Metrikus Meets... Caleb Parker, Founder of Bold
Part One: 'Fortune favours the bold'
Metrikus Meets is a series where we talk with some of the brightest minds about the future of work, IoT, the built environment... and most importantly, themselves! We want to get to know the person behind the ideas.
You might know him as ‘the podcast guy’, but he’s much more than that. A champion of innovators and entrepreneurs, Caleb Parker is on a mission to create a positive impact in the world of commercial real estate – and beyond. His company Bold offers ‘flexible spaces to dream, create, share, and succeed’, but Bold isn’t just about work. Community and inspiration (and custom roasted coffee) lie at the heart of everything they do.
In Part One, Caleb tells us all about where his journey began, shares how Bold came to be and gives us his two cents on the future of work. Stay tuned for Part Two where things get deep: Caleb reveals his ‘Why’, shares what he’s learned from the lowest point in his career and reminds us why the best is yet to come.
Caleb on where it all began
I won’t go through everything, but I started my career in hospitality. I was moving to Washington, DC and started working for Regus on their management team. That was my first entry into the Space-as-a-Service industry, and I fell in love with how we support entrepreneurs. When I worked at Regus, entrepreneurs could have this prestigious office for whatever day of the month they needed it. Or they could take the office and have it every day in this fancy building that most small businesses couldn't afford without reaching a certain level of success. So I fell in love with that.
And then I came to the UK in 2013 to help set up a company called meetingrooms.com. Even back then we recognized that people didn't need to be in an office every single day, and that a lot of small businesses out there didn't have an office but still needed a professional/office environment to meet people in, beyond Starbucks. We were giving them access to places to meet professionally, on-demand. I was the CEO there for three years until I exited in 2016.
After that, I wanted to continue solving this problem, and I had some ideas around it. But I wanted to control the entire user experience. Meetingrooms.com was a marketplace like booking.com. So the problem was, someone could book a meeting room at X place one day and have a terrible experience and never want to come back to book with us again. Or they could book Marriott one day and have a great experience, but tomorrow they're gonna book directly with Marriott. So it was a very difficult place to be as a business. And it was expensive to acquire a customer, so you hoped they would book with you at least 10 times to recoup your investment.
With Bold – before we decided on the brand Bold – we said look, we want to continue solving this problem for entrepreneurs and innovators. We want to control the entire user experience from A to Z. But what do we want to call this? So we started thinking about who we're going to be supporting, who we're going to be working for. And our designer one day said, you know, you keep saying these people are bold – why don't we just call it Bold? I immediately said, that’s a great idea!
So we launched Bold in 2017, with a pilot space, after raising a small seed round. We ran that pilot space for six months to do a lot of learning – and we learned a lot from that. We built the brand and our customer experience around our customers, and we built a tech stack that would deliver that customer experience.
Then we went out to the market to sell to asset owners, the forward-thinking landlords who wanted to future-proof their assets, to deploy our platform. We do this either as the Bold brand, or as a whitelabel: that’s where it's not gonna be called Bold, but it still has the the ethos of Bold, the customer experience is still Bold.
Caleb on being known as ‘the podcast guy’
It’s interesting that you say that people know me as the podcast guy, because a lot of people have actually said to me, we know you, we know you host a podcast, but we don't really know what your business is.
So talking about the podcast first: we recently launched season five. We never wanted the podcast to be about promoting our brand, it's never been about selling what we do. It's been more about leading a conversation, answering lots of questions. It's always been more thought leadership.
But there has actually been a bit of a biz dev element to it as a result, because many of the people that we invite to come on the podcast as guests have been potential clients. So it has been a strategic move for us in some ways!
But you're right: we haven't been direct about selling Bold on the podcast. And now it feels like people know both, they know the podcast, they know Bold, the brand is recognizable – but I still get asked, what do you do? So I think we have to be a little bit more clear about that now.
Caleb on what sets Bold apart
There are certain real estate brands that are more recognizable to the end user and to the customer, brands like Bold and The Office Group and WeWork. Because before, brand was never important for commercial real estate: it is now.
We provide superpowers to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and fast growing scaleups. We’re a community that helps companies succeed. Yes, you can join and have access to space hourly or daily, or sign up for a monthly plan for your own desk or office. But workspace is just one of the features of Bold, and not the reason people join. Members join because Bold inspires them. Our mission is to support and champion entrepreneurial thinking, so everything we do is built around putting our members at the center of the universe.
Bold itself is an idea, a belief: ‘fortune favours the bold’. We believe that people should be bold to go out and solve the problems they are passionate about. And companies should be bold to attract people to help them solve those problems. We're an ideology, but we happen to have provided access to workspace to help support those people.
Caleb on why community is key
Typically, our clients are asset owners and our customers are the end users, the companies and the people that use the space. So when we layer our footprint on top of an asset, historically, we've gone into a percentage of the asset. So if you've got a 100,000 square foot building, let's say we go into 20,000 square feet. The idea is to go in on the ground floor, usually, and maybe the first floor, but it can be anywhere in the building.
That's the idea because then we create this enlivened space where we bring that whole reception area to life. Instead of walking into any old reception, we put a Bold cafe in: it’s this third space type of working environment where people can touch down and work. We have that premium hotel feel of soft areas where you can sit down with a coffee with somebody and have this informal conversation. But if you need to meet privately, we have meeting rooms as well.
What I really get excited about is the ecosystem that we build and the communities that we build, so I'm a big believer that every single asset going forward should deploy Space-as-a-Service and move the office from product to service.
When we come in, we start building out this community that integrates with the vertical community in the rest of the building. And we do this in a purposeful way that enables people to connect and latch on to these opportunities for being inspired and driving their missions forward.
Caleb on the return to the office
I think so many people have a negative feeling when it comes to the idea of returning to the office. I don't want to go because it's such a hassle to commute in, or there's a lot of cliques at work, I don't feel like I belong, I don't feel like I fit in. So the last 18 months for a lot of people have been wonderful.
But on the other side of the pendulum, there's been a lot of people who thrive in office environments, and being around other people inside of an office. They love the commute because it's their time to sort of zone out, listen to a podcast. And then other people live with flatmates and they've had to work on the side of their bed and that is definitely not good.
Before the pandemic we had this binary situation where you work from home or you don't. And most people didn't work from home because they had to be in the office. But I think the last 18 months has woken everybody up to the fact that we don't have to work in an office anymore. We don't have to go in, we don't need it. But some people still want to, some people don't: it’s now a choice.
And I think what this is going to do is to enable more and more people to have that opportunity to align themselves with those companies that have the missions that they're passionate about. And I think people will be able to see who the best leaders are and which companies might be more controversial.
There have been a lot of people “yelling”, and headlines, and articles, all basically saying, ‘we need people to get back to work! We need people back in the office! We need this, we need that!’ And I think there's a lot of middle management that don't have the leadership skills. I’m not criticizing them as a person, but it seems they don't have the leadership skills to manage teams that they can't see.
Caleb on why things need to be plus instead of versus
Thinking about the whole 9-to-5, have to be in the office, everyone commuting during rush hour format – I think that we should blow that up. We need to move from versus to plus: it doesn’t have to be in the office vs remote working, it can be some people in the office plus some people remote working.
I've just seen so many debates: the office is dead, or remote work is king, etc etc. And to me, it's obviously no: it’s the office plus remote work. And so, going back to Bold for teams: this is for when a team realizes that they've reached a certain size, that they need to come together. At some level, they want to create some sort of brand or culture. What we do is, we go out and find the right space, the right building for them, we design it to be inspiring and build it in a specific way for their brand, while complementing it with the workplace experience we created around the entrepreneurial mindset. So when we deliver a space it’s designed in a way that's great for collaborative working, but also focus working. But this solution isn’t for the average company, it’s for the exceptional ones.
If you look at most companies, they're made up of a diverse group of people. Most companies have people that prefer to work from home the majority of time, and you have other people in the same company that would prefer to be in the office for different reasons. So if you're this fast growing company, and you want to take in the D&I (diversity and inclusion) elements, then you have to accommodate both. And it doesn't make sense to have an office for 300 people, if only 95 of them are coming in on a daily basis. So you don't need that larger space, but you do need space to accommodate when 150 people come in one day, or you have an all hands on deck meeting or something like that.
What we do is we take all of these concepts and ideas in mind when designing a space. Our interior design themes are Bold, just like our personality is. And so they're a bit punchy, there's no bland, white walls, it's colour. And we bring in technology that keeps people connected, that allows people to access space really easily, like using your phone to tap to book this meeting room. We just think, how does the hybrid company of the future accommodate all of this? And then we build that. And we manage it for them, because it's not their expertise.
Caleb on why it’s not all about the money
This is the key: it is the mindset. We want to bring together like-minded people to make positive impacts on the world. It's not just about profit. I mean, profit is a result if we do the right things. But we're driven not by money. We're driven by making an impact.
Historically, commercial real estate itself has been about making money. I'm being very absolute here, it’s not everybody. We're working with a lot of forward-thinking landlords that are trying to make a social impact and trying to make an impact in their communities, and those are the people I want to work with. A lot of people in real estate are just about the ROI: taking this money and creating this return of X percent on it. And that needs to happen. But we've also got to create these experiences for people. If we can play a little part in that by helping companies attract the right people, to help them grow, by providing a workplace experience that people can choose to come to because they want to, then I think we've made our impact.
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