Recently, we crowd-funded our new book Pop-Up City: City-Making in a Fluid World, that will be published in May this year. One of the rewards we offered to backers of the Kickstarter campaign was a special interview on this blog. This post is the third in a special series that features some of the generous people that helped us make the book happen.
Patrice Fleurquin is founder of Spacified, an online (and offline) matchmaking service for (empty) spaces and spaces that are available for temporary rent. Headquartered in Belgium, the network is currently expanding to cities in the Netherlands, France, and even outside of Europe. We spoke with Patrice about how matchmaking between spaces and people works, the latest temporary space concepts and the pop-up guide that Spacified will launch this week.
How would you describe Spacified?
“Some say that we are the Airbnb for commercial spaces, but a dating website for temporary urban spaces would probably be a better description. We are an online platform that connects small and big entrepeneurs with empty spaces. Spacified is not only about empty office spaces, but also about retail and event spaces. We’ve chosen to not focus on a niche market, but look at urban spaces in a broader sense.”
How did the idea to start Spacified come about?
“There’s a huge demand for spaces among people with ideas — young entrepreneurs that want to test-run their business idea, webstores that want to find out if their concept also works in real life, and start-ups that want to display their product in a serious environment. On the Internet, this test environment is easily accessible, but in the physical world it’s more difficult. Our main concern is to make space use accessible to entrepreneurs and initiators that want to try out stuff. ‘Anything is space’ is our philosophy, which means that we don’t want to focus on only retail, or only workspaces. We believe that our perception of space is still very narrow. Office spaces, for instance, are meant to be office spaces, but can be used for a lot more things than work alone. This cross-over between space and new activity is really what we want to achieve.”
Do you consider yourself to be a matchmaker?
“Yes, I do. We have to understand both the people with the initiatives that are looking for spaces, as well as the real estate owners and their issues and problems. Compared to other platforms such as Desktime, LiquidSpace, and Deskwanted, we really spend time to matchmaking. We not only offer an online platform, but we actively search for right matches, sometimes even behind the scenes of the platform. We have to know the local market very well — only the real estate owners and their situation, but also the local community, the initiators and the ambassadors. That’s why we’ve chosen to launch city by city. We’re now active in Belgium and the Netherlands, but we’re looking to extend our service to Paris, Berlin, and some US cities.”
Matchmaking always needs two parties. Is there more demand or supply in this case?
“Demand for sure. It’s by way more difficult to find real estate owners than people with ideas. That may sound strange with so many buildings staying empty. But out of every ten people approaching us with an idea, we have one real estate owner who wants to advertise a space. The reason is that it’s very hard for real estate owners to start doing this. Renting out space temporarily has al kinds of effects on the their property, which is scary. Besides that, a lot of real estate owners are still very conservative. It’s not yet very common to look for temporary use.”
What kind of spaces are really interesting and underexposed when it comes to discussions about vacancy?
“One example of a great project is the Waasland shopping centre in a medium big city in Belgium with strategic vacancy opportunities. We matched this space with the designers of Mookum who created an offline exhibition space and shop for their products. This new and fresh impulse to the shopping center turns out to work really well, as it creates a new experience for visitors who have more reason to come to this particular area. Also store-in-store concepts are interesting. Larger shops are looking for smaller entrepreneurs that want to rent, for instance, 10 square meters of their shopping space. Sometimes the reason is financial, but some shop owners also look for added value. A parasite store inside of theirs could bring in spirit, new energy and a fresh group of customers.
Kitchen spaces are also fascinating to me. Most professional kitchens are badly used — only right before dinner. This uncovers a huge potential for other activities that can be carried out by others in a fully equipped kitchen. Also owners of the kitchens are more and more open towards this kind of fragmented use, like cooking classes and workshops, special events and tasting sessions.”
What are your plans for the nearby future?
“We just launched a pop-up guide. This will be an online guide that shows all the pop-up activity in a city on a map. We found out that there’s so much pop-up energy going on in many cities, but most people just don’t know about all those volatile initiatives. The Spacified pop-up guide will bundle this information and make it accessible to anyone interested. That also helps the pop-up initiators who are often dependent on enthusiasts. Today we launched an Indiegogo campaign for the pop-up guide… stay tuned.”