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Thursday, December 1, 2022

Covid was an unexpected tipping point for our growth’: How changing ways of working super-charged office switching start-up Kitt

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S

teve Coulson and Lucy Minton spent six months sorting out an office move at the company they both worked for, parking app JustPark.

The logistics and research involved sucked time out of their actual jobs — as CFO and commercial director respectively — and “wiped us out,” Coulson reports.

“We were aimlessly wandering through lists of lawyers, contractors, agents, and cleaners by the end, trying to find the right space, design it, and manage the whole experience,” he says.

“It felt that the whole thing was geared against the tenant. We thought we could build a business that provided a solution.”

Three years on, the business, Kitt, has a turnover of almost £9 million. From their Farringdon headquarters, Coulson and Minton have helped firms including Oatly, PZ Cussons and Zwift move into new offices.

Kitt:

Founded: January 201

Staff: 5

Turnover: £8.7m in 202

Headquarters: Farringdon

“We ask what they want, then act as the sole point of contact — finding and designing their perfect space, handling legal agreements, working with agents, landlords, lawyers and contractors, and managing all suppliers,” Coulson explains.

“If someone says, ‘I need 100 desks, in Shoreditch, for two years; collaboration is the most important part of the office, and our brand colours are purple and white’, we’ll come back with three office options, and wrap everything up for them.”

The first step after ex-UBS banker Coulson and his co-founder quit their jobs was to use the £265,000 raised from friends, family and Andrew Barclay, of the billionaire Barclay family, to build the technology that would make their idea scalable.

Kitt hired a team of developers to build a platform to allow them to lock and unlock spaces remotely and aggregate suppliers, so if a door handle in a Shoreditch office broke, an approved handyman could fix it without Kitt having to be on site — as well as let tenants get in and out of buildings.

They then spent a year approaching landlords to win deals to run their buildings, as well as tenants and agents.

Some of their early professionalism was a fake-it-til-you-make-it affair: on the launch day of Kitt’s first office building at Clerkenwell House in Farringdon, wifi hadn’t yet been installed but firms obviously required it.

“I made my personal phone available for companies to tether to, to get online. My phone’s wifi name is actually still called ‘Kitt-Clerkenwell-House-guest’ to this day,” Coulson, 33, laughs.

The business took off — 20 tenants signed up in the first year, and the team grew from two people to 18. Kitt raised £2 million in seed funding in 2019, again led by Barclay, to take on 20 office spaces across London.

Then came lockdown: a major problem for an office start-up.

“The office market practically came to a standstill, we had no idea how long this would last,” Coulson says. “The uncertainty was crippling and we were very anxious for a while — but Covid was an unexpected tipping point for our growth.

“Companies are now thinking more seriously about how their office can bring together their team, but don’t want to put in a lot of effort into solving this — which is where Kitt fits in.”

The firm has since raised almost £10 million from investors including Hoxton Ventures and Octopus Group co-founder Simon Rogerson. The money is going towards recruitment, expansion and product development.

Coulson wants to crack two new overseas markets this year, with North America — which has 65% of global office stock — top of his list. Kitt is aiming to have 300 tenants by the end of 2023, up from 46. Some involve 200 desks, others 15; the average is 50.

More unusual requests have included a full coffee shop built into one office, “dog corners” for pets to relax or eat, and immersive meditation pods and video production studios, complete with green screens.

Bringing WFH into the office means Kitt has seen rising demand for ‘living room style’ designs, says Coulson.

“We’re starting to see companies that want workspaces with no desks at all, just breakout spaces. It’s all about flexible spaces where teams can mould the space to suit the activities they do frequently with ease.”

It’s a trend he’ll be hoping to Kitt-out offices with for years to come.

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