Looking at a partially owned building was all it took for two men – Miguel McKelvey and Adam Neumann – to kick start the concept of a co-working space for entrepreneurs. And that idea was born almost a decade ago.
American co-working space operator WeWork began in New York in April 2011, before expanding across other American cities like Boston, Chicago, Berkeley, Los Angeles, etc. It is today a global co-working brand, and its spaces have become synonymous with amenities such as free beer, stocked fridges, and foosball tables. The community lifeblood that WeWork is trying to build has obviously grown.
Co-working today has evolved from just an office space alternative for entrepreneurs, hipsters, freelancers into an attractive business solution for companies of all sizes. Its plug-and-play options are more affordable and convenient as opposed to traditional offices, at least in the beginning. That’s why its reception, has spread beyond its origin.
As Southeast Asia’s vibrant tech ecosystem continues to attract hot money from tech giants, VCs, etc, there is also the corresponding increase in demand for flexible and affordable office options.
The region’s co-working sector has leased more than 8 million square feet over the last two years. And companies including JustCo, EV Hive, and KMC Solutions collectively account for over 50% of the market in 2017.
Eyeing the huge potential in the region’s growing market, WeWork forayed into the region, beginning with Singapore at end-2017, and further launched another 3 new sites last month.
KrASIA recently caught up with WeWork Managing Director (Southeast Asia) Turochas “T” Fuad to learn more about the company’s plans for the region, and how WeWork intends to compete in this competitive co-working and property market.
The following interview was edited for brevity and clarity:
KrASIA (K): How do you see the concept of co-working space as part of the startup ecosystem here in Southeast Asia? Can you provide examples of the successful startups that have spawned out of WeWork in Southeast Asia?
Fuad (F): WeWork is a platform for creators. We provide beautiful workspaces, an inspiring community, and meaningful business services to thousands of members from startups and freelancers to small businesses and large corporations around the world. And we help our members do what they love. We aim to fill the gaps faced by today’s evolving workforces in areas of flexible, curated, communal workspaces.
Some notable startups in WeWork’s Southeast Asia community:
1) Indeed.com’s Singapore engineering centre grew with us from Beach Centre. It upgraded to an office suite for up to 50 people in June, before moving to an even bigger dedicated office space for 150 staff, all within the same location.
2) Zilingo, a Singapore-headquartered fashion, beauty and lifestyle marketplace, is aggressively growing its operations and moved to WeWork Suntec Tower 5.
3) Stashaway, an investment management startup, grew with us from Beach Centre in December 2017 and expanded to City House, and raised US$5.3m series A in March 2018.
K: There are already players such as JustCo, Found, etc., in this hot market. How does WeWork differentiate itself? What will be WeWork’s unique selling point other than the free beers and nice decor?
Fuad: More than just space, we are a global platform of creators that helps people to create a life, not just a living. In this regard, we do not see the other player as direct competitors.
By focusing on what we do best such as building communities and being at the forefront in the space with our eight years of experience, we are fostering greater collaboration made possible by our global network. Along with having big, multinational corporations with us, we support them in 3 distinct ways: 1) greater efficiency, 2) effectiveness, and 3) engagement. And startups can tap into a global community that is larger than just their company.
Our global footprint and diverse membership base give us a front-row seat and unique insights into how the behaviour of businesses and their employees are evolving. Regional and local players lack the global strength that WeWork has.
The community WeWork creates both within and around its buildings also has a significant effect on real estate. Buildings with a WeWork allow landlords to expand their tenant pool, and support increases in real estate values.
Furthermore, we go to great lengths to create communities – at the building, city, and country level. By building a vibrant neighbourhood around WeWork locations, we help create opportunities for our We community and the community from the surrounding neighbourhood to come together, while boosting local business and innovation.
K: There have been rumours of SoftBank’s plan to become a major shareholder of WeWork, would this be helpful for WeWork’s expansion plans and what are some synergies that can be explored?
F: WeWork has always been focused on purpose, people, product and profits and Softbank is an important ally for us in helping to bring WeWork to more companies and people around the world.
Collaborating with SoftBank will allow WeWork to support both entrepreneurs and big businesses in Japan to partner with non-Japanese WeWork members to innovate together with the many growing companies based there while creating a strong platform for future growth in Asia and globally.
Editor: Ben Jiang