This CEO Wants to Rent Your Empty Desks: Five Minutes With Larry Gadea

The hacker-turned-entrepreneur aims to create a marketplace where companies can borrow extra office space by the minute.

(Bloomberg) — Larry Gadea wants to grab your desk — and rent it out to the highest bidder. That empty boardroom, too. Gadea, the chief executive officer of San Francisco-based Envoy, founded his firm a decade ago to help companies more effectively manage office visitors and deliveries. Then the pandemic hit, and buildings went dark. But Gadea — who landed his first tech job at Google while still in high school and was later one of Twitter Inc.’s first 50 employees — found a workaround, using his software to verify Covid-19 vaccinations for employers and sort out hot-desking schedules. 

Now, armed with data on the occupancy habits of 9,000 clients including  Zoom Video Communications Inc. and Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., he’s created office “heat maps” so companies know which areas get used the most. Down the road, he plans to offer up those unused desks and meeting rooms to companies that need them. “We expect a world where traditional real-estate brokerages won’t exist because companies will expand and contract to the exact space they need,” he said. Gadea spoke to Work Shift about his office-marketplace plan and why some people are just bad at remote work. (Responses have been edited and condensed.)

Were you a hacker growing up?

Essentially. That’s how I ended up working at Google when I was 17. I was in my last year of high school, and they didn’t ask my age until we finished the interviews. I had this super-poofy hair, and people asked, ‘How did this guy get into the building?’ I worked part-time for Google while going to school — it was my side hustle.

What is Envoy doing for clients?

We are trying to help companies understand that they are spending so much money on real estate, but are you actually getting a return? We launched a meeting-room product that detects, say, if you have scheduled a four-person meeting and two people are working from home that day, it will free up the four-person meeting room and find another room just for those two.

We also have a new product that will use door-access and wifi data to figure out which areas of the office are more occupied, like a heat map. Every single customer of ours wanted this. We want to make RTO as painless as possible. This kind of software for workplaces has never been invested in by companies, because it’s logistics — boring and unsexy. But now the CEO cares very much about it. 

What else is on tap?

What we’re thinking about now is creating a world where people can borrow office space from the company working upstairs. There’s a lot of long-term leased space that’s empty, and CFOs see the opportunity to recoup some costs. We want to create a marketplace where you are borrowing a desk or five meeting rooms and paying for it by the minute. When we enable this we will have about 15,000 locations overnight; we’ll be the world’s biggest co-working provider. Companies can make money off it, and we will get a cut, too. So will the landlord. In three years we should have a substantial start to this. 

What could go wrong?

There are insurance and safety implications. There are rules for commercial buildings — they are more comfortable if it’s an existing tenant. And if someone breaks a chair, whose fault is it?

What about your own growth? Have you slowed down hiring?

We have about 250 employees now, and we’re not hiring much anymore. It slowed down in September. Companies all freaked out and started slowing down opening new offices, which affects us. We do have some fully remote roles — we have to be practical. But when we hire for a new role these days, it’s always an in-office role. The problem is, there are people in the world who demand remote work but are not very good at it. Not everyone is skilled at working in environments where there isn’t clear structure or accountability. Good remote work is about being highly communicative and disciplined. For many, it’s too easy to get distracted, to get confused, or to feel defeated. It’s human nature.  

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