Pitching an idea to a potential client, media planner Bhushan Gaikwad walks away from his desk, leaving his neighbour Shravan Singh, an online video producer, to peacefully edit a video on his MacBook.
Across from Singh, hunched over their laptops, 24-year-old Jayesh Gopalan and his team of two are desperately trying to crack a code for a new software solution.
Amidst the buzz and chaos typical of any office, this pack of professionally-poles-apart freelancers and start-ups share workstations, a pantry, a meeting room and a smoking lounge with SutraHR, a four-year-old recruitment consultancy firm in Andheri, which for the past two years has been renting its spare workstations out for fixed monthly sums.
"The biggest challenge for a start-up is finding office space that you can afford," says Waqar Azmi, co-founder of SutraHR. "My first office was in a one-room chawl in Adarsh Nagar. So when we grew and scaled up, my partner and I decided to partially cover our expenses by renting spare seats, thus also helping other entrepreneurs."
In two years, occupancy has not dipped below 50%.
And SutraHR are not the only ones. With the cost of office space soaring as real-estate rates continue to rise, small start-ups are renting out space for freelancers and other start-ups eager to share the overheads involved.
Five such spaces have opened up in Mumbai over the past three years - SutraHR, Bombay Connect, RedQuanta, Sobo Connect and Ave 29.
"These spaces reflect the needs of the changing global economy of the city and a trend towards self-employment amongst the urban middle classes," says sociologist Gita Chadha. "They almost seem to herald the emergence of a new, white-collar unorganised sector."
Typically, these co-working spaces offer a workspace, wi-fi, basic conference room and pantry with refrigerator, microwave and coffee-vending machine for monthly rents that range from Rs 5,000 to Rs 7,500 per seat.
Young entrepreneurs and freelancers can easily park themselves here with their laptops and gain organised infrastructure and the company of others, with the added advantage of possible networking opportunities.
"As our corporate environment shifts towards a more open and people-centric structure, physical constraints such as geography, office space, infrastructure and connectivity are bound to dissolve," says Surabhi Mathur Gandhi, senior vice-president of headhunting firm TeamLease. "These spaces are a step in that direction."
For the users, these spaces are a blessing in a city starved of space and infrastructure.
"Right now, I don't have to worry about buying office furniture, paying electricity bills, setting up the internet etcetera etcetera," says freelance stock trader Aditya Jain, 24.
Jain has been working out of SutraHR for two months, advising clients on investment options on the phone, laptop and even in the shared conference room, with two other freelance stock traders for company, working independently out of the same space.
"After the market closes, we often chat over smokes about the economy and industry trends," says Jain.
Besides being cost-effective, co-working spaces also promote the sharing of ideas, skills and knowledge.
"It's great to be able to test-run ideas even when you don't have a team," says Kumaran Mahendran, a marketing consultant who quit his job in the Philippines and returned to India last year to start Moojik, a music-related start-up with friend Neha Behani. "There is also pantry gossip, ordering food together. Co-working is way livelier than working from home."
After a year of hunting for affordable offices space, the duo rented out two seats two months ago at RedQuanta, a mystery-shopping company in Andheri that, like SutraHR, rents out its extra spaces.
Three of the seven seats at this six-month-old space are already taken. Mahendran hopes to soon hire two people and take two more.
"Just like Bangalore and Pune, Mumbai too is fast emerging as a start-up hub," says RedQuanta founder Pankaj Guglani, who had started his own career in a rented workspace at SutraHR. "The scope for community offices and co-working spaces will only grow in the future."