PropTech1 has observed the steady shift towards a hybrid working environment, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, while we recognized the emerging trend, the speed in which the existing working habits were being broken up was rather slow, as mentioned in JLL’s July 2020 flexible space report. Seldom, however, has an external shock accelerated a business trend with as much speed and scale as the pandemic has done. In an instant, the need for a more flexible working environment had become a necessity.
We at PropTech1 Ventures believe that modern, dynamic, and increasingly digital office spaces will continue to stay in demand as people want to get out the house, see faces, and interact with others. The pandemic has shown the importance of in-person human interaction for collaboration. However, the various advantages of flexible and remote work will remain. Shorter commutes, lower costs, and more flexibility create huge benefits to employees and employers. All companies with a business model that permits flexible work will be faced with increasing pressure generated by their employees to offer flexible work environments if they want to continue to compete in the accelerating ‘war for talent’. Even the mighty tech giant Apple recently felt the power of a workforce unwilling to go back “to the old ways”, with many employees pushing back against a policy that had ordered employees back to the office for three days per week starting in September, as reported by The Verge.
Other companies are moving to hybrid set-ups without employee pressure, with management realizing that dedicated office space with long-term leases is expensive and inefficient; they feel the pressure of these empty spaces on their P&Ls. This is supported by, as various studies such as a Salesforce research project[TB1] show, employee efficiency remaining steady during the ad hoc shift towards remote work; therefore, companies are now looking to improve the flexibility they can provide to their employees. Furthermore, companies also benefit from other newly found advantages, such as greater talent pools and happier employees. This has led to a wave of companies, ranging from established enterprises such as Google, Siemens, or Citi Group, to dynamic scale-ups to announce their moves towards a more flexible working environment.
But how to efficiently implement this new paradigm? Whilst getting rid of office space might seem simple, many employees expect to return to an office for at least a few days per week after the pandemic. This created a significant opportunity, with several ventures emerging or pivoting to deal with this problem, showing the beautiful agility of the startup ecosystem as well as its willingness to work on complex problems with unique speed. We at PropTech1 underwent a deep dive into this emerging market, analysing many different approaches, with Desana, the flexible workspace platform for global employers, having emerged as our favourite business model.
The UK-based Desana allows employees to book the office space they desire from a global network of co-working spaces, or the company’s own office spaces, combining the newly found comfort of a more flexible work environment with the focus, resources, and assets of a dedicated office space, allowing employees to access the best of both worlds.
Moreover, Desana doesn’t just provide a great experience to employees, it makes hybrid work possible by offering the software and procurement infrastructure that large enterprises need to manage this on the back end. The holistic solution that Desana offers as the single contractual partner for a multitude of different offices, either flexible or fixed, changes how enterprises deal with flexible work and interact with real estate. In parallel, Desana collects valuable usage data that generates insights for enterprises to truly understand how their real estate is utilized, enabling companies to make better decisions, allowing them to reduce costs while increasing the happiness of their employees.
When we first met the Desana co-founders, Michael, Steve, and Ro, we immediately shared a vision on what the working environment of the future would look like. While spending more time with the team, we critically evaluated their product, also utilizing our network and venture partners to speak to potential customers and sales multiplicators, reference checking their solution. In parallel, we spoke to several peers in Europe and North America and built conviction in the team’s ability to execute on the highest level. For these reasons, we decided to lead Desana’s $4 million seed round.
As always, our next focus beyond finding the best team for a truly relevant problem/opportunity was to craft a great consortium of investors that can support the development of a startup with smart money, ideally not just in this round, but also going forward. Co-investors therefore include Techstart Ventures, the team’s long-term partner on the ground in Scotland since the pre-seed days; BGF, a very experienced UK-based growth investor with significant firepower, and Groundbreak Ventures a North American PropTech VC, underlining the global ambitions of Desana. Last but not least, a business angel from the Accel scout programme joined to complete the round.
We are thrilled to be a part of Michael’s, Steve’s, Ro’s, and the entire team’s future journey and are already impressed by their achievements since we first met.