For a fledgling startup, finding an office in San Francisco can be a real nightmare. Rents are now climbing past $60 a square foot, second only to Manhattan in the US, and occupancy rates are the lowest in the country, according to brokerage firm CBRE.
This means young startups have to get creative if they insist on staying within the city. And Westfield, one of the world’s largest mall operators, has a solution for them: Bespoke, a 37,000-square-foot (3,400 sq m) coworking and event space within its shopping center in downtown San Francisco. For $385 a month, entrepreneurs can park themselves at a shared desk and get access to the kinds of amenities that have become commonplace at tech companies, like a bocce ball court, bouldering wall, foosball tables, and even nap pods. Private offices for two people run $1,450 a month.
There is some irony to innovation happening inside the mall, a place where plenty of Americans idle away their time when there’s nothing better to do. But Westfield is hoping the unique location, which saw around 20 million people walk through its doors last year, will provide retail startups in particular with an environment that will encourage experimentation. Some of its conference rooms open up directly to the mall, so they can transform into pop-up stores for companies to test new products and concepts.
Crowdfunding startup Indiegogo and Product Hunt, a site that helps people find new tech gadgets and services, both showcased products in these pop-up spaces during Bespoke’s opening last week (May 28). “We’re finding there’s a lot of great companies that start online, but want to expand offline,” Westfield’s chief digital officer, Kevin McKenzie, tells Quartz.
But as real estate goes in San Francisco, getting in won’t be easy. All seven private offices were snapped up even before Bespoke opened its doors, and there’s a waiting list for desks. Prospective members (except those visiting on $35 day passes) have to fill out an application detailing the problems—ideally related to retail—their startups hope to solve. To make sure people don’t game the system, Westfield says it’ll also keep an eye on repeat visitors who buy day passes.
In case you can’t get in, here’s a virtual tour of the coworking space: