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leasabl is a soon-to-launch Airbnb for business

It’s no secret that businesses, and startups especially, tend to come and go. Coworking spaces can be a good place to test the waters of your company, but eventually you’ll need to make the leap into a space of your own. But with that move comes a big dilemma: How can an emerging company safely sign a year-long rental lease when they don’t know if they’re even going to be around in six more months?

If you’re just now thinking, “Well, they should just do an Airbnb for businesses,” you’re late to the game. Experienced entrepreneur Jason Goodrich is already on it with a soon-to-launch startup called leasabl.

Instead of holding businesses to an over-budget, long-term lease, leasabl provides a curated platform that connects companies with immediately-available retail and commercial space on much more flexible terms.

We talked with Goodrich about his latest leasing startup, along with projects of the past, his career at The Chicago Tribune, and how he finds struggling entrepreneurs an even bigger inspiration than Richard Branson.

What is the story behind leasabl?

It all started back in 2009 in Chicago when I was trying to find a place to open the area’s first coworking space. I was looking for a retail spot that was visible. I had brokers driving me around for three months and they always showed me something more than I needed space-wise, and of course rent-wise, pushing it above what I could afford.

They wanted long term and weren’t flexible on price. I knew that this was a new concept and I couldn’t be sure that it was going to last six months, so I couldn’t sign. I got so frustrated by the end, I thought, There ought to be a Priceline for this sort of thing.

Soon after that I found out about Airbnb so we kind of shifted to that model of space that’s available and ready to go so people can get the space they need at the price they want, and the space owners can make extra money and have good companies in the spots so they can lease it faster for the long term.

When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I’d always kind of done it. I think it’s one of those similar stories that you hear a lot, that you started off selling this or that. I started selling golf balls back to golfers. They hit them into the pond behind my house and my brother and I would wade in and get them and polish them up and sell them back for a dollar.

I’d do things like buy fireworks and sell them in the offseason. That translated into guitars and musical instruments when I got older and was in college. Just all the basic principles: buy low, sell high.

What does a typical workday look like for you?

Never the same, it seems. I was a journalist since 7th grade, working on publications, and that’s all very regimented for the most part. You have production every day but the content was always different. That’s what really interested me and I went into that because you could get a job doing that -- people would pay you.

Eventually I worked my way up to The Chicago Tribune and was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team in 2007 -- the prize came in 2008 for “Kids at Risk.” It was a public safety series. I was just a contributor to that; I wasn’t the main writer or anything.

In any case, that’s where I worked up to and I loved journalism but it didn’t love me back. When the walls came crashing down at the Tribune in 2007 and 2008 I was kind of thrown clear from the crash. I was laid off with a couple hundred of my colleagues and I had to figure out what to do next.

I knew that newspapers weren’t hiring so I took some time and looked around and found a passion in coworking and, using my PR skills, promoted it, became an evangelist, and opened the world’s largest coworking space at the time, located at 9 West Washington in Chicago called OfficePort Chicago.

I did well as a PR person -- Goodrich Public Relations -- but I didn’t like doing other people’s stuff. I wanted to follow my own passions and I had a couple ideas for companies that coincided with the collaborative atmosphere and the collaborative consciousness that I was becoming a fan of. It comes from my journalism background, I think.

I pursued them and started my own companies. Leasabl was actually the first idea I had after coworking. I was looking for coworking space and I had the germ of the idea for leasabl then. Then I actually got into coworking -- building a space and promoting it, which led me to a product that we eventually called Shortlist.

Shortlist is basically collaborative tools for contextual spaces, like coworking spaces, coffee shops, wherever people come together it helps them network globally and know what’s going on.

Shortlist morphed into a social-mobile event platform and is doing well. We just finished Interaction ’13, an Interaction Design Association annual conference in Toronto in January.

Shortlist went through Excelerate Labs in the summer of 2011, so I focused 100 percent on that. Just this past summer, Dan Lyne at World Business Chicago got me interested in working on leasabl again.

It’s really taken off, especially that people are now familiar with Airbnb, so I can say, “Well it’s Airbnb for business.” They’re like, “Oh, okay. So as a business owner I can go and get an office or retail space or event space from one day to one year, just like booking a room on Airbnb or on Priceline.”

It’s sort of a plug-and-play type space. It’s curated on both ends: we curate companies that are applying for the spaces and we curate the space owners and the spaces themselves so that we have a good match. It works out for everybody: for the owners, the brokers, and the businesses, of course.

Who are some people that inspire you?

Anybody who’s willing to make the leap into entrepreneurship and start a company, first of all. They inspire me as much as the Richard Bransons do because I’m inspired by guts and by people’s passion to go after what they want to see in the world.

Whether it works out or not for them, or for me, is beside the point when it comes to being inspired. It keeps me going to know that other people are trying.

I bow down to Richard Branson and Sam Yagan of He’s an advisor and mentor from Excelerate and of course Troy Henikoff, who’s the co-founder there. These are guys that have done it and know how to do it and can help us along.

My colleagues, right now the people on my level, getting companies started right now are probably my biggest inspiration.

What was the first job you ever had?

My first job was at a music store called Aquarian Music in Houston, Texas -- Clear Lake, where I grew up. I was 12 and I wanted a drum kit really bad.

I’d been hanging out at this music shop for so long that I finally just said, “Hey, why don’t you hire me? I can mind the store when you need to go out or clean up the rooms and vacuum and stuff like that.” He said, “Sure, kid.” He took pity on me.

For I don’t know how long, maybe a couple of weeks, I would go there for a couple of hours a day and vacuum and clean. What I learned from it was that the money was nice but, for a kid my age, I didn’t want to clean toilets for a living, which is all I kind of remember about that job: “I’ve got to clean the bathroom again.” I hated doing it at home too.

In any case, what that did was inspire me to figure out a better way of making money. I got a landscaping job from my second grade teacher, who employed me, a neighbor kid, to dig up people’s yards and plant rosebushes and things like that. We made good money so I bought my drum kit with that.

What tends to be your daily soundtrack around the office?

I kind of like it quiet as much as I can get, but I’ll listen to whatever is moving me on Spotify. Sometimes it’s classical, sometimes it’s more like “what was I just listening to?” I had a Billy Squire station on recently, I don’t know why.

It’s just whatever the mood calls for. I listen to everything.

What advice would you give to any beginning entrepreneurs out there?

Figure out what would be really cool, if magic were an option, and ask an entrepreneur about it. Don’t ask one—ask 10. Ask people who have their own companies and might be somewhat interested in your idea and helping you out.

It can be online, it can be people you know, just get the feedback and hear it. And then, don’t be dissuaded if they think you’re crazy. As long as you’re a little crazier, then that’s a good thing. That means you’ll have the passion to get it done and it may not work out but you’ll learn something.

What’s next for leasabl?

Leasabl is launching quickly -- sooner than I had anticipated. We’re getting customers already and partners before we even have the web presence up. So that’s good; we’re doing it all on spreadsheet.

The customers are coming right now. Next we also have funding -- that’s coming in. We’re working with a development company, some technical partners, to do our product for us, which we’ve been dreaming about for a year or more.

Really nailing the product is the big milestone that’s going to happen this year, along with partnerships and customers. We’ll be able to propel ourselves forward pretty fast and I hope that investors will add fuel to the fire.

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