“I used to work from home, and it’s very isolating,” says Christelle Rohaut, CEO and founder of Codi, who recently completed a masters in urban planning at the University of California-Berkeley. “When you go to coffee shops, they can be very distracting. And there were no working options close by, and downtown coworking spaces are very expensive.”
Christelle Rohaut [Photo: Codi]
Rohaut started to work from friends’ homes, and found that she was more productive. It’s not a new idea–more than a decade ago, before WeWork launched, there were projects like Jelly, a loosely organized gathering of people who worked remotely and missed socializing. Rohaut saw the potential to take the idea further. “If we want to make it available for everyone, it needs to be a business,” she says. People who are at work during the day (or who work from home and have extra space) can apply to be hosts, and the company vets each applicant to make sure that they meet certain standards and provide basic amenities, including Wi-Fi, power outlets, and access to a clean restroom. As with Airbnb, hosts are insured against any damage from guests.
For hosts, the concept is a way to help offset some of the expense of Bay Area rent for spaces that are unused during the day. It’s designed to avoid one of the pitfalls of Airbnb: Each host has to prove that they’re a resident of the home, so it doesn’t incentivize owners to use the platform instead of renting to tenants. “The host can just share their unutilized living rooms during the day and then keep enjoying their home at night the same way as before, and there’s no overlap between those two,” says Rohaut. “So it’s not displacing anyone.” A host might make a few hundred dollars a month, or as much as $1,200. But the cost for people using the space (with various plans, starting at $70 for 25 hours a month) is less than a typical coworking membership. In tests, users have said they prefer the atmosphere to corporate coworking spaces–a real living room, versus rooms designed to replicate living rooms–and the fact that a smaller, more intimate space made it more likely to form connections with others working in the room. There is, of course, also the chance that they’re not the kind of person you’d like to form any kind of connection with, at which point you’re in a stranger’s living room with them–though Codi says it will do background checks on both the hosts and everyone who uses the service.
With an urban planning background, Rohaut recognized that concept could have broader benefits for cities. Instead of driving to a distant office, or commuting on a crowded train, the startup wants to enable workers to walk a few blocks, or less, to another home. That could reduce congestion, and the company also believes that it will be a benefit for local businesses that have fewer customers during the day. People who are sharing a living room office for the day might go out to lunch at local restaurants with their temporary coworkers. “You end up discovering the neighborhood,” Rohaut says.
As a student, Rohaut was a fellow with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and focused on how the idea of the “circular economy” applies to neighborhoods. Money spent locally, for example, usually circulates throughout neighborhood businesses. “It ends up creating more value for more people locally than if that dollar was spent outside the neighborhood, and that can be applied not only to money but also to other types of assets that are valuable, like spaces,” she says.
The startup, which recently raised a seed round from Coatue Management and NfX, just released beta versions of its iOS and Android apps, and will fully launch in the Bay Area in the coming months before expanding to other cities.