They have a mission to change the way people work together – for the better!
Founded in 2016 by Stephanie Ping and Andrew Yeow, WORQ, a Malaysia co-working space is on their journey to disrupting the space by building a coworking community.
In this month’s startup conversation, we caught up with Stephanie to share her story of building WORQ. Read on to find out more!
Tell us about WORQ. Is there a backstory that inspired you to start it?
Stephanie: Our story began in 2016, at a coffee shop in Empire Mall, Subang, when Andrew (my co-founder) said to me, “I want to disrupt the real estate market, but I want to do it profitably.” This was how WORQ started with that mission in mind, with “coworking” as its first product.
Even though the idea of renting and re-renting spaces has been done by service offices and landlords such as REITs for a long time, we decided to do something unprecedented in the world of the real estate provider – to make the success of our space renters our life’s mission.
As part of our goal to disrupt the real estate market, we set out on a novel action plan to establish WORQ as a hyper-localized community creation business. By thinking on behalf of entrepreneurs and building a rich ecosystem, we were able to power a custom-built community that services specific localized communities all throughout Malaysia. As our societies transform towards the future digital economy, the impact of what we bring to the market is huge. We strongly believe that providing people with supercharged work life is extremely important to anyone who needs to make a living.
Co-working spaces is a relatively new industry that did not exist 5-10 years ago, what were some of your biggest challenges starting WORQ and how did you overcome them?
Stephanie: Introducing a new concept of office spaces and breaking the traditional norm of renting/leasing from commercial or office buildings was a challenge of its own. As both of us were from the corporate world, it was even harder for us to justify our vision. We had to take the leap of faith in leaving our well-paying jobs, which we were successful at, and persuade our parents & families that spending our own finances to support this startup would bear fruits later.
WORQ has a clear business model, thus, its success has been evident. The business model is designed to meet the gap of office space needs between developers and customers. The strategy works to take away the headache of setting up an office space, from construction, PMO, interior design to managing offices’ internet, printing, cleaning & even laundry.
This is further enforced with the establishment of business communities and physical space for people to connect, under the same roof they’re working out of.
Recently, the co-working industry has been ushered into the spotlight negatively, how has WORQ managed to differentiate itself from competitors out there and also assure investors?
Stephanie: WORQ is profitable and this is our key objective. We believe spending money alone does not solve problems, thus, we do not prey to the bleed model and bad sentiments. Our cautious and detailed game plan has made our investors trust us, even amidst the negative industry sentiment.
Conventional co-working spaces focus on their members, whereas WORQ’s business community aims to congregate our internal members and businesses around the area (external members). With that said, we strongly believe in building hyper-localised communities, ensuring inclusivity, and focusing on bringing value to all freelancers, startups, and SMEs. We aim to service the unserved markets, namely, that of suburbs, smaller cities, and small towns, making WORQ the go-to place for business communities to connect and collaborate.
Our initiatives are also curated around this:
- Communication channels that include both internal members and external members
- Collaboration with partners (e.g. Cradle, MDEC, maGIC) and local communities to host events, to be able to provide a platform for businesses to grow, share and learn from one another
- In-house communities (e.g. Tech Bonfire, Startup Bonfire, Book Sharing) – these initiatives are being led by our members themselves!
- Flagship events that are orientated around talent development, knowledge sharing, and networking (NetWORQ Party, EQ Series).
To date, WORQ has positively impacted people, to name a few:
- Start-ups have raised funds at WORQ’s networking events and grown from two-person founder teams to approximately 50-man strong companies
- Freelancers and SMEs have banded together to offer their customers end-to-end solutions
- Digital nomads have migrated to Malaysia to start their small businesses
- Corporations have sourced for and engaged innovation firms and startups to help them expand and innovate their company
WORQ is currently embarking on its tech solution, a community app, to complement the online-offline journey to all businesses in Malaysia. With this, WORQ aims to build hyper-localised communities all over Malaysia, providing the avenue for WORQ’s community of internal and external members to connect and collaborate.
Have your personal values impacted the current values of your organization?
Stephanie: Certainly. There are personal matters that shouldn’t impact the organization but there certainly are personal values that go into building our startup.
For example, Andrew and I are both techies, we effectuate how tech companies innovate and apply that to real estate, with the intention of changing the way people work, that is, enabling cooperative work styles. We also use mathematical, statistical, and economic thinking in structuring most of our processes, which we believe is what makes our company strong, inside out. We value logical thinking and data-driven decision making, but also respect subjectivity and “gut” feelings, as it is important for a community company like ours.
As a guiding principle, our subjective personal values influence how we approach community building and how the company is built. For example, we love our customers and the community, and we aim to provide them with solutions that they’d value but aren’t too costly. We respect our investors and their hard-earned investments and trust placed on us, hence sustainability is practiced when it comes to financial decisions. This all-round balancing act is hard to achieve, but for business so real like ours, we understand the need for the foundation to be strong in order for growth to kick in, fast, and strong.
Our personal beliefs are that there is a balance in this world that needs to be respected and this balance is even faster to reflect in the business world because of the relatively efficient economic systems we live in, especially in the information age. If one does that, a lot of things will work out in the long run so there is no sacrifice between doing the right thing and gaining for oneself. Of course, no one is perfect so we try our best and iterate the process and improve over and over again. I think a balance between scientific thinking and subjective feelings is needed to succeed.
As for personal feelings that should not interfere with the business, it is of utmost importance that we constantly check ourselves for decisions that are made based on ego versus results, data versus imagination. Everyone has shortcomings including founders, and it is OK to have shortcomings; it is highly important that we are able to put aside the shortcomings that sometimes interfere with making the best decisions. As founders, we do our best to reflect deeply within ourselves, in order to assign the best people for the best tasks as the best decision. Indeed this is one of the hardest things to do – to get over oneself.
We try to put the best practices in place to build our ideal company. We believe that if the foundation is strong, growth can even be in a hundredfold because strength builds upon strength.
As a couple-founder team, what are some of the memorable experiences of working on a startup together? What are some benefits of working together? Did you face any challenges?
As a couple-founder team, we rather enjoy our work arrangement because simply put, we quite like each other! Spending all our time together is not difficult because we truly are happy together and enjoy each other’s company. It has been rewarding to see things come together because of our collaborative, community work-style, that is, to complement each other in areas we lack and produce greater results collaboratively. This is what we preach to our customers and wider community members too. We all come with years of experience and unique skill sets, we cannot possibly be good at everything. Hence if you help me in the areas that you are good at, that took you many years to hone, and vice versa, then the net good is that something is achieved even though the cost of contribution is rather low. We practice this as founders and we think that others should as well. Hence we rather like working together for this and many other reasons.
Our challenges are pretty common for people that spend so much time with each other – we never stop talking about work! Work stresses can interfere with our personal lives too. Having identified that, we have established good habits like taking time off our work, spending time apart, making time for other people such as friends and family, and taking on hobbies/ interests that are constructive and enjoyable together, aside from purely working together.
WORQ raised a round with AngelCentral via syndication in early 2020, how have the funds benefited your organisation since then?
Stephanie: These funds have put us in a very strong position amidst the COVID-19 situation, as every dollar goes a much longer way now. We have been careful in our spending and have put some in reserves because the new norm has yet to reveal itself and we might need to tweak our business plan to suit the new environment.
However, there is much opportunity even in this environment, as there is a more immediate demand, with businesses in need to lower their CAPEX spend and headcount planning. Having identified that, we have launched our Business Continuity Product, boosted our Enterprise flexible space offering, and are in the midst of launching more new-norm products such as work from home packages, etc.
Raising on AngelCentral was a very good experience for us. We have never imagined being able to raise money in the midst of COVID-19 and post- WeWork debacle, but we did. It surprised us, even more, when we did our pitch on zoom and managed to secure the funding. Our experience is a testament to the effectiveness of AngelCentral as a platform that attracts investible startups and serious investors, creating a net good in the economy. I would certainly recommend AngelCentral to many startups within our ecosystem and we certainly will use the money raised thoughtfully and mindfully.
COVID-19 has impacted everyone, what are your experiences like running WORQ during Malaysia’s MCO? What are some of the challenges that you have faced during the MCO and how did you overcome it?
Stephanie: Indeed it has impacted businesses of all sorts. For a coworking space provider like us, the main challenge we face is to ensure that our space is clean, safe, and hygienic. The common concern is that the traffic is high in a coworking space, making it hard to track the whereabouts of everyone. We truly are most concerned about the safety of those in our space, both members and staff. We are doing as much as possible to maintain a high hygiene and safety level in our outlets.
Everyone who walks in the space will have to fill in a health and safety declaration form, have their temperatures taken, and wear masks. We have restricted visitors from entering common areas, making it safer for members in the space. We have also postponed all events in the space till October 2020, which we believe will massively reduce the number of visitors and walk-ins.
Since the pandemic outbreak, we’ve increased the number of sanitation facilities in the outlet. There are now sanitizers placed in every common/high traffic area. Our cleaners are also told to ensure the cleanliness of these areas by cleaning after every use. Our facilities such as napping pods are also closed for hygiene purposes. As for food and snacks handling in the pantry, we have designated hours in the day where our staff will distribute the snacks for members. This way we are able to control the contact with food. We are compliant with all the government SOPs. As such, we have reduced the number of people per table and per room by half. With every occupied seat, there will be one unoccupied space. As for meeting rooms and discussion rooms, we have reduced the capacity of the room as well. We have placed signages and demarcated the floors in all common areas to guide social distancing. We have also made narrow walkways into a one-way path, to ensure members are not in close contact with each other.
Above all, we practice transparency and take into consideration all concerns from members. Over the last 3 weeks, we have seen the numbers increase and now, almost everyone is back to work.
Moving forward, what are your general sentiments of the industry WORQ is in? How do you think WORQ is positioned to capture the opportunities available?
Stephanie: WORQ focuses on our tight-knit community. We’re everything community and we intend to create a self-sustaining business community in the long run. As more and more coworking spaces emerge, we trust that our core values of being community-centric will set us apart. We truly believe in the power of networking while embracing diversity, and ultimately, the impact of a genuine and lasting human connection.
Everything in our space is tailored to enhance that experience from our design of the space, facilities (think sleeping pods), locations, and the events planned. It goes beyond the aesthetics and mundane, but really, what is functional and optimal for business and person to thrive in today’s fast-paced environment.
Offices can be set up anywhere, but the benefits of co-existing with other businesses under one roof are too many to list. Productivity, culture, flexibility, and most importantly the well-being and happiness of the occupiers have been proven to improve when they work out of coworking spaces.
2020 marks a challenging start to many, do you have any words of advice for aspiring start-up founders?
Stephanie: True grit and perseverance will prevail. A challenging start now would train you for the future. As the saying goes, you can never truly be prepared when it comes to running a business. Even with this pandemic, the business opportunities are many for particular sectors, especially those that are powered by tech. Managing cash flow, cutting costs, and efficiency in people management will make it easier to run the business.