Meet James Barnett and Jonathan Masri, co-founders of workspace providers WorkPad
· Company: WorkPad
· What it does, in a sentence: a specialist in providing bespoke managed workspaces in central-London hotspots
· Founded: September 2013, London
· Founder/s: James Barnett and Jonathan Masri
How quickly has your business grown?
Jonathan Masri: The business was started in September 2013 with one co-working site on Lexington Street. It was a very cool space and we had a lot of up-and-coming companies and individuals in that office, which meant we learned how to deal with a variety of different businesses and individual requests.
From this we realised there was a growing market for not only co-working but also for companies with 4-7 employees to be based in period buildings, with small rooms, but importantly in central London locations.
We noticed there was a growing demand across the economy from small start-ups of this size that wanted to be in central London. Focusing the business on this niche has allowed us to expand and grow the portfolio and we are just about to take on our seventh property.
What’s been key to that?
James Barnett: We have a dedicated sales team in order to attract customers but we have also invested heavily in our customer service team – we put a lot of emphasis on customer service, which means we have very good customer loyalty.
For most of our customers who have come from other serviced offices, their number one complaint is that they don’t feel attached to their office provider; they have felt that they’ve taken the space and been left to get on with it. Our approach has been to actively go against that mould and make them feel as much as we can that they are part of a community.
Rising prices in the London property market have also helped as they have led to both businesses and landlords warming to the idea of managed offices.
What metrics do you look at every day?
James Barnett: Once again, customer service is a major focus for us. We use CRM and management tools to make sure that any complaint we receive is dealt with within in a specific timeframe, based on how serious the issue is. For example, if it’s a wobbly chair we’ll get that fixed within a day but if the internet is down that has to be resolved straight-away.
And of course we look at things from a sales perspective, focusing on operating at the capacity that our spaces will allow. We’re currently running at about 90% and have additional buildings on the horizon. Part of this involves maintaining relationships with our brokers.
Jonathan Masri: The CRM tool also allows us to examine where the complaints are coming from. If we see a pattern developing we can focus on the cause of that and rectifying the problem.
What do you consider your greatest success in business?
Jonathan Masri: Identifying a gap in the market has been key to driving growth. It is very difficult to find suitable office space for 3-7 employees in central London. It’s a niche that we’ve been able to target both from the perspective of our customers and also the landlords. If you look at it in simplistic terms we’re acting as a bridge between those two sides of the market.
Firstly we’re enabling companies to move into desirable central London locations – which they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to do due to the rising costs of rent – and we’re also helping from a point of view of landlords. We take buildings that are around 1,500-3,000sq ft, which is too big for a small company to take on its own in this economy but also too small for other managed office providers to take – that niche has been important in allowing us to offer a boutique kind of service and differentiating us from our competitors.
And your biggest mistake?
Jonathan Masri: We have managed to avoid making any huge mistakes to date but if we could offer advice to other companies it would be to not attempt to grow too quickly or you can lose sight of the core of the business – for us this is making sure our customer service is top-rate. Keep the foundations of the business in the forefront of your mind or it can fall down around you.
What’s the most important management lesson you’ve learnt?
Jonathan Masri: When we started the business it was just James and I and we were completely hands on; we had to do everything. That was fine as we had defined roles – James was more focused on the finance and legal sides of the business, whereas I handled the operations and customer service – but we would always pitch in in each other’s roles. As we have hired additional staff but remained a close-knit team, the temptation is to do the same but we’re conscious of not wanting to micro-manage. The biggest challenge has been defining those different roles for everyone and limiting the cross-over from other areas of the business. So, while we want our staff to be hands on, we also want to give people specific roles within the business, so we can be as productive and as efficient as possible.
What makes a great leader?
James Barnett: There have been a few different things we’ve learned along the way, such as dealing with different characters and learning how to motivate them the right way but I would say the most important element is an ability to step away from the business. Having built the company ourselves, we want to be involved in everything but giving people the freedom to express themselves, encouraging our staff to be entrepreneurial, and giving them space to do their role is the best way to get the best out of the team. We encourage our staff to recommend ideas and changes, input in strategy meetings, make suggestions and take ownership.
How have you attracted great talent?
James Barnett: It’s been a mixture of trial and error, pro-active recruitment and being approached by individuals. One of the team phoned us up out of the blue, came round the same day and we hired him there and then but it hasn’t all been that straight-forward.
What’s the most valuable insight you’ve gained into your market or industry?
Jonathan Masri: That there is a huge desire for companies to be in central London and be around like-minded companies. Location can play a huge part in helping to drive growth in a business; it’s good for a brand and good for image.
What do you think are the most significant developments or changes on the horizon for the business?
Jonathan Masri: From our own business perspective we just launched a new location, Carnaby Street, as of 1st April, and in 2016 we have a target of securing another four locations, so we’ll aim to have ten plus properties in the portfolio. Currently we’re in Soho, Covent Garden and Marylebone and we’re also looking to move into Fitzrovia very soon.
In terms of the wider industry, I think it will continue to grow and both businesses and landlords will increasingly warm to the idea of managed offices because it’s a concept that aims to benefit both sides of the business transaction.
Why are you focused on those areas?
Jonathan Masri: We’re trying to capture that essence of central London. The areas that we’re in are buzzing, they’re vibrant, t
hey have character, they have history. They have great restaurants, cool bars and trendy shops. They’re the areas that people want to work in. We’ve focused our attention on areas where we would like to be based ourselves and concentrated our efforts on securing fantastic buildings in those locations. We make that attainable for other companies who would otherwise struggle to secure their own space.
What types of businesses are attracted to these areas?
James Barnett: Because of the nature of the areas we’re in, a lot of our customers are creative companies but, that said, more and more companies from other sectors want to portray themselves as creative. So we’re seeing law and accountancy firms, funds and financial companies, who are moving away from the city and using cool locations as a means of giving off a modern, trendy vibe.