We caught up with the founders of Labyrinthe, a walk-in workspace and coworking hub in the heart of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. From offering a mobile app to integrating new protocols following the onset of COVID-19, Lyon Aung, Eric He, and Andrew Zhou are committed to listening to their members and providing solutions that make coworking in Labyrinthe an ideal remote work experience. Learn more about these three founders’ journey to building Labyrinthe and how they managed to create an optimal workspace in our latest interview.
What is your name? What is your background?
LYON AUNG: I’m Lyon Aung and I have been living in Queens, New York City ever since I immigrated to the U.S. from Myanmar as a child. My technical background is in design and I completed a myriad of commercial and personal projects ranging from graphic design, fashion, mobile app, and interior design before joining my co-founders on this latest venture.
ERIC HE: My name is Eric He and I grew up in New Jersey. I studied computer science in college and love learning about new technologies. I’ve mostly worked as a startup founder, and also had a brief stint as a software engineer at Amazon.
ANDREW ZHOU: I’m Andrew Zhou and I moved around quite a bit growing up. The places I’ve spent the most time in are California, New Jersey, and Beijing. I studied computer science in college but I always had a passion for real estate and thought a lot about how physical businesses impact the community around them.
How did you first discover coworking?
LYON AUNG: I first encountered coworking when I was an intern for different companies throughout my high school and college careers. Some of those opportunities did not provide traditional office settings, so I often found myself looking for places that allowed me to connect to their wi-fi (for extended periods of time) and concentrate on getting work done through the day.
ERIC HE: I’ve always heard about coworking spaces but never actually been in one until we built Labyrinthe. As somebody who worked in many undesirable spaces before, the idea of an open, productive, and comfortable space almost came naturally.
ANDREW ZHOU: The first coworking space I’ve been to was Capital Factory in Austin, Texas. I was visiting a friend and he had a membership there. It was quite an eye-opening experience discovering a place where all these new ideas and interesting people gathered.
How did the process of founding Labyrinthe begin?
LYON AUNG: We knew fairly quickly that we wanted to create a place for work but this abstract idea underwent many iterations and took on various shapes and forms before we determined that what we really wanted to create was a truly technologically-driven workspace.
To do that, we spent half a year strategizing, prototyping and iterating on the proprietary lock system that would become the technical backbone of our entire operations. Simultaneously, we built out a mobile app and scoured all over New York City to find a space that was well situated and large enough to carry out this goal.
Eventually, we had the luck of opening our doors a few weeks right before COVID-19 closures started to take effect. And while the onset of such closures proved to be difficult, we made the most out of the remainder of quarantine. We really focused our energy on how we could ready the workspace for a safe yet value-adding experience for our customers.
ERIC HE: Labyrinthe was born out of frustration with the current state of working options in the city. As a startup founder who had a strong need for good workspace while on a budget, coffee shops in the area were too uncomfortable while traditional coworking like WeWork was too expensive. We wanted to combine the strengths of both to create a unique and affordable experience for our customers.
Originally we considered many different options such as a turnstile or a physical token for check-in. Eventually we decided that an app was the best solution, and started designing the workspace so it was completely centered around mobile.
ANDREW ZHOU: In some sense, we stumbled into it. Before Labyrinthe, we were working on a technology product that services commercial spaces. We didn’t have an office and were camping out of local coffee shops. We faced many limitations at coffee shops like the lack of outlets, throttled wifi, and inconsistent seating options. It sort of dawned on us that we would have enjoyed being in an affordable coworking space that replicates a coffee shop environment in a storefront location. So that is exactly what we did.
It did not take long for us to reach a consensus on creating Labyrinthe. We then started iterating on different ideas and thought hard about how we can leverage our background in tech to create the optimal workspace.
How would you describe the community at your coworking space?
LYON AUNG: Eclectic and ever-evolving. We’ve already been home to a wonderful mix of students, freelancers, remote, and gig workers pre-COVID19. However, after reopening we’ve also had the pleasure of welcoming many new customers (who normally would be at their company’s offices) with open arms.
ERIC HE: Our community is extremely local. We are proud to be a part of the Williamsburg community and support all of the people around us.
ANDREW ZHOU: A very diverse community. There are artists, engineers, sales people, designers, and even local residents who just want to get out of the house for a couple of hours.
What makes Labyrinthe unique? What do members find most valuable?
LYON AUNG: Access, affordability and flexibility. We really want to make it normal for spaces to be check-in/check-out friendly where customers view coworking as another norm in their lives at this point rather than this very niche solution for a small subsection of the population. Going to a coworking space need not be limited between the hours of 9 to 5 on weekdays. You don’t have to plan to come to Labyrinthe which I think is our biggest selling point.
ANDREW ZHOU: Labyrinthe focuses on affordability and flexibility so that coworking can become commonplace in people’s lives.
Our members find great value in our innovative check-in system. Our workstations function like Citi Bike. Each chair is locked to a desk using a specially designed magnet. You unlock a workstation using our mobile app by scanning the corresponding QR code. This creates a seamless check-in system—all a user needs to do is get our app, then they can come in whenever they want and pop a chair open. They can even check the store occupancy level before they come.
What would you say are the key characteristics of the coworking scene in NYC, or Brooklyn specifically?
LYON AUNG: Interdependency aptly describes just how intertwined (and symbiotic) the New York City coworking scene has become over the last few years. From our personal experience, individuals who use coworking services are more likely to have been members of several coworking places before. The decision to switch coworking spaces tends to be guided by location, type of work one is currently doing and whether or not one finds the membership to be a valuable one.
Specific to Brooklyn, I think you’ll find that coworking spaces are (or should strive to be) a vital partner in their local communities as many of the businesses we share the block with are operator-owned, small businesses.
Therefore, the expectation to mesh and collaborate well with others is certainly greater than that of a coworking location in Manhattan where your neighbors are just corporate offices of other companies.
ANDREW ZHOU: Coworking has its roots in NYC. Coworking spaces have long been popular and served a diverse array of startups and enterprises. However, the coworking scene is also evolving quickly. Remote working is becoming the new normal. Most people are going to work remotely at least for part of their week going forward. At Labyrinthe, we want to make coworking space a commonplace option by intensely focusing on affordability and flexibility.
What are the key ingredients for operating a successful coworking space?
ANDREW ZHOU: The most important thing is listening to our customers. For example, many customers tell us they need to make video-conferencing calls, so we bought phone booths. We consider every detail of our space, from the coffee we serve to the music we play, and ensure everything we do aligns with the values of our community.
Do you host any special member events to bring your community together?
ERIC HE: We are starting to open up our backyard for events. Having a large space in the heart of Williamsburg, we hope to eventually use our space to help feature local businesses, artists and creators in the area as well. If you have a brand or event that you want featured at Labyrinthe, feel free to contact us!
ANDREW ZHOU: We have been hosting events ranging from corporate events to stand up comedies in our outdoor area, following COVID-19 prevention guidelines and policies. Our community is the community of Williamsburg, and we host events for local small businesses and residents.
How did the consequences of COVID-19 impact your business?
LYON AUNG: It has forced us to be far better researched and calculated in our decision making. Whether we’re making a technological, business, spatial, or health and safety decision, we have to be mindful of all the things that can go wrong in addition to what we’re trying to do right. Above all, that’s why we’ve made sure that any new changes we make to our space and product can also be amended upon as needed.
ERIC HE: We’ve learned to pay more attention to what our customers are telling us. Customers behave differently and expect different things post COVID-19. By having a constant dialogue with our customers, we are able to move fast and make decisions quickly. We had to make many changes to make sure our customers feel safe while maintaining a positive and productive energy.
What changes have you made to make things safer and more efficient for members post-COVID-19?
LYON AUNG: In addition to limiting maximum occupancy, putting up barriers and changing the layout of our space to accommodate social distancing measures, we’ve also implemented a mobile coffee/tea order system and additional disinfecting measures to ensure the safety of our staff and customers. It remains an iterative process where we defer to the safety guidelines as set by the State of New York and other health and safety expert bodies.
ERIC HE: We’ve separated desks to respect social distancing, starting wiping down desks every time they’re used, and regularly disinfecting our space. If there is something that can be automated and incorporated into our app, we try to do so. Our goal is to create a space completely powered by technology so our customers can easily come in and out and do their thing.
ANDREW ZHOU: The Labyrinthe mobile app is the driver of our store experience. From checking in to ordering drinks, customers can do everything contactlessly using the app. We also redesigned areas where there were a lot of common seatings and made sure every customer has their own safe “island”. And of course, we sanitize every table and phone booth after each use.
How would you like people to remember your coworking space?
LYON AUNG: We truly think that remote work, gig work, and online learning have already become far more commonplace even before the COVID-19 pandemic. So, I hope we’re able to become one of the pioneers in the coworking space that embraces this new fluidity of work.
ERIC HE: If you ever need a spot in the city to get work done, get away, or take a break, Labyrinthe will be here to welcome you.
ANDREW ZHOU: That place where every member in our local community feels comfortable staying at and comes to be productive.
To learn more about Labyrinthe, visit their listing on Coworker here.
Coworking Founders Founders Feature Interviews Labyrinthe New York City