Jon: Hi I’m Jon Nordby and this is HXTV, the show that highlights Houston’s innovators and entrepreneurs and I’m joined today by Reda Hicks, Founder and CEO of GotSpot. Reda welcome to the show.
Reda: Hi and I thank you for having me.
Jon: Absolutely, so tell us a little bit about GotSpot.
Reda: GotSpot is short term space for your business. So think like an Airbnb model but for all kinds of commercial space. Basically what we’re trying to do is harness all of the awesome brick and mortar space already available in Houston but underutilized, and make it available for entrepreneurs, nonprofits and enterprise customers to use, but only for hours, days or weeks at a time.
Jon: You just recently launched right?
Reda: We did; our site went live in June and we had our formal launch event September 18th.
Jon: So give us an idea of the types of space we’re talking about, is this office buildings, is it restaurants; what is it?
Reda: It’s actually a really wide array of things which so of matches the entrepreneurship community here. It’s yoga studios for fitness instructors, it’s just workshop space for people who need to spread out and manufacture something; it is some offices and conference rooms, art galleries and event spaces. And some of them are just big, empty spaces you can do anything in and I call those my blank canvases.
Jon: Nice. So how did this idea come about? How did you start?
Reda: A couple of different inspirations; one is that my family is a military family. My husband served for 22 years and I was with him for 8 of those based here in Houston and he traveled but that’s not the typical model for a military spouse. They move very 2 to 3 years and so overwhelmingly they are entrepreneurs because if your household isn’t full portable when you move to a new state often you have to leave it behind. So they’re magic at doing awesome things in their home but then occasionally they’ll get this shoot the moon opportunity and home is not going to cut it. Your kitchen or your garage or your living room is just not going to be sufficient and right now the best tool to find the space they need for a one off opportunity is Google.
So the second piece of inspiration is based on how bad that tool is when you need it because my day job is as counsel for a logistics company. So last year when Harvey hit our city my phone rang off the hook because the city, the county nonprofits were all desperate to find space, whether it was to put people or help businesses reopen or put relief goods for storage, and it was infuriating to me – that’s when my aha moment happened that whether it’s an emergency or whether it’s just trying to empower entrepreneurs, there needs to be one space people can look to find the space they need.
Jon: That’s fascinating. So the platform is flexible enough to where you could operate if you needed a co-working space but also if it’s just a short term emergency response or just something to get a project off the ground very quickly you could use it for that as well?
Reda: Exactly. And that social good component of it is really good to me, it’s actually part of the onboarding process. Every time I add a new space to my inventory one of those questions is are you willing to be activated in case of an emergency and my hope is that the next time we have something happen, whether it’s a flood or a fire or a tornado in Dallas, eventually when we grow the people who need to find space have a place to look where people have already raised their hands. So they’re not wasting time calling me to call people to call people, they already know who can help.
And then the other onboarding question I ask is do you give discounts and free space to nonprofits because less than half of the nonprofits in the whole state keep an office anymore. When you need to develop a board or raise money or engage with your members you have to find space to do that and it’s often hard, you resort to spaces in hotels which is great except they’re expensive and as a steward of a nonprofit’s money that’s a really hard choice to make. So if we can find other spaces already here, community-minded people who want to help, that’s great for everyone.
Jon: This seems like a pretty unique model; not necessarily in competition with a co-working space or like a Regus office kind of thing, is there something else like this that exists out there or do you find that there’s sort of an itch that you’ve been able to tap in to?
Reda: There are others in this space, they tend to be specialized. So you have like a liquid space that focuses on offices or a sheer share that focuses on salon chairs. There’s not really – as far as I’m aware – an aggregator that’s just trying to collect everything and let the entrepreneur or the nonprofit or the enterprise choose what it is they think they need. But for me I actually kind of love that multipurpose model because there’s no way I can guess all of the things that all of the awesome people in Houston are doing. But if it’s all in one place you can search and find what you need and what’s magic about that is the brick and mortar place that you reserve to do something in might never have thought of having their space be used that way. But then they have that going forward and that can be reflected in their listing and they can say hey, somebody has done this in my space before and I’m open to it and here’s what I charge for it and everybody benefits from that.
Jon: Give us a sense of how many spaces or people you have on the platform today – I know you just launched – and then sort of what’s the trajectory, what’s the plan to add spaces over the next year or two years.
Reda: At launch we’re 30 spaces and they’re a wide smattering of them. I have conversations every week with new people who are interested in adding their space and approximately 150 people that have looked at the site and kicked the tires and told me what needs fixing, all very important when you’re early stage. I really want to get the template right in Houston; its home, this is the city that I love and I really believe that Houston is the model for what it looks like to do well by doing good. But I do think it needs to go everywhere and I am committed to making sure that it’s not just a tool for entrepreneurs but particularly military spouse entrepreneurs.
So I already have my eye on the next 5 cities in Texas and they’re all very close to military installations; so your San Antonios, Austins, Corpus, El Paso, D/FW, all population centers, all very close to military installations. Because in those kinds of places businesses want to help military families and a really tangible way you can is by empowering that spouse to help grow their business. And if that’s your model anyway then the entire community benefits because it won’t just be spouses that will call you. And then as you move East across the south most of the major population centers have a military installation nearby. So basically we’ll just take them all over.
Jon: That works out well.
Reda: But starting from here because Houston has the largest veteran population in the country.
Jon: You mentioned a lot about veterans and community and you and I actually first met through Leadership Houston. And I know you’re active there and in a number of other leadership groups; tell us and tell our viewers a little bit about these communities that you’re a part of, how that’s helped you as an entrepreneur and what sort of value you’ve seen in that.
Reda: Sure. So by profession I’m a lawyer and as a lawyer your networking can get very one dimensional; you’re surrounded by lawyers. So I was very intentional when I first got here to look for opportunities to cross-pollinate. I wanted to meet people doing things that were not law. So I got involved with Emerging Leaders, that’s what introduced me to Leadership Houston and now I’m also on the board of the Texas Lyceum. That’s how I met the League of Women Voters.
Because what I found is when you’re out there and giving back in the community and meeting other people with that same sort of servant leadership core you start seeing where all of the things overlap and where all the problems get solved. And what’s amazing about that is I have found it to be a very silo-busted city. Meaning I can reach across to this person who is an engineer I know from Leadership Houston who does something totally unlike me and say hey, I have a problem, can we brainstorm it, and vice versa. People will call me with hey I need this connection or that connection and I’m always happy to make those connections because that’s how I see the magic made in my city.
And the same with GotSpot; when I decided I was going to do this, tech is not my background; that was the scariest part for me. So I called a friend in civic tech and said hey I’m doing this, can you please help me? And within a couple of hours we had brainstormed what is now the prototype website. And then when I reached out and said hey I’m doing this most of the spaces and people I’ve gotten has all been organic and it’s all been referrals from civic leaders who see the value in trying to grow the local business pyramid from the bottom up while also trying to find ways to use the data we’re aggregating to help the city.
Jon: So you mentioned Houston, what does being in Houston mean to you?
Reda: Houston is just a really can-do city; it’s a place where people want you to succeed. So when you reach out and ask for help usually you get back tenfold what you actually asked for. And we are a city with no limits, I think that was even a tagline at one point; we don’t have zoning. You can kind of do anything that you want to anywhere and a lot of our industries take that same approach; pull from biomed over here and energy over here or whatever it is that you need.
So being in a city where if you come with a good idea people are like how can I help you is really important. Also being in a city that’s sort of built on that premise that we problem solve across difference is really important to something like GotSpot too because what I’m asking is for the community to think more creatively about how Main Street can help the entrepreneur that’s maybe growing something high growth. And Houston is exactly the kind of city to get it why both sides of that equation benefit from figuring out how to work together.
Jon: So give our viewers a sense of one how they find the platform and how they get signed up, and then two are there any types of properties or places that maybe wouldn’t be a good fit for GotSpot? Like could I put my beach house on there?
Reda: So we – our website is GotSpotInc.com and all of our social handles are also GotSpotInc so you can find me anywhere you want to follow me. And we are a business to business platform right now. I can see maybe some green space later where consumers might also use GotSpot as a tool, but right now we’re really focused on business spaces. So of course it’s Houston and there are some homes that are used for business too but unless you plan on putting your beach house on the platform to be used as a venue for say a nonprofit, that might not be the best fit, but pretty much anything else.
Jon: Reda thanks again for being with us today.
Reda: Thank you so much for having me Jon.
Jon: That wraps up our conversation with Reda Hicks, Founder of GotSpot Inc and this is HXTV.
brought to you by