Awfis app aims to be Uber of commercial real estate in India

Priti D’Lima, from Mumbai, faced a huge problem when she decided to launch a wholesale diamond jewellery business in India’s financial capital. She could not find anywhere to work productively and offices were unaffordable for her.

She tried working from home, but ended up getting distracted and helping her mother with the housework instead of focusing on her business. Her meetings had to be done at cafes, where she spent a lot of money on drinks and food. Meanwhile, the co-founder of the company was working from his home, so they struggled to coordinate.

“For starting out, we didn’t want additional expenses you cannot predict because when you have an office, you have to pay staff, electricity, Wi-Fi. You’re not even sure about how much you’re going to earn,” says Ms D’Lima.

Earlier this year, she discovered Awfis, which allowed her to book a desk at one of its budget co-working offices in India through an app. She and her business partner now work out of an office in the Churchgate area of south Mumbai.

“This is really convenient and it’s quite cheap,” she says, explaining that she and her partner each pay 11,500 rupees (Dh630) a month for their desks, which includes all expenses and use of a meeting room. “Our productivity has shot up by 50 per cent since we came here,” adds Ms D’Lima.

Awfis, which launched last year, is the brainchild of Amit Ramani, 42, from Delhi, the company’s founder and chief executive. It offers co-working offices in prime locations in Mumbai, New Delhi, and Bangalore, which are modern, nicely designed spaces with bold colours and a more relaxed, less corporate ambience. Its app enables users to book desks, private offices, and meeting rooms for as little as one hour up to a year, with desks priced at about 400 rupees for one day.

“Our goal is to ultimately become the Uber of commercial real estate in India,” he says.

A trained architect, with degrees from the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi, Kansas State University, and Cornell University in New York, Mr Ramani has an extensive background of working in real estate consulting in the US and India.

This experience led him to identify a problem that entrepreneurs in India were facing – how to find budget good quality office space. This is particularly relevant now thanks to a boom in the number of start-ups in India, with the government actively trying to encourage entrepreneurs to set up new businesses.

“With security deposits and expensive prices, if you look at it the only guys that can have decent office space today [in major cities in India] are people who are multinationals or large corporates,” Mr Ramani says. “If you look at the real demand in the country, it’s with the small and medium enterprises, it’s with the start-up, and it’s with the freelancers. That’s where the demand was but there were no options for them.”

Today Awfis, which means “awesome office” has 2,500 seats across 10 office locations and it is targeting 10,000 seats by end of the year across 50 locations in seven cities in India, he says.

Before launching Awfis, Mr Ramani had already proved himself a savvy businessman. He worked with the design company Nelson in the US and then moved back to India in 2008 with the company. In 2010, he bought out Nelson’s business in Asia, taking over the rights for 14 countries.

That led to launching his own start-up, Awfis, funded by $10 million seed capital, including investment from Radha Kapoor, a high-profile entrepreneur daughter of Rana Kapoor, the Yes Bank founder and chief executive.

“Every centre is profitable at an operational level,” Mr Ramani says. “Overall the company is not profitable because I have invested a capital investment in 10 centres, which is recouped over two to three years.”

He does have competition with a few small players opening up co-working offices in individual locations. Regus, an international company, also has co-working offices in India.

As of now, Awfis does not have any plans to expand beyond India, with enough to keep it busy in its home market, says Mr Ramani.

The company also partners with other services such as health insurance providers to encourage them to offer deals at corporate rates to those working at its offices; it also organises networking events, ranging from comedy nights to bringing in venture capitalists to do talks.

As well as Awfis’s own office spaces, Mr Ramani has also started listing hotel meeting rooms on his app, which is another revenue stream he hopes to grow.

“Anything that is underutilised, you can put it onto a technology platform and connect the demand and supply together,” he says. “The reality is there’s a lot of commercial space that is lying vacant.”

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