Zoe founded Spaces to Places in 2019, keen to disrupt and transform the way commercial property is used.
With the root of an idea – that changes in the way we work necessitated a shift in the market – she established a framework that helps building owners, office operators, asset managers, and property investors turn their unrefined spaces into more relevant places.
Over the course of more than 20 years in the property industry, Zoe has worked with high-profile clients including Derwent London, LandSec, and Savills. She applies her broad experience in the sector as the CEO of Spaces to Places, taking the lead on all projects to transform office brands, rejuvenate the value they bring to occupiers, and create commercial spaces that work better.
Can you tell us a little about your background and the company?
I spent 20 years in the commercial property industry before starting my own business, working with clients like Derwent London, LandSec, and Savills. This experience was primarily focused on marketing property portfolios, but in management and directorial roles I was involved in much broader processes. I got to see the strengths and weaknesses of major players in the sector, and became passionate about the intersection between people and commercial property.
I founded Spaces to Places in 2019 as I saw the flexible workspace sector making its way into the zeitgeist. I knew that my experience and passion were the perfect foundation for the business, and started to build out processes that would provide tangible value to clients.
In short, it’s our mission to turn generic, soulless, unfocused office spaces into experiential, person-centric, profitable places. We do that through a mix of research, placemaking, and marketing services, delivered by a team of multi-disciplinary experts.
How did the idea come to you for the company?
The initial inspiration for Spaces to Places came about as I noticed that changes in the way we all work were accelerating. From 2015 onwards, it felt like flexible working was on a one-way path to mainstream adoption. I knew that would necessitate a shift in the commercial property market, and wanted to be the person to help operators, landlords, and investors navigate it.
Separately, I was frustrated with the ‘build it and they will come’ mentality of the large corporate property broker I was working for at that time. I felt that more was required for properties to truly reflect the needs of occupiers, and became highly interested in the idea of optimising for ‘place relevance’. Spaces to Places is oriented around that idea – we always strive to achieve outcomes that make our clients’ spaces a better fit for the needs of their ideal customers.
How did you achieve awareness?
As any founder will know, so much relies on being able to capture attention in the early stages of business operation. I was in a fortunate position to have a strong network of connections, built up over the course of my career, and so LinkedIn was a huge driver of awareness for me.
I also put a lot of time and energy into getting in front of my target audience through speaker opportunities. This was a great driver of value, because there were multiple benefits. I got to shine a spotlight on Spaces to Places and the work we were doing at the same time as building my network and getting insights on market sentiment about the future of flexible work.
More fundamentally, I think that honing in on Spaces to Places’ niche so early in the process was useful in separating us from competition. Because we were early to move on the market-shift towards flex, we were able to create a ‘category of one’, dominating a corner of the market and becoming a de facto authority.
How have you been able to gain funding and grow?
I took a very grassroots approach with Spaces to Places, and focused on maximising my TEAM (Time, Energy, Attitude and Money) over securing external funding. I was working by myself at the outset, so my costs were low, and I was able to attract small clients based purely on my expertise and the quality of the processes I’d put together.
As more work started to come in, I took a really flexible approach to expanding the team. I sourced experts in the areas I was weakest in and leveraged their skills to continue to deliver high-quality results for my clients. It was a very organic process, and scaled excellently as Spaces to Places started to attract bigger clients.
What are the key successes?
I put the success of Spaces to Places so far down to three main factors:
• The team I’ve built, which is made up of diverse experts who are highly knowledgeable in their own discipline but also generally experienced in commercial property.
• Keeping work-life balance, both for myself and the wider team, at the centre of focus. Staying vigilant and maintaining a healthy separation between business and life has helped me avoid burning out.
• Client selection and service processes that make sure we’re working with businesses that appreciate our value and welcome us in, meaning we can spend less time resolving disputes or managing unrealistic expectations.
What were/are the challenges and how have you overcome these?
The biggest challenges in the early days of Spaces to Places were mostly centred around the weight of responsibility I felt. I tended towards overworking myself and over-delivering for clients, desperate to get results and deliver value on too short a timeframe.
I recognised that this came from a lack of self-confidence, and that to be able to deliver value sustainably, I would have to put more trust in the processes I’d built and stop striving to go beyond in every instance.
A few things were instrumental in me overcoming the challenges, including working with business coaches to get support, exploring what was driving my fear of failure. I also took the time to really digest the processes I’d built, and that gave me more confidence in their strength.
As a result, I was able to develop a more productised offering and got better at articulating the value of my services. This meant I was more confident in charging what I’m worth, and I was better at honing in on prospects that would understand the value proposition.
What are your plans now/for the future?
I’m most focused at the moment on scaling the business in line with the growing demand for flexible workspaces. The market is evolving and there’s more need for Spaces to Places’ services than ever before, so nailing our growth plan is a really important part of making sure we’re around for the long-term.
We’ve recently entered the European market with our first overseas client win, and I think that’s something we’ll be putting more energy into going forward. A lot of the larger flexspace brands see the opportunity of expanding internationally, so we’re keen to lead the way with processes that work as our clients’ portfolios cross borders.
We’re also continuing to prioritise leading the conversation about the future of workplaces. Our thought-leader status has been a great benefit in so many ways, and it’s important we maintain that position.
What would you like to share with others to encourage them to start their own entrepreneurship journey?
My best piece of advice is that, if you have an idea, start building! I think so many potential entrepreneurs are too worried about getting their logo perfect or creating a highly-polished website before they go to market, but striving for perfection stops you from moving forward. You’ll learn as you go, and very few mistakes have permanent repercussions. If you’re passionate about something and want to build a business out of it, get started and cross bridges as you get to them, rather than trying to lay out the perfect plan from day one.
Can you share your top tips for entrepreneurial success?
Firstly, I’m keen to say that every entrepreneur does things differently, so be patient with the development of your own methodology and style. Don’t put too much stock into how you’re ‘supposed’ to do things.
I’d also say that founders need to be wary of ‘busy’ work, instead spending as much of their energy as possible on tasks that actually move the business forward. It’s very easy to be busy with endless menial tasks, and you can get lost as to what you actually need to do to grow. One of my personal tactics to mitigate this is spending a full hour every morning tackling the biggest tasks. These are typically things that will move needles, so getting them out of the way means I can relax into the rest of the day.
Finally, I’d urge entrepreneurs not to get blinded by their social media feeds. LinkedIn in particular is full of posts from gurus and entrepreneurs celebrating their endless successes, and often saying it’s all very simple, you just need to buy their book or product to learn the magic formula. Running your own race is essential if you’re going to make it!
Who are the 5 people who inspire you the most and why?
Erin Brockovich, for her strength as an environmental activist, fighting against overwhelming odds. Anita Roddick, for managing to build a goliath of a business without compromising her ethics, remaining a committed activist despite her success. Steven Barrett, because he’s constantly open to learning new things and speaks with honesty. I love The Diary of a CEO podcast. Barbara Corcoran, as a great example of how to navigate the male-dominated world of property with success. My Uncle, he supported me in my career, opening my eyes and pushed me too.
What are your favourite inspirational/motivational quotes?
These are three of my favourites:
My passionate belief is that business can be fun, it can be conducted with love and a powerful force for good – Anita Roddick
Fall seven times, stand up eight – Japanese proverb
I am a Diamond. Diamonds are made under pressure. Pressure is good – Me
What are your Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn social handles and also website links so our readers can connect with you?
@spacestoplacesltd on Instagram
@SpacestoPlaces on Twitter
Spaces to Places on LinkedIn
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