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New Network of 'Secret' Doors That Could Change Business Travelers' Lives


"Changes how you interact with cities."

You know the drill.

You're in a city that's not your home base. Desperate for WiFi and a laptop plug in, you cross your fingers and barely cross the threshold of the nearest Starbucks as you scan for an open table. Got it! You put down your non-valuables to claim the space and get the cheapest cup of coffee as rent for the tw0-seater you hope to squat in for the next two hours.

This time you were lucky. But what about when there isn't a space; when you have to take a professional phone call and the sound of steaming milk isn't appropriate; when you just want to lay your head down and take a nap; or when there -- gasp -- is not a Starbucks around?

"This is exactly why we did this. Your whole world has become mobile but there is no place to go," 33-year-old entrepreneur Julien Smith said. Not only that, but "the world has become super loud."

Smith wanted to create a clean, professional and quiet space for anyone to use at anytime when they weren't close to home. The company Breather, which has been described as a "stealth startup" (we'll get to why later) was born on a napkin. The concept: a door branded in a certain color with the Breather logo; a lock that is opened with a smartphone app; and a room that is WiFi equipped and rents for roughly $20 an hour.

(Image: Breather)

Here's the concept video:

Although just beginning its beta-testing phase this summer in New York City, Smith said Breather already has millions of square feet of space available to it and $1.5 million in seed funding.

"As a frequent traveler, Breather is something I'll use on every trip. I'm always looking for private space for confidential calls and meetings," Mike Walsh of Structure Capital, who has invested in Breather, said in a statement. "Coffee shops, hotel lobbies and shared spaces often just don't cut it. For the person who needs a quick shower or a cat nap, this is a dream come true. As I talk with my real estate friends, they love that Breather allows them to better utilize a dormant asset and introduce them to a new set of potential long-term clientele. It's a huge win for everyone."

(Image: YouTube screenshot)

The plan is for building managers to opt into opening their unused space for this purpose near hubs. A hub, according to Smith, would be a place where people have to be but don't necessarily want to be, like the airport.

"It makes more money for [landlords and building managers] while they're not using that space," Smith said, noting that many of New York City's largest landlords are already on board with the idea.

The group conducted an experiment, testing the concept near a university. Let's say someone had a class at 1 p.m. and another at 5 p.m. What's to be done with that in between time? Smith emailed out the concept of renting a WiFi-equipped room to anyone who might be interested and he soon had more than 80 texts in one day -- more than the room could ever be booked for.

The key bit of technology making the idea possible is the lock. Produced by the manufacturer Lockitron, the doors to reserved rooms will be opened by a two-button smartphone app. The lock can be put on any door, fitting over the inside of any deadbolt. Check out this video to see how it works:

Only those with a Breather membership, which is launching in its first phase as invite-only, will be able to reserve and unlock the doors.

How will Breather ensure it has quality users who are not only safe but won't trash the room? Smith has developed a system where after a person leaves, Breather staff will travel to the room to clean it and reset it to its standard condition for the next user. At this point, the previous occupant will be rated based on the room's state. To ensure safety of users, Smith said there will be a camera outside the door monitoring who goes inside.

And what about the cost? According to Smith, the longer the person's use of the room, the cheaper it will become. Depending on the city and location, Smith said he expects the rooms to rent for around $20 per hour, something he thinks is a reasonable price for a clean, private space to conduct business, study, nap, etc. Being a higher rated Breather user over time will also reduce costs as well.

Breather CEO Julien Smith.

Eventually, once the kinks have been worked out of the system, the details finalized and standards set, Smith said he hopes to allow those interested in renting out a space to purchase a Breather "kit," which would transform their space under the company's uniform brand. It would be sort of like opening a franchise. The kit, which Smith said was designed by a tiny space designer, would easily transform a room in a day.

Now to the "stealth" part we mentioned earlier. Smith envisions Breather to be like a "secret club." The "secret" doors will be noticeable to the public but not necessarily self-explanatory -- they're meant to peak interest.

"That's the magical part," Smith said. You unlock the door with your phone and are "let into a secret place that's always clean and always safe."

The concept "changes how you interact with cities," he continued.

Let us know if you think you would ever have use for such a service by taking our poll.



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