No doubt, remote working is booming. And just this year, we saw an increasing number of newly launched co-working spaces in Klang Valley alone. “It’s the future of work!” share the co-founders of Sandbox, a 24/7 coworking space nestled in Sri Petaling, a bustling suburb of Kuala Lumpur . And there’s no denying the fact that it’s a rising trend. Especially since WeWork, the global workspace-sharing giant, is also entering Malaysia soon.
Here, Casper Foo and Yu Min Lye share their experience and insights to launch a coworking space business.
Tell us a bit about your background. What made you decide on starting Sandbox in Sri Petaling?
Casper: I’m actually a financial planner whereas Yu Min has been working in Singapore in the marketing field. We knew each other since pre-university and kept in touch with frequent ‘yum cha’ sessions in this area.
Yu Min: Sandbox was conceptualised after our favourite café suddenly closed down. We were devastated. I mean, where else can we hang out now? Finding the perfect place with the right vibe and atmosphere will be hard. Then, we realised: why not start our own space where we can provide people with a comfortable setting where they can work productively and experience an ease of mind. Also, with new start-ups sprouting and freelancing becoming a norm, the emerging of digital nomads in Southeast Asia is increasing.
C: We’re inspired by this coworking space we visited in Chiang Mai. We love the easy, laid-back style it provides to remote workers. We’re amazed how productive and effective one can be when they get to work out of a pleasant space. And this is what we want to bring to Malaysia’s rising digital community. Sandbox is a platform we created for them to meet like-minded people, bounce ideas with and potentially build real relationships.
So, Sandbox is like a space where people gather together to ‘play’?
C: Sort of [laughs]. Sandbox is actually a digital term for a virtual space in which new or untested software or coding can be run securely. We thought it is a befitting name as we’re targeting digital nomads. When people come here, they are looking to finalise their projects. And this is where we got our tagline “Go live.”
What were the initial challenges faced?
C: First, never do it if you’re looking to build a fast profitable business. Honestly, this business doesn’t have the best ROI. [laughs]
YM: When we started this business, we have already chosen passion over profit. To us, that’s the only thing to work on and the whole idea of meeting new people everyday drives us further. It’s an investment and you probably won’t see a return soon. Moreover, you may lose money for the first six months to a year if the space is not full.
Why pick Sri Petaling then? Won’t the city provide more sales and demands?
C: I think it’s crucial to build where your network is. For us, we’re very familiar with this neighbourhood. But more importantly, this is the place where it meets our golden trinity of parking, proximity to amenities and quaintness.
YM: And if you really ask people to describe their most typical mode of transportation, most would answer car. Thus the reason why ample parking is so significant to us.
C: Also, our workspace is designed for comfort. Ultimately, a coworking space is a shared work environment where people meet, work, network, share ideas and collaborate on projects. That’s why we also focus heavily on the community, instead of features. Rather than walk new prospects around our space to show off our fancy desks and comfortable chairs, we aim to introduce them to our existing members.
YM: I mean, if you think about it, freelancers and other office-less workers had few options when it came to working space: coffee shops and libraries have been the top choices. Even homes. But these days, that’s all changing.
How long did it take you guys to conceptualise it? Can you guide me step by step?
C: The whole idea started in early August 2017. We researched a lot and saw what other coworking spaces were doing, locally and internationally. The first leg was zeroing on the right location. We scouted around in this area. And honestly, we found this place on our second day. We picked this place because it has natural light coming into the space. Almost like our beloved café. Secondly, pricing. It was a bit difficult as this is a different kind of startup. Anyway, we wanted to provide something that is money for value. We made sure this place is accessible for people who need it.
YM: We even developed a personal mobile application for it. Basically, we googled almost everything. Everything you’re looking at, the renovation, the furniture, is a combination of what we have researched on and did it on our own. Oh, except for the interior design. That’s done by a close friend of ours.
C: It took us three to four months to completely renovate this place. On top of the application, we made our own security system as well. Especially since our members are all tech-savvy, we had to make sure every little detail is up to their standard.
It’s a competitive market. You not only have local enterprises, but also the big boys like Servcorp around. So, what is your business plan?
C: Like the majority of our members, we aim to grow our business organically with our community. We’ll be hosting targeted workshops and events that are beneficial to our members as well.
YM: We’re working really closely with organisation that supporting the digital space. We’re not here to build a multimillion-dollar real estate. We’re here to build a community. And this is proven from the scene in the U.S. People actually choose the community over the space. It’s like working alone, together.
C: Ultimately, this is a new thing in town and not a lot of people are familiar with this concept. Heck, even we don’t have much business reference. You just have to bump your head here and there.
YM: Exactly. So, we’re looking to educate the masses about Sandbox. What is it that we do. We’re not just an office renting business. We’re more than that.