If you’ve ever tried to find somewhere for an off-site meeting, or somewhere interesting to work during a business trip in a foreign city, you’ll know that it can be properly painful.
That’s especially true if you’re using traditional booking methods, which rely on emails, phone calls and bank transfers. However,as Dubai-based booking site Fluidmeet is keen to show, there is another way.
The site, which is kind of like an Airbnb for workspaces, enables users to book meeting rooms, fully serviced offices, and desks at co-working spaces on an hourly or daily basis.
Being a marketplace, it also makes it a lot easier for companies renting out office space to do so, whether they’re a full-service space or just a company looking to make a little extra cash from a couple of unused desks they’ve got lying around.
Engage Me recently sat down with the site’s founders Jareer Oweimrin and Sulli Salloum to talk about the Fluidmeet journey, the rise of coworking spaces in Dubai, and why corporates need to think outside the confines of their own offices.
Engage Me: What inspired you to start Fluidmeet? And how’s the journey been so far?
Suli Salloum: Jareer and myself come from a consulting background and during our consulting days, we dealt with the booking of meeting rooms ourselves. It was such a headache and a long process to go through finding the right workspace, then contacting the venue host, getting them to send us a proposal, asking about prices, pictures, what sort of amenities come with the workspace.
It was a waste of time, so we decided to do something about it, and came up with Fluidmeet.
Jareer Oweimrin: When we started looking at workspaces and all their different types and categories and everything, we realised these were all the challenges that we’d faced.
There was no one-stop shop that has the descriptions, the pictures, the prices, the locations and all that kind of stuff.
And there was nothing like a Booking.com for the office world, so we decided to build it.
EM: Has the reception been favourable?
SS: Yes, I think so. I mean everyone who’s used us so far has come back and used us again, which is a great sign of customer satisfaction. And everyone we describe the concept to seems to get really excited about it. So yeah, I’d say it’s been really positive.
JO: Honestly, they love it. And it’s not only in terms of evidence through recurring bookings. They also get all the variety they need. One day they might want a co-working space where they’re not working from a café or working from home and then the next day they need a meeting room. A lot of these people are very fluid, so they need to be able to get a space on demand and in real time. And that’s why Fluidmeet’s been able to cater to a lot of their requirements and needs.
EM: Did it take much convincing to get businesses on the platform?
SS: We had to explain the concept in more detail to the first 10 or so businesses, hold their hands, and ensure that nothing went wrong. But to be honest, we don’t face a lot of that because it’s free to list on Fluidmeet. We make no money at all, until a booking comes in. And when I say a booking, I mean a sale, not a lead.
So it wasn’t very difficult getting these guys on-board because people thought: “let’s test these guys out, see how it goes”. And it’s going well so far. We haven’t lost any venues that we’ve added so far. And we keep growing, we add a few venues a week.
EM: In terms of some of the trends you’ve noticed, do you see people leaning towards a particular kind of workspace more frequently than the others?
SS: I think it really depends on the workspace seeker here. If they’re looking for something more long term, it’s usually between an office — a private office if they need privacy — or a coworking space, which is something that’s trending in Dubai and is usually cheaper. If you’re looking for something shorter term, to host a meeting or a workshop, this is where meeting rooms are the highest in demand.
You can also book a coworking space or an office for a day, which is short term.
Then there’s event spaces, which we launched recently and that’s usually for a day to multiple days.
EM: When it comes to the people making bookings on Fluidmeet, do you see a mix of corporates, individuals, and small businesses?
JO: There are all sorts. It’s a really good mix, each category has its prime segment. So you have a lot of freelancers and entrepreneurs who are using the coworking spaces and meeting rooms. Then you have some of the bigger companies, multinationals, using the meeting rooms and the event spaces.
You have a lot of companies that are testing market entry that are doing private offices and coworking spaces. So for example, we’ve got a couple out of London that come down here and alternate between private offices and coworking spaces.
There are others [looking] for longer term serviced offices and private offices. They could be SMEs that are launching new businesses, or opening up new subsidiaries, so they would need new office space for the extra resources that they’re hiring.
Then you’ll have other bigger companies that might be going through a rougher phase in their lifecycle and might need to downsize. And so, when they’re downsizing they’ll start with their current office and say: “How can we shuffle these employees to some more temporary spaces?” And so they’ll start to use Fluidmeet. Some of them will be shifted to coworking spaces, while others will be put in a serviced office.
SS: But there are also people looking for temporary offices by the way. An example of this would be if a company is renovating its own offices.
EM: You guys are obviously quite well versed in looking at those spaces. How mature would you say the coworking environment is in Dubai? And what are some of the big changes you’ve seen over the past little while?
JO: I think it’s important to note that these alternative spaces are part of a growing trend. So one of the first things we hear is: “Hey I don’t want another hotel room. Give me something that’s a little bit more funky”.
Some of the meeting requests and conference requests that have been coming in lately have been moving towards those funkier workspaces. It doesn’t mean that there are any less hotel meeting room or conference room bookings. Those are still there because you have a lot of training and consulting companies that need a more professional environment to conduct their meetings.
Coworking spaces are also a growing trend globally. They’re different from an office setup because there are like-minded people, there are a lot of entrepreneurs, there are a lot of young people with energy going around. You can feel that there’s productivity all around you. There are also friendly staff who are there to help you out.
EM: Do you see international business travellers also looking for ‘more authentic’ working experiences in the cities that they’re doing business in?
SS: Yeah, I definitely think that’s the case. Not only do they want something that’s more authentic, funkier, different to the hotel scene, which is what people are used to, they might also be after something more efficient and less costly. So with a hotel, you’re booking the meeting room, the banquet hall, the food, and all the extra cost that comes with it.
With Fluidmeet, you can book a meeting room for the workspace itself and nothing else. Also, like you said, some people don’t like meeting in hotels. They’d rather meet somewhere, for lack of a better term, more authentic that links to Dubai’s climate.
Going back to the question you had before by the way, I think [the idea of a more relaxed, temporary working space] was new to Dubai, but I think thanks to Fluidmeet, people are starting to better understand that you don’t need to book an office for a year and sit down and work in that office throughout the year.
I think we’re trying to change how people select a workspace, and just make it more enjoyable, more fluid, more flexible for them…and cheaper. Cheaper is very important.
EM: I suppose it also means that the people offering these spaces think differently about their own offerings?
SS: Definitely. Venues here are used to renting out their offices on a yearly basis. They don’t even think about renting out their meeting rooms. But because of Fluidmeet, they’ve started offering their meeting rooms and noticed that they can make a lot of money out of short-term bookings.
They can even rent out unused offices for a day, a month, or even a few months. So, venues have changed, more so than users maybe. They’re really enjoying this experience with us, and benefiting from it.
EM: Have your experiences with Fluidmeet changed the way you think about offices yourselves?
SS: I think the simple, short answer is yes, very much so. Jareer and I don’t have an office ourselves. We choose to work from wherever is convenient for the day, or for the week, so I think it applies to us as well.
JO: We’re very fluid. Sometimes we work from the offices of some of our hosts. We can set up shop and just work there for the day or for a couple of hours and it’s quite enjoyable. I mean, our office right now is the market, because we’re growing this baby and we want to make sure that Fluidmeet gets bigger and better.
We’re expanding to Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Riaad, Jeddah, Bahrain, Qatar, so all of these different countries and cities are our offices right now. We try to spend as much time as we can visiting potential hosts and making sure they’re listing their spaces on Fluidmeet.
EM: I suppose that’s also important in terms of being able to know exactly what kind of spaces you’re offering on the platform?
JO: Correct. It helps us authenticate and verify, so we don’t need to use any gimmicky verification standards. We’ve gone to 95% of the spaces that are on Fluidmeet. We’ve authenticated, we’ve verified, and we’ve made sure that what you see on the site is what you get.
Ultimately, we’re building more than just a workspace portal. We’re trying to build a community where other entrepreneurs and SMEs and companies are sharing their feedback with others, so that they learn and know what sort of insights to expect once they book.
EM: Do you get the sense that corporates should be a bit more free about letting their employees spend time in working environments of their choice and in coworking spaces?
SS: I think so, because an employee is more productive if they’re happy with their work environment. If every employee, or of a bunch of them, get to choose their work environment – the one that makes them most successful, most effective – then why not? And again, most of the time it’s cheaper to do so.
EM: So it’s not just about employee happiness, it also helps the bottom line?
SS: Exactly. An employee that’s happier with their work environment works better. And if you can do so at a lower cost to the company, then why not?