Beyond Coworking

Meet SHRAVAN SHANKAR, from India

My Project: @Works

The @Works project is currently based in Chennai, India. We have do plans to scale to other parts of India, and even other countries.

The @Works project is focused on delivering solutions that make our entrepreneur ecosystems more effective, starting from our hometown of Chennai, India. Through our platform, which leverages both physical real estate infrastructure and an online presence as part of the core foundation, we connect our members to a variety of services (workspaces, mentorship & incubation, service connects, events, etc.) that address their immediate, mid and long-term needs, that together offers our members a higher quantum of success.

My Inspiration

Entrepreneurship, especially the digitally-enabled kind, is booming in India as a driver of innovation, economic growth, and solution creation. It is hard, but in a country like India — outside of a few areas — the environment and support ecosystems are low in maturity, hard to reach, or have high barriers to access, making it a lot more difficult.

My co-founder has been an entrepreneur in India for the last 10 years, and has pretty much experienced the tribulations of it all. We knew that now more people would be getting into entrepreneurship, and face those same hurdles that we have previously gone through but at a greater scale. Complications in structuring a business, ineffective hiring, capital lock-ins to expensive infrastructure, poor management of cashflow and burn, lack of connections and accessibility to supportive ecosystem elements; these are some of the core issues faced. These do not even revolve around on whether a product is good or not, yet have a disproportionate influence over whether they succeed or fail. A bad idea would be dead in the water no matter what, but we had seen some very good potential ideas fail because of these wider issues.

So we saw an opportunity to make things easier to start up.

We identified core pain points in our local entrepreneurial ecosystem that cause these issues. Our core purpose has been to provide offerings addressing them, in a flexible and easily accessible manner, to allow them to focus more on making a great product and being more successful. We started out with connected community-driven infrastructure as, at the basic level, you need a place to work. Over time, we have been able to attract more stakeholders as collaborators, such as corporate service providers, venture capital firms, and learning institutions, for greater opportunities in the pain points we can address along the way.

My own personal inspiration has been my work in the area of sustainable development for the past 8 years. I’ve focused on sustainable business model and approaches for a variety of organization types, sustainable lifestyles for consumers, and social impact activities for communities. @Works is a project through which I’ve been able to practice this in a widespread manner, aside from the consultative or advisory work I generally do.

My Biggest Challenge

The biggest challenge is providing and continually adapting what we offer with the changing needs of the entrepreneurs and organizations we engage with. These needs can change very quickly, especially with the rate at which scale can increase and the fail fast, fail often mantra of startups. This can be an expansion for larger infrastructure, a pivot that requires reaching to different connections and services, downsizing or even closing a project, etc. The success of our project is entwined with the success of the members we support. Our challenge is in supporting their success by ensuring what we offer continually has value for them.

My Best Resources

It’s hard to highlight particular individuals or organizations that have been useful. There’s a been a lot and highlighting would resemble an awards acceptance speech.

One of the best resources from day one and continuing to today has been a network of local startup founders we are a part of. In this group, which functions like a peer mentor network, we have people at various lifecycle stages of starting up, people who have been there done that, people who are facing roadblocks experience by others, people who are finding their feet. Having an active peer network group like this has been a great source for learning, advise, and collaborations.

Public information and personal connections have been a great resource for learning and defining approaches. For example, understanding the initiatives of similar institutions, co-working spaces, accelerators, innovation labs, incubators, etc., either through what’s publicly available, or through engaging with people have been involved with them, has been very useful in seeing different approaches to similar issues we work on.

My Advice to Peers

Make sure you are solving a problem and providing an opportunity. Ensure the problem you are solving is something that affects a sizeable number of other people. If it is just you and few others, it could be that you are extremely picky about the issue. Passion is great, but if the work you do from it does not solve problems or is helping only a few, and you will feel very demoralized. Do your homework on what problem or opportunity you are solving and how, if any, it is being currently being catered to. See if what is missing is a feature an existing organization can quickly adopt, or something more lacking.

Be smart in how you start out. Manage your burn, but don’t compromise your quality of living. Focus on what value you get from an activity. For any activity you do, it’s good to identify a potential ROI you may get from it. This can be monetary, but also intangible through good will or connections. Intangible ones are extremely valuable, do not underestimate them just because you are not getting a direct financial transaction; very useful especially when you are starting out.

The value of connections and collaborations. Networking is really valuable. Study influencers and potential benefactors who can help you with your project. Study how they work and be clear what you want from them, even if it is just a casual meet to know them. Do not ask for general advise, but approach them by expressing a challenge or an opportunity related to your project that is relevant to their expertise or subject matter, and ask for their pointed insight. You will get valuable feedback and you will create a meaningful rapport that puts you in a better stead to leverage.