These days, there seems to be an “Airbnb of” almost everything. VillageLuxe is the Airbnb of high-end fashion. Friendsurance is the Airbnb of insurance. Seniorly is the Airbnb of senior living. And now there is an Airbnb of meeting spaces that recently hit American shores from Europe. “Airbnb has created the blueprint of how marketplaces should look nowadays,” insists Julian Jost, the CEO and co-founder of Spacebase. Call it the shared economy, the peer-to-peer marketplace, or something else, today’s MBAs are serving up VC-friendly versions that bank on the Airbnb approach.
Not only has Spacebase adopted the business model, Jost, who graduated with his MBA from the University of Oxford Saïd Business School in 2014, and his co-founder Jan Hoffmann-Keining have a near carbon copy of Airbnb’s site design. Instead of temporary living options, Spacebase allows users to rent outside of the box meeting spaces in more than 30 cities in 12 countries worldwide. As of last November, New York City businesses may browse photos and descriptions of more than 200 potential options to host events and meetings ranging from a “designer SoHo loft meeting room” for $50 an hour to a “structured yet youthful boardroom in Flatiron” for $149 an hour.
“The basic idea is we fill empty spaces and use them more efficiently as a whole,” Jost says. Spacebase focuses on providing spaces that “bring a certain character” with them, Jost adds. “The character of the space enhances your meeting.”
ENTREPRENEURIAL ROOTS RUN DEEP
Jost, who runs Spacebase from Berlin, grew up in Hachenburg, Germany, a small town in the countryside between Düsseldorf and Frankfurt. Both of his parents are business owners, and dinner table conversations revolved around the joys and struggles of owning a small business. “I’ve always had this dream of being an entrepreneur and running my own company,” recalls Jost, noting the importance of small businesses for local communities.
So Jost majored in business for undergrad and took a position as a consultant at Munich-based Roland Berger Strategy Consultants upon graduation. The consulting position was essentially an extension of his undergraduate business training as Jost used it as a way to round out his skill set. “Consulting makes you very good at putting problems into boxes and working your way around or through them,” Jost says. “That also takes away a level of creativity.”
Still, the experience planted the Spacebase seed. “Throughout the consulting life, you experience the hardcore meeting culture,” Jost says. “Meetings everyday. Tons of meetings. And they were all pretty much the same.”
Also, Jost seemed genetically predisposed to be an entrepreneur. “When I saw myself in 10, 15, or 20 years,” Jost says, “I wanted to be able to say I took over the responsibility and had the courage to create something that is lasting.”
LAUNCHING THE PLATFORM IN AN OXFORD ENTREPRENEURSHIP COURSE
After two years as a consultant, Jost entered the full-time MBA program at Oxford’s Saïd School to pursue his entrepreneurial dreams. “That’s how I started this company,” Jost says of his time at Saïd. Jost chose Saïd in particular to expand his global network. “You have people from all over the world and all sorts of disciplines. It’s very different from MBA programs that are very heavy in investment banking or consulting. At Oxford it’s very spread out.”
According to Jost, a hallmark of the Saïd experience came in Global Opportunities and Threats: Oxford (GOTO) program. The program transcends departments at the University of Oxford as students work with faculty from many different departments to solve major global challenges. In 2014, for example, the program focused on the impact of big data and business and society. Jost also credits courses on venture capital and entrepreneurship, where he built the initial platform for Spacebase. Still, Jost says, a major benefit of attempting to start a business in B-school is the ability to bounce ideas off as many people as possible. “You have really smart people around you that can help you,” says Jost, while also mentioning you might not know who other people in your program know.
RAPID GROWTH, BUT ESTABLISHED PLAYERS TO CONTEND WITH
Of course, Jost is not alone. Increasingly, young professionals are using B-school to launch their own businesses. Some 12% of 228 MBAs to graduate from Oxford Saïd in 2015 chose to launch ventures — up from an average of 10% in recent years. While the school has not yet released its 2016 employment report, the 2015 numbers out-perform U.S. startup stalwarts, Harvard Business School and Pennsylvania’s Wharton School where 7% and less than 6% of the class of 2016 started ventures. Meanwhile, 15% of 2016 graduates from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business did startups.
Spacebase has “rapidly expanded” since its beginnings in 2014. Jost says the company is currently up to 16 employees in its Berlin office and has raised seed funding in the “high six figures” range. But breaking into the U.S. market won’t come easy. Splacer, which was founded in 2014 and based in Tel Aviv, already has established markets in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco — and deeper pockets with nearly $9 million in venture capital backing. However, Jost says they’ve already been able to flood the European market despite Amsterdam-based Deskbookers, which was established in 2013 and has raised about $1.6 million in backing.
Among other things, Jost believes their 24/7 support will help propel the firm to global market dominance, which is his goal moving forward. And as for the Airbnb copycat model and site, Jost says not only will it be a strategy to thrive, but it will also be a way for similar startups to thrive moving forward.
“The reason so many companies are going close to that design is customers are familiar with it,” says Jost, noting Airbnb’s open-source coding. “Those websites have become very natural to users.”