Change Agent

How Julien Smith and Caterina Rizzi are growing Breather

The Airbnb-like service for office space is expanding by going deeper into the cities it serves

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Breather co-founders Julien Smith, left, and Caterina Rizzi.

Breather co-founders Julien Smith, left, and Caterina Rizzi. “We need to go deeper in the cities we’re in.” (Portrait by Anouk Lessard)

Caterina Rizzi, 34, and Julien Smith, 35, founded Breather in 2012 to help nomadic workers find better places to do business. Last September, they received $6 million in funding, led by RRE Ventures. Rizzi tell us how the service works and how it intends to grow.

“Breather works a bit like Airbnb, in that people approach us with empty commercial spaces they’re not using and we help rent them out for an hour or two at a time. But unlike other office-sharing services, we go in and design the spaces. Other platforms will put existing spaces on a map, in God knows what state. We make sure ours are affordable and well-designed. You won’t find any fluorescent lighting.

“The way it works is you download the app to reserve a Breather. Fifteen minutes before your reservation, you’re given a unique unlock code to access the space. When you’re done, the door locks behind you and your credit card is charged. Most of our Breathers cost between $15 and $40 an hour.

“Right now, our focus is growth. We have about 40 Breather locations spread between New York City, San Francisco, Montreal and Ottawa. And we’re planning to expand into Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C., this year. But we need to go deeper in the cities we’re in, especially in New York. We only make an impact when there are Breathers everywhere our users are in a city. It doesn’t work when there’s just one or two.”