EHK Talks to Co-Working Space The Workground
This interview with Joanna and Brian, founders of The Workground, was conducted and condensed by Wayne Chang of EntrepreneurHK.
EHK Talks to Co-Working Space The Workground About The Market and Their Future Plans.
1. Can you tell me about the current market situation of co-working space business in HK?
J: There are close to 32 co-working spaces in Hong Kong, and most of them emerged in the past two years. With a growing number of startups in Hong Kong, accompanied by a more mature ecosystem for startups ─ including more sophisticated angel investors, VCs and a lot of VC funds from overseas and China ─ the number of co-working spaces in Hong Kong is rising concurrently. I think the number of co-working spaces won’t be stabilizing, and there will be a rise in shared offices to help with the startup community.
2. What is the market prospect in Hong Kong for the co-working space business? On what grounds do you come to that conclusion?
J: I believe we will see a lot of traditional business centers moving towards a more co-working environment. We see that in other countries such as Japan and Singapore, where many business centers opened as a certain brand of co-working location.
For them, it’s a change in branding and marketing, and re-thinking the model of how people work and how companies come together and become a community to help each other out. I think it is really a change in working styles for SMEs and for some of the other larger startups all over the world.
B: I think businesses are also becoming a lot more cost conscious. Lots of business centers out in the market charge hefty premiums for tiny spaces. Co-working spaces and offices in Hong Kong are trying to disrupt that model, and at the same time nurture a collaborative environment for different young businesses to solve similar problems faced at early stages together.
3. There are over 32 co-working spaces in Hong Kong already, what prompted you to start The Workground?
J: I started the first Workground in Central because I needed a space for my own children’s clothing subscription startup. I slowly gathered a group of startup founders, built up a network and realized that there is a demand of space for younger businesses and funded startups.
Many overseas startups are looking to set foot in Asia, and if they choose Hong Kong to be their first stop in Asia, they will need a space and a chance to network with the local community and businesses. That was what prompted me to start thinking about the co-working space industry in Hong Kong.
4. What is the most difficult challenge you have faced when you launched The Workground?
B: For some of the people who have come to this space, they find it pretty hard to believe that everything ─ the marketing, the design, the purchasing of all the little odds and ends ─ was done by a 3-man team; it was me, Joanna and her assistant.
It was challenging in the sense that we all had to wear multiple hats ─ Joanna is also a co-founder of a startup named Peekabox, and I also work for a startup called Spacious.hk. However, we enjoy wearing multiple hats which requires us to manage and execute many things simultaneously.
5. If you have a chance to start all over again, what will you do differently?
J: Maybe a better fridge haha. We bootstrapped the whole process and gave ourselves to plan and launch The Workground.
In terms of aesthetics, I would have loved to have more time looking at more design for chairs, items for the coffee machine and little things like that..
6. Are there any other co-working spaces here in Causeway Bay?
J: There are plenty of business centers and executive centers here, but we are the first co-working space in Hong Kong to be situated and to have a location in Causeway Bay. People who have been attending our events and conferences have been telling us that it’s a very convenient location. With many places to dine and the nearest MTR exit 30 seconds away, you can get a lot done by being here in Causeway Bay.
7. Give me three things that you believe matter the most when launching a co-working space?
J: I only got two: accessibility and community.
B: All the people who visit the place mention how convenient it is. Secondly, it is very important to build a community where small business and startups know each other. We really want to help and nurture the environment for small businesses and startups to grow and excel.
J: An example would be a very recent event that we hosted with Brian Wong.
B: Brian Wong is one of Forbes’ top 30 under 30 people, one of Mashables’ top 5 entrepreneurs to watch out for and one of the brightest minds of Silicon Valley. I met Brian Wong at a forum in Shanghai, and was fortunate enough to host him at the Workground. Feedback from the audience was very positive for the event and we hope to continue bringing successful entrepreneurs to network with members of the Workground community.
8. How do you differentiate The Workground from the existing co-working spaces?
J: Accessibility, community and the fact that we have more private offices than most co-working spaces.
Having easy access to the space and the startup community are essential to the growth of the company. Being able to bring high quality speakers and host quality workshops for our members and in-house Workgrounders are other things that add value to The Workground.
In addition, from the get-go of The Workground, we started thinking about the gap between the business centers and co-working spaces in Hong Kong. Especially for funded startups, a co-working space would work for their first year, but they gradually need more privacy. The Workground provides not only a common space for everyone, but also many private offices.
B: From my understanding, only the Hive has multiple locations in Wan Chai, Kennedy town and Sai Kung. I think we are only one of the few co-working spaces that have multiple locations, one in Causeway and one in Central, both very prime spots. That is what sets us apart.
9. Let’s talk about design, what is the concept behind it? Are you trying to convey any messages through the design?
B: We wanted it to be cool, hip and receptive to younger businesses and startups. We even have grass in one of the conference rooms; we came up with this idea during the FIFA world cup. So far we have had very positive comments about the space.
10. Any big plans that you can share with us?
J: The plan would be having higher quality events, conferences and speakers; we will be hosting more workshops with our partner BSD. Aside from that, I think the big rollout of co-working spaces will be part of our big plan. We have already signed out with a Japanese co-working space in Tokyo, so all our members who are part of The Workground will be able to use that space. This reflects our idea of building our community and providing easy accessibility for jet- setting startups and founders.
B: Discussions are also happening in Singapore and we are working with the final details with that. We are happy with our presence here in Hong Kong, and we want to go regional.
11. Any plans for a third Workground in the near future?
B: Right now we are comfortable with two. The next step would be to go regional and add value to our members; if they have business in Singapore, Malaysia, or Japan etc., we want to be able to provide coverage over there.
12. Hong Kong has a very high rent, how do you overcome that?
B: You want to be bringing in more money than what the rent is costing haha.
13. What advice would you give to the people who want to open their own co-working space business?
B: They should be quite involved in the startup community. Go to different events where you meet people who may need private offices. It is important to be out there and in direct contact within the community.
It is also very important to be very committed to the space. There are lots of co-working spaces in Hong Kong, so it’s difficult to build the environment. With both of us being so involved in the startup scene, having a presence here really helps with driving in traffic and making connections.
14. Do you believe this boom in co-working spaces will continue?
B: Yes, I think that there is definitely a continual interest in people wanting to leave the corporate lifestyle and join startups.
Recently there was a very interesting Google acquisition of Divide and I was very happy for a local Hong Kong startup to make headlines. In addition, HotelQuickly, headquartered in Wan Chai, recently made huge round at Series A. It is very exciting that there are local startups making a name, and these success stories motivate people and encourage them. People see that there are already 32 co-working spaces in Hong Kong and think the market is saturated, but I think it’s just going to keep growing.