Reminiscing our journey with Upflex

A few days ago, our client Upflex announced raising a round of Series A funding from a collective of strategic investors which includes WeWork, Newmark, Cushman & Wakefield, and the Silicon Valley Bank 🎉

Of course, we are really happy too. As Upflex’s engineering partner throughout, we’ve directly been involved in helping Upflex get to where it is today. We’ve navigated the ups-and-downs of building a startup together, including that fire walk every founding team has to endure—finding product-market fit.

In the five years since inception, Upflex has signed up names such as American Express, Richemont, Trinet, FlexJobs, Stella Connect, and Schneider Electric as customers, and Colliers International as a partner. More recently, the company partnered with Anarock to expand operations in India, and its digital platform covers more than 5,500 office spaces in 75 countries. All in all, the future is looking bright for Upflex, but the seeds of this growth were planted a long time ago.

In 2017, We Got A Call…📲

…from Upflex’s co-founders, Christophe Garnier and Ginger Dhaliwal. That’s when it all began. At the time, Christophe and Ginger had a rough-around-the-edges idea to build a digital platform that allows companies to book flexible workspaces. In their possession was a partially completed MVP and a small budget which they had managed to put together by themselves. 

Being non-technical founders, they were looking for someone to help complete the MVP and handle all end-to-end engineering duties if the MVP succeeded in gaining traction. We said yes, but on the condition that completing the MVP and taking it to market was going to be treated as a pilot project. We believe this is a better approach to developing software, as it allows both parties to understand whether they’re a good fit for each other. It’s also a very fair way of doing things, in our opinion.

The MVP garnered positive interest and we also liked working with Upflex, so we agreed to become Upflex’s engineering partner. In order to accommodate their limited budgets, we agreed to provide our services at a discounted rate. Not only did this unique agreement allow Upflex to continue working with us, but it also allowed us to perfectly align our incentives with those of the Upflex team.  

That’s not all though. we even decided to become seed investors in the startup. To us, Christophe ticked all the boxes as a founder. He was passionate, resilient, and had a lot of experience in the industry. Being a founder-led company ourselves, we knew what it takes to build a thriving business, and in our eyes, Christophe had it all. Therefore, the decision to become a seed investor in Upflex was an easy one to make.

Pivot, Pivot, Pivot

Between what it is today, and how it was first conceptualised, Upflex has gone through many pivots in response to market conditions—as startups do. In 2018, Upflex operated as a marketplace that allowed anyone to book a shared office space with ease. The company targeted business travelers who wanted a nice office space to work out of, and long commuters and remote employees who didn’t want to work from home but also didn’t want to spend hours on the road everyday.

Upflex with Calcey
Upflex’s value proposition in 2018, as described on its website. Source: The Wayback Machine

12 months later, Upflex realised that lots of companies were very interested in setting up distributed offices around the world without signing up for expensive leases. As this was a lucrative market that could provide a more stable revenue stream, Upflex decided to double down on it. We worked with Ginger, who by then was running Upflex’s product team, to roll out a slew of new features to support the company’s new direction. Among them was a portal that business customers could use to add team members on to their subscriptions and allocate usage limits on an individual basis. Once added, team members could book workspaces under the company’s name. At the end of the billing period, the company would be sent a single invoice to pay, sparing accountants from periodic headaches.

Launching SafeSpaces™

Then came COVID-19, and it necessitated another pivot. While the world collectively embarked on the single largest remote working experiment it had ever seen, many predicted the death of the office as we know it. 

But Upflex correctly sensed that post-pandemic, there will be a significant subset of workers who wouldn’t want to work from home, but also would not want to put themselves through the misery of a long commute as before. Companies wanted to become as asset-light as possible (Why pay for office space that you don’t need?), but at the same time had to provide employees with a safe and hygienic office to work in. The latter contradicts the former, as you can’t vouch for safety and hygiene when you don’t actually have control over the upkeep of the building that houses the office.

There was also another side of remote work that was becoming more apparent with every passing day. New employees to 100% remote workforces were finding it hard to build social bonds with coworkers, and as a result, collaborative cultures carefully nurtured over time were at risk of falling apart.  

SafeSpaces™ is Upflex’s answer to this trilemma. Under the SafeSpaces™ program, companies can provide employees with flexible workspaces that meet CDC and WHO standards, thus providing them and their families much-needed peace of mind. Employees can choose from any of Upflex’s 5,500+ workspaces around the world and make bookings by themselves.

Late nights, deadlines, and disciplined iteration

Driving rapid iteration and hitting every deadline is no walk in the park. Things become even more complicated when you consider that our team in Sri Lanka has to work around a 9.5 hour time difference with NYC, where Upflex’s team is based. But we never shied away from the challenge, and simply found ways to adapt.

On some days, that meant scheduling calls at odd hours for both sides. It’s not easy (They have their own lives too!), but we trusted our teams to find a balance that worked for them. It also meant investing a lot of time and effort into building trust with Ginger and the product team at Upflex, as that is the bedrock of a strong working relationship. 

Anticipating customer needs

In keeping with Upflex’s pivot to adapt to a post-COVID world, our product engineering team worked tirelessly to introduce a ton of new products and features. For instance, we built a set of white labeled apps that can be used by third party real estate brokers to sell workspaces to their own clients. We rolled out intelligent local currency billing to eliminate currency conversion hassles, and introduced QR check-in. Each and every product and feature was carefully built to complement the existing mobile app, which again, was built by us. We understood that in a future where work will be distributed, customers would rate singular, convenient, and zero-contact experiences very highly. It was also a good way to differentiate Upflex’s value proposition from its competitors.

Upflex’s story shows what happens when you deploy software smartly to solve real world problems. Of course, it also helps to have a proactive engineering partner like us 😉

Looking to build a cutting edge digital product of your own? Talk to us to find out how we can help!

Cover Photo by Helena Lopes on Unsplash