Briefly introduce yourself, what is the nature of your business?

My name is Paul Keursten, I am the CEO and co-founder of Workshop17, a leading coworking business in South Africa. 

What inspired the launch of your business?

We saw that the way people work was changing but workspaces were still the same. We also felt that SA needed spaces where professionals, entrepreneurs and businesses could come and work together and inspire each other. Our purpose is to provide a space and community where people and organisations can be successful, grow and make a positive contribution to others and the world around us. We aim to be a fertile ground for ideas, innovation and entrepreneurship. 

How did you know there was a market for it?

I already had a small boutique coworking business in the Netherlands. My co-founder Mark Seftel, saw the need for an innovative space for tech-professionals. We saw the international developments in the US, Europe and Asia. And we noticed the growing number of people working from home and in coffee shops. Combining our passion as outlined above with seeing these developments internationally, sparked the start of our business. 

Paul Keursten, Workshop17 co-founder.
Paul Keursten, Workshop17 co-founder.

How did you raise startup capital?

At the time of our start, coworking was not a thing in South Africa. We decided to put the money where our mouth is and completely self fund our first location in Maboneng. This gave us the independence to make our own choices and figure out how to make this business work. Our first location became our business card – showing in real life what we were talking about – and our lab – figuring out all the elements of this business which is more complex than it might seem to outsiders.

Describe your business model and how you make money?

We have three streams of income:

(1) Private offices allow teams to have a private space with a lockable door, ideal for bigger or more established businesses.

(2) Our membership option allows for individuals or smaller teams to enjoy the hot-desking and dedicated seats in our open spaces.

(3) We’re also one of the few co-working spaces in South Africa that have events spaces like an auditorium, seminar rooms, meeting rooms, boardrooms and larger event spaces. This allows our members and the public to make use of professional meeting spaces and provide event space managed by professional events managers. These events also bring our member community in touch with a wide community outside of workshop17, from professional and entrepreneurial networks to boards of large corporates.

What challenges has the business faced and how did it overcome them?

As an operational business that doesn’t own buildings but designs and fits out spaces, it is difficult to get usual finance to grow. We create quality spaces and the capital cost is high. Luckily we found a partner to grow in Growthpoint. 

What was the business’s first big breakthrough?

Our first breakthrough was to be contacted by the V&A Waterfront who at that time built the Watershed space with a coworking area on the 1st and 2nd floor. We were approached to design and manage the space and it has been a great partnership at a prime location. A couple of years later we have 7 spaces in South Africa with 4 in Cape Town and 3 in Johannesburg. 

What online tools/apps is your business using daily?

We have designed an integrated software platform to manage our business and for our members to manage their memberships, book rooms, pay for café purchase and contact other members. It is fully integrated with access control, internet access, quoting and invoicing, printing, and management reporting using best in field applications linked into our software via API. The platform allows our members to explore our national community and search by sector. This search makes it much easier for members to find each other to grow their businesses. 

We also make use of Slack for internal communication between teams and our wider community. We have built an internal CRM system to keep track of opportunities coming into our locations and ensuring we provide our future and current members with the best possible service at all times. 

What marketing strategy has proven profitable for your business?

Our strategy has shifted to focus more on PR and telling the stories of our spaces and our communities. We have a fantastic PR agency who are also members of ours that assist with the stories and the distribution thereof. This allows us to share all the good that’s happening in our community of more than 1500 members and more than 400 organisations. 

What remains a challenge for your business today?

A challenge that we often face is that many traditional companies have not adapted to remote working or the concept of coworking. Many people believe it can be a distracting environment although most corporates are moving towards a more diverse and functional office design like we offer.

Larger companies also still look at pricing on a per m2 basis which isn’t always practical when looking at coworking. In many cases, we offer a lower price per person than a corporation does, with more flexibility and diversity. Many facilities, services and products are included when taking coworking memberships which on paper might seem more expensive.

Any facilities management, stationery, printing, cleaning, fast and reliable wifi, security, concierge services and events management are all included in the price of memberships and private offices.

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Author Muzi Mohale

Welcome to where I showcase small beginnings to inspire the next entrepreneur in you. It's a journey worth tapping into, many life lessons get to be experienced, money made and money lost...You're welcome to share your entrepreneurship journey with my audience.

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