Shy and humble Emdadul Hoque of Tigers App is always typing away on his laptop. Being an entrepreneur and an extremely busy person, he managed to free his schedule for a quick chat to discuss his views on operating a business in a coworking space.
‘Since my student life, I never really wanted to get a conventional job,’ he reflected. ‘I did not want to be tied down to it. But coming from a middle-class family, it was expected of me to get a good job, and at that time, we did not have the finance to start a business either. In time, I got a job at Grameen Phone. However, a regular job wasn’t very satisfying. Gradually, we managed to set up Tigers App with some financing from Google’s AdMob service’.
Tigers App is a mobile app based firm, currently developing in-house apps for different companies. Recently, Tigers App also diversified by opening a new domain hosting server. This service can show the best-priced products for the customers in the low-end market. The price is lower than standard domain hosting sites and emphasizes on providing better quality than its competitors.
‘We have a lot of foreign clients,’ Mr. Hoque said. ‘They have very advanced technology which is not available in Bangladesh yet. With our expertise, however, we accommodate their requirements and are coming up with innovative solutions which are new to the Bangladeshi market.’
When setting up Tigers App, Mr. Hoque was disappointed by the lack of space available for the startup entrepreneurs. When he opted to go for coworking, he only knew that the concept was about sharing office spaces. ‘When I first started to sit at Hubdhaka, Tigers App was still taking baby steps,’ he recollected. ‘ In fact, we did not even name our firm that time! But coworking turned out to be a lot more than just sharing office space.’
For Mr. Hoque, coworking provided an escape from the isolation he faced when he worked from home. ‘I used to work from home after leaving GP,’ he said. ‘But I was not getting to work properly; it was too distracting, and I hated to work all by myself. I went through Facebook to find about office spaces and learned about coworking spaces. I chose to visit Hubdhaka since the cost seemed reasonable to me.’
‘When I first came in, I did not know we had to take an appointment,’ he continued. ‘ But the staff members were cordial and gave me a tour of the space. I learned about the different benefits they provided, and I thought, it was good enough for a startup. It did not take me long to adapt to coworking. Since I used to work in an open working space, I was used to the environment.’
After finally foraying into the market as a full-fledged entrepreneur, Mr. Hoque realized how different reality was from his expectations. ‘It is a very new territory for me,’ he said. ‘It was my first time, and I experienced a lot of things I never expected. The last three months have been different. Matching the expectations we had and the reality we are working in is tough. For example, if we get the project of developing an app, we might estimate that it will take around fifteen days to finish. But in reality, it can take one or more months due to many factors. That does contradict our expectations.’
Along with the challenges of meeting customer expectations. Mr. Hoque was also plagued by the technical issues related to starting a new business. ‘Things like trade license, bank accounts, and other documents can be a hassle,’ he said. ‘ These are certainly important, but the formalities can take a lot of time and delay our work. I was not really prepared for these formalities and had little idea about these. We also had some restrictions from Google based on their policies. Some of their policies create problems if third party apps are used and can block an app. One of our apps was closed down because of these policies, and we had to start from scratch.’
But coworking provided solutions to many of his problems. ‘Here I can find other people with whom I can talk about professional issues and take advice or help,’ Mr. Hoque said. ‘ Mr. Aminul, who owns Shahin’s Helpline, sits right next to my desk, and he gives me advice on legal matters since I am not aware of these matters. He helped me get a trade license and handled other legal formalities for me. Then, there are the designers who can do quick work for me if I ask them to. I can simply ask anyone here with the right expertise to help me out with anything.’
Not only did coworking with other entrepreneurs help him deal with the formalities of setting up a new business, but he also found peers with whom he was able to share his opinions and matters. ‘The biggest benefit is the interaction,’ he said wisely. ‘You cannot put a price on that. Just like other offices, when you have a lot of people around, you get a headstart on the professional front. Coworking spaces provide the same benefit for startups. For me, working alone is depressing, and nothing gets done correctly.’
But not all things are without flaws. Mr. Hoque has concerns about the noise at the coworking spaces, but he thinks that cannot be helped. However, any disruption in the internet bandwidth can be problematic for Mr. Hoque’s work. ‘Disturbances in internet connections is not good for IT firms,’ he admitted. ‘Since most of our work is online, if the internet is down, we can end up delaying the tasks. Customers might get annoyed, and this can create a setback for us.’
Mr. Hoque is also concerned with the business strategies of some of the newer coworking firms. ‘I find that some coworking spaces are more business minded,’ he complained. ‘They focus more on generating revenue than on the core principle of coworking which is interaction. I do not think this particular practice should spread in our country.’
But he does think coworking itself should spread across Bangladesh. He took the opportunity to draw attention to the wastage of office space in big corporations. ‘At many renowned companies, you will see that they have large big empty spaces.,’ he pointed out. ‘This wastes a lot of productivity. If these big firms allow startup entrepreneurs to utilize those spaces in exchange for using their skills for various tasks, then the corporations will be saving a lot of costs. This will be a great start for the new entrepreneurs too, and they will be able to do their work smoothly.’
So does he prefer coworking over a traditional office? ‘I prefer coworking spaces,’ he said instantly. ‘I get to interact with many different people here, and it is easier to have access to people with the right skills. But clients also have requirements, and my business type might change in the future which may cause me to think of moving to another space. If I do require a dedicated and bigger workspace, I will consider moving.’
‘But to future entrepreneurs, I strongly advise them to go for coworking. If an entrepreneur works alone or even if he or she works in a team, they will face a lot of hurdles in their initial stages if they are on their own,’ he cautioned. ‘Entrepreneurs can take help from each other in a coworking space to get through the difficulties. So, especially in the primary phase, they should consider coworking.’