• 07.29.13

Breather: A Zipcar For Rooms When You Need Short-Term Work Or Relaxation

Ever just need a place to take a break for a few minutes? This new service will let you check out a room (in an office, say) for about $20 for an hour.

You can rent a room by-the-hour in most cities–but they tend not to be for everyone. Either rates are high (hotels charge half the nightly amount typically). Or they’re on the sleazier side of town. If you need a quiet, relaxing space for a while–maybe for a meeting, or just to clear your head–the options are limited.


Breather, a new room-sharing network that’s open to anyone, could provide an alternative. It hopes to take small, under-used spaces in major cities, and give individuals access to clean, comfortable accommodation for short periods–all from a smartphone. It’s like Zipcar–but for rooms.

Founder Julien Smith says he came up with the idea when he was writing books, like Trust Agents. He spent a lot of time wandering between cafes looking for better places to work. “I became obsessed with being able to give myself private space in high-quality areas,” he says.

Breather rooms are small: “the smallest possible things that fit inside the cracks of other places,” as Smith puts it. They are not meant to be extensive lounges for long stays–just enough space for a desk, and a sofa to sit down in. Smith thinks there are thousands of suitable locations in major cities, despite high rents and the general lack of vacancies.

Breather has received $1.5 million in funding, and is currently vetting its first rooms. Smith says the main requirement is they have their own door, so members can enter without disturbing anyone else. When launched fully (Breather is in invite-only mode at the moment) he expects prices to be about $20 a hour. “You could make something for $100 or $200 an hour. But the purpose is to democratize space,” he says.

To use the service, people will simply open an app and find a open space near them. They’ll book and pay, then be able to open the room using their phones. The key technology is a new phone-to-lock system called Lockitron, which came to life after a highly successful Kickstarter campaign. Breather can quickly add rooms to its network by installing the locks on the rooms. “Once you put a lock on the door, there’s very little else you need to take care of at the beginning,” Smith says.

Breather plans to arrange cleaning between visits. “You don’t want someone walking into a crack den that someone had set up,” Smith says. But he doesn’t see this as onerous for the business: most of the time, the building will already have an on-site crew.

Generally, Smith sees Breather expanding under a lot of its own steam: once he’s got the technology in place, it’s just a matter of preparing the rooms, fitting the locks, and waiting for people to arrive. It’ll be interesting to see if they do.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.