30SecondsToFly Q&A with werk.place CEO, Malcolm Elvey

Why do so many travelers like Airbnb? The lodgings are unique. Booking a room or entire home is convenient and quick, and travelers can read reviews from previous occupants without having to click that pesky open-a-new-tab plus-sign at the top of their browser to venture over to another site to find comments and ratings. What if an app could offer these same conveniences to business travelers looking for a cozy, quiet office or tasteful conference space when on the road? werk.place is emerging as a potential solution to this frequent dilemma.

There are other websites and apps that enable employees to rent a conference room or find a co-working space, but werk.place—an app and website where users can list and/or rent board rooms, conference rooms, offices, and event spaces—is different. werk.place has found a niche by catering to high-profile organizations—such as the Young Presidents Organization (YPO)—which are typically populated by busy professionals who travel a lot, often with little notice.

werk.place CEO, Malcolm Elvey, has some serious experience working in his favor. A chartered accountant with an MBA degree, Elvey has nearly four decades of entrepreneurial and academic experience under his belt. He has served as a senior executive for several companies both nationally and internationally, been on the board of eight public companies, and has been running a virtual venture capital firm, Collaborative Capital, since 1999. Elvey believes his newest project, werk.place, has the potential to benefit both travelers as well as listers (clubs, companies, restaurants), and he agreed to give the 30SecondsToFly team a glimpse at what makes werk.place unique.

An Interview with Malcolm Elvey, werk.place CEO

man-in-suit_Elvey-CEO

30SecondsToFly (30STF): What’s the major problem that werk.place solves?

Elvey: The aim is to provide suitable locations for every requirement: an office, a conference room, or an event space, both nationally and internationally. Business travelers use the werk.place app to search for appropriate space, which might be an office, a conference room, or a special events room. It may be needed immediately or at a future date. Sometimes people travel within their own city or country, at other times perhaps globally, and need a work space for a date in the future. The app can be used to make either an immediate reservation or one in the future, much as one would reserve a car or a hotel.

werk.place gives members choices based upon the location where they are when using the app. One can enter the address where one wants an office or conference space to be, and the app will give a choice of offices or conference rooms or event spaces. Members can search the iPhone app to see where they can find the space they need. When they decide upon a location, they can, with filters, see the details of the spaces. They can see more detail such as size; the number of people that can be accommodated; and the available amenities, such as projectors or sound recorders or a white board.

Renters will see the reviews, comments, and rankings of previous users. The endorsements will be much like those of Airbnb – numbers and stars.

30STF: It looks like one of the things that makes you different from others in the space is that you are targeting high-profile groups, like YPO (Young Presidents Organization), so was there a reason why you wanted to market towards these prestigious organizations?

Elvey: “YPO confidentiality” is a very important tenet of the organization. So the idea of making these spaces available to another YPOer has a strong safety element. If you’re interviewing a prospective employee or partner or you’re working on a deal that you don’t want anyone to know about, it’s referred to as “YPO confidential.” Discussion remains in the room. There’s no sharing of information.

30STF: Are you going to expand the types of organizations that you’ll include?

Elvey: There are organizations similar to YPO like EO—the Entrepreneurs Organization—and many other organizations, and as we expand, we’ll open it up to other professional organizations like the CMO Council (Chief Marketing Officers), American Medical Association, other kinds of organizations that have very strong entry requirements.

30STF: Aside from focusing on these high-profile organizations, is there anything else in particular that makes werk.place unique compared to its competitors?

Elvey: Yes. The other thing that is very unique is that we help to recruit clubs, again globally, and if those clubs agree to accept YPOers, then the availability of spaces is more interesting to a YPOer because of the size of the conference room and the facilities they can avail themselves of. You know, the catering for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That, of course, is an added benefit other than just having raw space. And of course they can play tennis or squash or swim or play golf depending on the facilities the club has. And again the club would have to approve the organization and say, yes—YPO members can avail themselves of the privileges for an afternoon, day, or more.

From left to right: (1) Description of a space with listed amenities, (2) Login screen, (3) List view for searching spaces
From left to right: (1) Description of a space with listed amenities, (2) Login screen, (3) List view for searching spaces

30STF: And the app lists those amenities?

Elvey: Yes. The app lists all the amenities, and you choose them. Some of them will be free or some of them may have a charge—$5, $10, $20—depending on the amenity.

30STF: How did you come up with the idea for werk.place?

Elvey: I’ve been a member of the Harmonie Club for many years and know that in Manhattan in particular there are many clubs that have fantastic facilities that are not fully utilized. So, this under-utilized space is something I’ve been conscious of, and knowing that clubs in Manhattan with really high overheads would like to increase their occupancy rates, I think it’s a really elegant way to solve that problem for clubs. The incremental revenue is extremely profitable.

The other side that came to me is just knowing that YPOers travel so much. Because of the fact that they travel and on short notice, they often need a space. In fact, that was one of our first reservations. It was a friend who lives in Miami who was coming up to New York and needed a space for eight people. He heard about what we’re doing, and we told him to go to the app and book it.

30STF: That’s exciting. Given that you’re starting to get reservations, what are you seeing as some of the challenges for your app in this space?

Elvey: I think the biggest challenge will be to get the clubs on board. I do think members of organizations, once they hear about it, will avail themselves of the opportunity to earn some pocket money from space that otherwise would be idle. One of the negatives is that some people run businesses where they use all their space, and if they have a conference room free, they don’t want to give it up for the day. They want to keep it and have it vacant even if it’s only used sporadically. So, they wouldn’t be the kinds of customers for werk.place. But there are other YPOers who are in the business of having real estate that competes with WeWork, for example. Today, I was with a YPO member who has eight such locations here in Manhattan, and he’s only delighted to make them available to us because it’s another opportunity for him and his spaces to get exposure to increase business. We have another interesting anecdotal member who has a chain of restaurants in the Manhattan area. They have five locations, and these locations have private spaces they’d love to rent out when the restaurant is not busy.

30STF: Can you tell us how the werk.place business model works?

Elvey: We charge each party a percentage: the person who owns the space and the person who’s renting the space.

30STF: You’re curating the spaces, too. How does the curation process work?

Elvey: At the moment, we are visiting most every listing that we’re doing, and we’re taking 360 degree photos of the locations ourselves. So, to that extent, we’re curating the place itself. Then, because of the umbrella organizations, just knowing that someone is a member is an added qualifying benefit.

30STF: Besides having a place to work, what are some of the other benefits of werk.place for business travelers?

Elvey: If it’s just an office, it’ll be the space itself. If it’s a club, the benefits of the club are that there’s food and beverage for the participants… and that’s additional revenue for the club. And for the people using the space, they can continue the meeting and maybe have a small breakfast served or they can move to the restaurant space and have a lunch. It really depends on the kind of space it is. And networking. Particularly for these organizations, they have the opportunity to meet a member they might not have had the chance to meet before. And networking is always good for new business opportunities.

How werk.place works

Using-cell-phone-to-search-for-office-spaces

Malcolm and his assistant, Anna, also took the time to walk us through a user’s experience with the app—from both the perspective of a renter and a lister. If werk.place has piqued your interest, here are some useful details:

Users start by downloading the app in the app store. Once you download, click the blue “Register” button to begin. After entering your name, email, a password, and your mobile number, you will also select the group to which you belong.

Once you register, the first screen you see allows you to select “Find” or “List.”

List view
List view
  • Listers. If you want to list a property, the app automatically recognizes your location via GPS. You then add an image, list the property’s capacity, select a price per hour or per day, and input the hours during which the space is open. Listers write an attractive summary of the space and select amenities being offered. Certain amenities can be offered free or associated with a cost.
  • Renters. If, instead, you are looking to rent a space, you switch to SEARCH mode. You can search by location, price, or other criteria. The map view’s convenience is that it allows you to easily see a property’s location in relationship to your current location. Renters can view all of the items we described above—from price, to photos, to a summary of the space—and they can also see reviews from others who have rented the space. You can pay and receive payment within the app, too.

Receipts and payment can be done using direct deposit, Apple Pay, and credit cards.

The werk.place app also offers a nice dashboard that includes notifications (such as letting you know that your listing has been approved). You can create a list of favorite listings and see a record of bookings you have approved or rejected.

Try the app here.

 

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The 30SecondsToFly team looks forward to seeing how werk.place develops. If you try it out, don’t forget to shout out to us in the comments section. We want to know what you think!

Jenna Sheffield

Jenna teaches college-level writing courses at the University of New Haven, and she regularly freelances for 30SecondsToFly. When she’s not writing or teaching, she can be found traveling, running after her toddler, and/or enjoying some mac & cheese.

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