Amit Ramani, CEO, Awfis

Ashutosh Garg talks to Amit Ramani, a serial entrepreneur who has successfully established one of the largest co-working solutions company in India. Sanjay speaks about his journey as a corporate professional and then as an entrepreneur, the challenges he faced, his learnings and what keeps him going every morning.

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The only valuation that matters is the public markets and the public markets will reward you if you have built a solid business on first principles. Learn well and scale up well.

Amit Ramani

72% of Indian entrepreneurs are below 35 years of age. Millenials form 65% of the country's population. Start today. There is no better place in the world to start. The digital economy has taken off, it is a democracy which offers a level playing field, and the country is consistently growing at 7 to 8%.

Amit Ramani

Coworking business in India has room for multiple players at multiple levels of price point to coexist.

Amit Ramani

Our customers are who make every day great for us. It is really heart-warming to see how customers respond to our solution.

Amit Ramani

Coworking business can be a key partner for the hospitality space including hotels and malls.

Amit Ramani

Businesses are unpredictable and hence business owners need flexibility to expand or contract their office space as per their requirements. Coworking is a sunrise industry in India and many real estate ventures have woken up to the immense possibilities that it has to offer. Today, coworking spaces in India account for a mere 1.5% of the billion square feet real estate market. This figure is a speck as compared to the whopping 12% that developed cities like London boast about. If one were to extrapolate, it becomes clear that the coworking segment in the real estate industry is slated to grow rapidly in India in the coming years.

Every player in this niche segment should keep in mind a few things. The size and location of a coworking centre are of utmost importance when it comes to ascertaining high customer acceptability. Location specific aspects like being close to a public transport facility are critical and should be taken into account while planning. The space should be scalable and the design should be aspirational in order to attract companies of all kinds.

If your organisation is solving a real world problem, its chances of being a huge success are higher. Understand your target audience and tailor solutions that best address their needs. Customers make everything great! Nothing can be more satisfying than to see customers respond well to the solutions you provide. If you are thinking of starting out on your own, take the plunge now. There is no better place in the world than India to start an entrepreneurial venture. The digital economy has taken off, democracy offers a level playing field, and the country is growing at a steady 7 to 8 percent.

Essence

What was your early career like before you founded Awfis?

I graduated from the School of Planning and Architecture before going on to pursue a Masters degree in Architecture at Kansas State University. I also went to Cornell University for a program in Real Estate and Planning before joining my first organisation, HOK consulting in the advanced strategy group. I was involved in advising companies on how to optimize their portfolio by exploring alternate work environments. I moved back to India because I realised that a country that grows at that level of GDP is bound to have plenty of opportunities.

How has your entrepreneurial journey been so far?

When I moved back to India in 2008, I brought the brand Nelson with me. In 2010 I bought over the rights to Nelson in India and that's how I started my journey as a first generation entrepreneur. Around the same time, I also started a company called Petra in the Facilities Managements space. I came across coworking as a concept on one of my trips to the US and it set me thinking. This was a model that could work well for the SME segment in India. Interestingly, this was also a niche that was not being serviced by any real estate players at the time. Some shared workspace players focused on start ups only. Large business centres catered to the needs of established MNCs. I set up Awfis to solve a space related problem that SMEs were facing in India.

Every morning what motivates you to keep going?

We have really made a difference in the Small and Medium Enterprise space. With our coworking facilities, SMEs no longer need to make do with substandard working spaces which do not operate in a service level fashion acceptable to all employees. The fact that we have been able to solve that problem by giving affordable yet high-quality work space to our clients acts as a big driving force. Our customers are who make everyday great for us. It is really heart warming to see how customers respond to our solution.

Where was your first centre and what were the challenges you faced while setting it up?

The first centre set up by Awfis was in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi and it was a huge failure. It had 70 seats. We tried all sorts of layouts including a café-type set up, an open environment, and some closed spaces and yet, we were unable to fill up those 70 seats. We realised that the size of the centre matters. Companies wanted privacy when they were doing their business but they wanted to interact with others at their own time. The community had to be strong. The location also matters. Our Vasant Kunj centre did not have any public transport facilities in the vicinity and so, we weren’t able to attract companies. It is critical to pay attention to the design of the centre as well. Things like a great arrival experience, an ability to upgrade the infrastructure, and a high aspirational quotient have to be factored in.

What is your learning from your biggest failure?

4 entrepreneurial ventures of mine have failed. My biggest regret is that in 2001 when I was graduating from Cornell, we were selected as one of the two businesses from hundreds of others that would receive funding. I did not take the plunge at the stage. If I had taken that plunge, life would have been very different.

What were your challenges when you were scaling up?

Real estate in India is a complicated sector. Dealing with the developer community is tough because of the lack of transparency. Working closely with the contractors and the facilities management team can also be challenging.

What is the potential of the coworking business in India?

The total coworking environment put together is about 15 million of about a billion square feet in India. So, it is about 1.5% of the total space. Every year we add about 50 million square feet of commercial real estate. To put things in perspective, in a developed market like the one in London, 12% of the total space is taken up by the coworking environment. Extrapolating that figure, we are able to say that in the next 5 years the coworking environment can be anywhere between 12 to 15% which translates to 200 million square feet!

What advise will you give young entrepreneurs?

Take the plunge when the time is right. The only valuation that matters is the public markets and the public markets will reward you if you have built a solid business on first principles. What is really important is have you built a business, does the business make money, does the business have a great contribution margin, and have you de-risked your business. Focus on learning well and then scaling up.

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