Finding a suitable site in the heart of Sydney’s pricy CBD to house an entire co-working community might sound laughable, but Steven Grant and Paul Page made it a reality.
Grant and Page are the founders of InvestOn, a co-working space that contains all the obvious business services, although it insists it is more than just a serviced workspace.
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InvestOn describes itself as “a collaborative environment of professionals who share the same basic business ethos – to grow and incubate our businesses”.
In addition to InvestOn, the founders also run a cloud computing company. They plan to use the technology for the benefit of entrepreneurs working at InvestOn.
Grant and Page talk to StartupSmart about negotiating their way through Sydney’s office market, and striking a balance between corporate and cool.
What is your background and how did it lead you to establish InvestOn?
Our background is IT and law respectively, but we have a shared interest in entrepreneurship and helping others succeed.
We first started working together to provide businesses with secure Australian-based cloud computing solutions, through 724 Online Services.
When we looked at our clients’ needs, we realised there was an enormous demand for co-working spaces – office space and business services designed for independent businesses and creative people.
These businesses required high-speed internet access, secure cloud-based applications and constant connectivity via whatever device chosen and wherever located.
We believed that we could meet these needs via 724 Online Services.
However, these same businesses also wanted to learn from one another, form partnerships and work collaboratively – a necessity for any company looking to drive innovation.
These same businesses wanted to use co-working spaces to meet and interact with people across industries and disciplines, just as they did online with Facebook or LinkedIn.
When we researched the future of work, considered overseas trends and investigated the limited options available to Australians, InvestOn was born.
The objective was to assist those businesses that prefer a flexible working environment and who want to establish great relationships with others.
How did you fund InvestOn initially and what were your start-up costs?
724 Online Services, and the revenue from its cloud computing services, provided the initial funding for InvestOn.
The establishment costs for InvestOn were substantial, as we had to lease and fit out an entire floor of a CBD building in Sydney.
However, the IT costs were negligible given that all our services, software and infrastructure are stored securely in the cloud.
How do you promote InvestOn?
There are three core values that drive InvestOn to help businesses:
- Flexible office space and business services. That allows people to rent a desk on a monthly, weekly or daily basis, offering access to a range of co-working spaces from offices and workstations to hot desks, and a full range of cloud-based IT services.
- Affordable services. Providing premium co-working spaces in the business heart of Sydney at half the cost of serviced office space, with no long-term contracts and hidden fees.
- Collaborative networked environment. Enabling businesses to learn, share and collaborate their skills and contacts with entrepreneurs from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines
How many staff do you have?
Presently, we have three full-time staff. As the co-working spaces fill, we intend to scale staff to ensure all our clients’ needs are fully met.
What are your main goals?
We anticipate that within six months, the co-working office space will be 80% filled.
We want to ensure there is a good mix of businesses and entrepreneurs who work collaboratively.
At that point, we should be covering our costs and can look to expand and/or export the model to other parts of Australia or overseas.
What has been your greatest challenge and how did you overcome it?
Finding the right co-working space with the best location.
We knew that the work environment must be not just city-based, but also located in the heart of the business district.
Yet within those few city blocks, we required an entire floor with an open space layout so that we could build the co-working community we envisaged.
What process did you go through to find your site?
After many months of searching, we were fortunate enough to have a cloud computing client who knew that we were looking for a suitable co-working space and suggested 9/70 Pitt Street, Sydney.
After negotiations with the owner, who understood our vision, we were able to renovate and open for business in January 2012.
What sets you apart from all the other co-working spaces?
We wanted to position ourselves in the middle ground – between those co-working spaces which focus on 20-something, mostly male, tech coders/web developers and the large corporate serviced office chains, which can have a user-pay/impersonal nature.
We thought a great deal about what spaces our clients liked. Most businesses have a need to have a professional, fully equipped board and meeting rooms to confer with clients.
Yet in their own work environment, many people desire to have a sunlit open plan space, where you can work either privately or with colleagues.
There is a need for common areas such as breakout rooms or pods, to smaller conference rooms as well as communal spaces near the printers or coffee machine where you can chat. We designed our floor space to meet these needs.
Most importantly, we thought about how people wanted to collaborate. Hence, we have fortnightly meet-ups, with a guest entrepreneur sharing their success stories.
We are shortly implementing a fortnightly how-to discussion on a topic of interest by an expert, such as how to raise start-up capital, implementing a social media strategy or optimising your website.
We want such development seminars and networking events open to the public. We hope, with the input of participants, to hold events which are both informative and that allow for collaboration.
What’s the biggest risk you face?
Co-working, though it may be the future of work, is a new concept, though not yet widespread in Australia. That is the excitement of something new yet largely untried.