In 2018, Callum McPherson moved away from a successful career in Fintech to establish his first sharing economy business, Moto Stable, in an effort to tackle the blight of motorcycle theft in his home city of Edinburgh. The premise was akin to that of a co-working space; people would pay a membership fee to store their motorbikes in an unused warehouse in the city. But as Callum tried to expand the business, he struggled to find space: “I was driving around industrial states meeting landlords and tenants and I came across a joiner specialising in set design – he had a big unit he would have struggled to pay by himself. So he had a printer, instrument maker and a carpenter in there each paying monthly on flexible terms. And then I saw the same thing in a production kitchen, where the caterers were sharing space with a couple of other baking businesses.”
That’s when the idea for Occupyd hit him: “It was an obvious solution to an obvious problem. If you’re starting a hospitality or catering business, you don’t want to shell out £50,000 on fitting out a new kitchen. People like myself can work anywhere – we just need a laptop. But there are a lot of businesses out there who need specialist equipment and spaces, so that’s where Occupyd sits.”
A two-sided marketplace, Occupyd is to commercial property what Airbnb is to residential. The online platform invites businesses to list their underutilised space in return for extra income: “That could be anything from a café which closes at 3pm, all the way to a spa renting their unused treatment rooms to small beauty businesses. We’ve recently been in conversation with the National Trust, who have wonderful buildings and facilities that are just sitting there not being used to their full extent – they would be perfect for events and could use the extra income. And then on the other side of the coin, you have businesses starting or expanding and need quick access to facilities without taking a long lease and doing the fit-out.”
Occupyd is just one of the concepts that have found a silver lining in the pandemic, benefitting from accelerated shifts towards hybrid working and home delivery: “Threat of recession accelerates trends that were already on their way. Food delivery was growing by 10% year-on-year before it just exploded in 2020. There’s a lot of difficulty in the short term with restaurants being forced to close their doors, but in the medium to longer term I think there’s going to be a lot of changes in the way hospitality operates.
“You have really big players now that are set up to take advantage of the situation, and a really interesting example is ‘dark kitchens’ which are built specifically for food delivery providers. Instead of having a restaurant, you just have a small kitchen in an out-of-town warehouse. That’s a trend currently coming out of London making its way north and we’re just seeing it come to Scotland as well.”
Occupyd similarly began life in London and has since expanded to match users with a broad range of properties in major cities across the UK: “You often find these interesting use cases that are an unexpectedly perfect fit. We’ve had orchestras practising in office blocks for instance. Where better to perform than a huge, deserted office with no residential property around?
Something Callum is keen to push is the element of discoverability, as people are looking for increasingly weird and wonderful spaces to host their event: “The best conference I’ve attended was hosted at Edinburgh Zoo – it was Salesforce, but anything that’s a bit different can really bring a brand alive. When someone is looking for an event space, they may not know where to look – we try and show the blank canvas aspect, such as a photography studio which could be used for virtual events, or a restaurant for pizza making classes, where clients can use not only the kitchen, but front of house as well.”
The sharing economy is trending across every single industry: “It’s driven by younger generations, but now we’ve seeing it creep up on the older generation and big business. We’re currently speaking to one of the biggest landlords in the UK. In 2018, flexible leases were at 15% of their portfolio, surging to 25% in 2019 and rising still – proving bigger institutions are now realising the value of the sharing economy.”
At a time where hotels, restaurants and event spaces are being forced to think outside the box to keep their businesses alive, many are choosing to maximise the value of their assets by finding new revenue streams: “I know a lot of hotels have turned into studios to cater for the rise of virtual events and are looking at opportunities to make their space available for hotdesking on a flexible basis. We’re in conversation with several major football clubs which have several kitchens that even pre-pandemic are being used once every couple of weeks – they’re the definition of underused. Now more than ever, companies are really having to sweat their assets.”
As well as increasing his reach across the UK, Callum has his sights set on the US East Coast to facilitate the wave of recovering and startup hospitality businesses which will inevitably fill the gaps left by the pandemic: “Cities like New York which were dependent on their services sector were particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. I think we’ve got a really good opportunity to step in and try and help companies that have been displaced and are looking to start new ventures.
“Marketplaces have what’s called ‘network effects’ – if we add another kitchen, there’s probably going to be another person looking for a kitchen which makes it more attractive for other people to add more spaces, and it just goes around in circles.”
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