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OpenDesks hopes to connect traditional industries with creative independents

At the coIN loft in Wilmington, Delaware, founding member Wes Garnet says that sometimes the sell of coworking—independent workers sharing space in a collaborative environment—isn’t a sell at all. “For some people, [collaboration] is cool, for some people it’s a turnoff,” Garnet says. So earlier this year, when he had the opportunity to market the […]

At the coIN loft in Wilmington, Delaware, founding member Wes Garnet says that sometimes the sell of coworking—independent workers sharing space in a collaborative environment—isn’t a sell at all.

“For some people, [collaboration] is cool, for some people it’s a turnoff,” Garnet says.

So earlier this year, when he had the opportunity to market the work space to a broader audience in traditional industries, he came across a Philadelphia startup, which is helping businesses like Garnet’s market space to folks who need a desk.

OpenDesks, led by founding partner Chris DiFonzo, is an online software platform that allows businesses to sell their free space to independent workers looking for a place to do business outside their home. [Full Disclosure: OpenDesks is a Technically Philly advertiser.]

Within 24 hours of listing coIN loft in the OpenDesks directory, Garnet says that a customer from the service reserved a desk.

“Our space was perfect for what [she] needed,” Garnet says, “and in terms of keeping bodies in the door, [OpenDesks] helps us market our raw space and raw facilities.”

It seems that the facility rental market for independent workers is growing recently, with at least one major competitor, LiquidSpace, receiving national press during South by Southwest. The company raised $1.3 million in February. DiFonzo says that though OpenDesks is still seeking funding, it’s a step ahead of competitors.

“Coworking is a smaller market,” DiFonzo says, “but the idea of people using shared workspace as a way of turning flexible office space market upside down and making it more affordable and more accessible is not new.”

He points to companies like Regus, which contracts with large companies to allow them to take advantage of their underutilized space.

What sets OpenDesks apart is its ability to lower costs.

Regus’s model is “outdated and bloated with cost,” because the company leases office space itself, DiFonzo says, while OpenDesks lowers its overhead by partnering with businesses that want to make a profit on their open space.

And OpenDesks’ technology platform is more nimble and effective, he says.

“We’ve built a platform that allows anyone with extra space to put it online in a secure environment.” The software enables verification of individuals, which makes companies and individual clients form a trust in the online platform.

Since September, the company has built a small but steady base of members, and it plans to expand from the 70 sites currently listed in its database. The service costs $39 per year, which gives folks access to the platform. Those users then pay additional fees to “rent” a space for a day.

DiFonzo sees OpenDesks as complimentary to coworking facilities like the coIN loft in Wilmington. By listing their location on the site, it could help fill desks that are empty. And on the industry side, the idea of coworking could be a leap of faith for some traditional businesses and OpenDesks is a way of helping introduce the concept, DiFonzo says.

“We’re trying to build a bridge between industry and creative independents,” he says.

The company is on the verge of rolling out a second platform build, which includes an improved, automated reservation system. And if all goes well in the office space rental environment, DiFonzo hopes that the technology could be scaled to other industries that rely on multiple listings services.

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Brian James Kirk

Brian James Kirk is a cofounder of Technical.ly, the local technology news network. Previously, Kirk was Web Editor of PlanPhilly, an independent online news resource covering planning and development issues in Philadelphia, and a freelance writer and designer. He resides in South Philadelphia.

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