Tom Harding, co-founder of Qb Studios, talks setting up a business to help employees working from home in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake rebuild.
What does your business do?
Christchurch-based Qb Studios creates workspaces for small and medium businesses, providing private office studios, member meeting rooms, kitchens and lounges. We try to make Kiwi workspaces feel a bit more like boutique hotels by being innovative and creative with design and aesthetics. The business was founded in 2014.
What was the motivation for starting the business?
There's three partners; Mike Fisher, Alex Brennan and I. Mike and I met Alex in Brazil, and we spent several years developing a modular building system. We returned to Christchurch and realised that the impacts of the earthquakes remained with lots of people working from home, and from the perimeter of the city, and we saw an opportunity to showcase our modular building system in a shared workspace environment, with the idea of bringing people together. The first project we did in Christchurch we built two modular structures within an existing warehouse and that was made up of 10 office studios, a kitchen and meeting space, and a cafe in 2014, and it was good timing in that it coincided with a bit of a global trend towards co-working shared spaces. We originally did it out of need in a way, but it was quite serendipitous with the timing globally.
How big is your team?
We run quite a lean model; we've got three working directors, and then an Auckland manager and recently hired a community manager. We've also got a couple of account administrators that are contractors.
When did the trend towards shared and co-working spaces take off here?
When we first started we did our first location in Christchurch and then started in Auckland. Around that time there were a handful of players in the market, but since then we've seen the rapid expansion in this industry, particularly globally, from the likes of WeWork, who plan to go public. Last year we saw an increase of 30 per cent in uptake in Auckland. The shared space environment is only growing here in New Zealand and still has a long way to go.
What has your growth looked like this year?
In the last six months we've doubled our footprint, with new locations in Newmarket. We've doubled our premise in Ponsonby and in Christchurch so it has been a busy six to nine months expanding aggressively. We've now got four locations - one in Christchurch and three in Auckland. For us at the moment we've come through a busy period and doubled in size, we're now just making sure everything is sound and management is running well.
We've got plans to expand further and keep going. There's certainly benefits to having locations in multiple cities, particularly from a members perspective. There's plenty of opportunity to continue that growth into other cities in New Zealand. We have around 60 companies onboard of QB Studios which translate to around 200-300 members. Increasing the network and reach of Qb Studios is certainly our ambition, and if we can create a national network throughout the country that would be great.
What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome running this business?
When we first started, we didn't have a lot of experience in what we were doing, there were also limitations around capital so it was tough to start and we were on the tools doing construction work on our first project and trying to economise in as many areas as we could. Limitations of capital and experience were some of the challenges but we focused on small goals and iterations it was quite surprising how quickly these add up and to momentum and gave us confidence to keep pushing forward.
What advice do you give to others wanting to start their own business?
It's quite daunting when you think about where you've got to get to in terms of what you are trying to achieve, but if you break that into micro steps and elements it certainly becomes a lot more achievable.