Fresh off the back of winning Best Business Start-Up at the unLTD Awards, we caught up with James Coughlan, founder and CEO of Reef – an app that is changing the meaning of remote working.

Hi James. Can you tell us about how you came up with the idea behind Reef and how you got started?
It was 2019 and I was fed up with working in your big coffee chains. They were always noisy, always busy and you could never find a plug socket. I was sure there was an easier way to find quieter laptop-friendly spaces, but other than going on Google Maps, there was nothing.

We teamed up with a development agency in January 2020. It wasn’t the best time because a couple of months later, Covid hit. But instead of launching, we did a lot of research around employee wellbeing, as people were working from home. We found people were burning out because they didn’t know how to separate their personal and work lives. They were feeling isolated, so we thought how do we help these people get back out there again?

James and Beckie Reef
James with Head of Commercial, Beckie

We launched in May 2022, with about 20 venues and 50 users. Now, we’ve got well over 2000 venues across the UK and over 10,000 downloads. So it’s kept us busy!

How does the app work?
We’ve got two types of users. One is the venues, the other is the company or employees. From the hospitality side of things, it’s completely free to sign up. One of our missions is to help the industry – a lot of them are still struggling after Covid, so we aim to help by giving them a free listing on our app.

From our user’s perspective, once you sign up you get access to all of these spaces and you can book as many as you want. About 85% give out a free hot drink when you book through Reef as well. Others give out discounts on food, and some offer discounts on booking meeting rooms. One even gives a free half-day spa access every six months, so there are loads of benefits of booking through us.

Aside from navigating the Pandemic, have there been any challenges you’ve faced?
The investment journey has been a learning curve. It’s a lot more work, time and effort to put in place than I had thought without having done it before. You have to know the right people as well. It’s like a full-time role on its own.

James and Si Reef
James with Si, Head of Venues

What does the future look like for Reef?
You can add friends/colleagues on the app already, but we’re building a new feature where you will be able to see where your friends/colleagues are booked in, so you can book in and work with them.

We’re also expanding in January, moving into the US, South Africa, The Philippines, New Zealand and Europe. In the next few years, we’d like to hit Australia, Dubai, China and Japan. We want to be the Uber/AirBnB equivalent of finding places to work remotely!

What has it been like, going from a new start-up to now an award-winning business?
It’s a very nice feeling. I made a few mistakes, but it’s all about learning. I realised learning from mistakes quickly helps a lot, and saves a lot of money! Starting to win awards and seeing that other people can see where we’re going is very nice.

I think the hardest thing is just going for it. The worst that’s going to happen is you’re going to fail, but many people who have made it fail in their initial projects. Once you’ve taken that leap, it will be the best decision you’ve made.

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