Yatin K Thakur, is a serial entrepreneur based in India. He is co-founder of Startup India and founder of CoworkIn India. He visited Ireland recently and I had the opportunity to meet and speak with him after being introduced to him by Eoin Costello, Project Leader, Digital Dún Laoghaire.I asked him to share what his
I asked him to share what his organisation CoworkIn is about and the work that they’re doing in India. I wanted to find out when and why it was set up, the benefits and challenges it faces, who the stakeholders are, and future plans.
In a nutshell, could you please explain what CoWorkIn is and how it came about?
CoworkIn is a chain of co-working spaces that provides affordable working spaces for a young audience in India. It includes freelancers, entrepreneurs, professionals, journalists, writers, artists who are all looking for access to like-minded people. Our job in CoworkIn is to help to create these communities and to provide secure shelters where people can come, work and talk with each other. Once this happens it builds a community and people start collaborating with each other.
We started out with a villa about five and a half years ago in Delhi and from there we ended up turning it into a chain of co-working spaces. We build affordable spaces at prime locations that allow people to get access to low-cost office space.
When you started out in Delhi, did you buy the villa?
When we first started experimenting with our model we rented out prime real estate. Now we partner with real estate owners. It’s too expensive to rent and set up the infrastructure; it costs a lot of money. We realised that renting wasn’t a sustainable model.
We created a good community of like-minded people.
Three years ago we pivoted and had the idea of making the property owner one of the stakeholders in the project, rather than renting. In India, real estate is at an all-time low. There are properties available which are idle and have potential. However, property owners don’t know how to find people or how to rent it out especially if it’s large. Brokers charge a lot of commission.
Also, businesses that are currently renting properties have major uncertainty about their future as we are moving into a shared economy rather than a more structured corporate one.
What about the cost of insurance for co-working spaces, is this an issue?
No, not really. Insurance is very cheap in India compared to other parts of the world. General office insurance is all that’s required and it’s not that expensive. It costs around $300 to $400 per year.
What is the payback for the property owner?
The majority of the income generated from co-working spaces goes to the property owner. They provide the money to set up the infrastructure based on CoworkIn’s specifications. Our job is then is to design the space. The property owners ultimately own the infrastructure such as lighting, hardware, and furniture, it is their property. Their payback is the rental income. In some cases, if they have spent $20,000 to do the fit outs we pay off that money over three years. We include this in our monthly costs.
How does CoWorkIn generate revenue?
It’s a membership model that caters to our audience. We provide individual desks, private offices for smaller teams and event space. Putting all that together with whatever rental comes in we pay the utility bills first, then the staff expenditure. After that, we pay 60% to 70% of our net revenue to the property owner. The revenue is split between CoWorkIn and the property owner.
What are the benefits for individuals who share and work in co-working spaces?
Firstly it’s about access to the community and like-minded. In the digital area, things are moving very fast so it’s important to have access to all possible sources. People come from different backgrounds, working on different ideas, researching new technologies and developments around the world. All of that knowledge comes together in a co-working space. It’s the biggest ‘value add’ or benefit that people get out of being there.
Secondly, infrastructure is very expensive in any city. If you rent out infrastructure in a downtown area or in any prime locality it’s not cheap. Renting a co-working space costs about $100 a month so you can be in the best real estate with good facilities.
What comes first, is it space and then the community or the community and then space?
The community comes first and space is secondary. The infrastructure may not be the best but it’s the people that matter the most.
CoworkIn is about bringing the right people together.
How do you build the community and make people aware of what CoworkIn is offering?
Events play a very big role in doing that. We organise a lot of community events, evening meetups, networking nights, pitching sessions, demo days and cultural events. Co-working spaces are the new generation of community centres. They are digitally equipped and cater to a young audience. They provide all the community activities that would have been previously held at community centres.
Currently, the average age of our co-workers is 23, which is much lower that what we would have expected. We have people working across different age groups but the majority of co-workers fall into this age category. In Delhi, we also have gender diversity and gender neutrality. We are almost operating at a 40% to 60% ratio between male and female population.
What are the challenges facing people coming into the co-working spaces?
It’s about getting people to understand what the co-working space is about. The biggest challenge is to differentiate between people looking for an office space and looking for a community space. Most people think it just office space. That’s not how we sell it in Delhi.
It’s a community space for the people and by the people.
CoworkIn is the operator who makes sure that the infrastructure is right, that everything is up and running and that there are no problems. For us, it’s about the people who make up the space and we make sure to attract the right people.
For example, if I’m selling a particular technology that’s consumer focused, and I know that my target audience is in the age group of 18 to 25 and they are in the co-working space then that’s where I should be. That’s where my audience is, that’s where I can test the market, my validation happens right there, these are the people who will be using the technology. That’s the key hook.
It’s about finding the right audience in the right space for the right product.
Who are the key stakeholders and how do you get them on board?
The first key stakeholders are the property owners. CoworkIn create value by providing them with a net revenue which is almost 20% to 25% more than the average rental.
Once they’re on board then the second key stakeholders are the members who rent the spaces. We create value for them by providing the community and affordable space.
The third stakeholders are the government and other invested groups. They have the right audience in front of them. If the government is trying to promote entrepreneurship, or economic development and prosperity, or job creation this enables them to know that their grant subsidies are going to the right people. Investors are always trying to find the right people to invest their money in and they can find them in co-working spaces.
If you have the right community at the right location it gives access to all the stakeholders automatically.
India is investing hugely in the digital area what does that mean for the future?
Out of a population in India of 1.2 billion, there are 900 hundred million people on wireless technology. Of that 900 million almost 650 to 700 hundred million users are now on smartphones and that’s the future for India.
With more than 65% of the population under 35 years of age and a record-breaking growth in smartphone adoption and data services across the country, there has been a rising demand for next-generation services with simplified solutions.
What’s next for CoworkIn?
In our first year, CoworkIn’s job was to provide people with affordable and secure shelters at prime spots in the city. Today we have five spaces. In the next five months, we are opening five more spaces. We envision another ten spaces will be added by next year.
We have property owners knocking on our doors, talking to us and saying:
“Here are the keys, pick up our property and let us know when to start.”
The word is out.
Now they understand what co-working is all about and they see that it is the most secure proposition in the current economic climate.
It’s a win-win for everyone.
What are your thoughts about the future and setting up co-working spaces in Ireland?
We are living in a time of the next level of digital revolution. Things are happening at a much faster pace than ever before. The world is getting connected. It’s shrinking and co-working spaces have a role to play. They foster communities and enable access to other people and ideas from around the world.
If you are trying to do something, building on an idea, getting to know about the digital environment or the startup scene in your country I would say co-working spaces are the way to go and move forward from there.
It was a pleasure to meet Yatin and to learn more about his work and the many services that his company CoworkIn is providing for property owners, co-workers, the community and other stakeholders in India. Thanks to Eoin Costello, Project Leader, Digital Dún Laoghaire for the introduction to Yatin and for setting up the interview.