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WeWork's Ryan Bennett on blazing the trail for shared workspace in India
Ryan Bennett

The concept of co-working is simple yet it was the bold initiative of WeWork that made ventures realise the real potential of the idea. Ryan Bennett, CWeO, (Chief WeWork Executive Officer), WeWork in India had taken up the reins of Indian operations in November 2017. The company plans to commission more locations in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi and has ambitious plans to enter Chennai, Hyderabad and Pune next year. Ryan has been forging ahead with his vision and has been instrumental in offering WeWork a definite competitive edge over other niche players.

Ryan Bennett shares the future strategies for his India business given the differences between the US market and understanding the challenges or benefits that prevail.

What is the USP of innovative office culture that WeWork is working hard to usher in?

Ryan: People are moving to cities, seeking community, purpose, and the opportunity to create their life’s work. There has been a macro shift toward a new way of working and living—people are focused on meaningful connections and being part of something greater than themselves. WeWork is redefining success as measured by personal fulfilment, not just the bottom line. We offer a platform for creators, entrepreneurs and businesses of all sizes to collaborate, innovate, and follow their passions. We provide the space, services and community (both offline and online) for all our members to collaborate and grow their businesses to the maximum potential. WeWork takes care of all the basics -- beautiful, functional space, Wi-Fi, office management, thereby freeing members to do what they love. However, we also connect people with similar interests and businesses, from cities all over the globe, and provide a community of 248,000 members no matter where you go or grow.

We have an exclusive WeWork Member Network App which is available on iOS and Android that gets updated hourly with our social feeds and events; it lets members connect and work virtually with other members around the world. There is a member based in Philadelphia who ended up doing business with another member who works out of our Singapore location. This is an example of how this online network via the app helps members build relationships and breakthrough the silos.

We are reimagining a traditional workspace and transforming buildings into dynamic environments for creativity focus, and connection.

Have you succeeded in changing the conventional mindset of clients who are new to this co-working concept?

Ryan: Companies of all sizes are beginning to understand that their employees need spaces and connections that empower them to collaborate and innovate. As a result, the demand for our space, community, and services from multinational corporations is increasing at an exponential rate. We believe we’re only scratching the surface of meeting this demand, and we see a huge opportunity for growth in India.

We are incredibly excited to continue our expansion across India, particularly in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi - NCR this year and we look forward to providing many more members with space, community, and services they need to learn, network, grow and expand.

Has the local business ecosystem enthusiastically adopted your office concept?

Ryan: We build a vibrant neighbourhood and create synergies from the local enterprises around WeWork locations, this helps us in creating opportunities for our We community while boosting local business and innovation.

We are the perfect place to start for Indian companies looking to grow their businesses abroad. This exchange and building of community will nurture India’s growth on the global map. Being able to provide people space where we enable them to work on projects that they are passionate about and work hard to bring their ideas to life is the most significant success for us. Our members are diverse from freelancers, to start-ups, to large enterprises making this a workplace like no other. In fact, we have close to 45% large enterprises that are WeWork members, and they are realising that we not only solve their real estate requirements by offering space but offer a space that has energy, enrich their culture, enhance employee satisfaction and improve retention. While WeWork’s community in India home to global enterprises -- such as Microsoft, Jaguar Land Rover, GoDaddy among others there are a lot of SMEs such as Miller & Camron, Megshala (NGO), AA Hospitality and Get Gorgeous across our three locations.

What kind of competition have you been experiencing in India?

Ryan: While it is only natural that the market becomes more saturated for such a fast-growing industry, we do not consider ourselves as a co-working company; our competition is with the traditional real estate. We are more than just space; we are a global platform for creators that help people to create a life, not just a living. We are disrupting the traditional real estate market and building a community of forward-thinking entrepreneurs, SMEs and large enterprises and, using technology and our spaces to bring people together. We transform buildings into dynamic environments for creativity, focus, and collaboration.

Physical spaces are just one of the services that we provide to our members, and importantly we bring a vibrant community where you can see people making connections over coffee and collaborating over business ideas—70% members collaborate with each other, 50% do business with each other. With technological advancement, people spend less time getting connected in real life, but we want to bring real people in real life to get connected, we believe together, we are better. At WeWork, how to get people more connected how to provide best experiences to them, how to help them grow their business, these things are what we focus on.

How do you plan to optimise costs and economise office spaces to allure small companies on a shoestring?

Ryan: In India’s top cities - Delhi National Capital Region (NCR), Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune, a co-working space is likely to lead to cost savings in the range of 20–25% when compared with leasing traditional office space. The maximum (nearly 70%) business opportunity here lies with large corporate firms seeking alternative, activity-based workplaces to nurture their talent and further their business growth. The small, emerging business sector (~20%) follows as the second demand group looking for hot desking opportunities at a low cost shared workplaces, while professional freelancers and start-ups form the rest (~10%) of the market demand (As per a JLL report). These factors indicate that co-working offers optimisation of costs, and our varied offerings from a hot desk, dedicated desk to private offices allow an individual or a large company to take up space that meets their needs. Apart from that, our prices differ across locations and one can quickly select the one that fits the budget without compromising on any of the member benefits. What stands out for us is our global community of 248,000 members around the world, our members can access this community through our ‘We’ App which can allow people to grow and evolve and build relationships. Besides, WeWork members have access to several services including health insurance, an internal social network, weekly events and workshops, and other business services to help them succeed.

What kind of stakeholders are you planning to ally with for expanding operations strategically?

Ryan: Whenever we enter a new country we work together with key partners and experts to help create the WeWork experience in that region. We also want local operations, local programming, local employees and most importantly, local members. We partnered with Embassy Group when we entered India, and we are lucky to have a reliable partner like the Embassy that helped us gain a solid footing in India. The embassy has the expertise in the Indian market to enhance our growth in the country.

What are the existing challenges in India and how do you plan to tackle those?

Ryan: One of the most significant challenges that we are facing is the perception that WeWork is a real estate company. WeWork is a network of workspaces where companies and people grow together, and we are creating a world where people make life, not just a living. Success is measured by personal fulfillment, not just the bottom line and we are redefining that. We have been witnessing a macro shift towards a new way of work - one focused on a movement towards meaning, and we are accelerating this movement. Currently, we are navigating the future of work and cities to progress towards a new economy - that uplifts all people and all communities. We think of the office as much more than just a workspace. It’s a place where we spend most of our waking hours, so we are focused on creating an environment where the surroundings inspire our members and have the flexibility to grow their footprint or enter and leave new markets opportunistically. We want people to work together, to solve problems together and to improve their business at WeWork.

What kind of a support do you expect from the government to expand your operations in India?

Ryan: India’s economic geography is still evolving, and changes are happening at a much faster rate. The Government has already taken various initiatives like Make in India, Start-up India, Digital India and further acceleration will help in growing the Indian economy. We seek to be partners with the Indian government as they promote India’s businesses and entrepreneurs and develop market leaders. Government’s continued focus on promoting entrepreneurship has led to India being at the helm of the transition journey towards becoming a leading innovation hub in the world. There is, however, a tremendous opportunity to scale up investments in physical and human infrastructure. At WeWork, we enable entrepreneurial stories in India by offering complete flexibility, which allows businesses to collaborate and thrive.

How will the sector evolve in the coming years?

Ryan: The way we work is changing, especially across traditional businesses like real estate. Buildings will be much healthier environments, and landlords will need to create partnerships with providers who can help develop services and experiences in addition to basic lease tenancies. There is a significant global trend amongst all people, but mainly the youth, towards happiness, purpose and meaning being as or more important than financial success.Whether its work, living, education, wellness, or retail – we can reimagine, reshape, and re-humanise the architecture of our space, our buildings, and our cities to support and encourage human connection and creativity. Moving forward, we aspire to broaden and share our belief in togetherness, push for innovation and expand our community to more members.

Indian business fraternity has warmly received co-working space. This is keeping in perspective the fact that WeWork has been aggressively procuring new office spaces and enhancing its outreach to the professional community. In the near future, the concept would consolidate itself with more unique and innovative approaches that would have a wide-ranging impact on the productivity of the native business ecosystem.

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