A few years back, a friend of mine was looking for a shared workspace in Kolkata for his business. His company’s revenue went down significantly because of some bad decisions. To boost the figures, he concentrated on cutting down the expenses. The rent of the existing office space was affecting the revenues badly. My friend who was well aware of the shared workspace concept thought of shifting to a coworking office space. To his utter disappointment, he failed to find a proper coworking office space in Kolkata. Well, this is just one instance. Many young entrepreneurs face similar problems while starting up. I know some of my friends who have been successfully working from shared workspaces for the past 5-6 years. And, all of them are located in and around the Delhi NCR region. However, options for coworking office space in Kolkata are still limited as compared to many other Indian cities. To solve this major problem of entrepreneurs in Kolkata, a Father-Son duo started EasyDaftar in June 2016. The father Sanjay Kumar Wadhwa and the son Saahil Wadhwa, is encouraging entrepreneurship by providing plug and play coworking spaces to the startups in Kolkata.
EasyDaftar is only 6 months old. In this short span of time, it has managed to grow quite steadily. The present occupancy for EasyDaftar’s coworking spaces is around 75% and the startup is aiming to cross 95% occupancy in the coming 2 months.
We shall get to know more about EasyDaftar today, as Saahil Wadhwa, one of the founders of EasyDaftar joins us in this interview session to share their story.
Hi Saahil, welcome to conflatingVisions. To start with, please tell us a few lines about the founders of EasyDaftar.
EasyDaftar has the best of youth and experience through our Father-Son founder duo! I hold an MSc in Advanced Management from University of Bath and was successfully placed at ActivInstinct – UK’s no. 1 online retailer for Performance Sports. It did not take long for the entrepreneurial bug to bite, considering that I hail from a business background. At the same time, I wanted to create my own legacy as well. After considering all my interests and options, EasyDaftar was conceptualized and launched. My father has been in business since the 70s and knew a thing or two about starting out. He has been instrumental in devising strategy, allocation of budgets, financial management as well as streamlining. Thus, the venture benefits greatly from the experience which simply cannot be bought at any shop!
Please tell us about EasyDaftar. Why did you decide to start this venture?
I had just returned after quitting my job in the UK where I was part of a highly dynamic setup and one where we had a lot of fun as well. On the other hand, offices in India are more professional and averse to playing with new design concepts or ways of working! I was exposed to an open office environment there and we have borrowed and implemented several bits of the culture from there, blending them together with our Indian cultures and habits of working.
Coming back to how we started, I was working on a couple of ideas and worked out of a variety of spaces such as the house, cafeterias, lounges, warehouses and my family office. None afforded me the focus I craved in order to get work done! I think the idea literally hit me when at the warehouse, a carton of goods fell on me from an overhead shelf! This marked the conceptualization of the concept and EasyDaftar was born!
You must have done a lot of homeworks/surveys before launching EasyDaftar. What were they?
Once the concept was conceived, I did the usual research and found out that it is an existing yet unrecognized field already. The potential pitfall was the fact that my city did not have anyone offering Coworking office space other than select business centres which were hardly affordable for most new/small/medium businesses. Thus, effectively, we launched as the First Coworking centre in Kolkata.
In order to take reference points, I set out to visit the cities of Bangalore, Gurgaon and Delhi which did offer Coworking. I learnt a lot from their spaces as well as how to implement the idea. Yet, the idea of diving into uncharted territory in the city was a constant risk in my mind. But then, no business exists without risks! My Uncle gave me a handy bit of advice. He said, “Just do not burn as big a hole in the pocket that one cannot cover sufficiently through winding up if the idea fails!” With that, I dived straight into setting up the facility.
How challenging was it to bring the idea of coworking office spaces to reality?
Today, the biggest challenge to create a coworking facility is to know where to draw the investment line! If you over-invest, your PBP gets stretched and if you under-invest, clients might not appreciate the quality of the offerings. It is vital to get that balance right. Needless to say, we did not get it right at the first attempt. What helped was that we followed a model of phase wise development where we made a coworking model area first with experimental dimensions and furnishings.
We began our marketing while the facility got developed, so enquirers came in, saw the model section and we used their feedbacks to shape our facility as well. For example, we did not plan any private cabins initially, but upon receiving several requests for them, we altered plans midway and created cabin structures. This flexibility allowed us to correct mistakes on the way before launch. I must add that the response we have had from the city has been beyond expectations and we are working on a second outlet already!
Saahil, how are you reaching your prospective customers for your EasyDaftar shared workspace?
Having worked closely with Google Adwords and social media marketing in the UK, and seen the benefits for the business, we have been aggressive since the outset with the same. I feel it is one area where we can compete with bigger brands in the industry, hereby leveraging them for leads and enquiries. That aside, we host a lot of events in the city to increase visibility and presence. My father is a big believer in providing an interpersonal touch and so we keep very good relations with all clients. Our clients are the real source of word-of-mouth and many of them have provided us useful references.
How has been the journey so far for EasyDaftar?
We launched on the 1st of June 2016 and have steadily grown at a rate of 30%. In the first 6 months, we have been able to sell 60+ workstations out of a total of 80, an occupancy rate of 75%. We aim to reach 95% occupancy by two more months. Our bigger focus is on creating a balanced client portfolio as well as customer retention. Needless to say, space optimization is a very crucial factor to maximize revenues. Having said that, we will never take double bookings per workstation as we provide dedicated desks per user. The quality of service will never be compromised at any cost.
You are presently based in Kolkata. Please tell us about the existing startup ecosystem in Kolkata.
I have interacted at the national level of our industry as well as spoken at panel discussions and made the same point time and again that other cities are realizing the value of basing teams in Kolkata. Due to the cost effective availability of talent in the city, we have several clients who are investing in Kolkata. We make it plausible for them to take up a professional space for their operations at minimal costs. I am pleased to say that maximum percentage of our clients are from outside the city.
The Startup scene in Kolkata is also changing for the better with a heavy focus on tech. Organizations such as Nasscom are also doing a commendable job to better the ecosystem. We do our small bit by holding meaningful events and calling established names to give guidance to businesses and startups. I foresee Kolkata being a bustling hub for startups in the future. We are excited to be a part of the ecosystem!
What are the present challenges that you are facing? How are you trying to overcome them?
The biggest issue for us is to provide seamless Internet infrastructure for 50+ simultaneous users. We strive hard to provide best quality services. We provide an 8 Mbps Commercial connection so that users have a comfortable experience. Yet, Internet issues are a tough tackle point and we are very much hands on to check the rate of issues. Only when one is running and managing their own space can the quality be maintained. I emphasize excessively on quality as clients will always have positive experiences if the quality is maintained consistently.
What plans do you have to further scale up your business?
6 months into the line, we are working on a second outlet. There are also few more innovations that we have in mind! Wait and watch out for our upcoming offerings. We wish to target all types of businesses and aim to provide total office space solutions. We will be rolling out first-of-their-kind services in the industry – all with a view to revolutionizing convenience for businesses, consequently increasing their efficiency. For example, we are working on an end-to-end at-your-workstation service for businesses. It is an exciting phase to have the opportunity to work on colouring a blank canvas.
And one last question of this session Saahil, if you have had one wish…
I would have loved to have bypassed the first year of operations as that is the most hair-raising period for a new business. The teething issues can be difficult to tackle at times, but support from clients and the drive to attain the desired levels of quality keep us going!