Breather, a new startup which can best be described as ‘Uber for private work spaces’ has raised a $1.5 million seed round to fund the launch of its service later this year.

Aimed at people who want to work somewhere a bit more private and comfortable than a Starbucks for a short period with the convenience of ordering an Uber cab, Breather plans to launch a limited beta rollout of spaces in New York City in October this year.

Users will be able to book each space via a mobile app, which will also be used to unlock the room when a user arrives. Founder Julien Smith is keen to stress that there’s nothing potentially seedy about this – there’ll be no bed in each Breather space. There will however be WiFi, a couch, a desk, a conference table, beanbags, maybe a Nespresso machine – “Basically like a startup office,” Smith explains.

I met Smith to discuss Breather at a Pret á Manger in London yesterday and he explained that there was a similarity between the ubiquitous sandwich shop franchise and his startup – “You walk into a Pret and you know what to expect. Every one’s the same but different in its own way, Breather spaces will be like that.”

He says that the idea came about because he has trouble hearing conversations in noisy public spaces and wanted somewhere quiet and private to work while on the go. One day he sketched the idea for Breather out on a napkin (yes, really) and got to work.

Smith says that the time is right for his business to emerge – not least because commoditized smartphone-controlled locks (Breather will use the forthcoming Lockitron) are only just emerging on the market.

The ultimate vision is not just ‘one Breather in every city’ but many Breathers in every city. Smith, a bestselling author of marketing books and erstwhile podcaster, says that he wants to dominate New York and become ubiquitous there to the point where cities without a Breather seem behind the times.

Smith says that pricing will vary from city to city but will be around the $9 or $10 per half hour mark, depending on local market conditions. Although New York is the company’s priority, it will be testing the service in London, San Francisco and other locations. While he remains flexible as to how the company plans to scale in the future, Smith envisages a franchise model being a likely route, with landlords able to monetize unused office space by applying for run a Breather there.

This sounds like a business open to rampant cloning if it takes off, but Smith is prepared for this, discussing the ‘moats’ he plans to build to establish and maintain a lead a through strong branding and tight relationships with real estate networks.

Breather’s seed round has been led by Real Ventures, with participation from Gary Vaynerchuk, Loic Le Meur (who has invited Smith to speak at LeWeb London today) and Mike Walsh, who has previously invested in Uber.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on Breather in the coming months as it moves towards opening its first spaces.

➤ Breather

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