INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Swivel CEO Scott Harmon Shares How COVID-19 is Making the Hybrid Office a Reality
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Scott Harmon: Considering the circumstances, I think my family’s adjustment has been a bit easier than some. We live sort of out in the middle of nowhere, with lots of access to public spaces and even a lake. And we don’t have kids in school, so we do miss seeing family members, but technology has been a good platform for keeping us connected. We’ve had a lot of time to reflect and appreciate the little things and what we do have while taking notice of the many who have struggled during this time and helping where we can.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Swivel.
Scott Harmon: I guess you could call me a startup junkie. Swivel is the 6th startup I’ve been a part of, stretching back to the late ’80s. I was a product manager and marketing exec at the first two, and have founded or led the last four. I have been fortunate to be a part of several successful exits along the way, as well as a few pileups and now four recessions. I am the product of decades of experience, interactions, mistakes and successes. I have been very fortunate to have worked with so many talented people and received guidance from a handful of mentors—each serving as a sounding board and leader.
My personal experience as a serial office space occupier is what sparked me to launch Swivel in 2017. I never felt the tedious leasing process was designed for me, the lease, which then got me thinking about technology and how using it to customize office space online could lead to a digital transformation game-changer for one of the most important and expensive assets businesses have their office space. Together with my past Co-founder turned VC, Mike Maples, Jr. of Floodgate, we set out to redefine the office leasing experience.
How does Swivel innovate?
Scott Harmon: Swivel has always been a customer-centric company. Getting direct feedback and input from the ones using your product is essential. I consistently talk to countless CEOs and CFOs about their office spaces and their lease contracts to truly learn what works, doesn’t work, and while many like their physical spaces I have yet to find one that thinks signing a rigid 10-year lease is good for their business.
I guess you could say we innovate by being in the trenches with our customers working side-by-side with them. Living in their world. Then take that ambient wisdom with a hack-a-thon type approach to prototype new products rounded out with an outside panel of experts for input and we have a very social, dynamic and fast way to innovate.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Scott Harmon: COVID changed everything for us—and fortunately in a positive way. As the pandemic began to unfold back in March, myself and the Swivel team collectively decided to unbundle our SaaS-based digital office platform that undergirded our flexible workspace network to meet the direct needs from customers desperately needing a virtual touring solution to maintain leasing momentum as physical leasing came to a halt. After lots of zoom meetings, all-nighters, and of course, the entire team working remotely, we developed two applications to address leasing challenges to keep our customers in business and safely navigate back to the office.
The result internally at Swivel was that teams are more agile and work more efficiently to deliver higher quality results in less time. From a customer front, we’ve been able to experience and better understand the potential of the future of the office and what it can evolve to be
I will say this is the most innovative and rewarding experience I’ve ever had in my career, and we’re not done.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Scott Harmon: Like many other startups, COVID forced us to throw out short- and long-term forecasts out the window and question all of our basic assumptions. The lesson learned there was that things can change in an instant and always to be flexible. There is almost nothing about operating a business that won’t change post-COVID, from marketing to selling to hiring new employees.
From a big picture perspective, we were lucky in that we’d recently added a fresh round of venture capital. We chose to slow our hiring plans to preserve our cash for 2 to 3 years. I learned a long time ago when I managed a startup through the ‘dot-com’ bust of the early 2000s not to make the mistake of assuming the venture financing environment would return to normal in 6 or 12 months. Reserve, conserve and adapt.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Swivel in the future?
Scott Harmon: Personally, my faith and spiritual life are foundational for my mental health, especially in times of crisis or stress. And lots of exercise and time outdoors.
For our company, we’ve really encouraged our staff to take and make time—literally put it on the calendar and set time aside—for things that relieve stress and strengthen their families. We’ve always advocated work/life balance and open-door policy, and working in a remote environment, it’s been beneficial to the Swivel team to have the ability to go on a walk break or play outside with their kids. It’s a chance to slow down without missing a beat.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Scott Harmon: Our digital office platform consists of two software applications that combine virtual touring and workspace management functionalities to help our customers—property owners and their leasing teams and property managers and their tenants—navigate through the leasing lifecycle.
That said, there are many virtual touring and workspace management tools in the market, but our approach is unique because our tools all work off of a virtual software model of a physical office space called a ‘digital twin’, which allows them to be much more powerful in tailoring and understanding how customers use their workspace. . We believe the future of the office is digital and flexible and will operate on the hybrid working model for years to come. We are here to support our customers every step of the way.
Your final thoughts?
Scott Harmon: You can’t go more than a few days without reading about how remote work is here to stay, and that means the end of the office. But talk to people a little longer, and the picture that emerges in our post-pandemic future is of a hybrid, or best-of-both approach, to physical workplaces. Employees will have more freedom to choose where and how they work, and it will be on employers and landlords to provide them with the technology and physical spaces that match up to those preferences.
Personally, I think this will lead to a new era of built spaces that are much more functional and energized and a workforce that is healthier and more productive.
So yes, even in the midst of a pandemic, I am excited.
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