Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

How Hong Kong's Garage Society plans to battle Western co-working brands in India

Founder Elaine Tsung says that understand local culture is critical to the business, and similar Asian values have carried the company thus far

Rajiv Singh
Published: May 9, 2019 08:07:46 AM IST
Updated: May 9, 2019 08:54:45 AM IST

How Hong Kong's Garage Society plans to battle Western co-working brands in India

The inspiration to stand out from the clutter and be different can come from strangest of places. Even from garages.

Take, for instance, companies such as Apple, Google, Amazon and Disney, all born out of garages. Elaine Tsung, founder of Hong Kong-headquartered co-working space brand Garage Society, is inspired as much by the garages themselves as by the fact that billion-dollar companies had their modest beginnings here.

“Garage Society is inspired by great companies,” says Tsung, who was in India recently to launch three co-working centres in Gurugram. Started in 2014 in Hong Kong, Garage Society has presence in Asian countries such as Thailand, Cambodia and the Philippines, and made its India debut last November. “We are investing Rs 100 crores to set up 10 more centres over next six months,” claims Tsung in an interview with Forbes India. Edited excerpts:

Q. What was your first trip to India like?
A. About two years ago, a real estate developer invited us to visit Delhi. I was really impressed by the speed of growth, and more importantly, the energetic vibe I saw. So we decided then that India will be our next key strategic market.

It has been just a few months since we entered India officially. The experience so far has been more than amazing. With the help of Prashant Garg, our general manager in India, we have built an outstanding team. Our first site was launched in November last year and we have just opened more in Gurugram. All of our sites are now 100 percent occupied.

Q. The Indian market is already cluttered with a long list of foreign and domestic co-working brands…
A. It is obvious that co-working has become the new way to work in the country. Not only are freelancers and startups joining co-working spaces, MNCs and giant tech companies are keen adopters too. With the rapidly increasing demand that we have observed, the need for solid co-working operators is very strong. The fact that a lot of new co-working companies have set up operations in high-growth markets like India makes it quite competitive. But we have observed that customers are smart and they are looking for value, as opposed to just the lowest prices. 

Garage Society believes in a customer-centric approach. So our offering is not limited to a nicely fitted work space, but also what happens inside the space: The community.  Our key community activation initiatives include Garage Academy, our events and training arm Garage Recruit, our hiring and internship programme, and Garage Gives Back, our community social responsibility programme. All community initiatives are brought online to Garage Commons, our community portal so cross pollination between members from all over the world is made possible.

Q. You launched in November, and have set a target of taking the count to 14 centres in six months. Isn’t that too fast?
A. With the solid track business record that we have seen so far, the plan is to continue with expansion. We are looking to set up at least 10 operations over the next six months, and have set aside at least Rs 100 crore for this. Of course, there are more expansion plans and investments budgets for the medium and longer term too.

Q. How is the China and Hong Kong market different from India’s?
A. Being a Hong Kong (HK) operator with south-east Asia experience may have shaped the way we approach co-working as business. HK is obviously very international, and we have been working with a lot of American and European customers over the past five years. So we have learnt a lot of the western work culture. At the same time, HK is still part of China. So our values are still very Asian. Together with our experience in setting up in other south-east Asian countries, we have learnt to work in a highly adaptive manner, and we understand that local culture plays a big part in a people-centric business like co-working. Setting up in India has been a smooth process for us so far.

Q. There are not many Chinese co-working space in India yet. The segment is dominated by American and European companies. Can you give them a fight?

A. With 100 percent occupancy at all our locations, we are happy to say that the Indian market is finding good value in what we offer. I think some similar Asian values may have benefited our launch into India too. And of course, we are continuously working with our members to enhance our offerings.

(This story appears in the 24 May, 2019 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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