Room to Grow

Room to Grow

Co-working spaces are offering start-ups a like-minded community and a feeling that they belong to something bigger.

Co-founder Pranay Gupta (centre) with entrepreneurs working out of 91springboard, Noida (Photo: Shekhar Ghosh)
Sonal Khetarpal
  • Delhi,
  • Oct 15, 2016,
  • Updated Oct 19, 2016, 1:49 PM IST

The days of hogging the corner table at a coffee shop for hours together armed with a laptop and cappuccino, could well be passe for the budding entrepreneur. Start-ups and freelancers are ditching bean bags and bar stools for chairs and desks at co-working spaces that provide a conducive launchpad for their entrepreneurial journey.

Meet Om Kanwar who, after working for 15 years, left his job at Cadence Design Systems to start an online math learning platform Edugain. Strapped for cash, he decided to rent a small room in South Delhi as his office space. When he called in candidates for interviews, he ended up dodging questions about the office space and the nondescript location. Clearly, the tiny space wasn't helping attract good talent, even though they liked the job offered. "Female content writers wouldn't have agreed to join me if I was working out of a small office in some shady location," says Kanwar.

A premium salary package and ESOPs are no longer enough. Employees deem a decent pantry, meeting rooms and break-out areas as basic amenities in the workplace. However, it is not viable for cash-crunched start-ups to offer these facilities, given the skyrocketing rentals, advance deposits and uncooperative landlords.

Kanwar moved to a co-working space called 91springboard in Noida in April. It worked well for him. Due to his corporate background, he was used to being in open spaces, having people around, and the amenities taken care of. "None of these I could have afforded in my own office. It is like being a part of a bigger organisation," he says.

Co-working spaces are convenient because companies or individuals can pay as per use. If they expand their team or downsize, they pay for the workstations they actually use. Such flexibility relieves start-ups from the burden of admin work. "You can rest assured that you will never get good Internet connection unless you spend big bucks. There will be times when Internet is down and you will spend hours dealing with the telecom providers who aren't the most professional people," says Amarjeet Singh, Co-founder of energy analytics company Zenatix. His team worked out of Gurgaon-based co-working space Investopad for 17 months, before he set up his own office nearby.

A brainstorming session can turn into a loud banter in minutes, distracting co-workers. According to Oxford Economics, 68 per cent of the 1,200 workers it surveyed this year across industries hailed a 'distraction-free environment' among their top three priorities for their workplace. Josh Bersin, Founder of Bersin by Deloitte, can't agree more. "One common complaint I constantly hear is not having enough conference rooms."

Co-working spaces, which actually encourage collaboration, are handling it smartly. Innov8 has installed a software based on IoT (Internet of Things) for decibel monitoring across its centres. 91springboard leverages its community managers at each hub to monitor the noise levels. A couple of users this writer spoke to said even if there are loud people around at times, it doesn't affect their productivity.

Infosys's Kris Gopalakrishnan interacting with start-ups at one of BHIVE's events (Courtesy: BHIVE)

They are also providing a combination of spaces at work - quiet rooms, meeting rooms, cabins and such. In its fourth location, BHIVE has 40 per cent of the space dedicated to sound-proof cabins, based on feedback from users. "We have started using modular furniture so workspace design can be modified as per demand," says Ravindra.

Even though viable, one of the common reasons companies move out of co-working spaces is economics. Aakriti Bhargava of Boring Brands moved out at 33 people. It got expensive for her to work out of such a space when the employee strength exceeded 25; plus she was keen on expanding her team. Most co-working spaces charge Rs 8,000 to 10,000 per desk for a month. But she misses the frills that came with working at 91springboard. "The networking sessions were great stress busters, and we could network without any effort. Also, I still can't afford the boardroom we had there."

However, the per capita cost to work out of a private office in a prime location would be higher per person, than what it would be at a co-working space.

Some like Varun Khaitan of UrbanClap, who worked from CoworkIn, believe there comes a time to move out. "If you need to grow your company, you need to push yourself a lot, stare at empty spaces for long hours and come to solutions," he says. This, he adds, doesn't happen in co-working spaces, which are buzzing with people and distraction is just a "hi" away.

Co-working space providers are addressing this by designing offices that are conducive for all kinds of users - from those seeking open desks to those who want a quiet space.

Currently, there are no examples of billion-dollar companies emanating from co-working spaces. But the future holds promise. The trend, says Spreitzer, has picked up only in the past four years. "These companies are still new and not much time has elapsed to reach the conclusion that they are not financially successful. There are, however, quite a few examples of start-ups that have flourished in these spaces, and of large companies sending their employees to work in co-working spaces," she says.

The co-working space is also attracting interest from bigger companies, especially ones looking to foray into a city or country. There are some who want to be amidst the start-up community for strategic reasons. For instance, the R&D team of the non-banking financial company Neogrowth, which is backed by Omidyar Network, Aspada Investment Company and Khosla Impact, works out of BHIVE to be connected to the tech community in Bangalore.

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