​Business or pleasure? The apps and trends that are blurring boundaries

The worlds of the office and the home are starting to merge through apps and physical co-living spaces.
Written by Frances Marcellin, Contributor on

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Mixing business and pleasure has long been inadvisable. But the hard lines between the two are softening, with relationships based on shared personal and professional interests becoming more important to the careers of entrepreneurs and freelancers all over the world.

Despite French culture traditionally not lending itself to business and pleasure networking as easily as the US's or UK's, the country's tech startup ecosystem is producing new models that are changing business networking.

"Business dating" app Shapr promotes networking as a lifestyle and made over made 7.5 million professional matches in 2017.

Founded by French entrepreneur and CEO Ludovic Huraux, Shapr is most popular in New York and Paris, each with around 1.1 million matches in 2017, followed by London on 750,000 matches.

"The culture of networking in Paris is less strong, but in New York they know that their network is a big asset to career and that's why they are very open to meeting someone just for a coffee," says Huraux.

"Even if there if there is not a specific goal, you can accelerate your serendipity, and they really believe in the power of serendipity."

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Familiarity with dating apps such as Tinder, where users swipe right or swipe left to select or dismiss matches, has helped pave the way for Shapr's rapid growth.

"In French culture, people are a little bit more correctional when they meet others, because they're looking for a job, or when they are entrepreneurs, because they're looking for investors, or for mentors. So it's more complicated to promote this kind of networking," he says. "But it's changing, especially with the millennial generation."

Shapr is now acquiring more than 80,000 signups a month with most users aged between 25 and 45 years. The changing professional culture and lifestyle preferences of millennials have played a significant part in Shapr's rise in helping people avoid the usual networking barriers.

Huraux also thinks the new ways people want to work feeds Shapr's fast-growing sign-up rate.

"To change your life, you need to network a lot and connect socially. The way people work is very different now," he says. "The new millennial generation want meaning in their life and to find a job that fits with their values."

French entrepreneur Marina Mengue launched OkReco in October 2017. Her vision is to connect people based on trust and combine their daily professional and personal lives.

"People feel frustrated about how to find an easy balance between working and private life," she says. She believes that people find connecting with the right people difficult because most mobile apps do not show the hard and soft skills, or the qualities and values of their users. This failing, she says, leads to a lack of trust.

"The boundaries are completely blurring now between personal and professional networking in many developed countries, such as France," she says.

"OkReco, aware of modern society, has invented a solution for people to thrive in their career, developing new business interests or networking, while blossoming in their personal life through people they can personally trust," she says.

Paris-based Damien Courbon, founder of Swapcard, an event networking app operating 50 events each month in France and overseas, also believes that creating trust is the key to making meaningful connections.

Serving an average of 1,500 attendees per event, users are matched by keywords, which can include business skills or interests and job positions.

"We can see that the lines are blurring between business and personal networking during meet-ups, cocktail parties or other informal networking events," says Courbon. "Co-working and co-living spaces are definitely places propitious to it, as well as train stations, airports and hotels."

As the number of freelancers and entrepreneurs has grown in France over the past decade, so have co-working spaces and networking opportunities.

A McKinsey study reported that the independent workforce in the US and across 15 European countries, including France and the UK, is larger than previously recognized at 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population.

In France this figure was confirmed by a study from Malt , France's most popular freelancing website. A report by Upwork and Freelancers Union estimates that freelancers will make up most of the US workforce by 2027.

The concept of co-working has grown in popularity since it launched in New York in 2005. In France from around 2008, along with the gradual increase of entrepreneurs and the government's introduction of the "auto-entrepreneur" regime, the concept has exploded, particularly among millennials.

Robin Rivaton, CEO of Choose Paris Region and founder of Real Estech, a non-profit organization dedicated to driving innovation in France's property tech -- 'proptech' or 'realestech', as it is sometimes referred to in France -- says two to three percent of workspace is currently dedicated to co-working in Paris

But he points out that studies, like one by ORIE, estimate the figure could reach 10 to 20 percent in the next five years.

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"Real estate is a strategic sector in our economies in which there are plenty of entrepreneurs," says Rivaton, adding that because the sector suffers from a lack of capital Real Estech will be launching the first European venture-capital fund dedicated to these startups.

A monthly event and Rivaton's new book, L'immobilier demain, des rentiers aux entrepreneurs, are further driving awareness of this growing sector.

The co-working phenomenon in France appears to have acted as a catalyst for the increasing interest in co-living accommodation, despite high market prices and unfamiliarity with the business model.

Usually a cross between student digs and a plush hotel room, with shared facilities, services such as fast Wi-Fi and spaces, they are flexible, community-driven and inclusive, with one monthly payment usually covering all the bills.

After modern, design-led co-living spaces took off in the US, such as WeLive, and the UK's The Collective, co-living startups in Paris, such as Colonies and Koalition, are slowing gaining more interest.

Station F, founded by French entrepreneur Xavier Neil, should draw more people to the concept with a co-living housing extension that is due to launch in summer 2018. Located around 3km away in Ivry-sur-Seine, 100 apartments will house 600 entrepreneurs in a co-living environment.

Although the French have not traditionally been fond of the co-living concept, Real Estech's Rivaton confirms that people are becoming more accustomed the idea.

"They want to be closer than ever to be sure they can connect with the right people, in both a job and personal situation," he says.


"Business dating" app Shapr made around 1.1 million matches last year in New York, and about the same number in Paris.

Image: Shapr

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