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Co-working operator Found carves out a niche

timothy.tay@edgeprop.sg

Grace Sai, CEO and co-founder of co-working niche operator Found, believes the mainstream co-working space is “getting too crowded”. She adds, “We’re not interested in competing there.” Found currently operates in two locations in Singapore — an 8,000 sq ft space on Prinsep Street, and another 10,700 sq ft space on the upper level of the row of shophouses at Cuppage Terrace. According to Sai, the two spaces have an average occupancy rate of about 95%.

A third space on Amoy Street will open in September. It will be the operator’s first CBD location. “Many of our members, as well as others on our waiting list, have given us feedback that they are looking to settle in a CBD location,” says Sai. The new space will also be the operator’s flagship space, as it will be its largest in Singapore, spanning four shophouses and occupying a total area of 23,000 sq ft. It is expected to open with “a very healthy occupancy rate”, she says.


The new space on Amoy Street will be Found’s flagship space in Singapore, occupying 23,000 sq ft across four shophouses (Pictures: Found)

Sai believes about half of the space at Amoy Street will be taken up by “corporate innovators” and the other half by start-ups. She expects the member base to include several blockchain and fintech enterprises. The new space will include dedicated studios for ideation and innovation, and an event area with a capacity of 250 people.

Sai has ambitious plans for the company she co-founded six years ago. Although Found’s market share in Singapore is currently in the single-digit, she hopes to grow it to 10% within the next three years.

Cutting loose and Found

Found was established as the first Asian Impact Hub six years ago. Impact Hub is the parent body for a global network of hubs that foster entrepreneurship, idea incubation and business development. It also offers co-working spaces for its members.

As the Asian pioneers of Impact Hub, Sai and her team had the responsibility of growing Impact Hub’s Asian network. She says she played a major role in selecting many of the subsequent Asian Impact Hubs.

Last month, however, Sai and her company officially parted ways with Impact Hub. She says it was due to the “two companies having different ambitions and expansion plans for the region”. According to Sai, Impact Hub only operates in one location per country; hence, she would not have been able to increase the number of locations in Singapore even if she wanted to under the previous set-up.


Sai: We hope to take up about 10% of the [co-working] market share in Singapore in three years

It took two years for Found to separate its operations from Impact Hub. But it has certainly moved on. The company announced that it had renamed itself as Found in May. “The name reflects the company’s mission to redefine what being a founder means,” she says. “Being a founder doesn’t necessarily mean being the founder of a highly scalable start-up. Instead, I believe that everyone can take personal ownership and influence a cause or problem they feel needs to be solved.”

To create awareness in the upcoming Amoy Street location, Found is working with URA to organise “Innovation Meets Heritage Festivals” and set up “Car-Free Lunchtime events” with the hope of pedestrianising the street during lunchtime.

Found plans to open spaces in Malaysia and Indonesia by the end of this year and expand into Thailand and Vietnam by end-2019. Sai’s target is to have about five to six locations across Southeast Asia by 2020.

New partners

Last July, Found became Google’s first tech-hub partner in Southeast Asia, for the “Google for Entrepreneurs” programme. Found members can now benefit from Google for Entrepreneurs’ global network and resources, which span co-working and community spaces across 135 countries, says Sai.


About 250 members work out of Found’s 8,000 sq ft space on Prinsep Street (Picture: Samuel Issac Chua/The Edge Singapore)

Found members also receive mentorship from technology industry veterans and professionals. “About 80% of our members are in technology-related industries such as AI [artificial intelligence], machine learning and data analytics,” she says.

Found currently has 550 members working at its physical spaces and another 150 virtual members. They have access to networking events hosted by Found, and can also rent workspace at member rates. Current members include KK Fund, Gorillaspace, Soho and Our Better World. Past members are Mashable Asia, Twilio, Braintree, Survey Monkey, Tech in Asia and Golden Gate Ventures.

Some of these past members still participate in various events hosted by Found, as well as contribute to a venture fund started by it. These are considered “alumni members” and number about 2,500, Sai estimates.

Competition

An emerging trend in co-working is the increasing use of flexible workspaces by corporations, either in their own building or in moving small teams into such spaces, says Sai. She predicts that 30% of the office workspace in Singapore will evolve into flexible workspaces by 2030, up from about 4% today.


Another view of Found at Prinsep Street

In her view, larger operators such as WeWork and JustCo have adopted a strategy of “space-grabbing” and often compete on price alone. “We do not intend to participate in a price war with them,” she says. “We will not have promotions like three-month free rent/half price rent.”

Sai says there are more companies looking to save cost on office space and are using flexible workspaces as an alternative. She believes the firm is able to capitalise on that niche and establish itself as a market leader.

A hotdesk subscription at Found starts from $350 a month per person, but with the addition of a dedicated account manager and customised business solution programme, hotdesking starts from $500 per person. Corporate members, who opt for a dedicated account manager and customised business solution programme, pay $3,000 a month onwards.

Differentiation

Found differentiates itself by offering dedicated services that link corporations to the right start-ups in the network that will help them achieve their strategic aims. “Instead of the usual front-desk or community managers, we have account managers who look after the growth of our members, as well as their corporate innovation goals,” explains Sai.

These managers understand member companies’ hiring needs, capital and fundraising goals, and eventually work with them to chart their growth end-points for up to a year. “This kind of collaboration between corporations, start-ups and co-working operators will be the type of service co-working will evolve into,” says Sai. Found has also formed a venture fund with its members to invest in select early-stage tech companies in their community.


The 10,700 sq ft space on Cuppage Road currently houses about 300 members

Found aims to serve a select number of corporations looking for space to drive their corporate innovation agenda. One successful corporate partner is NTUC Social Enterprises, which received help from Found to develop new business models and create the frameworks for digital products and services for its organisation. Many of the innovations developed have been successfully executed.

So far, Found’s backers are predominantly family- run offices. The latest backer is Nancy Pangestu, who owns the four shophouses on Amoy Street. She is also the daughter of Prajogo Pangestu, an Indonesian timber and rubber tycoon. She has offered Found the master lease of the four shophouses for five years, with an option to extend the lease for a further five years at the end of the term. She has also invested in fitting out the space. In return, Pangestu will have a profit-sharing arrangement with Found.

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