Choosing the right co-working space

Entrepreneurs play a very important role in helping the economy to progress, and it's become much easier for Indian founders to create a startup. The ecosystem has matured, and thanks to advances in SMAC technologies ( social, mobility, analytics and cloud), it's become relatively inexpensive to launch a technology startup. Seed stage capital is available, and it's possible to compete with the big boys because startups have the advantage of being nimble and agile.

However, real estate is still very over-priced in most Indian cities, and in the past, a huge problem used to be the availability of office space. This is why the introduction of co-working spaces has been such a big boon for entrepreneurs. They can hire as much space as they need, with the required infrastructure, without shelling out big bucks or wasting time and energy in cajoling a landlord to give them space.

There are now lots of co-working spaces available today , and it can be quite confusing for founders to know which to pick.

I spoke to Amanveer Singh ( of WEstart Coworking space, and here's some dope from an insider !

Why do founders prefer coworking space over an individual office?

Founders understand the future is uncertain, which is why they don't want to waste money on office space they don't need. When they are small, they don't need much, but if they are successful and need to grow, if they have their own office, they will quickly outgrow this, and will then have to waste a lot of time, money and energy in moving to a new one. This can be a major headache and a pointless distraction. A coworking space offers them the flexibility to get more space in the same location as they grow, and this can be invaluable in helping the team to remain stable as the product matures. Coworking spaces provide the right environment to continue uninterrupted operations - even if you need to downsize !

Also,it's a huge pain to tackle office administrative chores while you are still a small team. Fixed operating costs maybe too high for founders to manage. Coworking spaces handle these headaches, which allows founders to focus on more important issues.

Isn't is cheaper and easier to work from home for a small team ?

For a team of 2-3. sitting at home might make sense initially. But, as they continue working for longer hours, it becomes monotonous for them to sit at the same place for hours. Also, there are endless distractions, and people are not likely to take you seriously if you have a residence as your address. A coworking space helps you to appear professional, and shows you are serious. It also helps them to connect with new individuals and companies , which stimulates the exchange of ideas , and meeting potential partners , possible employees, and future clients. A coworking space provides a vibrant and stimulating environment, because the energy levels are high and it's buzzing with activity all the time. And while it's fine to meet clients at a Starbucks for the first meeting, if they are serious about using your services, they will want to check out your office. 

And making sure all the team members work from the same space helps to promote communication and camaraderie. Most startups employ young first-time employees, who need the discipline of coming to office in order to ensure they apply their mind when at work.

How does one select the right co-working space?

As real estate agents say, the formula is simple - Location, Location, Location. The space should be well-connected and easily accessible, so that employees don't waste precious time commuting. It should be open 24/7, so people can work when they want, and as they want.

Is there an infrastructure check-list for a founder?

Reliable and fast internet; 24 x 7 power back up; A/C; lively environment; lots of coffee on tap; easy access to mentors and advisors

What about pricing ?

 For any founder, the co-working space rental/ pricing/membership fee consumes a big chunk of his budget initially. Plan in advance for your future hires, and choose a coworking space that suits your budget. For example, if you take a space with 6k/per seat , a team of 3 will cost 18k. But, if you take a space with 3k/per month, a team of 3 will cost you only 9k. Adding a member is easier since you are less worried about the additional rental fee.

Are these spaces restricted to only startups ?

No, with the increasing demand for co-working spaces, many small companies, freelancers, advocates and CA's have selected a co-working space to operate their business. Each space has its own niche, and it will be interesting to see how they compete with each other .

Do co-working spaces play games with pricing ?

Even when selecting a co-working space, you need to do your homework, and always remember that prices are negotiable. Most spaces will quote different prices , according to their assessment of your capacity to pay. The best spaces have a published price list, but you can always bargain for a discount !

Co-working spaces can vary widely in their pricing, and a lot of this also depends upon the service they offer. The swanky ones are in up-market areas, and are "cool". They offer "full stack" facilities, and have posh interiors.

Any thing else founders should keep an eye out for ?

Make sure you are assigned a good spot. Is the cell reception good ? What's the noise level ? Are you very close to the main door ( which means you are more likely to get disturbed by   passers-by ?) Since this is such an important decision, you should plan to spend 2-3 days in the space before making your final decision.

One of the concerns is that of poaching , and you might worry that you may lose your star coder to a sexier startup in the same space. Yes, this is a risk, which is why you should treat your employees well - you may actually attract some from the neighbouring startups ! Give the fact that everyone is quite young, " office romances" may distract some of your more impressionable employees - and there is little you can do about this.

Do coworking spaces treat startup founders well ?

The smart co-working space owners understand that their users are their best source of referrals, and go out of their way to keep them happy. Also, while it's great to be able to provide a fancy ambience, the truth is that this comes at a cost , which the startup needs to bear. Most startup employees are so focussed on their work, that they usually don't care much about the interiors - and no one leaves just because you don't have silk carpets on your floors !

What will the coworking spaces scene look like 3 years from now ?

Coworking spaces right now are focussed on scaling up and grabbing market share and mind space. They will start competing on price once the market starts getting saturated. Frugal coworking space owners build as they grow, and scale up their infrastructure as their occupancy builds up. Big Market players invest huge amount of capital in Infrastructure and Location, they are not at a liberty to scale as they grow bigger , but have to provide everything up-market even before they launch.

What has your experience with co-working spaces been ?

-By Dr. Aniruddha Malpani

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