Coffee with the cohort: in conversation with Baptiste, CEO of Neo-Nomade
First thing on a Friday morning I sat down with a cup of tea and had a great chat with Baptiste Broughton, co-founder of Neo-Nomade, to learn about the company and its journey so far, international work cultures and, of course, the future.
Neo-Nomade offer a range of solutions for companies looking to improve their employees’ working lives, provide greater autonomy from the traditional office, all while cutting costs. They offer a pay-as-you go solution which offers flexible access to work desks, mid-term office space for longer term solutions, and event spaces too.
With office life as we know it going through so much change on an unprecedented scale and timeline, it was great to chat to Baptiste and hear the thoughts of a real expert in the domain, and pick his brains on what’s next for the office.
What’s the story behind the Neo-Nomade?
I founded Neo-Nomade about 5 years ago with a friend from university, and we’d both been working as consultants so knew about leading nomadic work lifestyles and dealing with a cultural pressure to present at the office.
Initially, we went about helping companies switch to remote working via consultancy, but we were consistently running into the same issues with working from home for employees. Things like feeling too isolated or struggling to find their work life balance. That’s where we saw the need for an alternative: remote working but not just from home. It was great timing, as it coincided with rise of co-working spaces.
We help companies to put power in hands of employees. 15–20% of people prefer working in a co-working space than at home, and this percentage of people increases to 30–40% as the amount of time spent working remotely increases.
Neo-Nomade as we know it today was born in response to a problem. Through consultancy, we were running into the same problem over and over: the fragmented market in co-working. Our clients were clear that they would be interest in a service that would aggregate and organise that market.
By opening up remote working to more simply than working from home, we have found a way to give employees to work remotely if they want to, saving time and money on the commute. It builds up greater employer — employee trust, which ultimately leads to higher engagement, and can be a cost-saving exercise for companies too, so it really is win-win.
What highlights really stand out for you and Neo-Nomade so far?
There was our breakthrough moment, which was of course a highlight, when we sold the first version of Neo-Nomade to our first client, Generali, an insurance company. Using our pay-as-you-go model we helped them to save 40% on real estate costs by switching to a fully flexible model without leases or engagement. For us, that was so exciting. It was one thing having it down on paper, another seeing it become a reality — it really was win-win for the employer, in terms of costs, and the employees, in terms of time, just as we’d hoped.
Another highlight was our partnership with Sodexo, our 1st experience of corporate venture fundraising with a €1.3 million investment to accelerate our growth. It gave us a big boost, and enabled us to structure the company and recruit some great people. It’s thanks to this that we’re the 30-strong team you see today.
Another highlight for us as a company was winning a call for tender and signing the Paris region as a client. It’s local government, and they encourage the public to change the way they live to reduce the impact on the environment and put less pressure on public transport, so it was great to see them practice what they preach. Symbolically, it was a important partnership. They were in the process of consolidating all their offices into 1 big campus, closing 15 offices across region, and we were tasked with helping them to implement an ambitious remote working policy with up to 3 days of remote work per week. This also helped us widen our horizons, and realise that our offering was of interest to more than just corporates.
What’s next for Neo-Nomade?
Our ambition mostly follows where our clients are asking us to roll out our services. For now, we’re looking at Northern Europe: the UK, Germany, Benelux, then hopefully Spain and Italy. As well as client demand, we also consider the maturity of co-working spaces on one side and the work culture on other side, to make sure its viable. With that in mind, COVID-19 has accelerated work culture change so, as a result, our priorities could change — we’ll see!
How are you finding the Impact programme so far?
Impact has been great. So far, it’s been a good dive into specificities of UK market. By that I don’t just mean the culture and co-working but also real estate system.
What’s more, it’s been great for the contacts we’ve made, who have really helped us to understand the landscape and create the smoothest possible strategy for market entry.
It’s interesting, actually, as Impact UK has even made us reconsider of our own model in France. From a marketing and comms perspective we’re reflecting the methodology that we were applying to UK — it’s been an opportunity to take a step back and look at our existing business model as a whole. Previously, our marketing and sales strategies were based on instinct and habit, but we needed step back to see the bigger picture.
It’s also been great to confirm the interest and opportunity in the UK from really good contacts. It’s given us the push we need and we have been really encouraged not to hesitate, that it’s a now or never situation. It’s been a big boost for the team as well, a new confidence that looking to export is the right strategy, as its always a toss up to decide where to invest.
What piece of advice would you give a founder now that you wish you knew you started Neo-Nomade?
The main thing I would do differently, that I would advise anyone to do is to get a good understanding of your market and have a marketing expert on the team from the early days. I now recognise the importance of having a structured marketing approach from the get-go!
Another area I would reconsider now is funding — if I went back I would try to have more of a vision of how the market would evolve and the resources needed. With funding, there’s so much importance in the timing. In our case, we were almost too early in raising funds, and maybe if we’d waited a year then we could have put those resources to better use. I see a lot of start-ups doing fundraising rounds, but my advice would be don’t raise cash for the sake of it.
But again, my key advice would focus on the importance of analysing the market and really knowing it, but also being able to taking a step back. Trust experts. The realistic points of view that they provide are necessary.
It’s just so important to find the right resources and the right people at the right time.
How do you see the office space landscape changing as a result as of COVID-19?
I think COVID will be a big deal for the sector. It has pushed everything that we’ve been fighting for in terms of flexible and remote working — and so we think we’re going to see demand for alternatives to working from home completely accelerated.
Globally I’m quite confident that companies will look for flexibility and to develop remote working as there’s a bigger case for it now than pre-COVID-19. The market effectively doubled in a day in a way when lockdown was announced.
It’s likely to become the new normal — and for that we’re the experts, we have the tools, we just need to push them.
Of course, it’s not without its problems. The co-working market is suffering, spaces are closing down, which could be a big problem on the offering side as will have less spaces to send people to. We have a veryclose working relationship with the spaces so we’re really sad to see some of them closing down.
We’re in an ongoing economic crisis — and for us it could be opportunity as Neo-Nomade offers businesses a way to cut costs and downsize office spaces. Our pay-as-you-go model could work in our favour. On the other hand, some clients have frozen their expenditure accounts, so it could be very problematic for us — it’s a wait-and-see situation for now.
What do you find attractive about the UK market?
We’re drawn to the UK for its working culture, and reputation for its openminded approach to flexibility. There’s also a need for a new approach to remote working, just look at the commuting time in London — it’s mad.
I’ve actually decided that this idea of the UK being so flexible with its approach to work is a bit of a myth — the same suspicions that we’ve seen in France can be seen in the UK. By that I mean people see others working from home and think of it as a way to shirk — so actually the consulting side of Neo-Nomade might be more popular in the UK than we’d first thought — some companies will need to help to redefine their work culture after COVID-19, and restructure their team life. I’d initially believed culture was a lot more flexible than in France but the same problems exist.
A great thing for us in the UK is also the very mature co-working market. On the real estate side, the UK is a very structured and mature market, so we have to be smart in our approach. We need to position ourselves as complementary rather than competing, and put forward different solutions that are new, and add value to existing players rather than disrupting the market. That’s actually something we’ve learnt from Impact.
Of course, we also have clients asking us to expand to the UK which is interesting for us — we’ve always taken a realistic approach, so will continue this in the UK — but it’s a good indicator.
Where do you see yourselves this time next year?
Not sure! We want to be sure that the market recovers — we should be out of the danger zone now, but we’ll obviously keep an eye on the situation.
For us, like so many companies, it’s going to be a really bad year. We had 0 bookings for about 2 months — the consulting side has kept going a bit, luckily. In January 2020, before the health crisis hit Europe, we had a couple of launches every month and we were really strong — so next year we hope to bounce back to where we were in January.
Also, by this time next year, we hope to have launched our pilot in UK, with 2–3 clients operational.
In France, we’re currently launching a new service for smaller businesses, as our current offer is more geared towards large corporates. It’s like a “co-working pass” and our target is set at 10,000 users by June 2021.
Time will tell, so watch this space!