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Lean margins, strategic benefits: are co-working spaces a worthy investment?

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Pierre Rabotin of Branderz believes that co-working spaces create collaborative working environment. Kimberley McCosker

Lean margins, strategic benefits: are co-working spaces a worthy investment?

With relatively low rents and a strong pool of start-up businesses, Phnom Penh may seem to be an ideal city to set up a shared office space. Over the past five years, the city has seen a rise in co-working spaces opening for business, offering everything from a sleekly professional environment to a socially-minded start-up support.

But is it a wise move for property owners to start a co-working space? Ian Jones believes it is. After being inspired by the co-working culture in Melbourne, he started The Workshop hoping to replicate a similar environment in Phnom Penh.
“Our clients are mainly small NGO’s, engineers, social entrepreneurs, consultants and freelancers,” Jones said. “When we started a year and a half ago, we invested $3000 in renovations, and we got that back after seven months. Right now, we have eight people in the ten person space, and I only need five people in to break even on costs”.

Saint Blanquat & A., a human resources & management consultancy, opened a new co-working space two months ago. At $300 per month per desk, it’s in the top price range of Phnom Penh’s co-working spaces, but Aumery de Saint Blanquat, the firm’s managing partner, disagrees that financial drive should be the sole motivation for starting a co-working space. “You can’t make a profit,” he said, simply. “You can’t rent the office space out for that much money. In terms of business model, it’s a very cheap sale.”

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
With the growing number of start-ups launching in Phnom Penh, co-working spaces offer an alternative to traditional office life.. Kimberley McCosker

Instead, Saint Blanquat uses the co-working space strategically to offer a good working environment to his own team, as well as offering space to his subcontractors and clients, building a close-knit hub. “The people that use the space that we haven’t previously worked with often end up working with us. We can put together our expertise and do business together,” he said.

“We don’t make a profit, but it helps us cover our office costs and it’s a way to mix people together and create a startup spirit that you don’t often find in Cambodia at the moment,” he added.

After years of renting private offices, branding and communications agency Branderz moved on to the top floor of Saint Blanquat’s office space last month. Not only is it cheaper than Branderz’s last office, but Pierre Rabotin, the company’s operations director, sees more opportunities than when they were isolated in their own workspace. “We love the networking aspect of it,” he said. “We all help each other out, so it creates a great ecosystem.”

Over at the shared office space Impact Hub, Sarath Uch is another happy co-worker. The 25-year-old is the co-founder of a tech company, partially based at Impact Hub. “I met people here who helped coach me on business ideas and helped me think of problems and solutions,” he said.

Impact Hub is based on a socially conscious model, and keeps prices as low as $15 per month in order to attract a range of clients. Their alternative revenue streams – such as events, trainings and consultancies – balance the books, as does help from their network of professional volunteers willing to give a leg up to Cambodian social entrepreneurship. Impact Hub rents the top floor from fellow social enterprise Joma Cafe, who gives them reduced rent. Due to this, the space is both socially conscious and self-sustainable, with 20 people renting the office space and around 100 people in the training and consultancy programs.

“We love the ethos of the network, collaboration, bringing together entrepreneurs focusing on positive impact and exposing Cambodia’s ideas on a global platform,” said co-founder Laura Smitheman. “That’s part of the value that members get – the support of the community and networking opportunities. We have a flexible space with private meeting rooms that gives people the benefits of having their own private office space, as well as all the networking and events.”

The overheads and organisational work required to open a shared office space means it may not be the most cost-effective use for a property. But people with passion for social business, or with a little space in their offices, seem to reaping the benefits of co-working – as do the businesses that work beside them.

Eve Watling

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