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The co-working revolution: How the newer spaces have evolved to keep up with competition

Clinical cubicles to stunning decor: co-working spaces have adapted to the tastes of their hipster crowd. But can they survive the global start-up slowdown?

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Aug 12, 2016 21:06 IST
Soma Das
co-working

Clinical cubicles to stunning decor: co-working spaces have adapted to the tastes of their hipster crowd. But can they survive the global start-up slowdown?

It’s a rainy Monday morning. The sort that sees offices running half-strength. But not at Garage, a month-old, 9,000 sqft co-working space in Lower Parel that’s all hipster-ish glass-front metal container acting as a meeting room, and shocking red phone booths for one-on-one sessions.

Jasmin Lord (35), belongs to the cult of the start-ups. She runs a digital platform, called Happie (yes, deliberately misspelt; because you can’t really call it ‘Happy’, can you?), which “curates” jokes in Indian languages.

Read: Goodbye Cubicles: The office space has changed

Lord doesn’t just work here for the Wi-Fi and the quirky decor. A start-up’s blood supply is funding. And Jet Labs (a division of JetSyntheses, backed by Infosys co-founder Kris Gopalakrishnan; they run Garage) houses her platform, and funds it.

A glass-front metal container acts as a meeting room at Garage (Photo: Garage)

Get this: JetSynthesys has invested $3 million (Rs 20 crore) to running the co-working space, and funding promising start-ups housed in it. Evidently, there’s no better time to run a start-up.

But one of the big game-changers among co-working spaces has been Ministry of New, Fort. Founded by Dutch nationals Marlies Bloemendaal and Natascha Chadha, Ministry of New opened in April. And the 8,000 sqft space set the benchmark for how good such spaces look. Ministry of New looks straight out of a design magazine (in fact, Architecture Digest raved about it when they launched): its furnishings include ikkat-upholstered sofas, and a Lekha Washington Moon Dot Chair. Bloemendaal offers something extra, by acting as an advisor for those working at the space: “We’re not selling chairs and tables; we’re offering exposure. I help people connect with others who might assist them,” she says. A monthly membership here costs Rs 19,500, slightly steeper than the older crop of co-working spaces.

Harkat Studios in Andheri (Photo: Harkat Studios)

The numbers game

There are also spaces like Harkat Studios (Andheri) which cater to freelancers. It has a “living-room feel”: so no walls, just angled furniture creating sections. “A lot of freelancers want an ‘office’ to go to, but can’t afford it. Working from home can be counterproductive, and coffee shops are expensive,” says Michaela Strobel, co-founder of Harkat Studios.

Costs of co-working spaces range from an affordable Rs 300 per day (Awfis) to Rs 1,000 a day (Meuble), and upward. “I’ve worked at the earlier co-working spaces, but I was shelling almost Rs 20,000 per month for a space that was a lot more basic,” says Shaheena Attarwala, a user experiential designer (analyses the usability of the product to the consumer) and strategist at Wizgo Technologies, who now works from Ministry of New.

Awfis has been designed as a colourful workspace by international design firm, Nelson, and features energy-saving lights and recyclable aluminium partitions (Photo: Awfis)

The mushrooming of cutting-edge co-working spaces would appear linked to the growth of the start-up industry in India (NASSCOM, in 2015, ranked India third in global start-up ecosystems, with more than 4,200 new-age companies). And that makes co-working practical: cheaper monthly memberships means you can leave with minimal losses if your business falters. No wonder, the demand has gone up. Awfis, for instance, has seen numbers double every month since its inception in July, 2015. The decor, of course, is purely a way to lure a hipster-ish generation.

Past, present, future

But before “co-working” turned hip, its predecessors were business centres in Mumbai (2000 onward), such as Regus and Vatika Business Centre. They were functional and clinical (desk, internet, printers). The first wave of co-working offices came into being around 2012, with spaces like Bombay Connect and The Playce offering warmer workspaces.

Co-working magazine Deskmag’s forecast for India is that over 10,000 co-working spaces will open by the end of 2016. Already, we know of the upcoming Rise, funded by UK banking giant Barclays. Awfis is also planning to launch seven new outlets in Mumbai in the next six months. Garage, too, is planning more centres.

Ministry of New in Fort; the owners have stuck to a mellow colour scheme and incorporated the original window shutters of the heritage building in its decor (Photo: Aalok Soni/HT)

Into choppy waters?

But things aren’t all hunky-dory. Reports of a global economic slowdown could seriously affect funding for start-ups. A KPMG report in April says $6.5 billion (approx Rs 43,348 crore) was invested in venture capital-backed start-ups in Asia during the first financial quarter of 2016, down from $14.3 billion (approx Rs 95,373 crore) two quarters back. Globally, co-working spaces remain nascent, an alternative experiment, with experts unsure of the effect of the slowdown.

“Even in a worst-case scenario, digital agencies and software developers don’t rely much on funding. There are also cockroach start-ups — low-budget companies that don’t rely on funds and earn their way. So, there will always be demand,” insists Karan Bareja, VP of Jet Labs.

Garage at Lower Parel (Photo: Garage)

Sumit Lakhani, chief marketing officer, Awfis, has a different take. “If there are cost-cutting measures, a shared workspace could actually be the solution for ventures short on cash,” he says.

At a time when people can work from any space with Wi-Fi, co-working is offering the whole package — décor, funds, and basic human connect. It remains to be seen if they’ll replace my office desk and yours in the long run.

Harkat Studios caters to freelancers (Photo: Harkat Studios)

5 new co-working spaces to check out

Awfis
At: Churchgate, Lower Parel, Andheri, Powai, Vashi
Visit awfis.com
Price: Rs 4,500 for a flexible seat per month; Rs 13,000 for a private cabin seat; daily price Rs 300

Ministry of New
At: Kitab Mahal, Fort
Call: 097693 30848
Visit facebook.com/ministryofnew
Price: 5-day packages for Rs 5,500; Rs 19,500 for monthly membership

Garage
At: Sun Mills, Lower Parel
Visit: facebook.com/Garagebyjetlabs
Price: Rs 12,000 per month

Harkat Studios
At: Bungalow 75, JP Road, Andheri (W)
Call: 2635 0064
Visit: facebook.com/HarkatStudios

Up in the air
At: Ador House, Kala Ghoda, Fort.
Price: Rs 10,000 per month for students, Rs 15,000 for a start-up
Email: launchpad@upintheair.in