Montreal startup sells peace and quiet in the city

Business is booming for a Montreal startup that sells privacy, peace and quiet for $15 an hour.

Breather co-founder Julien Smith says the business will expand across North America

CBC's Shawn Apel gives you a tour of a Breather Room in downtown Montreal, which you can rent for $15 an hour. 0:57

How much is is a little bit of solitude worth to you in the middle of the busy, noisy city?

The people behind a Montreal startup think they’ve figured out the answer: $15 an hour.

The business concept is simple: Clients download an app to their smartphones, and then reserve small rooms  complete with sofa, chairs, a small table, and a yoga mat  in office buildings, for an hour or more.

A user shows up at the room as a reservation is beginning, and receives a code on his or her phone to unlock the door. Behind the door, the sound of silence.

“I thought about this idea of private space, and how important it is for people to have because it’s really rare,” said Julien Smith, one of the co-founders of Breather.

“You never get access to it in your public life. You never get access to private space — ever — even though you probably need it.”

How it works

Smith says business in Montreal is booming, since Breather started operating in the fall with one room, and $1.5 million raised from investors.

The startup is up to five rooms; the most popular (and smallest) is a tiny 125 square-foot spot on McGill College Avenue, just south of Sainte-Catherine Street.

So what do people use Breather rooms for? Smith said they use them for small meetings, or a place to work or study, away from distractions.

Concordia University student Alexa Love said she used the rooms to get schoolwork done — and sometimes, just to close her eyes, away from the noise of the typical student’s refuge: the coffee shop.

“When I’ve got a few hours between my classes, it’s not worth it to go home,” Love said. “So, I can just go there and nap for a bit.”

Another client, Chris Ince, owns a gym and fitness company, and said the rooms are perfect for a quiet place to talk to employees.

“Meetings at the gym can get super-distracting,” Ince said. “Someone will knock on the door or something will happen.”

As for what else happens in Breather’s rooms — or doesn’t happen — Smith is unequivocal: people are not having sex or taking drugs there.

“I was worried about it — probably more than the next guy because I run this company,” Smith said, adding that he was relieved to discover he had nothing to worry about. Besides, Smith said, illegal or immoral activities are against Breather’s terms of service.

Breather is betting that silence is a commodity people will be willing to pay for in cities across North America.

It’s set to launch in New York City within a week or two, and promises launches in San Francisco, Austin, Texas and San Francisco after that.