Last year, it became the first start-up to launch out of Emaar Properties’ E25 entrepreneurship program, an innovative initiative for under 25-year-olds. Today, co-working space operator letswork runs nearly 20 locations across the UAE.
Co-founders Omar AlMheiri and Hamza Khan share the secret behind their rapid expansion across the country.
Will co-working become the new normal in the UAE?
Definitely. Co-working is already the new normal in the rest of the world and it is only a matter of time before it becomes the norm in Dubai. Thousands of people have already tried our spaces and we expect many more to do so in 2019 as people look past traditional offices, their homes and cafe chains for their workspace needs.
What is your business model?
We are an asset-light co-working space operator. Instead of investing capital heavily on leases and fitting out a permanent workspace like other operators, we partner with existing assets across the UAE to activate them during their quietest hours as co-working spaces. We offer daily, weekly and monthly packages with perks like unlimited tea, coffee, water, Wi-Fi, meeting room access and free parking. Our members win due to our flexible and affordable packages, and our venue partners win with the footfall and revenue our members bring. We win with the revenue we generate from membership fees.
Why the decision to launch letswork?
We noticed two problems: the high cost of office space in Dubai (particularly in key urban areas) and the fact that hundreds of beautiful hotels, restaurants and other venues are sitting empty during the day. We knew we wanted to enter the co-working space market, but realised we could be smarter and leverage existing venues instead of building our own.
Why are co-working spaces important, particularly for start ups and SMEs? Why does the GCC market need them?
Co-working spaces are particularly important for start-ups for two main reasons. Firstly, working from a co-working space is significantly cheaper and more flexible than going out and getting your own office. After considering rent, fit-out costs, running costs, parking and other fees into account, start-ups easily use up a large chunk of their seed capital before they even begin generating revenue. Co-working spaces offer a fantastic plug and play solution, particularly for small teams that are agile and mobile. Secondly, the “co” in co-working refers to community. Working on an early stage business can be very lonely if working from your own home or office. Co-working allows you to work alongside people from a range of industries and backgrounds, allowing you to exchange ideas and build relationships that can help propel your business.
How is letswork performing at the moment?
We have seen excellent growth in our first 12 months of operations, despite market and seasonal challenges.
It is only a matter of time before co-working becomes the norm in Dubai
With conducting business being made easier in the UAE, we expect this growth to continue, especially with the recent launch of our iOS and Android application.
Do you have any expansion plans across the GCC or Middle East?
Since we are only a year old, our current focus is to build our presence and brand here in the UAE. We are, however, considering expansion options abroad.
Do you see others following in your footsteps and opening more co-working spaces?
They already are. We keep seeing new co-working spaces open up every month which is very exciting for the SME ecosystem. However, we are pleased to offer something that is unique, affordable and flexible compared to our competitors.
Are there already enough co-working spaces in the UAE or do we need more of them?
SMEs are the backbone of the economy. As they become smarter with their needs, more and more SMEs will opt for co-working spaces. We will therefore definitely need more, particularly in the rest of the GCC where the start-up sector is more nascent.
What were some of the challenges you faced when you launched letswork, and what are the challenges you currently face?
Since neither of us have any major business experience (Omar is an engineer, Hamza is a lawyer), we have made and still make plenty of mistakes, from our website domain expiring to accidentally spending an extra AED10,000 on Facebook Ads.
We have had to learn various skill sets on the job including tech, design, finance and marketing skills, some of which we now enjoy. You do, however, learn from your mistakes and having a motto of failing cheaply and quickly is vital.
How is letswork funded, and how much funding does it take to launch a co-working space operator?
Letswork is the first start-up to launch out of the E25 entrepreneurship program at Emaar. We pitched our business idea to Emaar senior management and received our first round of seed funding to get started.
To launch a co-working space, it really depends what you do: building a swanky hub in Downtown is going to cost a lot more than a cosy space for freelancers in a quieter part of town.
If you could go back and do one thing differently with letswork, what would it be?
While we don’t have any regrets, we would probably advise our younger selves to not be afraid to ask for help. There are so many people and resources at your disposal but either (a) you don’t realise it or (b) you never bother reaching out. Instead, you end up suffering alone.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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