majority of people are crying out for ways to book on-demand workspaces.

The whole workspace industry is evolving. The way people work, and the way businesses operate, maintain and manage their workforce is evolving. Now we have “Chief People Officers, Wellbeing Officers and Hybrid Officers”, in key decision making roles with a focus on remote working and workplace strategy.

So, for us it’s finding more of those people and having as many of those conversations to understand their challenges. We want to understand what’s keeping them up at night from a workforce perspective. Our job at NearU is to figure out how we can make their lives easier.

From an employee’s perspective, the power has shifted from the employer to the employees. More than half, 50% – 70% of all employees would leave their job if they weren’t afforded the flexibility of working from wherever they wanted.

Employees are now in control of where, when and how work is done. No longer can the employer say you have to work from this single location 5 days a week, because we know from various studies that this no longer works.  

Our plan is to find more companies with an appreciation for flexible working, and our goal is to educate them on how the flexibility of on-demand workspaces will improve their employees overall wellbeing and work-life-balance.

💡 How is Prelo helping NearU with finding decision makers?

In terms of the platform, it is great in helping us identify the right people. We want to have a targeted approach and for us, that’s finding the right people in the right roles at the right time. Our target audience are the key decision makers in fast-growing Startups and Corporates looking for flexible working solutions.

if you’d like to get in touch with James to explore your own hybrid working strategy, please feel free to email him at James@nearu.io and let him know you saw this article on Prelo

On twitter : 🐤 @oluadedj
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Until the next time!

Olu
Founder, Prelo
I tweet about helping founders win!

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