LiquidSpace Bids To Be The Federal Government's One-Stop Coworking Shop
The federal government in December put out a call that it was looking for co-working space nationwide. A request for proposals from the General Services Administration noted that 50% of dollars allotted would go toward small businesses — but coworking operators would have to be active in at least four locations to qualify. That was a threshold many such companies were too small to meet.
The Palo Alto, California-based tech company brings together providers of all sizes and capabilities on a single booking platform. LiquidSpace responded to the RFP, offering to coordinate office space to satisfy the federal government's needs.
"We've aggregated the full range of suppliers and options that exist in the marketplace," LiquidSpace founder and CEO Mark Gilbreath said. "Some people — not us — will say, 'Oh, you're the Airbnb of coworking.'"
Gilbreath was on the cusp of opening his own physical coworking space in Boise, Idaho, in 2008, but the Great Recession blew up his plans. Soon afterward, he realized that what the industry needed was not more another brick-and-mortar office space but rather, a digital marketplace.
He led the development of LiquidSpace as an online platform that lets users see all the coworking space available in a city, from large WeWork facilities down to one-off conference rooms in out-of-the way nooks. The platform makes listing and marketing easy for small landlords, and it makes comparison shopping easy for potential lessees, Gilbreath said.
Tenants can sign leases and pay, all through the LiquidSpace platform. Big tenants — whether they be nimble, growing companies like Salesforce or a lumbering giant like the federal government — can mix-and-match an assortment of space as needed.
"Large enterprises are a very meaningful portion of our customer base," Gilbreath said. "It's an efficient means to tap into the incredible landscape of small and medium-size providers."
He said many enterprises sign on for two- to-three-year commitments. The platform can be used for hourly and daily booking.
When he heard about the GSA's RFP, Gilbreath saw it as a potential win-win-win opportunity, with LiquidSpace as the middleman.
"One of the challenges for large organizations like the federal government that want to tap into the flex office economy is that there are thousands of operators," he said. "But is their procurement department going to vet every operator and legal agreement? That becomes onerous."
As for the small operators that the federal government was seeking, he said most didn't know about the RFP or "didn't have the wherewithal to go after it." They also might not have the capability to meet the federal government's reporting and compliance requirements — tasks that LiquidSpace could pick up.
Time will tell whether the GSA decides to use LiquidSpace as a solution to its leasing challenges. Gilbreath figured that big operators like WeWork and Regus would apply for the RFP directly themselves.
"If you have the means to pursue it directly, you should," he said. "But you have a second way to win with LiquidSpace."