By RICHARD BEMPONG
Two years ago I knew nothing about co-working. Besides occasional imaginations of being a real estate investor, I did not have any intentions of being actively involved in real estate. I graduated from Ashesi University without taking a single class in real estate. However, I knew I wanted to venture into business sooner than later.
Finding a viable business idea
Like many young people say today, ‘I was itching to set up my own business’. But it was not necessarily so I would not work under a boss. I would probably still be working a nine-to-five if I had the opportunity to work under an experienced business person who was willing to help me grow in the field. As the end of my national service drew closer, I had come to my conclusion – I was not going to remain in the company I was working with. I sent out a number of applications to companies I thought I would grow in. While doing that I began revisiting all the business ideas I had written down during my four-year stay at Ashesi. They ranged from fashion to startup advisory. As I brooded over these ideas, one thing struck me – they all required cash and space. Cash for seed capital and space to operate from. My partner Andrew Bimpong and I began searching for both. Space seemed to be abundant but still very out of reach; not only was it expensive, but the terms were extremely non-startup-friendly. Renting, furnishing and maintaining a space was taking up about 40% of the capital we had readily available. The thought of working from home did not quite appeal to me either so I began thinking over the problem we were faced with.
For the first time in my life, space seemed important and intriguing to my mind. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was another way to run a business professionally without spending so much on work space. This thought lingered in my mind until the question popped up one day: What stops more than one company from sharing a single office? Wouldn’t that allow companies to combine resources and share costs? Beyond this, the companies may be able to collaborate on projects and build synergy. The more I thought to myself, the more I realized that this could actually be a business project to pursue. It made sense and would solve a problem. I spoke to Andrew about what I had been mulling over and he lit up instantly. We began researching names. We first thought up ‘Desk Hub’. On doing a quick Google search, we found that Desk Hub was a name of an American company in Scottsdale, Arizona; a company into exactly what we were thinking about. This was when we uncovered the “co-working” industry.
“If there was anything I learned from my business courses in Ashesi, it would be that all businesses must be sustainable and should have a clearly defined plan of how it expects to remain sustainable.”
Andrew and I both thought this was a worthwhile venture. We put our initial plans on hold in September 2015 and over the next three months, we researched the co-working industry; a booming industry in the west and saturated in the USA. We were particularly keen on how we were going to create a co-working space that would survive in Accra, Ghana. If there was anything I learned from my business courses in Ashesi, it would be that all businesses must be sustainable and should have a clearly defined plan of how it expects to remain sustainable. With the help of our parents, we managed to secure a good deal for space on the Spintex Road. We began remodeling the space in February 2016 and by May 2016, Workshed’s first co-working space was ready for business. The company officially opened its doors on June 1, 2016.
Workshed: Creating a Synergistic Co-Working Space
Workshed was created for startup entrepreneurs, freelancers and independent professionals because we believe startup entrepreneurs and small teams should have the opportunity to work in a decent environment that promotes efficiency. Our thinking was to give startups and freelance entrepreneurs a comfortable and beautiful work space that has a premium feel and is affordable. A place they can call home, and use to nurture and grow their businesses – without breaking the bank. In creating our space, we envisioned a work environment laced with creativity to inspire productivity.
Workshed is not just about space; it’s also about community. We are a dynamic network of startup founders, freelancers, entrepreneurs and small teams who are working to build dreams. People who join Workshed become members. Members not only gain access to an enabling work space, they also get plugged into a collective of passionate people working toward their dreams. With GHS400 (approx $100) a young entrepreneur can purchase a monthly membership that includes work space, internet and utilities. Members also have the option of paying on a monthly basis, thus eliminating the financial pressure of advance rent payments.
I believe in the African proverb that says “If you want to go quickly go alone, if you want to go far go together.” I also believe that there are instances where you go faster when you have the right people to partner and collaborate with. This is especially true in growing businesses. Being an early-stage entrepreneur can be a lonely walk. Workshed changes that for our members. Studying in Ashesi University thought me a thing or two about community building and engagement. Once the consciousness of community is established, there is no end to the creation of ideas and initiatives to further strengthen the community and add value.
The Outlook on Co-Working Spaces
Ghana has been hit by the startup wave. I hear of a new company almost every day. More and more, fully-employed professionals are setting up a ‘side hustle’. These companies need an address to operate from. Many of these companies really do not require a whole building for an office when the whole company is made up of one or two people. That’s where co-working makes sense; co-working makes financial sense.
In 2012, there were about 2,000 co-working spaces in existence globally. That is a very large number if you consider that before 2005, there were less than 10 co-working spaces. Today, the number has increased to 10,000 co-working spaces across the world and is projected to multiply at an annual growth rate of 21%. In Africa, the numbers are way less; Ghana for instance has fewer than 10 co-working spaces. This only means that there is more room for growth.
After three months of operating, I think we are on course to building a pretty great community of entrepreneurs. Our membership currently includes a creative agency, tech startups, designers, freelancers and an educational consultant. I get asked a lot what our future goals are. In my mind, given the nature of our business, there is so much Workshed can grow into besides space. However, more than anything, our goal is to create the ultimate work experience for entrepreneurs and duplicate that system across Africa. With Workshed, we are looking to retell the story of how work is perceived and start a revolution in commercial real estate.
I believe the Workshed story would be built on people and the community we are working at building. We would like you to help us write that story; if you are a freelancer, startup entrepreneur or if you just have a business idea, we invite you to come by Workshed. Let us work to build dreams.
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Richard Bempong is a dreamer, art and design enthusiast, lover of architecture and businessman who co-founded Workshed. His goal is to make his society better, one business at a time.