Dhaka meets coworking. Yes, the concept of coworking is gradually spreading all over Dhaka, with the establishment of new coworking spaces. Today, the spotlight falls upon OPEN, the first coworking space in Bashundhara R/A, Dhaka. They are also the first coworking space in Dhaka to be open 24/7. OPEN’s Founder, Sadbin Ahmed, took the time to talk about the space, recent happenings, and updates. He also shared his vision for startups in Bangladesh and how OPEN plans to support them.
Importance of a physical space
Sadbin started his career as a developer, and he has been working in the service industry for the past 4-5 years. At the moment he is running his own company GoGybo Technologies, which is stands for “Go Get Your Business Online” mostly based on offshore development and helping local businesses have a strong online presence. While working, he faced a drawback, lack of physical space. In Bangladesh, a physical office is a necessity, to create and retain the faith of customers. He opted for coworking and visited few of the coworking spaces in Dhaka. The prices he met with, got him thinking, “If I spend a decent amount of money in a month, I could add some more and form a coworking space, helping others as well, in the process.”
Sadbin is a fan of Silicon Valley. He initially wanted to open an incubator. “I wanted to have a space where anyone could come and work and socialize, get connected and then form a team,” he said. The way it works with startups is that, you form a team, work on a prototype, and incubators facilitate the process. They take startups to a particular stage, from where accelerators take over and help with a commercial launching. Due to lack of incubators in Bangladesh, very few startups can sustain. Thus, resulting in accelerators not being able to help, as much as they can either. However, an incubator needs a lot of funding, since they have to provide a lot of facilities. Based on that reasoning, he decided to start with a coworking space, where like-minded people sharing the same ambitions and skill set, can go and work together on their own.
During his visit to other coworking spaces, it occurred to him that coworking aims to facilitate startups, entrepreneurs, and freelancers. Keeping social impact in mind, Sadbin also hoped OPEN could assist the younger generation. Currently, Bashundhara R/A hosts three universities; North South University (NSU), Independent University-Bangladesh (IUB) and American International University-Bangladesh (AIUB). It has the highest student occupancy in Dhaka. The coworking space closest to Bashundhara is located in Banani, Moar. He conducted an online survey; the findings revealed a good deal of interest towards coworking. Also, the presence of several startups in the area helped cinched the deal on his choice of location.
At the moment, they are targeting startups, students, entrepreneurs, freelancers, writers, and bloggers. Setting themselves slightly apart, they are also hoping to attract mentors. He shared, “We are looking for people who are interested in joining startups, as well as those who are interested in mentoring others to foster the development of startups.”
Sadbin completed his education from NSU, two of his partners (co-founders) are students of NSU and IUB, respectively. They have a good relationship with the student communities residing in Bashundhara. Plus, his career in the startup and development industry enabled him to form connections with entrepreneurs and individuals affiliated with startups. Therefore, they were able to get a decent response, just by marketing via word-of-mouth.
Facebook continues to be a major social platform in Bangladesh. So, they started with that first. Since they are relatively new, Sadbin feels Twitter won’t be able to facilitate their marketing campaign yet. As for Instagram, he mentioned though it is not widely used in Bangladesh, it is a good place to post pictures about the happenings in their space, such as events, workshops, etc. It is also a smart way to provide potential members with an overview of the space.
As Linkedin caters to those in the business community, he encourages their members to use it as well. He also advises the startups residing in/visiting their space to open an account in angel.Co (directory of startups worldwide).
Tale of Woe
He shared an opportunity Bangladesh missed out on two years back when he was the brand ambassador of Startup Istanbul. They were giving out free passes; his job was to help startups in Bangladesh to apply and enlist. Unfortunately back then, it was a challenge to get people who were interested in going abroad and pitching their idea. Also, most people including him did not have the slightest clue as to the work that goes into pitch depth, the first process in the selection.
Although the scenario has vastly improved now, people in Bangladesh were not that open to innovation. This mentality was mostly due to lack of opportunity, discouraging people from even trying out their ideas. Sadbin lamented, “It’s like having an idea in the morning, which is dead by the evening; because people didn’t know how to approach it.”
A lot of the coworking spaces in Dhaka offer prices that are not feasible for startups, freelancers and especially not the students. The prices kept at OPEN is extremely cost-effective. He shared, “ What you would spend in a restaurant in an hour, that much will suffice for you to spend the whole day at OPEN.”
Events & Workshops
With the rise of freelancers in Bangladesh, it is not surprising that Sadbin also observed the trend. His prior experience as a freelancer gives him a better understanding of the challenges freelancers faces often. Therefore, OPEN plans to host workshops tailored to freelancers, aiding them to improve the quantity and quality of their work.
A significant portion of one’s university life is spent on group studies and presentations. A lot of people face difficulty with Microsoft Excel, Powerpoint, mainly tools they’ll need to work on their projects. OPEN plans on providing skillshare workshops for students, facilitating them with their studies. They also plan on putting booths up in universities offering student memberships at discounted prices. There will be fixed timings on when only students will occupy the space and work there.
Since its inception, OPEN has already hosted 4-5 workshops on technology and coding sponsored by Wizkit. They also have interactive training sessions on Adobe Illustrator, called Magic of Vectors (MoV). The course is tailored to graphic designers and serves to strengthen one’s design basics. Beatbox Bangladesh also hosted their BeatCamp event two months ago at OPEN. “We will definitely keep coming up innovative workshops and ways to gather people, and give them the opportunity to experience our space,” said Sadbin.
Sadbin shared tentatively, “OPEN will try their hand at hosting Startup Pitch competitions, weekly or monthly.” Whereby which people will send their pitches, few will get selected. They plan on inviting investors, who are interested in investing in startups, not limited to the tech industry only. They will aim to cover a broader section of the industry, calling on investors suited to the type of sessions being hosted. Their aim to create opportunities for a large mass with varying interests and dreams.
He pointed out, “It’s still a work in process. We kept the environment very light and casual because we are targeting people within the age group of 18 – 35.” The color yellow that embodies their logo and space was chosen to represent enthusiasm. Except for the electronics, they opted for custom-made everything else (lights, chair, table, etc.). His reasoning behind that was for cost-cutting purposes, and above all their need to maintain their personal touch in the space. They also have a cozy lounge area with a gaming system, for the moments when their members need to relax for a bit.
Including the founder, OPEN is fostered by three other talented individuals. As co-founders, Abdullah Shahid occupies the roles of a community manager, Samiur Rahman is the investor and, Junaid Deep handles the marketing aspect of OPEN.
Coworking at Night
Study halls in universities close by 8 PM. OPEN is a 24/7 coworking space, operating in two shifts. Fulltime (9 AM – 6 PM) during the day and the second shift starts from 9 PM to 6 AM. Sadbin is looking forward to the student population of Bashundhara, utilizing their space to further their education.
People who work in freelancing, usually work at night, since that is the prime time in New York, Australia, and Europe. There are no offices open during that time and the restaurants that are open, don’t provide a friendly work environment. OPEN is looking forward to increasing their night crowd. Sadbin claims, “I am trying to promote the night shift and the nightlife of work. I want to see this place full at night.”
Glimpse into the future
Currently, OPEN’s website only lists the standard services a coworking space has to offer. Sooner or later they aim to build a platform providing information about their members (including startups) and their work.
Sadbin also came up with a stunning concept of forming an alliance of coworking spaces in Dhaka. He looks forward to the day when everyone will work and aid each other causes.
Sadbin mentioned, “What we are trying to do here is to make a community of startups altogether.” He hopes to improve the startup scenario in Bangladesh, saying, “We need to work together and contribute, instead of competing. That is the only way we can compete with other countries on fairgrounds.”
Startups like Uber started their adventure from coworking spaces. In Germany, they are working on a 30,000 sq ft coworking space, which will provide mentorship. There will be investors and mentors from Google, Youtube, Facebook, offering their support. Other companies and countries are working towards improving their scenario, and Sadbin believes Bangladesh should not fall back. His goal is to create a community that can build a product that is a billion-dollar tech company, or help others to achieve that dream. He said, “Either I want to do it, or I want to be related to it. So, If something comes up from this space, then it will be an honor.”