Market Makers Q&A: Mark Smukler from flow

What if accessing anything nearby was one click or swipe away?

Welcome to Market Makers! 

In this new Q&A series where we chat with the humans behind workspace tech companies who are working to open whole new markets and opportunities for flex workspaces.

Today we share our Q&A with Mark Smukler from flow, who are already making waves following their recent London beta launch.

Tell us a little bit about your founding team, and what drew you into building this proptech company?

After moving to London as a remote worker just before the pandemic, I found myself in a new city and eager to explore what it had to offer, but quickly realized that there was no easy way to find and access the environments I needed to best engage with the community. 

If I needed a place to work, I had to search on google for coffee shops and libraries or buy an expensive and restrictive membership through a single coworking provider. If I needed a place to exercise, I could either visit the free outdoor gym or similarly purchase an expensive and restrictive membership. 

I knew the city was filled with incredible environments, like the Third Space gym or the new Soho Works spaces by Soho House, but they felt out of reach to a visitor like me and someone who wanted (and sometimes needed) access, but didn’t want to make a long-term commitment.

As the pandemic unfolded, I realized that hybrid and remote work policies would give people a similar freedom and flexibility that I experienced, but that cities and their physical spaces weren’t yet ready to accommodate growing demand from a more transient consumer who wanted to pay to use a space for a day or a few hours versus signing up for an annual membership. 

At the same time, I knew that membership-based businesses were struggling to attract customers and starting to experiment with shorter and more flexible product offerings. 

Combining the two, we set out to build a marketplace that made it easy for individuals to find, access, and pay for the places they need when they want them.

In one-sentence can you share how Flow helps flex workspace operators?

Flow helps workspace operators fill underutilized space by attracting nearby customers through a frictionless access experience and a flexible pay-as-you-go alternative to memberships.

There’s an ever-growing number of platforms available for workspace operators to leverage, what makes your approach different?

1. True real-time availability

Unlike most other “desk booking” platforms, we give partners complete control over availability on our platform. Our focus is on filling underutilized space by unlocking a previously overlooked customer segment – the walk-in. 

In doing so, we look to offer partners a dynamic yield management platform in which they can support their members first and welcome new customers only when sufficient excess capacity is available. 

For example, an operator can choose to only be available on flow during times when occupancy drops below a certain level, such as 50%, and only until it hits a certain threshold, such as 70%.

2. Frictionless access and payment experience

We believe that our solution will only work if the user experience is flawless. 

In order for individuals to embrace walk-ins as part of their daily routine, it has to be a truly satisfying experience, like grabbing a lime bike or ordering an uber. Or like tapping to pay for a meal instead of fumbling for cash and like tapping into the subway instead of buying a metrocard.

There’s a certain magic to these technologies in the way that they just work and blend into our natural and preferred way of doing things. That’s why we use our own check-in experience to make it easiest for consumers to access partner locations and for partners to authorize visitors and process payments. 

It’s also why we allow users to pay by the minute, such that they only pay for the time spent on-site and why we work hard to exceed user expectations by vetting the partners available on the platform and matching them to the right nearby customers.

3. Yield management platform vs vertical marketplace

Our focus is on transforming physical spaces into consumable products by making them discoverable, accessible, and “transact-able.” 

That means we’re building a solution to help real estate operators better track and sell occupancy through real-time availability and dynamic, hyper-local marketing. 

Unlike other workspace marketplaces, we work with operators in other verticals, such as fitness and wellness, and will continue to add location types that enable our users to more seamlessly move through the places and spaces they need every day. 

4. Not a “membership” substitute – a lifestyle complement

Because we’re focused on last-minute availability and filling underutilized space, we have no fixed allotments from partners and are not a membership-first business. 

We don’t want to compete with our partners and force consumers to decide between memberships with us or with them – we want to bring more people into the space-as-a-service economy by complementing memberships with flexible access, adding variety and convenience to local consumers and enabling a brand new customer segment to participate in the market. 

Because of this approach, we love when Flow users become members at our partners’ locations.

And how do you improve the process for tenants, members or potential members?

1. We’re the best way to try before you buy

Renting an office or signing up for an annual membership can be a big commitment and one quick tour often isn’t enough to truly get a sense of whether an environment is right for the long term. 

Flow is the best on-demand pay-as-you-go solution for trying all the best nearby workspaces before committing to a full membership.

2. We expand variety of access for the average consumer

Memberships and long-term commitments tend to restrict consumer behaviour to a single location or operator. That’s an important model for operators to generate consistent, recurring revenues, but it limits an individual’s consumption and contribution to the local economy by deterring them from accessing other great environments. 

Flow not only unlocks access for consumers that wouldn’t otherwise participate in the flex office market at all, but also gives existing flex office consumers the ability to transact with many more locations on a pay-as-you-go basis, which is a benefit for the consumer as well as local businesses and economies. 

3. We accommodate pay-as-you-go pricing versus memberships and daypasses

Membership-based marketplaces that give you access to a network of workspaces for a single monthly fee are great but they’re still inherently inflexible. They require a monthly subscription, often require some sort of advance booking, and most of them only accommodate full day access. 

While this may be a benefit over more static membership alternatives with a single operator, we wanted to push the boundaries of flexibility by focusing our experience around on-demand access and pay-as-you-go pricing. 

Similar to grabbing a Lime bike, Flow users only see places around them that have available capacity at that moment and often only pay for the amount of time spent on-site. As a result, Flow is a true complement to an individual’s daily routines versus a substitute to other memberships

4. We’re the smoothest check-in / out experience

Using Flow to access a location has to work like magic – the user has to feel like they belong everywhere. 

There’s a lot of mental and physical friction involved with accessing a new physical environment – does the place match my vibe? Does it have the amenities I need? Will I have to take a tour? Do I know how to get in or where the best places to sit are? Our team spends a lot of time finding ways to minimize that friction and hide it behind operational processes on our end. 

One of the ways we do that is by deploying our own proprietary checkpoints using QR codes and NFC tags. This gives us a lot more control over the access experience. 

Think of it like the “fastpass” alternative to a cash toll booth when driving on a highway.

What’s the business model at Flow? Who pays, and how much?

Our partners have complete control over when they’re available on Flow and how much they charge (although we’ll soon offer pricing recommendations from Flow’s dynamic pricing engine). Fees paid by users are direct-deposited to partner bank accounts within 24 hours and Flow takes a 20% platform fee. 

There’s no fixed monthly fee to join or publish on Flow, no forced availability or fixed allocation, and no minimum price or term. 

As workspaces shift towards a more modular tech stack, why did you choose to integrate via Syncaroo?

Syncaroo is building a crucial layer in the flex workspace ecosystem, helping synchronize the flow of data (see what I did there?) across various channels. 

Operators have more and more tools available to improve efficiencies across sales, marketing, and customer service. 

Solutions like Flow will only work if all systems can automatically coordinate across one another and ensure a single source of truth for the management team.

Which layer would you recommend flex spaces leverage Flow in their Ops Stacks?

One of the great characteristics of the Flow platform is that we really allow an operator to automate and outsource their last-minute sales and last-mile marketing. 

That means that we can take any nearby prospect from discovery through engagement and even experience, allowing consumers to seamlessly interact with a physical environment while allowing teams to focus on selling offices, signing members, and delivering an exceptional experience. 

In that sense, we help operators take a customer from marketing and into a lead, allowing the on-site team to convert them into a sales opportunity, and ultimately, deliver through experience.

Let's end with a big picture question. If it were up to you, what does the world of work look like in 10 years?

I envision a world in which a significant portion of knowledge workers benefit from the freedom and flexibility of remote and hybrid work policies that give workers more autonomy than ever over where they work and even when they work. 

I’m encouraged by the growth of freelancers and entrepreneurs working hard to build businesses and bring new solutions into the world and I look forward to accommodating them with a solution to experience more of the great environments that our location partners provide.

We hope you found this Q&A as interesting to read as we did to compile it! You can keep an eye on Flow’s roadmap page below to subscribe to be notified when two-way syncing with their app is available for your preferred management system.

We are also excited to soon share more Q&As with other market making platforms that are working together to create the interconnected infrastructure to power the future of work for decades to come.

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