I’m always looking for new ways to explore the challenges and opportunities within the flex workspace industry.
These searches often lead me deep into other sectors, exploring their fundamentals and analyses around leading businesses within them. Often I hope to find new analogies or ways to quickly frame or explain some of the upcoming changes and/or decisions that I believe will need to be made by flex workspace leaders.
Over the last 50 or 60 newsletters, it’s become clear that there’s a defining fork coming up in the road for flex spaces regarding their distribution and discovery strategies.
In today’s post, I hope to share a new analogy that may help you, as flex workspace operators, start a discussion about distribution strategies you want to explore, or in short, figure out if you’re making movies or music.
To date, we’ve seen analogies comparing flexible workspace and the hospitality industry and heard comparisons with the flight and travel industries. Flex workspaces have also been compared to restaurants, coffee shops, and even a 4-trillion-dollar dumpster fire.
Recently I read (and re-read, and re-read again) a recent article by Ben Thompson that explores the differences between Spotify’s and Netflix’s underlying business models, even if they were considered to be ‘similar’ multimedia aggregators. This comparison led me to think about how people find and leverage space from another angle, through another analogy if you will.
What caught my attention is the relationships between these two platforms and the content (or supply) they distribute to their user base.
I’ll get to why this circles back to flex workspace in a moment, but a quick summary and comparison.
Whilst both companies are lumped together as “aggregators of content”, what makes these platforms (and the industries they serve) so very different is how creators’ content is licensed and paid for.
Netflix almost always (according to the analysis) pays a lump sum for the often-exclusive right to distribute specific content.
Spotify pays a per-play fee to the record labels/artists each time the song or album is played.
But in exploring this difference Ben notes that for Spotify, and the music industry:
Drawing that out “on the back of a napkin”, it’d look a little something like so:
And that got me thinking… are flex workspaces thinking about their offerings as music or movies?
When it comes to the distribution and discovery of your flex offerings, do you lean towards granting “exclusive” access to your inventory to a specific aggregator, or two, or three?
Or is making your offerings available across multiple (often competing) platforms a better distribution strategy?
I know the strategy I’d follow, and recommend, but I’m biased. There are certainly pros and cons for both.
More exclusive distribution, like with movies, could lower overheads and shift focus only onto what’s working right now. However multi-platform distribution, like with music, helps reach and engage entirely different and diverse groups, niches, organizations, markets, communities, and individuals.
And when it comes to your business model, are you going after movie-style revenue streams (eg longer flex terms, private suites, traditional memberships), or high-volume music-like options (eg on-demand access, meeting rooms, drop-in passes, gift cards, corporate coworking, day offices), or both?
I do know that there’s a lot to unpack here, and even more variables, restraints, and nuanced subtleties. From unit economics to overheads, to capacity constraints and other servicing costs, there are also a lot of unknowns that could and should impact your directional decision.
Shifting from exclusivity (even if the exclusivity is not implicit, eg through the exclusion of participating with other platforms) to wider distribution may also require retooling or changing workflows to implement automation and integrations, so there is something to be said about thinking or planning for the short- or long-term too.
It may even be too early to make a definitive long-term decision, but the one thing I do know for sure is that decisions around where to list or market, are being made in flex spaces around the world almost daily, so it might be worth having a think or discussion about your strategy and planning for which route you’ll be taking.