In the diverse world of work, there are just a handful of commonly shared feelings. “This meeting could have been done by email”, or a simpler “what am I doing here?” are perhaps two of the most recurrent. In the world of business, these frustrations are coupled with other more particular reflections, such as the oddity of seminars being held in the basements of star-studded hotels, although they bear little resemblance to their luxurious rooms. Victor Carreau (33 years old, Paris,) was a strategic consultant at McKinsey and had extensive experience of meetings. For this reason, he decided to set up Comet with two other colleagues. Comet is a start-up for meeting places and, while it will never be able to overcome the aversion of some employees to these meetings, it at least endeavors to make it more pleasant for them.
Carreau talks to me on a video call. Although it may seem paradoxical, it certainly makes sense. This is firstly because he has just become a father, and secondly because this professional meetings guru aims to hold fewer — “but better”— get-togethers. The keys to a successful meeting, he argues, are clear. The right people should attend, they should know what they are there for, the right issues should be addressed, the meeting should be the right length— “ideally 45 minutes”— and, most importantly, it should be held in the right place. This is where the French start-up, which posted a turnover of €27 million ($29 million) last year and is now making a profit, is focusing all its efforts.
“Meeting in a basement with artificial lighting, cold food and bad coffee isn’t the same as gathering in a bright, well-decorated place with a view of a magnificent parquet floor,” summarizes Carreau. This is the spirit of the company’s Madrid office, located in Los Jerónimos neighborhood, one of the capital’s most sought-after areas, and opposite the Puerta de Felipe IV next to the Retiro Park. They also have seven other offices in Paris and Brussels.
Comet’s Madrid premises combine all the principles of its co-founder. All its rooms have natural light and on each of its six floors, decorated using themes related to the Retiro - the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace), the pond and the Moyano hill. There are also places to relax and socialize, all colorfully and diversely decorated. They also operate their own catering service to attend to their clients. According to Carreau, most of them are Ibex 35 companies or from its French equivalent, the CAC 40.
As she takes me on a tour of the building’s 1,900 square meters, Laure Cavalié, Comet’s director of institutional relations, tells me the idea is that clients don’t have to worry about the trivialities of meetings. IT specialists are at their disposal, so that rebellious PowerPoint presentations are not a stumbling block, and the whole space can be adapted to the needs of each meeting. Although this is not acknowledged, it includes the possibility of taking a nap on one of the many sofas. The company also has a “wellness manager” who conducts sessions with the groups to ensure that their meetings are as productive as possible.
The only two impediments to the baroque modernity of Comet Retiro’s decoration are the legal office that occupies two of the building’s floors and the building’s staircase, designed by the studio of the engineer Gustave Eiffel, a protected structure during the renovation of the facilities.
Much like Eiffel’s metal railing, Comet weathered the perfect storm for a business primarily focused on meetings: the Covid pandemic. In 2020, the French company incurred losses for the first time since it became profitable in 2017. However, Carreau says that the change experienced in the workplace paradigm since then has represented more of an opportunity than a hindrance. Teleworking distances workers, he argues, and companies have come to realize that they have to hold “fewer meetings and more seminars.” “The more teleworking a company engages in, the more it will need to come to Comet,” he concludes.
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