In 2014, when we founded Hubble (then known as Spacious), our goal was simple: to help other startups find flexible office space in London. We were the first online marketplace to offer a full mix of co-working, shared and stand-alone office space, with flexible monthly rolling contracts. With rents ever rising around Old Street, our popularity quickly spiked. Within a year, we had become the go-to company for startups sourcing shared office space in London.
So far so great. Like most successful startups, we had followed the sage advice and found our niche market: small startups and tech companies who needed no more than ten desks.
The challenge came when we started to see bigger and bigger companies approach us (anywhere from 10 to 100 people), who were attracted by our value proposition of easy, transparent office rentals on a flexible basis. How could we service this new market, with an offering that was built for companies that were much smaller and, in turn, continue to attract these larger businesses in the future?
Choosing the right time
It’s hugely important to choose the right time to scale up your business. Move too quickly and you run the risk of spreading yourself too thin and losing your early customers; too slowly and others might jump in ahead of you. For Hubble, we only took the step to scale up once we were confident we had satisfied our startup customer base.
Changing our product
Of course, in order to cater for bigger businesses we needed to offer larger spaces, but this was the easy part. As a marketplace, we didn’t incur risk for taking on the extra space and we already had strong relationships in place with vendors to build up our portfolio. For us the main challenge was communicating these changes to our new audience.
It was tempting to simply expand our product offering and hope the business would simply flow through. We knew from our data that SMEs and larger companies regularly landed on our site and were disappointed that we were unable to help them. But this ran the risk of diluting our offering to SMEs and potentially confusing our smaller startups with a product that was clearly unsuited to their needs.
We decided to take a more rigorous approach. Our first step was to work closely with our marketing team to pinpoint exactly what our new customers were looking for. More space, yes, but where and with what features? Most startups were looking for a few spare desks around Old Street and Shoreditch that they could move into as quickly and cheaply as possible. SMEs could span a whole range of companies and sizes, from a boutique design agency to a fast growing Fintech company to a traditional accountancy firm, and each would have a whole set of different criteria and approaches to finding office space.
To get under the skin of our new potential customers, we split them into different types - creative agencies, fast growing startups and bigger traditional companies - and assigned each a different persona, which looked at their mindset and drivers. Fast growing startups needed more space and needed it fast - speed and the agility to grow into their new space was their priority. For creative agencies, the design and feel of the space was crucial. While for bigger companies, who were used to using a traditional broker, we needed to show that we had the expertise to help them with all the logistics of a major move, while also saving them time and money.
As a result of this exercise, we took the steps to completely re-haul our website to cater to each of these personalities, with a dedicated landing page and tailored search results for each. This proved to be the best move, as it assured our startups that they were still fully provided for while also reaching out to our new markets as well. For example, the CTA on the bigger business page is “Contact an advisor,” rather than “Search offices,” and features examples of larger companies like Jaguar and Aldermore.
The right people
In our bid to attract bigger companies and grow our website and product offering, we needed to grow substantially ourselves. During this period we effectively doubled in size to 20 employees over a matter of months. This level of growth for a startup is always challenging. There’s the constant need to move quickly, but at the same time there’s huge pressure to ensure you’re choosing the right people, who can not only do the job but help build out your vision.
However, this was also imperative in building empathy with our new, larger customer base - we could directly relate to their challenges. Effectively, our team has grown to mirror our customer base every year, from two people to 20 people.
In order to cater for SMEs, we decided to hire a professional property expert from a more traditional background (Deloitte) to help complement the startup culture within the organisation. Her role was to handle sales exclusively for this market, and could advise and guide these new customers through the whole process. People who were experienced in this field often came from traditional backgrounds in office lettings, so part of our challenge was taking the time to make sure that the person we hired was not only experienced in the commercial property sector, but that they would be excited to join us in disrupting it too. Our key values are empathy, experience and empowerment, and we wanted to ensure this hire encompassed them by the bucket-load. This was much harder than we expected in the shady world of office brokers.
Bridging the gap
Now we had the right product and great people, we also had another key tactic for proving we weren’t only for startups. We started working with major international companies, who were looking for inspiring spaces for their own satellite innovation teams and in-house accelerators. This effectively worked as a stepping stone – bridging our expertise of the startup space (which the big firms wanted to replicate to promote innovation and intrapreneurship within these new teams) with catering for new bigger customers, whose brand value would attract new companies and interest too.
Other factors have of course come into play along the way. The uncertainty around Brexit has led to a major increase in the number of SMEs looking for more flexible office space, and the proliferation and popularity of providers such as WeWork across London and worldwide has brought flexible working into the mainstream.
For Hubble, there was an element of luck in our success but many weeks and months of preparation too. We now have over 10,000 SMEs across London signed up, with interest growing by 20% month-on-month. We realised branding and changing the user experience of our website was critical to reaching new customers, but in order to convert them the internal changes – growing our team, ensuring our new market had someone dedicated to their customer service, and scaling up ourselves behind the scenes – were key.