Chinese Unicorn and Co-working Space UrWork Rolls into Singapore
UrWork provides on-demand work spaces to individuals and companies of all sizes
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
When discussing business ideas with friends, Dr. Mao Daqing wondered how ideal it would be if there were a platform that could help support them with all the services they need, saving them operational cost, improving their work efficiency, and helping them scale the business faster.
“Creating an inter-connected and wholesome co-working eco-system was the whole idea when I created UrWork. Resource sharing and collaboration is central to the concept,” says Daqing, now the founder and CEO of UrWork, and also 5LMeet, a co-living space in Beijing. He adds that the concept of co-working spaces was still relatively new at the time in China.
As with other co-working spaces, UrWork provides on-demand work spaces to individuals and companies of all sizes. Daqing believes UrWork is differentiated in its bespoke services. For example, UrWork has a module akin to an incubator wherein they buy equity stakes in some companies.
“We want to be partners with them and connect their services to the companies in our spaces. As we have more investments of this kind, we will have more services and players on UrWork’s platform and eventually, we will have an eco-system, within which companies can find themselves surrounded by services and partners they need,” he says.
UrWork has since expanded into Southeast Asia with presence in Singapore – they have a space at JTC launchpad One North, in what is the country’s main tech hub. They will be opening a second location in Singapore’s central business district. They are also planning for expansion in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom in 2018.
While Daqing feels there are profound similarities between their customer base across markets – everyone wants on-demand, easily scaleable office space, in addition to a vibrant community– he points out that there are also profound differences.
“While in China WeChat is the predominant communication tool, integrating functions ranging from cashless payment, to community discussion, email, messaging, content sharing and file-transmission, the western society tends to use Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn more, which are fronts that we are developing at the moment,” he says.
Daqing cites localization, including the process of finding the right local partner, as the biggest challenge in expanding into Southeast Asia. While he has worked in Singapore previously, consulting for CapitaLand and Temasek Holding about commercial real estate, building UrWork in the country takes time.
“Still, the market evolves incredibly fast and Singapore is certainly not what I perceived it to be when I first came here in 1993. For me, it is a continuous learning process to learn about new markets, new customer behavior and new regulations, which is challenging and rewarding at the same time,” he shares.
To accelerate its growth in Singapore, UrWork has partnered with IE and CapitaLand and also made a strategic investment in Rework. They are also exploring other opportunities in Southeast Asia, which is a region that Daqing says has a growing supply of talent, favorable government regulations, and significant investment opportunities.
“Of course we are seeking partnerships actively with accredited local partners in South East Asian markets as part of our globalization strategies. So far the roll-out has gone well and we are in talks with some potential operators in our focused markets, there’s been a very positive reaction to what we have to offer. We expect to expand our locations based on incremental customer demand,” he says.
When asked how entrepreneurs can take advantage of the co-working ecosystem, Daqing offered unconventional advice: Run marathons. He himself runs an average of 1.8 marathons a month all over the world, including Boston, Shanghai, Beijing, Berlin, Mauritius, Mongolia, New York, and London.
To explain why he runs marathons – and why other founders should, too – Daqing gave the following analogy.
“It’s an intimate interaction with you true self, your weakness and strength, a battle between desire and will, a process of balancing long-term vision and short-term goal, a continuous process of expectation management and self-motivation. The sport pushes you out of the boundary, challenges your mental strength and those small incremental adjustments really make the difference in the end – just like running start-ups,” he says.