Rethinking Space-as-a-Service and Challenging the Status Quo | Caleb Parker

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Caleb Parker, CEO and founder of Bold, is an innovator in the space-as-a-service industry. In this episode, Caleb talks about the growing demand from building owners to bring more flexibility and hospitality into their offering, and why now is the time to think ‘Bold’ and challenge the workplace status quo.

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Transcript

Jo Meunier [00:00:17] Welcome to the Future of Work podcast by Allwork.Space. I’m Jo Meunier. And today I’m speaking with Kayla Parker from Bold, who’s here to talk to us about all things space as service, the future of work and challenging the status quo. So first, a little background. Caleb’s the former CEO of Meeting Rooms, dot com global online marketplace. Prior to that, he co-founded a tech startup in 2012 to create the first global distribution system for On-Demand office meeting space. Caleb’s area career moves included being part of the Regis Group’s management team in Washington, D.C., and confounding a flexible workspace consulting firm. Today, Bold is part of the new Flex family by Kneubuhl, which we’re going to hear more about in just a moment. So hello, Caleb, and welcome to our feature podcast. 

Caleb Parker [00:01:05] Hey, Jo, we were just chatting about how it’s been a couple years since we’ve been in person. That’s great. It’s great to connect with you virtually again. 

Jo Meunier [00:01:13] Absolutely. Yeah. And it’s really good to talk to you. And I remember that it was then we were just saying how strange is that? It was an actual in-person conference full of people in London by E office. I think it was. And that does, it seems, worlds away at the moment. But we’ll get back there someday, I’m sure. 

Caleb Parker [00:01:28] It’s like 30 years ago now, isn’t it? 

Jo Meunier [00:01:32] So let’s get started. So first of all, you’re in your best version of a 20 second pitch. Can you tell us in a nutshell what Bold is and what it does? 

Caleb Parker [00:01:42] Yeah, in a nutshell, we help asset owners keep their customers happy and drive value across our portfolio. I like to call it future proofing their assets. Basically, we help them meet the growing demand for customers today to bring in hospitality and flexibility into their business. We do that through our spaces, a service, platform and brand. 

Jo Meunier [00:02:01] And tell us a little bit about the process, because when I was reading up on your website, you say that you can rejuvenate a dormant space in just three weeks, which sounds pretty fast to me. So can you tell us how it works from start to finish? 

Caleb Parker [00:02:14] Well, certainly. And, you know, that obviously depends on what shape the space is in. For instance, we just we just model a space at a certain brand and it’s nearly ready to go. It doesn’t take much capex, but a typical Cat a space would take about eight to 10 weeks to sort of turnaround and go live. But, you know, our job is to help our landlord clients protect their value. The valuation of their portfolios, but also meet the ROIC objectives of the particular asset in every asset has a different business plan and strategy. So for us, it’s crucial to understand these dynamics before we determine a strategy that’s going to drive the right economics and meet the plan of that asset. But I think I think I really want to say that, you know, everything we do is driven by our desire to make it easier for entrepreneurs to succeed. And, you know, today, well, I think we might come onto this a little bit. But while technology might have freed us all from being chained to a desk in an office every single day. And we can work remotely, we do need a place to come together with our team or our customers. But historically, commercial real estate hasn’t been friendly to entrepreneurs and I won’t go into all the details around that. But the industry has been built around making money specifically for the investors and not putting the customers at the center of the universe. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re helping the asset owners put the customer at the center of the universe. 

Jo Meunier [00:03:42] And when you talk about the entrepreneurs, these are the people who are using your space, not the people who own it. Is that right? 

Caleb Parker [00:03:48] That’s right. Though we call them customers are our clients are the asset owners themselves and the customers are the people that use the building. And I call them entrepreneurs. But that doesn’t mean necessarily they own their own business because entrepreneurial people come in all shapes, sizes and ages and forms. Some of my working corporate and some have had their own business. 

Jo Meunier [00:04:10] And the space that you build out, it could be meeting space. It could be a workspace. Is there one particular type of space that dominates the moon? 

Caleb Parker [00:04:21] Well, we have what we call full stack commercial real estate. On our platform. And we believe a building should service all the building users with the same integrated customer experience. So when we go into an asset, we help them determine what customers experience they want to deliver. That could range from a well-being layer or a retail layer. 

Caleb Parker [00:04:45] Certainly coworking in meeting rooms could be private spaces for teams or, you know, plug and play offices or traditional leases. But we wrap all that into a hospitality service layer that we deliver for that for that asset owner. 

Jo Meunier [00:05:00] Okay. And one thing that really caught my eye about your bio is that you say you want to challenge the status quo. So can you tell us what you mean by that? 

Caleb Parker [00:05:08] Personally, I don’t like to follow trends. I mean, now I will be part of a trend sometimes if I really like it. But it’s not because everybody else is doing it. And I think challenging the status quo for me is about solving problems. And often problems exist because people are just happy with the status quo and they don’t want to change. But our mission at Bold is, is to support entrepreneurial people, as I said, and people who are bold. And it to me, I think bodes about taking risks to improve the world. And that first risk is when we share ideas that challenge the status quo and that sort of solve these problems. And that’s for us. It’s I feel like that’s moments we often feel vulnerable and exposed. But that’s that’s the exact moment that we need to be bold because that’s how we innovate, improve the world. 

Jo Meunier [00:06:00] Absolutely. And talking of being bold, you know, part of the New Flex family, which is part of the Kneubuhl umbrella. And Free Konbit, you announced plans to open 25 plus new boat locations over the next three years. So can you tell us more about more about that, more about teaming up with New Flex and what it means for Bold? 

Caleb Parker [00:06:23] Well, absolutely. When we launched the Full Stack model, I talked about a moment ago as part of our space as a service platform, we had some really good meetings with landlords and we needed a finance partner to get the deals across the line. And so after a few months of discussions with the new Flex team, that conversation pivoted to more of an acquisition conversation in our visions. What we learned is our visions were aligned and New Flex had this vast experience and a client network that was already existing and not to mention the infrastructure that they have across the UK with all of their existing locations. 

Caleb Parker [00:07:01] So we felt that we really could grow the Bold brand through a partnership with New Flexin, and we’d like them as people. And that was really important. There was this level of trust that we built up over those months of discussion. So we’re absolutely excited to be part of New Flex now. And I like to call us the Mariotte of space as a service, because we’re here. We’re a family of brands that range from like a premium to a premium economy to economy. And as a group, we have a solid track record of partnering with these asset owners on management agreements. And I was just looking the other day, we’re actually the largest as a service operator in the UK now to deploy the management agreement model. We’ve got 80. We’ve done 80 to date Azera, I think. 

Jo Meunier [00:07:45] And that’s great news. That’s quite a change in direction, but it sounds like a lot of a lot of learning and evolution has gone on over the past the past few months. 

Caleb Parker [00:07:55] Well, certainly, it’s kind of it was strange in the beginning going from, you know, being a startup where, you know, you’re sort of working 24/7 and everything was you had to figure it out. And now we still want 24/7. But now we have a team of 200 people across the country. If I don’t know something somebody else does. 

Jo Meunier [00:08:13] That’s fantastic. And before New Flex, I understand that you were offered a finance deal with them, a different partner that you turned down. So I’m just interested in the thought process behind that. You know, it must have taken quite a lot of soul searching and decisions on your part. So can you tell us a little bit more about that, that the thinking process behind that and what you learned from it? 

Caleb Parker [00:08:37] Sure. Yeah, it was. It was actually a very difficult decision. And, you know, when you have somebody that sort of starts believing in you and, you know, they want to invest in. But they wanted us to launch with a different brand, a budget brand. And, you know, we’re not that there’s nothing wrong with budget brands by any means. We have a budget brand in our group now. But I’m a big believer in brand, and I think brands have to be authentic. 

Caleb Parker [00:09:06] And we created Bold with a specific customer in mind. Or to talk about the entrepreneurial people who challenged the state, the status quo and people like us, you know, people, people. So we didn’t feel like we could be authentic if we didn’t launch The Bold as the brand that we created. Yeah. We had to walk away from that deal. 

Jo Meunier [00:09:29] And it sounds like you made the right decision. And we were gonna have to talk about the elephant in the room, which, of course, is konbit. And you’ve been in the meetings, events in the hospitality industry for some years now. And, you know, with people all over the country, all over the world, in fact, the past six months have been pretty and pretty unusual. And for those who are working, we’ve had to move on to video calls to be able to collaborate. You know, as we said before, these in-person meetings feel worlds away at the moment. And in your perspective, how do you see us coming out of this experience? And do you think the meeting sector is about to be bombarded with bookings from people who are desperate to get back into a real workplace with real people? Or do you think we’ve sort of lapsed into this slightly comfortable home experience with Zoom? 

Caleb Parker [00:10:21] I mean, I think I’d be, I wouldn’t be authentic if I told you I knew the answer. I can’t tell the future. But, you know, I obviously have my opinions. And I think that I think both. I think all of the above because every one of us is different. But tell you a story. Back in 2009, 11 or 12, when when we started investing in the platform to become this global distribution system for On-Demand meetings, at the time I had my flexible workspace brokerage and we had a client that called up and he he had recently this is right after a couple years after the global financial crisis. 

Caleb Parker [00:11:00] So he used to have this big office. He downsized and he had this one office that they were paying about three grand a month for taxes in the states. And they had wood from twenty people to five people. But they all work remotely at the time. This is pretty. This is, what, almost a decade ago now. And they weren’t using the office everyday. They were all working remotely, but they had to have that office for meetings. And it turns out they only were using the office for twenty one hour meetings a month. They were paying three grand a month for it. So we ended up getting them on a plan with I think it might have been Carr workplaces in D.C., someone like that back then and say that 90 percent. And at the time I started thinking like, gosh, is this the future? And I wrote a blog piece about it, but I didn’t think it was going to take a global pandemic to get us here. 

Caleb Parker [00:11:51] And what I see now is that, you know, we yes, people do want to get back face to face, but no, people don’t want long commutes. And so I think the future is a combination of all of the above. And will the meetings and events world see a spike? Well, I think when we get past the point where we have to have social distancing. I don’t see people rushing back in the office all at once, every single day. But I do see people needing a place to go to meet face to face. 

Jo Meunier [00:12:21] Yeah, absolutely. I’m glad to hear it. I’m one of the many who are getting a bit sick and working from home on my own. 

Caleb Parker [00:12:28] I love working from home, but I also like seeing people. So I want a choice. 

Jo Meunier [00:12:34] And back in 2017, we featured Bold in an article for Allwork.Space, and that was, I believe, when you just launched the brand. That’s right. That’s right. And the. Time, he said that Bold met the growing demand for micro office consumption, which is flexible workspace by the month, the day and by the hour. And one thing I’ve noticed is that you’re in the current situation. A lot of flexible workspaces are looking to offer hourly, hourly access to their workspaces to try and attract more local home based businesses and teams. So do you think this could be another trend that’s set to become the norm? 

Caleb Parker [00:13:13] I think it could be a big part of the sector for sure. Pre covered. If you looked in any coffee shop, you saw meetings taking place all the time. Some of those meetings are fine to have, but often I was in a coffee shop once and overheard some financial adviser. Sharing is way too much information in public with his client. He should have been in a meeting somewhere. And I think now with people working from home and, you know, even if we get to a postcode environment where people still want to work from home, often not everybody has a good work environment. But the concept of working from anywhere, if you could work close to home and you can have access instead of commuting in an hour, forty five minutes or two hours into your office, if you could have access to a professional environment outside of your home, close your home for the day, great. If you could do it for the meetings that you want. Did you need to have it? Then why wouldn’t you. Why would you book a space for the day or for a couple of hours? 

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Jo Meunier [00:14:14] Absolutely. And this seems to be the shift where we’re moving from a work at home to work near home. As you say, people want shorter commutes and if any commute at all. And then seems to be this push towards more regional, suburban, even rural locations for flexible workspace. And do you see Bold pushing into the suburbs a little bit more in the future?

Caleb Parker [00:14:41] So I’m going to put my new flex hat on for a moment and answer that question. I think you’re looking across the country as a group, but also in some of my friends in the industry in recent conversations I’ve had. When you look at the city center locations versus these suburban locations, certainly there’s been an uptick in occupancy return to occupancy in the closer to home locations. And it makes sense because you can make a building code secure to the extent you can, but people still have to get there and if they have to take public transportation. Right now in COVID all people they don’t want take that risk. And, you know, I think postcodes will see the quality of life aspect of reduced commute time coming into play. So I think the hub and spoke model that we keep hearing about in the circles online and the thought leadership circles, I think that is going to be a thing. And I think that we’ll see smaller cities, center hubs that become destinations for people to come in a couple of times a week, but then give those people access to the spoke pieces outside of the city center where people can still go and have places that they can be around. Other people, maybe people they were with, maybe they don’t know, but at least have a place to go outside of their home. 

Jo Meunier [00:16:03] Absolutely. And you mentioned before that some of your locations have a well-being layer. And this situation, Maureen, it’s all about well-being, isn’t it? So I’m just interested. What type of wellbeing measures have you seen as some of your boat locations? This doesn’t have to be cable related, but just a wellness in general. What kind of initiatives have you installed there? 

Caleb Parker [00:16:26] Well, I think well-being and wellness pre Covid. It was almost a tick box exercise for a lot of companies. They did it to say they did it. But I think a lot of the forward leaning companies, the folks who are trying to take care of their people and I’m not saying that in a very mean, mean way to those who didn’t, but those who were looking out for their people, they they took well, being serious. And, you know, you think about the big companies like Facebook and Google of the world, they had both mental and physical well-being taken care of. So if someone is going to be giving you the majority of their waking hours in a week, we need to be giving back and making sure that they’re comfortable. And that could mean I’m just going to put out a couple of things. But it’s not limited. This could mean a nice yoga studio class that you can take. It could be your own self-service workout facility. It could be a meditation room, quiet areas, the places you can sort of get away from the noise and the distractions. But taking that well-being seriously and understanding what. People need it. That’s what that’s what companies should be asking. 

Jo Meunier [00:17:47] Yeah, and that’s so important, isn’t it? And everybody has their own individual needs. Which page is quite a challenge to companies, I should think. But at the same time, if you can tap those individual needs and serve them, then that’s just going to be. Absolutely. That’s just what companies need for motivation, engagement and productivity. 

Caleb Parker [00:18:05] Absolutely. And I think this is why our industry is so good, because most companies aren’t Google or Facebook of the world and they can invest in that sort of infrastructure. But by becoming part of our customers, of our industry, and we provide that for them on a shared cost basis, it enables them to compete for the same talent that Facebook and Google does. 

Jo Meunier [00:18:26] Yeah, absolutely. And I know you’re quite heavily involved with the M.I.C.E industry…

Caleb Parker [00:18:36] ‘MICE’! We call it the ‘MICE’ industry. And it’s not rodents. It’s meetings, incentive travel conferences and events. 

Jo Meunier [00:18:44] Wow. Okay. Can you tell us a little bit more about that sector and what’s what’s your role with it? 

Caleb Parker [00:18:50] Well, my career has sort of always straddled hospitality and commercial real estate. And a big part of the hospitality part has been in the events industry. And, you know, events just like commercial real estate events is a big economic driver for most cities and countries. 

Caleb Parker [00:19:07] And then I really got my feet wet in the India Vince industry in 2013 when I came over here to the UK as far as part of the medium roots dot com company. 

Caleb Parker [00:19:20] And in the U.K. at the time, the events industry represented 43 billion dollars, but small meetings represented about 400 million. So as a percentage. But it’s been growing ever since. And, you know, going back to the whole technology drivers, small meetings have been a fast growing industry. And if you look at most of the inquiries, most of the bookings that took place across the U.K. prior to Cauvin was in the small events space. So certainly in our industry, most of our spaces have some sort of small meeting facility. So I’ve been involved in the mice industry for quite some time. I was actually on the board of an events agency as well for a few years. 

Jo Meunier [00:20:13] And how do you see this world of tourism and conferences and events? How do you see it getting back to some sort of normal? 

Caleb Parker [00:20:20] Well, I think looking ahead at the events industry we have, we have a similar challenge. There’s almost a parallel to what we see in the office world is that people are now used to going to these virtual events and the events initiative has sort of had to reinvent itself as a virtual events industry to keep people connected and motivated in sharing information in different ways. So when we come out or we start getting back to where we can come back together, even though I think right now, if you’re Kovik secure venue, you can still have an event for 30 people. You can have over 30000 feet, people we shouldn’t be. But when we start coming out of that, are people going to go back to live events or are they just going to want to tune in online like they have in the past? And I think the same thing is going to be the same answer is going to be there for the office world, is that some will continue logging in and consuming the event virtually. 

Caleb Parker [00:21:15] And others will come and be at the event in person because it’s you get a you get a different feeling when you’re there in person at an event, whether it’s an exhibition and you’re shaking hands of people or whether you’re watching, you know, someone or panel discussion. It’s just different being there in person. 

Jo Meunier [00:21:30] Very much. Yeah. And and for the near-term as well, we sort of there’s this hybrid meeting going on where we have we might get some people in the meeting room, but because we’re not allowed to have maybe a whole team in there. You also got the rest of your team on a video. So you put this kind of mix of digital and in-person collaboration going on as that. And has that changed? What companies are asking for is bold. 

Caleb Parker [00:21:54] Well, I don’t think the hybrid is going to be just a near-term thing that’s going to stay around. And I think there’s lots of benefits to that. I mean, the middle of the current benefit is social distancing. Of course, you have you know, some people in the room keep a distance and you enable other people to come in. Well, I think that means that as venues, as spaces, we need to make sure that our tech is up to speed. Our Wi-Fi is excellent, our Internet, our bandwidth is excellent. But we need to be able to facilitate these hybrid meetings, not just in the near-term, but long term. 

Jo Meunier [00:22:27] Yeah, absolutely. And we are nearing the end of our episode. But what are your thoughts on the future of work? Big picture. That’s quite a big question. But we know that we can all work from home forever. We don’t want to work from home forever. And remote work. You know, it’s kind of a sticking plaster for the current situation. But, you know, longer term, we need to get people back into offices and meeting rooms. And we need to get back into the Face-To-Face collaboration. So in your view, what does the future work look like? 

Caleb Parker [00:23:00] Well, I think we have an opportunity right now to really redefine everything. And, you know, we’ve. Had this elephant in the room of A.I. and automation eating jobs, that’s not going to go away. That’s going to continue. But I think what companies now can do and in many are, is we aren’t limited to recruiting in our backyard. We can hire people from anywhere. 

Caleb Parker [00:23:28] Now, we’ve seen this. We’ve been doing it. We’ve been working remotely the past six, seven months. So I think it opens so many possibilities for companies. So I think that’s going to change and revolutionize the way people interact with office space, the way people interact in cities where people live. And so I think the future is. No one has a crystal ball, but I think that the future is not going to look like the past. 

Caleb Parker [00:23:54] And I think we’re going into it very much. Human centric. And when I say human sitrick, it is the knowledge based economy. But it’s the feelings that only we humans can do. Because if we move into automation, the robots can do a lot of things that are repeatable. They can do all those things, but they’ll spit out the data for us humans to be able to make decisions on. Because. We’re the ones who come up with ideas. Robots can’t create ideas. So the future is all about ideas. 

Jo Meunier [00:24:27] And that in turn and this improvement in technology that will change the way that people find and book space in the future as well went to it will improve access. 

Caleb Parker [00:24:36] Well, absolutely. We should be in my view, I don’t know why it is you know, it’s 20/20 now. I mean, we’re 20/20. Anything’s possible now, but it’s 20/20. We shouldn’t have had a global pandemic that enabled people to be able to access space on demand or choose when and where they were. This is something that I thought would have happened years ago. But I think now being able to just pull out your phone and book a space wherever you want, wherever you are, whenever you need it in real time. No, I mean, that should be common sense. 

Jo Meunier [00:25:09] Absolutely. And before we finish, what’s what’s next for bold? What’s in the pipeline? Look, we look forward to hearing about. 

Caleb Parker [00:25:16] Well, we are finalizing a couple of deals right now to open our first couple of spaces in the New Year. We’re really excited about that. 

Caleb Parker [00:25:27] Are everything we thought we would do in 2020? I think we will do in 2021. But unless 2021,, says, hold my beer to 2020 and then we’re all screwed. But no, I think I think our strategy hasn’t changed at all. Will we expect to open 25 Bold locations, build buildings over the next two to three years in the UK? And we’d love to. We’d love to be in the continent and in the U.S. at some point. 

Jo Meunier [00:25:58] That’s exciting. And these 25 locations, will they be run London or will they be further across the UK? Can you tell us yet? 

Caleb Parker [00:26:06] We are looking at opportunities all across the UK in most of the major markets. 

Jo Meunier [00:26:12] Fantastic. I look forward to seeing you in Northampton. 

Caleb Parker [00:26:15] Well, OK. Well, now we have some demand there. We’ll come back just for you. Jo. 

Jo Meunier [00:26:22] Yes. Brilliant. Thank you. OK, so. And just to finish off, I know you have your own podcast. So can you tell us a little bit about that and also how listeners can find out more about Bold. 

Caleb Parker [00:26:33] Sure. Thank thank you. Well, when I was having conversations with landlords the past couple years about space as a service and about management agreements and about full stack CREB, I got a lot of interest also. 

Caleb Parker [00:26:48] Got thrown out of the office metaphorically a couple of times. There were a lot of questions and even some objections to what the future might look like. And so we launched the Work Bold podcast to be able to answer a lot of these questions. And, you know, we have had some really been fortunate to have some really great people come on and share their insights. 

Caleb Parker [00:27:12] And space is a service, anything from customer experience to customer demand to valuations and how to do management agreements versus leases, all these things. We’ve been answering the questions. 

Caleb Parker [00:27:23] So that’s on the WorkBold podcast. You can go to https://workbold.co.uk/podcast/ or search workbold and any podcast that you use. And then from there you can also find both websites work. Both Dutko and I have to say, give a shout out to New Flex their Web site as new flex dot com. 

Jo Meunier [00:27:44] Fantastic. Well, that’s great. Thank you, Caleb, for joining us on the Future of Work podcast. And we look forward to having you on again someday. 

Caleb Parker [00:27:52] Thank you so much. Jo is great to chat with you.. 

Jo Meunier [00:27:54] You too. Take care. 

Caleb Parker [00:27:56] Cheers!  

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