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A New Generation of Leaders Has Arrived

For iterating his way to a product that makes the hybrid office model actually work

It’s a well-trod tale: As offices pivoted to remote and hybrid work models during the pandemic, the newfound flexibility proved incredibly popular among employees. A 2022 survey of 10,000 respondents from across Europe found that nearly 3 in 10 employees would turn down a job offer if it required on-site work without flexibility in location—no matter the pay or perks. Jonas Hess spotted the trend early and bet big that it would persist long past lockdowns and quarantines.

A former Boston Consulting Group consultant, Hess had been waiting for a “big shift” that he and colleague Ivan Cossu could capitalize on to build something together. “Then COVID-19 hit us and it was obvious,” Hess says.

After quitting their own jobs, Hess and Cossu began brainstorming products to meet the workplace demands of the moment.

“Our hypothesis was that people didn’t want to commute to the office as often anymore, but also, at some point, wouldn’t want to work from home because they have limited capacity, noise, or they don’t have the right equipment,” he says. “We thought what was really going to fill the need were coworking spaces where you can socialize with others and have access to good equipment.”

Hess and Cossu developed Deskbird, initially an app-based marketplace for coworking spaces in late 2020. Over the next six months, the team built up one of the largest coworking marketplaces in Europe. Yet while the project was technically successful, Hess realized the business had fundamental limitations.

For starters, the supply of coworking spaces was already outstripping demand. Plus, the commissions on the desk shares were small: Unlike Airbnb, coworking customers aren’t shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars, pounds or euros on their reservations. Finally, Hess recognized that hybrid workers often became loyal to one coworking space and found it cheaper and more convenient to book directly through the company rather than relying on an intermediary like Deskbird.

So before diving into the next project, the co-founders did some deep research, conducting more than 60 interviews with industry leaders on the pain points of hybrid work. A resounding theme emerged: Employers and employees alike needed to know who was in the office—and when.

And voila, a new project came into view: Deskbird 2.0, focused on helping companies manage coworking bookings internally. Over the next three months, Hess managed a team that developed an entirely new product aligned to the company’s new business model and debuted it in July 2021.

“We knew at that time we would not be able to do two or three pivots—this was a very early-stage startup. We had to get it right,” Hess says. “We started with a very simple prototype. There was no good solution out there already and that allowed us to win big clients very early on.”

On the strength of the project, Deskbird secured the funds needed to continue building out the app’s functionality and expand across Europe. Last December, Hess and Cossu closed a US$6.5 million pre-Series A financing round, and the company now works with more than 600 companies across 20 countries, attracting clients like KFC, Heineken and Schaeffler Group.

The big bet on hybrid work helped set the company apart as an early adopter, but it’s the commitment to innovation through iteration that’s giving it staying power.

“The feature requirements have exploded since July 2021,” Hess says. “You wouldn’t win anything currently with a very simple-featured solution, but starting there and being agile during development means we were able to build a solution that is tailored to the growing needs of modern office life and well-differentiated against competitors.” 


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