As you make way to The Playce, a co-working space in Mulund, you are greeted with the words, “This is the playce where you can create, co-work, study, attend cool events, meet awesome people or just chill.” The real meaning of these words ring true when you enter the 5,000 square feet space and are greeted by well-lit cubicles and an airy conference room even as the occupants - men and women working for multiple organisations, many of them startup entrepreneurs - exchange notes over a cup of coffee and plan on watching a movie at work, ironically a Bollywood hit called Andaz Apna Apna.
At first glance, The Playce resembles any other workplace. But it’s a trend-setter. It is a co-working space that allows entrepreneurs, start-ups and even freelancers to rent a space on a monthly basis. Set up in November 2012 by 28-year-old Gargi Shah and Shekhar Gurav, 27, The Playce is one of the growing number of co-working spaces that have sprung up in Mumbai over the past few months. The most recent of them are Ministry of New in Lalbaug that opened its doors in January this year and the aptly-named Our First Office, which set up facilities at Churchgate, Nariman Point and Lower Parel last month. In fact, according to a report published in the Harvard Business Review last year, co-working office spaces, leasable by the day or month, are multiplying in cities all across the globe and are likely to grow by 40 per cent this year.
What an idea
Gurav, co-founder of The Playce, thinks this trend is the outcome of an exponential rise in the number of entrepreneurs, freelancers and people who work on independent projects across India. “When such individuals work out of cafes, they work in isolation. The person sitting next to them might not be another passionate or budding entrepreneur. However, when they converge at a co-working space, everyone knows what the other person is working on and they can easily exchange ideas, build contacts and further their own business at the same time,” he explains. Gurav speaks from personal experience. He co-founded The Playce with Shah after they met and realised they both wanted to work in the field of education. While Gurav, a graduate from IIM Bangalore, was eager to set up his own enterprise in online education, Shah wanted to make engineering fun for students.
The duo tied up with a real estate developer and transformed his vacant office into The Playce by installing computers, a Wi-fi connection, and coffee and tea vending machines. Since its inception, over 40 companies have availed of the space with 60 entrepreneurs using the venue on a monthly basis.
Milind Doshi, co-founder of Our First Office (OFO), agrees that escalating realty prices in the city coupled with sluggish economic growth is prompting entrepreneurs to use co-working spaces. He explains, “The recession inspired people to start their own business. But due to high real estate prices, many people can’t afford to set up their own office. At the same time, many businesses can’t really operate from a cafeteria. In such cases, a co-working space is the perfect option.”
Doshi was inspired by his experiences when running his startup firm from two co-working spaces in Boston, namely Mass Challenge and Babson Summer Venture Program. He set up OFO with Lavina Dawson, co-founder of their parent company The Zenith Society, on May 3 this year. OFO has swanky offices in Churchgate, Nariman Point and Lower Parel with offices spanning from 2,200 sq feet to 16,000 sq feet that can easily accommodate 25 to 30 people.
Dutch art director Marlies Bloemendaal, who had been traveling to India since 1997 and set up base here in 2007, started Ministry of New at an old loft in Lalbaug earlier this year to widen her network and cater to international entrepreneurs and designers. She says, “As a foreign creative entrepreneur it’s tough to get into the Indian market.
The cultural differences are huge and can be a challenge for inexperienced starters. The newcomer has to invest a lot of time, money and energy to get to know the country, set up a company, find an office, build a network and source manufacturers and clients. So I thought of setting up the Ministry of New to assist such people, give them a flexible workspace and a common meeting ground for international designers and entrepreneurs who are looking for new business in India.”
Building a sense of community
What sets co-working spaces apart from the regular shared offices is the sense of community that it offers people. The founders host a number of events to ensure that long after the office hours are over, people still converge for an event, exchange ideas and unwind. For instance, The Playce organises hackathons, meet-ups on technology and entrepreneurship to enable people to interact with others at multiple levels, resulting in a healthy exchange of information.
Shah’s OFO offers access to national and international angel investors and venture capitalists, weekly inspirational workshops, skill-sharing events, two months of free accounting, company secretarial and HR services and a 24/7 dedicated hotline number for consultation. The 24-year-old entrepreneur says, “You cannot remain isolated if you want to succeed in business. You need to network with smart people who can help you navigate challenges. I was in that situation with my previous startups and I cannot begin to describe how beneficial co-working spaces and accelerators were to my business and career.”
Bloemendaal also organises contemporary design exhibitions, movie nights and pop-up restaurants at the Ministry of New. She says, “I love to bring people together and plan events. Apart from providing advice on setting up a company, sourcing the right manufacturer, finances and image management, I also give marketing and legal tips to expats who want to set up shop in this country. I help Indian designers, who are interested in doing business abroad, with my international creative and corporate network which I have built over the years.” The Ministry of New, she says, is a boutique style studio space that caters to a mix of creative people who run their own business but also work together on projects or share their skills, network and knowledge with the other residents.
While these co-working spaces are proving to be a great financial success for their owners, they are also beneficial for those who are renting the spaces for work. Ram Seshan, founder of Pleyon Media, who has been using The Playce since three months says, “I have my own office in Powai but whenever I want to meet my deadlines, I come down here. Even though so many people sit next to each other, you can work at your own pace without any disturbance. Also, I can bounce off ideas with others and get a perspective about different things.” Krutika Ashar, founder of social media agency KalaKhatta, who has been working at OFO, Churchgate echoes Seshan’s sentiments. “The OFO office is at a prime location opposite Churchgate station. It has all the necessary facilities. Also, the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) facility that they provide helps people leave a voice mail for me and allows me to check it. It lends a professional approach to my business. I worked from home earlier and can feel the difference,” she concludes.
What do they offer
Our First Office
With offices at Churchgate, Nariman Point and Lower Parel, it is located in the prime business areas of the city. It offers 20 mbps download speed, access to national and international angel investors and venture capitalists, free coffee and tea, co-working visa (wherein you can get a similar place to work from another city for free), two months of Free Accounting, Company Secretarial and HR Services, 24/7 dedicated hotline number and email for consultation and any questions related to accounting, taxes, company secretarial, procedural, HR services etc, free Google adwords package. They have plans ranging from community access and virtual office at R 3950 per month to the dedicated desk plans for R 11,950 per month.
Ministry of New
Entrepreneurs, designers and architects from India and abroad can rent one of the 12 modern, personal desks including storage on a monthly basis for Rs 25,000 or can work from the communal table on a 10-day membership for R 8,000. The space has an open layout, an entresol with a meeting room and a small conference call room. Members bring their own computer, but are provided with large modern desks, chairs, a printer/copier, beamer and a white board. The library is stocked with daily newspapers and latest magazines and books related to design, India etc. The kitchen area has a cozy bar, a microwave, coffee and espresso machine, a purified drinking water machine and a fridge.
The Playce has a 5,000 sq ft co-working space with several work-desks, cabins, conference rooms, seminar hall and a game room to chill. It can host more than 60 startups. A fee of R 299 per day or R 5,500 per month includes high speed Wi-fi, unlimited coffee, a work desk and personal locker. It also hosts numerous events such as Robotics workshop, Founders Meet (with Mumbai’s entrepreneurs) and tech and music meetups.