Andrew Levy is a Co-Founder of Kettlespace. He previously led marketing, sales, and product strategy programs at Twitter for the world’s top mobile brands across the company’s mobile promotion suite. Prior, he was an early employee at TapCommerce, the global leader in mobile app retargeting & re-engagement, where he helped build a global revenue org doing $18M in revenue in less than 2 years before exiting to Twitter for over $100M. Andrew is an expert in entrepreneurial ecosystem development, having been a founding member of one of the largest entrepreneurship platforms in New England and manager or advisor to multiple leading accelerators across the country. He was a strategy and business build consultant for nascent IP spinouts at the Austin Technology Incubator, where portfolio companies have generated in excess of $3B in market value. Andrew is an active startup advisor and investor and started his career as an equities trader. He enjoys reading, outdoor & adventure sports, gourmet chocolates, and hot sauce.
I had recently left Twitter after we sold my previous company to them and was consulting with startups, accelerators, and other growth stage companies while thinking about what was next. I had also previously helped to build one of the largest coworking & entrepreneurship platforms in New England, so knew the coworking business pretty well. Like many untethered professional New Yorkers, I had a Foursquare list of all the good coffee shops for working around NYC but was still largely unhappy with the unpredictable, inconsistent experience. There was no way to know if a power outlet would be available (let alone seating), what the noise level would be like, if the bathrooms were clean, how long I could stay there without being pressured to leave, etc – and starting around $500/mo, WeWork was way too expensive. During this time, I got connected with my soon-to-be cofounders, Nick Iovacchini & Dan Rosenzweig, through mutual friends. Dan came from WeWork, Nick owned a well-known restaurant in Tribeca, and all three of us connected over different aspects of the asset-light restaurant coworking model. We each had complementary backgrounds and decided to come together to build a business around this.
First, freelancers will be a majority of the US workforce in less than a decade. That doesn’t even include the growing class of remote corporate workers, small startup teams, people who are technically unemployed but still doing things, and other untethered groups. It’s never been easier to get your work done on-the-go with nothing but a laptop and a productive space.
Second, restaurants all across the country are shuttering at a staggering rate due to rising rents, labor costs, changes in consumption patterns (hello food delivery & meal prepping!), and a host of other pressures. Most of them are sitting on assets that are entirely or partially unused during large stretches of downtime. Many of these assets (dining areas, for instance) are magnificent spaces that the owners invested millions of dollars into to make them nice to be in — these are often the same things that make spaces nice to work in.
Third, traditional workspace options aren’t cutting it for the audiences mentioned above. One hand there is your local coffee shop which, while convenient, is highly unpredictable and not ideal as a working or meeting space. It’s a “making do” sort of thing. On the other hand you have traditional workspace operators like WeWork, Regus, etc that limit you to a single location (we provide access to the entire network) and, starting around $500/mo per person, are very expensive. It was clear to us there needed to be better option.
One of the biggest challenges in the coworking industry right now is differentiation. There are so many coworking companies and workspace options these days (especially in NYC) so ensuring your offering is different in some way and you communicate that effectively is critical. We’re fortunate enough to be doing something that is inherently quite different than traditional workspace operators, so communicating the us vs. them dynamic in this aspect hasn’t been particularly challenging for us. But our model of working & meeting spaces within converted hospitality spaces presents different challenges, namely retraining people to think about the space as a workspace instead of a restaurant. We use street signage and a number of other tactics in order to do this but it’s really an experiential offering. Once people enter our spaces and see them in action, that’s when the “a ha” moment typically comes.
The original idea for transforming hospitality assets into workspaces came from my co-founder Dan. He was working at WeWork at the time and walking down the street in Chelsea on a rainy NYC afternoon trying to take a call. The Starbucks nearby was too busy and too loud so he popped into an empty restaurant nearby that was “open for lunch” and had the lightbulb moment for asset-light coworking there. Our goal is to provide productive and affordable spaces to get things done convenient to you no matter where you are.
We have a lot of great new products and experiences planned designed to make it easier to work, meet, and connect while on-the-go and also to generally add additional layers of value into KettleSpace membership. We will also be expanding the size of our network and are building new tools for our Venue Partners to make it easier for them to understand how their spaces are being used.
We host a lot of events in our spaces. One of these is a recurring monthly “breakfast with a VC” series where attendees can learn from and connect with many of the industry’s top investors and former operators. Prior speakers include Jesse Middleton, GP of Flybridge Capital Partners & former WeWork senior exec, Nihal Mehta, GP of Eniac Ventures, Dana Lorch of American Express Ventures, and many more. We keep this series in particular intimate so that attendees get real face time with the speaker and with each other.
One of the things we had to figure out early on was how to seamlessly nail the transition from workspace back to restaurant at the end of the day. The systems, processes, and operations are different at each Venue Partner, so nailing a repeatable process that scales across our network but also fits into each Venue Partner’s unique workflow and delivers a smooth experience for our users was a challenge. After quite a bit of testing and iteration, we feel good about the process we have in place now. The biggest takeaway here is when working with operationally unique and complex partners, it’s best to integrate into their workflow and not try to impose yours on them.
The ideal KettleSpace experience is when a user is able to take full advantage of our network access model and value-added services in a completely frictionless fashion. An example would be a consultant who has meetings all over the city and who is looking to grow their book of business. They attend one of our events in the morning and hold their meetings at different KettleSpaces across the city nearest to their clients. They decide to hang out at one of our spaces in between meetings to get some work done while ordering lunch on-site (taking advantage of the discounted on-site food & beverage offerings available to KettleSpacers). After work, they stay at one of our spaces and meet their friends at the bar for happy hour (taking advantage of the happy hour discounts available to KettleSpacers).
It all flows from having a clearly defined “north star” vision so that everyone on the team understands and aligns around the overall company direction. It’s like sailing — as long as you know which direction to orient your sails, you’re unlikely to get lost. There are so many unexpected things that come up, especially in startups and growth stage companies, so managing that risk and ensuring the team is aligned on the overall vision in order to stay oriented and moving forward when these things do arise is absolutely critical. Once that north star is defined and the team understands it, what I like to do is meet with each person on my team to understand where they’re coming from, their background, their strengths, their weaknesses, where they want to be in the future, etc – and orient roles around both the company and individual needs. I tend to manage and motivate in a hands-off fashion: setting clear performance expectations and feedback sessions, outlining a map for upward growth, and then letting people fill in the white space from there — all with that “north star” orientation. This dynamic tends to work better in smaller, fast moving organizations that in larger, slower orgs but I’ve found it useful for moving quickly while staying on track and empowering others to take charge.
The customer is always first but not necessarily always “right”. What I mean by that is that if you orient your product/service around delivering what the customer wants (assuming you already understand what your customers want – that’s a topic for another day) and execute well, you will build a successful business. But it is important to be able to separate the signal from noise as there is a lot of noise out there and it’s easy to fall into the trap of building everything your customers say they want. If you try to do that, you will either launch/iterate your product too slowly, overbuild it, or end up with something that nobody likes. Very often there is an extremely vocal minority who have perfectly valid opinions but just because they are the loudest doesn’t mean that their preferences are reflective of the majority of your target audience. So orient everything you do around whether or not it makes your customers/market happy but be sure you’re sampling your audience effectively and stay focused on the things that really matter along the way.