How I Converted An Idle Office Space Into a Co-Working Space On a Shoestring Budget And How You Can Do It Too

Co-working spaces in the recent past have taken the world by storm. The rise of the internet spawned a new era where the terms “Digital Nomad”, “Freelancer” and “Remote Worker” became cool and co-working spaces were the next logical thing to happen to cater to the needs of these millennials. But then another big thing happened, startups and enterprises seeing the advantages that co-working spaces provide, such as flexible terms and the ability to scale up without upfront investment, embraced the idea of co-working. Specifically in India, the high population density and lack of available premium office space make it even more attractive to startups. From a freelancer’s perspective, reliable internet is a big issue when working from home or a café since most broadband connections are unreliable. Enterprise level internet provided at co-working spaces is a big incentive.

My Story

I’m an Industrial Engineer and I used to work in the Silicon Valley in the US. Inspired by the startup culture in the Bay Area, I planned to return home and work on something of my own. I wasn’t sure what I would work on, but I knew that I wanted to do something of my own. My first attempt on starting up was building a social media app that’s a platform for account sharing (such as Netflix, Spotify, etc.). My team would work out of a small corner in an office space that was used as a warehouse for my family business. Three months later when the app wasn’t working out, a realization struck me, why not use the office space as a co-working space? Co-working space providers such as WeWork and CoWrks had their space around the region and the area was quickly becoming a hub. My idea was to use it as a tech focused co-working space and build a community around it. Hiring talented individuals was my biggest challenge and my idea was that the community I can build around this space would help me connect with like minded individuals.

How I Went About Creating the Space

The total area of the office space is about 2700 sq. feet, so that should hold about 50 people. The first step that I took was visit a lot of existing co-working spaces and find out commonly used practices such as their layout, their amenities and their pricing. I would often go in as a potential customer and enquire about the space and even worked out of WeWork for a month while my space was in construction. My total budget for the space was around 20 lakh Indian Rupees (~28,000 USD). For a space that can hold 50 people and the fact that the office required substantial rework, that was a tight budget.

The Process

Layout And Initial Estimation

The first step that I did was visualize how I would want the workspace to be, the three options that co-working spaces have are flexible desks (a open desk without any storage space or assigned spot), dedicated desks (an assigned spot with a storage space) and private cabins (an office in an office). Most of the layout was planned by me, however I did take the help of a freelance architect who helped me in a few places. Having to rely completely on personal savings and some funding from the family business, I had to keep in mind the budget yet not skimp on the essentials. I also hired an assistant who would help me coordinate with different vendors to setup the workspace.

After clearing out all the stored material and repainting, the space looked something like this

Furniture

Considering the unique layout of the space, I decided to go ahead with a customized solution for desks. I used images on Pinterest as inspiration for the kind of desks that I would like and a friend of mine helped me get connected to a furniture store and they custom built all our desks.

For the rest, that includes a reception table, printer table, book rack, lockers and the pantry, I had my local carpenter do them at the space. This gave me the flexibility to design my own furniture as well as cut down on costs.

The Essentials — HVAC, Fire Safety

HVAC is one aspect that requires a lot of planning since this requires a customized approach. Depending on constraints such as your budget, building regulations, power consumption, etc. you can either choose a VRF system (centralized air conditioning), cassette AC or a split AC. I decided to go for cassette ACs keeping in mind the budget as well as functionality.

Fire safety is something that is essential and should not be ignored. I had my assistant find out different vendors who do installations and shortlisted one of them to do the work.

Structural — Glass Partitions, Flooring

I decided to go ahead with glass partitions for the private cabin and discussion room. One thing that needs to be considered is the glass thickness (9 mm to 12mm) and once you choose the vendor, the installation should be a straightforward process.

For the flooring, I decided to opt for wooden flooring for areas such as the reception, the private cabin and the conference room. In specific, I chose Stone Plastic Composite (SPC), which is a water proof alternative for wooden flooring.

Networking and IT — Internet, Firewall, Surveillance, Power Backup

This is usually one of the most overlooked aspects when someone builds a co-working space. Reliable and high speed internet is essential and especially so in India where regular broadband is oftentimes unreliable. A regular WiFi router is not capable of supporting multiple users and often slows down the speed.

For this, you will need to opt for enterprise level internet from an ISP and this is usually at a premium. A firewall will ensure that you can provide access to multiple users without any drop in internet speed.

Your clients will usually expect surveillance cameras setup as well as have a power backup source. Since I decided to opt for one single vendor for the entire setup, I was able to get a good deal out of it.

Decorative — Lighting, Planters and Wall Art

For lighting, a safe bet would be to mix regular surface lights with linear lights for desks. Surface lights alone won’t be sufficient for desks. The ideal color temperature is 4000K (natural white) for South Asian countries and 3000K (warm white) for European countries.

Plants and wall art are inexpensive options that can really change the look of your space and add some life into it. I had a friend who runs a studio help me with the planters and my mom being an artist was able to help me with some spectacular oil paintings. Again, if you’re trying to cut down on costs you can go for simple pictures and frame them.

Optionals— Projector, Acoustics

If you plan to have seminars and events at your workspace, having a projector is a must. Setting up a projector is a straightforward process. I plan to have regular community events and seminars and setting up a projector made sense.

If you’re an established co-working brand catering to larger enterprises, you will have to consider acoustics to dampen the sound in conference rooms and other discussion rooms and these are quite expensive.

A Snapshot Of The Expenditure

The majority of the expenses go on furniture which came close to 9 lakhs (or $12,540) and the essentials (glass partitions, flooring, HVAC and fire safety) which came up to around 9 lakhs. Networking and IT related setup cost me about 2 lakhs ($2,700). The total expenditure that includes everything was around 23 lakhs ($32,000) which was a little over my initial budget of 20 lakhs ($27,000).

This is how the space looks now

Things To Keep In Mind When Starting a Co-Working Space

Co-working spaces live and die with the community that you build

In order to get new clients and retain existing ones, you will have to aggressively promote your space and build a community around it. Using social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook is a good way to go.

Location, location, location!

When scouting for locations, try to choose someplace that’s centrally located and good on connectivity. Location matters a lot when it comes to co-working spaces.

Patience

Building a community and generating revenue does not happen overnight. Community building is a slow process that requires a lot of effort over a sustained period of time. So stay patient if you think that things are not working out.

Starting small

Initially, start small by providing the essentials and slowly build a brand over it. As you gain customers, you will receive feedback which you can then use to constantly improve your service.

This whole process of setting up the space took me around three months and has been a great learning experience. If you’re around in Bangalore, do drop by to my co-working space.

Enthusiastic about startups, tech and the economy.