TAKE A BREATHER WITH
When we first heard of Breather we were immediately intrigued: beautifully designed spaces for rent by the hour or the day, unlocked with an app. After partnering with Breather for this year's holiday party, we sat down with Lee Moulton, Head of Strategic Partnerships, to learn more.
Not only did we get the inside story on the company, Lee told us about his unique background: his upbringing in the midst of the Liberian Civil War, starting Youth Action International while at Amherst, and how he switched from Goldman Sachs to startup: "Being able to make it through early adversity and excel both academically and professionally was really fueled by my belief that I was spared from the killing and horror in Liberia for a larger purpose. I value and treasure every opportunity that has come my way."
WNW Members: check this week's newsletter for details on Office Hours we're hosting 1/27 in a NYC Breather. We'll be answering all your questions about freelancing, full-timing, and the future of Working Not Working.
Members can also book their own Breather space and get an hour free, just use the code WNWVIP.
Tell us about your background: Who is Lee Moulton and how did he get here?
Oh boy, where do I start? So I was born in Madison, Wisconsin, where my mother, who is a native of Liberia, was finishing her graduate school work. We moved back to Liberia before my 2nd birthday and I spent my early years there growing up in the capital of Monrovia. Around the age of 5, the Liberian Civil War began and we had to evacuate. Because my young sister and I were both American Citizens, we left on the U.S. Embassy plane while my mother stayed back to help her family get out of the country. For almost a year and half, I didn’t get to see my mother as I settled with family in North Carolina. I have to admit, it was a rough way to spend my formative years.
Pushing through that rough start, I managed to get a scholarship to attend the Northfield Mount Hermon School in Northfield, Massachusetts. Afterwards, I gained admittance into Amherst College and went on to Goldman Sachs. Being able to make it through early adversity and excel both academically and professionally was really fueled by my belief that I was spared from the killing and horror in Liberia for a larger purpose. I value and treasure every opportunity that has come my way and make sure to always aim for excellence in all I do. Thanks to my mother and extended family, I’ve had the support needed to keep going and keep pushing myself to new heights.
You spent six years at Goldman Sachs. How’d you make the transition to startup life?
I realized while working at Goldman that I had a real interest in entrepreneurship. At Goldman, we served companies that were large and established but more and more, coming out of the financial crisis, our focus started to turn to the rapid growth of emerging companies like Facebook and Uber. As I studied those companies and their paths to success, I knew that I wanted to be part of a similar story so I started asking friends in the startup world for intros to small companies that they thought had growth potential and could use my sales and finance skill set. After doing what I call “startup dating” and having a ton of coffees and conversations with various founders, I ended up speaking to the General Manager of Breather here in NYC, Packy McCormick, and meeting with the CEO and Co-Founder Julien Smith. One of the things I learned during my career at Goldman was that organizational culture and values were extremely important in the success of any endeavor. From my preliminary talks with Julien and Packy, I was immediately taken aback by their passion for the Breather concept, their belief in putting people first, and their appreciation and respect for my prior experience. The rest is history.
Tell us about Breather, and what exactly is it?
At Breather, we are aiming to be that “third” space between people’s homes and offices, a place where they can meet, work or relax in peace, quiet and comfort. Right now, Starbucks is the defacto third space for urban dwellers. In a busy, bustling city, if you need a place to take a call or find respite, eventually there will be a Breather within a couple of blocks of wherever you are that you can pop into and get a personal, private space whenever you want it with powerful wifi, comfortable seating, white boards, and all the other tools you might need.
The use cases are pretty uncanny. For instance, Uber’s Head of Design uses Breather for team meetings and off-sites. We are an official corporate perk for employees at Etsy, Facebook and BuzzFeed, and we also have thousands of freelance photographers, videographers and other content creators who use our locations for photoshoots, interviews and meetings with their clients.
In a nutshell, we want to empower individuals and organizations by unlocking the buildings and spaces they walk by each day. Why have 1 office when you can have hundreds, on demand. We want you to walk around feeling like you have 10,000 keys right there in your pocket. To feel like the city is yours.
Breather spaces are not people’s homes or offices, correct? It’s a space that Breather owns, decorates and rents out?
Correct. Breather spaces open at 6:00am and close at 10:00pm, with a few exceptions. We only open space in buildings designated for commercial use. We’ll find an office in a central location, furnish it with all the amenities our users love, and then make it available by the hour via our app and website. The real magic of it is that each location has a keycode to unlock the door so that spaces are super easy to access, whenever you need them.
How do you think WNW members can benefit from using Breather?
One of the central tenants of Breather is to empower. WNW members who need private meeting space to close business, pitch new clients, or to be productive while in the city can leverage the Breather network. I am proud that we worked out an agreement to offer an exclusive discount on our spaces just to WNW members, as well as give each member 1 free hour to try us out for the first time.
What do you do when you’re Not Working?
Play or watch basketball and football. I am a huge sports fan. I love competition and have an extremely high amount of respect for the work athletes have to put in to perform. I also enjoy cinema and try to catch as many movies as I can.
You also helped start Youth Action International, a humanitarian non-profit organization focused on rebuilding war-torn African countries. How did you get involved?
I helped start Youth Action International while in college. It started as a student organization on campus at Amherst and we spread it to various schools in the area. I was the first President of the organization and joined the board when we got 501c3 certification. I had always wanted to find a way to help out Liberia and other countries impacted by war, and Youth Action International was the perfect opportunity to give back. My work with Youth Action International and what we’ve accomplished since 2004 is something I take great pride in.
TIPS FOR TAKING A BREATHER
Lee Moulton’s top tips on how to maximize your time at Breather:
1. Have an idea of what you want to accomplish. Arrive with an action plan and agenda for your meeting so you don’t waste time.
2. Minimize distractions. Try to turn off your phone and really give your full attention to the project you are working on.
3. Find your comfort zone. Some users like working from our couches and some like sitting at our tables and using our work chairs. Figure out which is better for you.
4. Invite attendees to the meeting via our app. They will get a calendar invite with location and time of the meeting, saving you time so you don't have to send a meeting request in your calendar.
5. If you feel the meeting is going to run longer than the time you booked, extend your reservation as soon as you can before someone books behind you.
Last three things you Googled:
Purpose Justin Bieber
Most significant creative or entrepreneurial inspiration:
“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb” – Nelson Mandela
Advice you’d give your high school self:
Take more risks and don’t worry about failing. Failing is okay, as long as you learn from it.