Deskbookers, the platform that lets you find flexible meeting and office space, has been bought by Spacebase. The competitor from Berlin snags up the Amsterdam-based startup as part of an equity deal. According to Deskbookers CEO Deepti Sahi, the acquisition by Spacebase was the best way for the company to keep growing internationally. As the COVID-19 crisis may have disrupted business, Sahi sees the startup from Amsterdam come out stronger.
Spacebase buys Deskbookers
Even though the press release mentions an acquisition of Deskbookers, CEO Deepti Sahi would rather call it a ‘merger’ of two companies. “Over the last couple of years we’ve been looking at opportunities to keep growing”, she says. “It’s hard to get pan-European dominance, but joining forces with leaders from other countries is the right way forward. The industry is ripe for consolidation. We’ve been talking to other players in the market to understand how we can build a large company by merging.”
Eventually, Sahi kept coming back to the German Spacebase. Despite serving a slightly different slice of the market – Sahi describes Spacebase as more of an Airbnb-type venture, while Deskbookers aims for the professional market – they also have a lot in common: “There is an overlap in use cases as well as an overlap in culture. For instance, we are both born as a tech-first startup. We work hard, but don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
Flexible rent of meeting and office space
Deskbookers was founded in 2015 by Jeroen Arts and Frank Derks. The company can be regarded as a Booking.com for professional meeting spaces, allowing freelancers or corporates to book office space by the hour. The startup raised €1,5 million in seed-funding, a round led by Berlin-based VC Point Nine Capital. In 2017 Sahi came from the UK and joined as a CEO.
Also founded in 2015, Berlin-based Spacebase is now a global booking platform for meeting rooms and business event spaces. They offer 10.000 venues worldwide. In 2015 they secured a seed-funding of €1 million, and have been expanding rapidly ever since. The company, led by CEO Julian Jost, has acquired more competitors in the past. In 2017 they bought Craftspace, in 2019 they added Eventsofa and Okanda to their portfolio.
Sahi won’t divulge any details or specific numbers of the deal between Deskbookers and Spacebase. “It is an equity deal, where our investors are now shareholders of Spacebase. Everybody is on board, which really confirmed their collective trust. We are a European leader and everybody wants to be a part of that success story.” As for Deskbookers, on the surface not much will change. The brand will keep on existing, run by the same team from Amsterdam. Sahi: “There is quite a lot of brand affinity for Deskbookers in The Netherlands. We’ll keep focussing on the Dutch market, where we have loyal customers.” Behind the scenes, some changes are imminent, says Sahi: “The next few months our customers and partners will transition to the Spacebase platform.”
For Sahi, the deal with Spacebase has been a long time in the making. “A few CEO’s in the industry are in constant communication with each other. Most of them are genuinely nice people and it always felt very collegial.” It’s not just friendly, they talk business as well. Being competitors doesn’t mean you have to keep each other at arms’ length. Sometimes you need each other. Sahi: “People often think Europe is one big market, but it really is not. How a Dutch customer wants to rent an office space and what he expects is different from that of German customers or people from the Nordics. To fully understand this, you need local teams. It’s expensive, there is a long window of unprofitability before you can turn it around.”
“We saw how hard it was to expand when we went to Germany, even though we came out alright. But if you want to find some material market presence in a certain geography, you need to find a partner with which you can streamline that process. Otherwise it’ll be hard to grow without constant capital infusions. Merging companies makes more sense. You see the same happening in food delivery. Companies merge for expansion, so they can build on a foundation that is already there.”
When COVID-19 hit
Sahi finalized the deal between Deskbookers and Spacebase in February this year. The ink on the contract was barely dry, as COVID-19 made the entire world stop spinning. “Yeah, talk about timing,” says Sahi. “It was a tough but interesting time. We went through a whole evolution on how we worked as a business.” Needless to say, Deskbookers did take a hit when the Dutch entered what they like to call an ‘intelligent lockdown’. Working from home and not meeting people became the norm, which is exactly the opposite of what Deskbookers is selling. Sahi: “We were in a similar situation as the travel sector. Our whole business was shut down. There are few bookings now, for one-on-one coaching or small meetings. But our bigger customers stopped using the platform for a bit.”
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The first weeks of March, Sahi says they were mainly focussed on making sure all customers are supported. This meant being there to cancel reservations, pause accounts or simply answer questions from customers or venues that rent out their spaces via Deskbookers. “But once the shock wore off, we started testing new ideas. Maybe we can offer our customers a safe place to go to if they need a break from working from home?” So Deskbookers worked with venues to create COVID-proof day offices. “Most recently, it is all about getting ready for the post-COVID world. We really incentivize venues to get their act together. We don’t want to take any shortcuts.”
COVID-19 safe office spaces
To make sure the risk of spreading or catching the novel coronavirus is as small as possible, Deskbookers takes an abundance of caution. Venues can receive a ‘COVID-19 safe’ rating on the site to indicate to customers they’ve taken precautions. Desbookers sourced guidelines and cues from the Dutch government, WHO, German health organization as well as common sense. “We had to conjure it up ourselves, as there are no official guidelines anywhere. We came up with quite an exhaustive list.” This ranges from an updated capacity to allow for social distancing all the way to closed bins and single use pen and paper.
“In the short term, it is fair to say that we will feel the impact. Our corporate clients are still reluctant at the moment. But in the medium to long term, we think these changes will be positive for us,” explains Sahi. Working from home could eventually be an advantage for Deskbookers, she thinks. “Meetings between colleagues will happen less but will be more valuable and culturally enriching because of that. This gives an opportunity for employers to create more social interaction during these meetings. A small venue will be helpful then.”
‘More than recover’
Secondly, companies need to rethink their office space if they want to keep social distancing, creating a demand for flexible solutions, explains Sahi. “If you had an office footprint that worked before COVID-19, it might not work now anymore. Now you will need additional office space for the same amount of people.” As a result, Sahi expects the demand for short term office rental to rise. “And we have the venues and the online experience to meet that demand. In about six to nine months, we will have more than recovered.”
Top image: Deepti Sahi, CEO Deskbookers