In 2013, the Global Co-working Census pointed out that there were only 24 co-working spaces in Africa. By 2015 there were over 250 active spaces, comprised of both hubs and co-working spaces, in Kenya there were 12 such spaces.
Since 75% of Africa’s population is under the age of 30 there is an entire generation of talent currently looking to get their career off the ground and one of the issues start-ups are facing in the continent is the lack of office space, an issue that alternative working spaces could solve.
One such working space is Nairobi garage, which according to its Director, Hanna Clifford, was founded by her former company’s need of a cheap working space that suited their needs.
“We founded Nairobi garage out of a need for ourselves. We were actually investing in technology companies under the name 88 miles per hour. In the process of looking for office space we realised it was quite hard to find something short term, we had just entered the market so we didn’t really know how long we would be needing space for, how big our team would be or how much we would grow in the five year lease period,” said Clifford during an interview with CIO East Africa.
According to Cliford, in their quest to look for a flexible workplace they realised that there wasn’t really anything in the market that could accommodate them. So, they opted to get a much bigger space than what they needed. Having the idea that as they were investing in startups, maybe some of them would need to rent out space and offset some of their operating costs.
“In the process of doing that we realised that it was really a full time job to actually find companies to take up the space. In 2014 we decided to split the company and make an actual business out of the office space and let the investment fund part to go on its own way so that’s when the investment fund became our members just as our other members and that’s sort of how it started,” she added.
In 2016, Nairobi Garage opened its Westlands branch and followed it up with their Ngong Road space in 2017. The company has since hosted companies such as Uber, Branch and Refugees united, which have grown big enough to move out on their own.
“Uber, Branch and Refugees united had teams of 10 to 20 people each, and we really didn’t have room to accommodate them. At the same time they weren’t ready to get their own spaces. So, the challenge had been to find out what people need and how to deliver. I think it has been a really good learning experience because now we are able to offer services to young companies, like freelance individuals, part timers, up to companies that are even housing up to 150 people,” she continued.
Nairobi Garage has a range of packages, with the cheapest option being the club space, which is essentially a café with internet; the club space can be accessed from 9-5 at a cost of KSH 4,536 ($45) p/m, with this package you don’t get the full office experience.
The Second package is co-working, which has two rates, one is KSH 20,160 ($200) and the other is KSH 25,200 ($250). Both of the co-working packages are full time and have 24hrs access to full utilities. The difference between the packages is that you get more hours in the meeting room and access to the other spaces with the latter package.
Then there is a package for more established businesses which include Private space, that can be customise for up to 150 people. So, there is no set price for this product.
Digital Transformation and expansion plans
The company is currently undergoing a digital transformation of its own in order to meet the demands of its growing customer base, which could soon expand out of Kenya and into the rest of Africa.
“One thing that we have done in the last year is, we have realised that as we grow in order for us to open up more spaces quickly we needed to really look at all of our processes and see what kind of software we could use in order to make all those things automated. So, we have quite a lot of software now that we are using most of it is from member management, CRM communication tools that we use in terms of figuring out what our customers need,” said Cliford.
Cliford concluded by saying, “we can definitely see ourselves expanding to East Africa and southern Africa. West Africa would make a lot of sense for us as well. But right now we are looking at getting more landlords and buildings that are really high quality. That’s essentially what we are focusing on because it’s part and parcel of our product.”
The co-working space industry in Nairobi is gathering good momentum with various spaces being launched such as: Ikigai, The Foundry Africa, The Hive, The Mint hub, C4DLab, The Twig Cowork, The Lyceum Limited, iHub, Nailab, Nexus Co work, The Banda Space, The Kijiji, Critical Mass Growth and AHANSA Business Centre. These spaces provide competition for each other and variety for companies looking for alternatives to home or traditional offices, and highlight the growing nature of the co-working scene in Kenya.