Whose idea was it to open a coworking space in Shenzhen? I know it’s absurd to call a metropolis like Shenzhen a “second-tier city”, but people do talk about it that way, and as far as I can find, this means you’d be opening the first coworking space in China outside the first-tier cities. Is that true? What makes you think the idea will work in Shenzhen? Why Shenzhen and not Guangzhou?
We both came about the same idea in different ways, and fortunately got put in touch over the internet at about the right time. I’ll start with Mike first:
M : I have always been interested in co-working, and having spent time in Hong Kong’s co-working space Boot HK. During my time in Hong Kong, I met many Shenzhen residents (foreign and Chinese) who would commute to Hong Kong for certain start-up meetings and co-working events. I started organizing e-commerce meet-ups earlier in the year, with over 50 people attending each event for the past five months now; the interest for internet and technology centres in Shenzhen is certainly there. Shenzhen is also a young city, with both Chinese and expats coming here to build a new start-up – trading company or e-commerce business. With the improvements in Shenzhen’s transportation it also seems obvious a centre for entrepreneur’s and SOHO to come together, share ideas and congregate Shenzhen’s fragmented and isolated community.
G : Jun and I tried to do it in 2010 with New Zealand architect Roger Billington of BSW Design Studios in the OCT area of Shenzhen (the up and coming art and design district). Alas, this didn’t work out, but another opportunity came up when we let go of a few software developers from our previous offices and moved our focus from systems development to systems integration. I realised we had the capacity for people in similar professions to work out of our office had and suggested to Jun that we should try to do the co-working thing on our own. Fortunately, at the same time we were put in touch with Mike via a mutual friend Pavol, who was aware that we were both trying to do the same thing, and the rest as they say is history!
Why Shenzhen? Mike covered most of this and maybe people outside Shenzhen talk about it that way, but anyone who’s lived and worked here can see Shenzhen as a modern, increasingly international, vibrant and challenging city- all the ingredients you need for co-working. We think it will work because of the success of Mike’s events and the fact that there are so many start-ups in Shenzhen trying to break China, a co-working environment provide some of these start-ups with crucial networking opportunities, events, space and presence that is otherwise unattainable.
As for Guangzhou, it could certainly be next on the list if everything goes smoothly with Shenzhen as there’s also a need there too.
What do you think are the benefits of a coworking space?
First and foremost, community; sure, SOHO can work at home and save money, but its not just about saving money, its about meeting like minded people that can support and motivate each other. Cultural and language exchange, knowledge transfer in addition to things like community are critical in somewhere like China, where even the simplest task can be difficult if you don’t know the language and culture.
Are most prospective clients foreigners? Have you or Li Jun found it more difficult to explain the concept to Chinese people? (Does Li Jun care to comment on this?)
Yes, because most Chinese either feel like they need the ‘face’ of having their own company office, or would rather work from home and save money. Besides this, many overseas educated Chinese have access to a number of start up grants such as are available at the Chinese Scholars Venture Building in the High-Tech Park, so can easily afford staff and office space, with little risk providing they have the right qualifications. That’s not to say though we won’t see an emerging Chinese presence, but probably more for the knowledge transfer and networking opportunities than space and community.
There must be quite a few freelancers in most major Chinese cities, and it’s already been possible to telecommute for years now. Why are we only seeing these spaces emerge now?
The difficulty of doing anything in China as a foreigner as we alluded to in the advantages of having a community that bridges the gap between China and the West. If it wasn’t for Li Jun’s experience and contacts in China this wouldn’t be possible. Starting a business in China as a foreigner, or even opening a representative office are increasingly difficult and expensive.
Many coworking spaces pitch their services to a certain type of client. Some focus on tech people, others focus on artists or designers. Who do you hope to draw to the space? Why? Are there good things about focusing on a small niche, or is it better to open it up to everyone?
We’re located in the High-Tech Park, and ourselves are in involved in high-tech industries, it seemed only natural to focus on other techy people since this is where our level of expertise lies. Their are pro’s and cons to casting a wide net and a focused net, although we feel targeting a specific niche helps keep the space focused and maximises relevant collaboration opportunities.
What rates do you plan to charge, and what are the major benefits of membership?
– Fixed desk spaces at 1500pm (if annual), 1750pm (if 3 month) or 1900pm (if one month) [fixed desks are desks that are essentially yours, are larger, come with locked storage telephone and postal address]
– Hot desks at 100 (day), 200 (week), 700 (month), 500pm (if signed up for 3 months)
– In addition we will offer tea and coffee.
– Print & fax
We’re going to offer around 30% discount when we first open up the space to the early bird subscribers. In addition to the advantages of co-working that we’ve already mentioned:
– Members will have a “members wall” to feature their company and personal profile both on-line and in the office (Mike’s expertise is in SEO so this can be really useful to members)
– Not have to work in coffee shops fighting for electricity, wi-fi and be forced to buy coffee all the time
– Opportunities to make new friends and business contacts
– Finally have a defined home / work space which can make a big difference to both productivity and sleeping patterns!