How Upflex Built a Business on the Lessons We Learned from Brokers

Christophe Garnier headshot

Upflex CEO Christophe Garnier joined Occupier’s Matt Guffine on Fully Occupied to share perspective and predictions on the future of flex and how Upflex is partnering with brokers to embrace it.

Occupier’s Fully Occupied podcast episode 63, featuring Upflex’s Christophe Garnier, is streaming on Spotify.

Earlier this week, I sat down with Occupier’s Fully Occupied host Matt Guffine to share Upflex’s story and solutions to the continuous uncertainty on what the future of the office looks like, what the future of the office building looks like, and how flexible working space factor into all of this.

I shared with him how quickly we had to learn, and how quickly, when the pandemic struck, we had to pivot to serve the needs, suddenly, of a much different kind of client than we had in mind when we launched as a tech platform and network to enable flexible work back in the pre-pandemic golden age of long leases, in 2018. That was a time of rapid learning, I explained — a sink or swim moment — and one reason we were not only able to stay afloat but to rise to the top of this proptech landscape for flexible work solutions is how closely we worked with our broker partners, how invested we were in being a platform they want to use to serve flex space solutions to their own clients, and and how much we learned in working with them early on.

Matt Guffine, Fully Occupied: You started with this idea that these businesses want to provide this benefit to their employees, but it took a global pandemic and the commercial real estate broker network to say, ‘Hey, I’m always looking to add value for my customers, and I see what you’re doing here.’ Hopefully some of them were trying to figure out for themselves: ‘How do we make it out of this pandemic, where leasing is completely dead. I’m looking at the future of my business, I know more of my customers are going to start asking me for more flexible solutions — and how can I bring solutions to them?’ And that brought you right back into providing benefit to the enterprise user.

You mentioned earlier that you learned a lot, and fast. What are the some of the things you learned, being a relative outsider to the commercial real estate space, not only about brokers, but about how you see kind of the dynamic shift from a decision-making standpoint in on the enterprise end-user side?

Christophe Garnier, Upflex: We have quite a few things in many different aspects of the business.

We learned about the critical, central importance of those brokerage companies in this ecosystem.

We’re a young company, and as I said, I do come from a tech background, not a commercial real estate background,  so, we realized that to really bring value to our audience, we needed to invest in collaborating with those great brokerage firms. Only through collaborating with them, and learning how to serve their needs and help them through their challenges, would we really be able to earn credibility — to become worth being recommended.

As we learned more about what brokers were looking for, what would really help them as they explored how to best meet their clients needs and accommodate this rising interest in flex, we invested in many different types of resources.

We learned it’s a relationship based business, and so bringing people that knew people in this industry was also crucial. So, we invested, obviously, in human capital, in building an incredible, talented team of people — like our Chief Strategy Officer Vincent Lottefier (JLL) — who understand brokers’ needs very, very well.

We invested also in technology, and in our platform, including investments we made in gaining compliance in order to be an approved vendor of brokerages like JLL. That was a six-month due diligence process we recently completed, so we could be a service to their brokers.

“We invested a tremendous amount of resources in
creating the right materials, the right processes,
and the right positioning for ourselves —
not telling the world that we have answers for
everything, but telling the world that
we have the tools to figure it out.”

We learned a lot, and then we let those lessons guide us as we invested in many different aspects. And that I think is how we have grown so fast, and even have had some of the largest players in the industry, Newmark and Cushman & Wakefield, invest in us, in our $30 million Series A raise this past spring.

We also learned that by working with those firms comes a certain type of customers.

We had education into the industry as a whole, and on the flexibility issue: on the importance of flexibility, on how to meet the demand for flexibility, and on change management, and leveraging technology to really take these beautiful, thoughtful, modern flex and hybrid workplace strategies and bring them to life through technology and through data. So, after all this learning, we became the educators on that side.

So, we also invested a tremendous amount of resources in creating the right materials, the right processes, and the right positioning for ourselves — not telling the world that we have answers for everything, but telling the world that we have the tools to figure it out.

Our role is to be an enabler: We give you the technology to learn and understand what is going to be key for your business. All these lessons, by the way, are all very different. There’s no one-size-fits-all here, because the culture of every single company is unique, and the way people behave, and their social habits, and work habits are all different, from one organization to the next.

Even if the macro economics are consistent from one geography to another (and actually, you know, we’re seeing some macro economics and macro behaviors clearly differentiated between, say, India and the U.S. — it’s very interesting), when it comes to each individual company, they are extremely different.

I think our technology comes to life when we’re able to actually leverage all the tools that we have in order to make sure that we can show what the what the behavior looks like, and what data looks like, so employers can plan for the future.

Listen to the full conversation on FULLY OCCUPIED’s Spotify, or connect with a member of our team to learn more about how we work with brokers to serve occupiers in the shift to flex.