Robbie Friedman never thought picking up a hammer and nails to build himself a backyard escape pod would eventually lead him to his next business venture. As a former big law attorney-turned-entrepreneur, he was in the process of selling a software that gave clients real-time visibility into their legal bills. Around the same time in 2016, he and his wife welcomed their first daughter into the world. Unable to have certain conversations in the office or home, Robbie decided to build his own private office space in his backyard. It came to be affectionately known as his “Escape Pod”.
Shortly after building it, he noticed that his neighbors were using it for a few hours a day as well. He realized everyone—particularly people with an at-home business—needs a temporary work space sometimes. Then, he moved and couldn’t take his pod with him to his new house. These experiences left an impression on Robbie. He started asking himself, what if there could be a beautiful, outdoor work space that you didn’t need to buy? It could be portable and short-term, but useful when you need it.
Allison Zofan, one of Robbie’s neighbors who had used his original escape pod, enjoyed talking through Robbie’s questions and ideas. She had spent the past 12 years advising global leaders of corporate real estate (CRE) as a Senior Director at Gartner. She worked with heads of CRE at companies such as Google, Amazon, Nationwide Insurance, and Dell to optimize their portfolios and implement new workplace strategies. Robbie has known Allison’s husband since the fourth grade and they had recently become neighbors. That said, they were friends long before they ever considered working together.
Allison recalls walking back to her house the first day Robbie mentioned ootBox. She got about half way home before she turned around, went back to his house and spent the next two hours talking with him about all the ideas she had of what ootBox could become. These conversations continued for some time and the coffee conversations slowly started piling up and shifted to… “so is this a thing worth leaving the most stable, flexible job I’ll never be able to find again?” On the good days the answer was obvious, on the super stressful days the answer wasn’t so clear. But, she finally came to a point of, if not now, then when? She believes in the product and in the vision and will admit that sometimes you just have to take the leap. After providing a lot of free advice for Robbie, she officially quit her corporate job and joined team ootBox in December 2019.
Robbie and Allison started 2020 off with high hopes to officially launch their business that leases beautifully-designed, fully-furnished, and climate-controlled pods that meet an unmet demand for a portable “third place” for anyone, anywhere. After working through the prototyping phase and raising seed funding, Robbie and Allison officially brought their vision for ootBox to life in June 2020. Despite unexpected challenges and a sales strategy pivot brought on by the global pandemic, the two set out on a commitment to deliver inspiring work environments wherever they are needed, in a way that is environmentally friendly, socially conscious, and cooler than expected.
Within practically no time at all, Robbie and Allison saw where ootBox was most needed and went for it. With so many employees still working from home and left questioning when they’ll go back to the office while still helping the kids with virtual schooling, a “third space” to regroup, get work done, or even just have a moment of silence became a growing necessity for the everyday household.
Prior to the pandemic, ootBox had a number of pre-orders for boxes—all going to corporate campuses around the country. Once COVID-19 hit and people stopped going to the office, those pre-orders were placed on hold indefinitely. But what happened instead was really interesting—they started to have conversations that they would never have imagined pre-COVID. ootBoxes can be deployed for just about any application, from residential backyards, parking lots, and coffee shops to university campuses, shopping centers, medical facilities, and other public spaces. For example, BrewDog is currently using an ootBox to launch a rebrand and new product, as well as provide a private, reservable experience at some of their locations.
Pizutti is using an ootBox as an on-street leasing office in the Short North of Ohio so that rental prospects can hop in without too much contact. And numerous healthcare facilities are deploying ootBoxes as a way to provide their patients a comfortable and safe place for drive-thru lab services, testing, or treatment.
Despite the setbacks of the pandemic, Robbie and Allison kept their eyes on the vision for the company (and they continue to do so)—all based on the idea that at some point everyone needs a temporary “third space.” So while that “third space” looked different amidst COVID-19, their belief held true—everyone needs a temporary spatial solution to a temporary situation in life, whether it be for business, education, or simply a place for respite.
Made from 10-foot traditional shipping containers, ootBox is fully equipped with HVAC, turnkey furnishings, and flooring. A single ootBox is 8’W x 10’L x 8’6”H and weighs approximately 4,000 pounds. The exterior features a fiberglass outswing door, a smart lock, an expansive window, and signage panels. Interior elements include finished plywood walls and ceiling, carpeted flooring, motion sensor lighting, and a smart thermostat. An HVAC system and 20-amp power hookup make the product completely turnkey for immediate use upon delivery. An array of custom options are also available ranging from exterior branding (wraps and signage), exterior colors, interior wall materials or color, flooring, and furniture configurations.
The space is designed to inspire users to get creative and be productive. All they have to do is plug it into a traditional outlet and it uses less electricity than the typical hair dryer. This leasable office space can be delivered anywhere, anytime, to anyone. The concept is simple, ootBox is for anywhere you might need a comfortable and customizable temporary “third” space.
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