“Coworking is strong business model, which can only sustain on its own if it can be scaled”- Sajid Islam, HubDhaka

Sajid Islam spent 18 years in the United states with the hopes of starting his own startup upon returning to his home country of Bangladesh. After returning to Dhaka, Sajid found that there was a lack of infrastructure catering to professionals, and often had to rely on alternative spaces like cafes, which were distracting. Influenced by the American coworking scene and his own needs, Sajid founded HubDhaka and is now reworking the freelance professional landscape in Bangladesh.

Hi Sajid, can you please tell us a bit more about the story of Hubdhaka?

I moved to the USA in 1995 from Dhaka, Bangladesh to complete my higher education. In 2013, I returned to Bangladesh to grow Dhaka’s startup ecosystem and launch a startup mentorship program. I soon realized that there are no real alternatives to traditional office spaces (aka coworking spaces are missing). Coffee shops did not have the environment to get work done, coupled with unreliable internet, made for a lack of infrastructure. Not having our own workspace made running operations difficult. This got me thinking, how will startups grow & collaborate if they do not have access to community and open workspace?

Getting an office space was expensive in terms of monthly rent, security deposit (which is usually a 6-12months deposit upfront) in addition to building up costs. All of this is as well as considering the price of day-to-day operation.

At the time, I often compared my own work from home to that of a company in San Jose, CA as well as my experiences in coworking spaces in Washington DC. I knew the value and opportunities a the space provided in addition to the role a convening space plays when growing a startup ecosystem. This inspired me to make my next venture a coworking space.

How does the coworking scene in Bangladesh differ from coworking communities in Europe? What are some of the different needs/expectations of your members.

The coworking scene in Bangladesh is growing. I find the main difference is found in awareness. In Bangladesh, people are not aware of the benefits of work-life balance, nor are they accustomed to sharing workspace or understand the value in serendipity. We are often asked, “will another member steal my client?”.

In your opinion, is coworking self-sustainable in Bangladesh and what could be improved? 

Yes. It is a strong business model and it can only sustain on its own if it can be scaled. If a space has 150 sq. meters then it will be really hard to sustain & break even. However, if the space has around 450+ sq.m under its operation then the numbers start to really make sense, it works.

I think this is true for any coworking business regardless of the region. Now, the question still remains: Do the owners prefer to run their space as a boutique coworking space (similar to a boutique hotel) or does it grow like big hotel brands.

Can the coworking model play an important role in regenerating communities? If so, how? And why is this innovative model of work important for how we understand the future of work?

Unknown to us, with each passing day we are becoming more and more anti-social. Advances in technology as well as various adoption of tools such as Facebook, Quora, Google hangouts, Whatsapp & etc has made us more connected, yet equally disconnected from the actual human relationship. Take increased alienation and add the gradual progression of the on-demand freelancing/independent professional work model.

Sajid Islam

Sajid Islam

For example, now when we hire people when we need through marketplaces such as upwork or fiverrr. Workers tend to work from home thinking that they are being smarter, economical and efficient and they are not realizing that they are increasingly becoming isolated from themselves from society and human relationships. This compromised work-life balance actually does have an impact on worker productivity.

Many workers feel that they are slowly losing the ability to interact and form social relationships with new people. While their networks online might be growing, our network in real life is shrinking. Open workspace/coworking model can contribute to a healthier work-life balance. An independent professional or a small business does not have to spend a fortune to have an office front to achieve this. Being in an open workspace gives them the opportunity to collaborate, share resources & ideas, form partnerships & teams that would otherwise not happen.

Have you been to the Coworking Europe Conference before?  If so, what was your impression and what did you gain from it as a space manager

Yes, I have. First and foremost I gained important knowledge, new relationships and found myself in a vibrant community. We are in a business where we tell our members to step out and away from working alone. We market the importance and value of serendipitous connections. At the conference, I learned the challenges as well as similarities of running a space in Europe, as well as some of the best practices and mistakes to avoid. These are knowledge that can be the difference between keeping and growing spaces

What are you presenting on at this year’s conference?

I hope at this year’s conference I will be giving a presentation titled: “One+ : Charting the next steps beyond year 1”. The coworking space in Dhaka, Bangladesh is growing and very soon we will have 3 spaces. While it is good news, at the same time we need to focus on maintaining momentum and aim to remain the top space in Dhaka. I will be looking at possible diversification strategies that we are exploring to add value to the space, in order to avoid simply becoming yet another cheap office space solution.