Then & Now – Habu

This time last year we featured Habu as part of the 2017 DisruptSW initiative. They shared a little bit about what they do, where they are at, their Product, People and Potential.

A year later we’ve caught up with Robert Ollett, Co-founder & all round doer at Habu to find out about what’s happened since we last spoke and to capture and share some “truly imaginative stories” and how thinking differently can set you apart.

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DisruptSW: For those that didn’t get a chance to hear from you at last year’s launch event and for some background information, who are Habu and what makes your business offering unique?

Robert Ollett: We make software for flexible workspaces. Let’s call it coworking software to keep it simple. It might sound a little dry, but when you consider that our industry is in a kind of hyper-growth spurt and our tech is on the bleeding edge of helping power that growth, it helps to see why we made the Disrupt SW Hall of Fame!

Coworking is growing at an incredibly rapid pace and is transforming the operations of workspaces across the entire commercial real estate market. What we’re doing through our tech, which incorporates both software as well as hardware in the near future, is providing a highly powerful yet intuitive platform that satisfies a multitude of needs across the broad spectrum of flexible workspaces.

What makes us unique is our undivided focus on providing a seamless, high-quality experience for both the managers of “flex” workspaces as well as the users of those workspaces. Simplicity, speed and a vision of where the market is moving to, rather than where it is, are our core USPs.

Disrupt SW: Can you share the story behind the core and true origin of your product?

Robert Ollett: My brother and co-founder, Jak, and I founded a design practice back in 2008. We were faced with a choice for where to base our studio: rent a garage like numerous startup founders before us or join Hamilton House which at that point was just an idea for a creative coworking community in a vast, derelict shell of a building.

Over time, we felt the urge to create a genuinely scalable product, rather than the bespoke installations and projects our design practice specialised in. Having been deeply involved in Hamilton House, we intimately understood the world of pain that comes with the complexity of managing a large flexible workspace. After a year or so of prototyping, we founded Habu in 2014, rolled up our sleeves and haven’t stopped grafting on Habu since then.

DisruptSW: Has Habu released any new products or services since we last spoke at the 2017 DisruptSW Index launch event?

Robert Ollett: We have indeed! A large part of our engineering focus this year has been on delivering an exceptional user dashboard for our customer’s customers (i.e. the members and non-members that make up the workspace’s community). This new element in Habu is an empowering tool for all users of a coworking space, enabling them to make and manage bookings, access services, connect with members in the community, and much more. For this reason, it also liberates the managers of these spaces from a stack of tasks!

Disrupt SW: Have you expanded into any new markets or geographies?

Robert Ollett: We’re constantly adding new countries to our growing customer base. Recently examples include Peru, Nigeria, and Indonesia, though a majority of our customers are in the USA, UK, and Australia. We’re also working on a partnership in China. As our product matures, we’re supporting the needs of a much wider range of customers. This is seeing us expand into adjacent market segments, which is precisely our vision. What’s more, we’re taking the hard-earned lessons from the most flexible of shared workspaces (coworking spaces!) and applying those methodologies to more traditional workspaces which are taking note of the efficiencies in processes, increased space utilisation and the importance of being responsive to the needs of end-users.

Disrupt SW: Have you received any funding since 17 November 2017?

Robert Ollett: We raised £180,000 earlier this year, through a previous investor alongside a new angel investor. We’re working on another round at the moment to scale things up in line with our vision and to seize the market opportunity. And for us, one of the brilliant things with this current raise is that as both the concept of coworking and proptech have become widely accepted, we’re in discussions with a number of significant players within the industry who clearly get what we’re building at Habu and can add significant value on top of cash investment. The workspace management software market is really starting to heat up following this. An example of this is the very recent $100m WeWork acquisition of Teem - a workspace scheduling and analytics platform.

Disrupt SW: Are there any other achievements you’d like to share?

Robert Ollett: In addition to building a game-changing platform that’s refining the way workspaces function, as well as how their users interact within the space, we’ve also been working to advance the knowledge of how workspace managers build successful businesses.

We’ve always seen two opportunities for us in our industry. The first is creating outstanding tech with the insight of where the market is moving toward rather than basing it on the status quo. That’s what we’ve been working for since our inception.

The second is in marketing and providing genuine thought leadership. The lack of quality of information in our market has always been apparent to us. The typical advice for most startups at the outset is to write some articles, get engagement on social media and presto, you’re a thought leader. But this isn’t how it works; it’s not that easy. So in the last year, we’ve significantly upped our content game. What we did was discombobulate our blog, redesign it and reboot it as the “More Than a Desk…” resource library. It’s packed full of webinars we host with industry experts, insightful video interviews, and top-drawer articles. The response from the industry has been incredibly positive, and that makes us proud.

Our resource library is now considered among the top online destinations for workspace managers to learn better practices, gain inspiration, and get insights from the coworking world’s most influential practitioners. It turns out, providing amazing tech only goes so far.

We think of it like this: “give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day, teach a man how to fish and give him a fishing rod, and he’ll become a bloody good fisherman.” And that’s my David Brent moment over there!

Disrupt SW: …and what’s in the pipeline for Habu? What’s on the horizon?

Robert Ollett: We’ve got some delightfully exciting, market-disrupting tech in development at the moment. It’s something that will enable a whole range of automation for workspaces of all stripes, ranging from micro, indy coworking spaces through to huge, corporate workspaces. It’s currently in development so is hush-hush, but it’s due for release to a few lucky Habu pioneers in November. I’ll leave it there as I’ll be in trouble with Jak for revealing more than I have already...

Thank You for sharing!