The employee wellbeing platform making hybrid work a reality

January 26, 2023

In this episode, Legislate meets James Coughlan, founder and CEO of Reef. Reef is a platform designed to help companies move towards a hybrid working culture. Working with venues across the world, the reef app allows employees to access a third workplace boosting productivity whilst reducing isolation and burnout.

James shares the story behind Reef and the key issues with downloading contract templates online.

Listen to the episode below:

Learn more about Reef

Learn more about Legislate

Charles Brecque: Welcome to the Legislate podcast, a place to learn about the latest insights and trends in property, technology, business building, and contract drafting. Today. I'm excited to have James Coughlan on the show, founder and CEO of Reef. Reef is a platform designed to help companies move towards a hybrid working culture. Working with venues across the world, the reef app allows employees to access a third workplace boosting productivity whilst reducing isolation and burnout. James, welcome to the show. Would you like to share a bit of background about yourself and Reef?

The story behind Reef

James Coughlan: Yeah, thanks for having me, Charles. So my background is heavily in the last 10 years, marketing and sales. I’ve worked in marketing agencies which is where I came up with the idea for Reef. I was travelling around the UK, going into different client meetings. To cities I didn't necessarily know my way around. So the only places I would go to work, as in traveling in prime time, was your standard Starbucks or Costa coffee. Because I knew they had a plug socket and a wifi. The unfortunate thing about that is everyone else had the same idea, because it was packed.

So I was like, surely there's going to be an app out there that would filter down my needs for that day to where to work from. But there was nothing there. So I did what I thought I should do. And I built that app for people like me who came across this problem, which were quite a few and we then started building it.

And at that time it was more targeting freelancers, remote workers. COVID then hit. So obviously working within hospitality venues as I used to work from wasn't great. But it gave us really good insights on the effect working from home is having on employees’ mental health and wellbeing.

So we really pivoted the business to target businesses as an employee well-being platform, because we knew the office and the working from home is never going to go away, but there had to be that third alternative for employees to use if they couldn't use those other two options.

So yeah, we've got over a hundred venues now in the UK and a fair few users on that platform already. We kind of soft launched in October and we're relaunching this month. Yeah, busy times, but that's where the idea came from and where we are at the moment.

Charles Brecque: Well done for navigating the pivots quite successfully. How does it work then if I'm a reef user, do I need to pay you? Do I pay the venue? How does it work if I want to book some space in a new city?

James Coughlan: Businesses or even freelancers come to us. And it's based on a SaaS model. So it's based on per users per month or per year. So the maximum you would pay per user is nine pounds plus VAT per month. And on that you get access to all the reef venues which you can use when and wherever they're open. Discounts on food and drink in the majority of them. As you can see most of them being hospitality venues, they offer event space that you can get discounts off of too. We work with hotels to offer discounts on hotel rooms, meeting room space, which now is a lot more apparent because everyone's working from home. The amount of meeting room spaces has increased tenfold. But then we're also working with three pillars within brands, such as brands that help with remote working, brands that help with wellbeing and brands that help with mental health.

So we're working with the likes of Fitbit to help from that wellbeing side, to get people up and about moving again, rather than just being stuck at home. But also with Jabra, providing the technology to be able to have clear, concise conversations. We're working with other kinds of tech companies. We’ve worked with the likes of a company with a background in F1 for noise cancellation. A company that creates bags specifically for remote working. We don’t want to become a perk brand for every man and his dog. We really want to focus on those three pillars, to help businesses and their employees move to that hybrid environment.

What's been your favourite moment so far?

Charles Brecque: That's very interesting. And what's been your favourite moment so far?

James Coughlan: Probably having people actually use the app and saying how they actually benefited from it. Because I obviously knew from my own experience that there was a need for it, but actually seeing people utilise it as it should be utilised is probably my favourite moment so far. Especially being still in the startup stage of the business too.

Charles Brecque: Yeah. Because you're already in a hundred venues and users are highly unpredictable. How does that scale when you're in so many venues with so many different perks as well?

James Coughlan: Yeah. So we work quite closely with all the venues on board and to make sure that the user experience for our users is there. We don't have a head office ourselves. We use reef venues. So we're always in the different venues, making sure that the user experience is where it needs to be or where we think it needs to be for our users as well.

Another thing about moving to more of a hybrid working model with businesses is that they've got the opportunity then to recruit talent from anywhere, technically in the world. So having that spread across the UK for one is needed as well as further a field.

What do you wish you had known before starting Reef?

Charles Brecque: I see. And what do you wish you'd known before starting?

James Coughlan: I've read online a lot, especially with a tech startup about the whole investment journey. My opinion is still very unknown. How long it actually takes, what you need for each investor is different in most cases. I think one of them is the expectation of time from start to finish on an investment journey, actually, how much of your own time it takes. If I knew that to begin with, I probably would have prepared a lot more in the earlier days than doing it as I go along.

Charles Brecque: Yeah. I think you should always be wary of early stage investors in the sense that they're never quite as early stage as you’d think at least from the perspective of a founder and a startup entrepreneur.

James Coughlan: Yes.

What is Reef's vision for the next 5 years?

Charles Brecque: And what's the plan, the vision for the next three, five years?

James Coughlan: We want to be, especially in the UK, the go to app to help businesses move again into that hybrid work. It's coming to the dominant model. And it looks like it's going to stay that way, especially for this year.

So we want to keep that up. We want to get rid of the stereotype that if you're not in your office working, you should be at home. Ideally you should be able to work anywhere which has good wifi and a plug socket and where your mental health and wellbeing can really thrive.

So that's where we want to go. We've got big goals for the venues. We want to reach 1000 venues by the end of Q1 this year. And go from there. Next year we want to go more into Europe and America and really grow the business in those two regions. Big goals. But again, our whole kind of culture is to think big and just go for it. Because again, you'll hit somewhere that you'd be proud of anyway.

What are the key contracts you interact with as a founder?

Charles Brecque: That's the right philosophy and good luck. As a founder and CEO now being involved with a startup for some time, what are the key contracts that you interact with the most frequently?

James Coughlan: Probably the employee ones at the moment are the main ones. We're going through a bit of a recruitment drive at the moment. Making sure they're in order again, talking about the hybrid working piece, the equipment policies and contracts. And we’re starting obviously the investment contracts too, but they're probably the main ones we use at the moment, but I'm sure there'll be many more we'll be using this year alone.

What are the main contract objections and how did you overcome them?

Charles Brecque: For sure. And with those contracts, are there any objections or issues or areas of friction that you've had to overcome?

James Coughlan: Yeah. Luckily I've got a contact in HR who can help, who helps me with those pieces especially within the employment side. There hasn't been anything, stand out that's been difficult. I guess the one point is making it tailored for yourself rather than just taking the template online and just thinking that is what's going to work. It's not, it's getting that extra bit of expertise to mould it into the way you work. And so it works for you more.

Charles Brecque: I think that's one thing with templates when you download them from the internet, you don't know the history, you don't know why certain clauses are present or not present. And at Legislate that's one thing that we try to solve. We tailor a custom contract every time you create a contract so that we address all the requirements each time.

James Coughlan: And again, even every employee's contract is potentially different, so taking that template just online that generic one, I don't think is suitable, especially nowadays.

Charles Brecque: Yeah, definitely. And it just seems an unnecessary risk for your business.

James Coughlan: Yes.

Charles Brecque: And what about with your venues? Do you have some form of agreement in place with them?

James Coughlan: Yeah, we've got a terms and conditions piece on there at the moment which they sign up to, which is predominantly based around the user experience they give our users.

Charles Brecque: Okay. That's interesting. And with your terms and conditions, did you use a solicitor or another service provider?

James Coughlan: Yeah, we used a solicitor that I know to create our terms and conditions. I started myself but not only because of the time restrictions I had to do everything else, as well as that again, just to make sure everything was correct and legal I reached out to an expert to create that.

If you were to sign a contract today, what would impress you?

Charles Brecque: Yeah, I think it's always important to use a solicitor when you need to. Because, if you don't have an adequate legal solution in place it can be extremely risky for you. So I'm conscious James, that we've taken a lot of your time. So I'm going to ask you the closing question we ask all our guests, if you were being sent a contract to sign today, what would impress you?

James Coughlan: So I think there's probably three main points around this. If I was being sent one and the first one, it needs to be clear and label everything that needs to be on there. It's concise. Within the contract, it is also really easy to digest. There are some contracts that are just a load of text. And if it's more bullet pointed, more broken up as well then I think it's a lot easier and more likely that someone would actually read it rather than just skim read it and then hope for the best. So yeah, they'd probably be my three things which would impress me. It's making sure it's clear, concise and easy to digest.

Charles Brecque: Great answer. And it sounds as if you've described Legislate. there's definitely a lot that we can still do to make the whole user experience nicer.

And one thing that we are about to release is a visual representation of each side's rights and obligations, because they're concepts, which are often buried in the contract. And if you breach them, then you're in breach of the contract. And so we're surfacing them so that you can prevent contract breaches.

James Coughlan: Exciting times for you at the moment.

Charles Brecque: Yeah we try to make contracts interactive!

James Coughlan: Yeah. And I think one of the good things is that the kind of e-sign piece is all there in one place and easy to utilise. It’s one of the things on the list that I wrote down after speaking to your team to look into more, just to help my admin side if anything, maybe moving forward with contracts.

Charles Brecque: I'm a founder. And so I know what admin is like, especially in the early days. That's one thing that we're trying to eradicate. Perfect. Thank you very much, James, for being on the show. Best of luck conquering those venues and I look forward to hopefully trying Reef when you're in Oxford.

James Coughlan: Yeah. Thanks. Thanks for having me.

Charles Brecque: Thank you, James. Bye-bye.


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