Josh Wyatt: From hip hostels to hip co-working spaces
Josh Wyatt: From hip hostels to hip co-working spaces
25 NOVEMBER 2019 7:00 AM

The man who put Generator Hostels on the map, Josh Wyatt, talks about life after that brand and his new passion, co-working space NeueHouse.

Last week, I attended the Sleep&Eat conference, which occupies a space at Olympia London that I do not believe I have stepped into since the International Motor Show, which ran from 1903 to 2008.

I cannot think why I would have gone to see a show on automobiles, when they are only useful to get me to places I can watch birds from, but I was young.

Sleep&Eat was once just Sleep, but they have evidently made restaurants a larger part of the mission. At last week’s show, they have done seemingly the same for investment and operations’ considerations, which was good to see, even though they have evidently not decided to further complicate the conference’s title.

The keynote panel on the Tuesday was given by Josh Wyatt, who co-founded and managed hip hostel brand Generator Hostels.

Wyatt was at Generator for almost a decade, and by the end of his time he had opened 14 assets. Then the whole lump and caboodle was sold in March 2017 to Queensgate Investments for €450 million ($497.6 million), and at the time I wrote that the deal was indicative of the niche’s maturation.

“They have not opened a single one since then,” Wyatt said, not with smugness but with a tale of how he personally needs to fully put together and grasp the vision for any buy or brand.

That does not mean Queensgate lack those qualities. In April 2019 and October 2019, the company bought four Grange Hotels assets and the Freehand Hotels brand for £1 billion ($1.3 billion) and $400 million, respectively.

“A lot has happened since selling Generator,” Wyatt said, who added he felt a sense of loss and wistfulness when the deal had completed. Cody Bradshaw, managing director and head of international hotels at Starwood Capital, said he felt the same about the Principal hotel brand he helped create when a good chunk was sold to French real estate investment trust Covivio “even though it was a success.”

That is, of course, what private equity does, but there always is an emotional component, even if you are not asked to display it at shareholder meetings.

This is what has happened to Wyatt: He decamped back to his native United States and fell across NeueHouse, a co-working brand that invests in historical buildings with a story to tell and develops cool space and programming that might include lectures, concerts, cooking classes and whatever else it dreams up or clients ask for.

For example, his Hollywood asset is in the original CBS Studios and contains screening rooms, event spaces, production services facilities, coffee bars, bars and other tempting baubles.

“It is a passion project, although one that has real financial implications. I fell in love with it,” Wyatt said, who with his team has recently finished another round of funding, which generated $30 million.

“NeueHouse is the pre-eminent, elevated co-working space. It is creativity and content,” Wyatt said, who added how he looks to his spaces to allow clients to breathe, be inspired and create world-shattering content, or words to that effect.

“There is always friction between finance and design, but (design) matters. It is necessary for survival, as ultimately the world is becoming more crowded in every aspect,” Wyatt said.

“When design, breakthrough moments and programming are mentioned to investors, alarm bells ring,” Wyatt said, who added his latest idea is for what he calls “microprogramming,” content that could be a jazz band or a lecture that last three to seven minutes and complements longer programming.

“That is what has happened to gyms. No one now goes to a 60- to 90-minute fitness class. They are shorter and with higher intensity,” he added.

The main takeaway from Wyatt’s talk and vision is that any ol’ brand can own the body, but owning the mind is a whole different thing and possibly the battleground on which all hospitality entities have pitched their artillery.

“How do you create the content and space to allow people to have truly meaningful moments?” Wyatt. “We want to take this to an extraordinary world-class level, and that takes time.”

It was good to chat with Wyatt, who looked stylish in a leather jacket with no collar and adds style to our industry, whether it’s in a rooms product or not.

There are two NeueHouse assets, one in New York City and one in Los Angeles, with a second in the City of Angels opening next month.

Someone asked about the possibility of NeueHouse adding hotel guestrooms.

Not quite yet, it seems, but “Never say never” was Wyatt’s reply.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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