Don’t look for Office space in Tanzania. Go Worknasi.
“It is hard as an African startup, when you are starting out. There is a lot to be done, a lot of needs. We are still figuring out how to raise funding. We are pushing on our own with our own funding, but still looking out for more investors and funding opportunities. Currently, I am funding it on my own, using money from the other small businesses that I have. But I do believe in the idea and I do believe in the impact it will bring. That is what gives me energy to stay pushing.”
Changing people’s perception of what an office should be is at the core of Worknasi, a Tanzanian startup fostering office-space sharing by connecting space-owners with startups in need of office space.
Especially for startups, a conducive work environment is one of the major challenges with which founders have to contend, in order to get their businesses up and running. To solve this challenge in Tanzania, Edgar and his team founded Worknasi, a startup which enables people to share office spaces and meeting rooms. House owners who have extra spaces in their offices may list such spaces on worknasi. Startups, freelancers and others looking for workspaces, but cannot afford traditional office spaces, because of the cost, can have access to such workspaces.
Edgar Mwapinge shared his motivation to start this venture.
“When I was starting out my courier business, it was hard for me to get an office space. All the traditional spaces were expensive to rent and to furnish it was even more costly. But I had a friend who had a business and had an office space. So, I approached him and asked if he could at least give me one desk in his space and I contributed a small amount to the rent. He agreed. So, I thought if I was lucky enough to know a friend who afforded me space, I should think there is a lot of open and unused spaces in most offices. But how can people know about the opportunity and use them? That led to the creation of our platform for people to share their offices.”
Edgar is motivated by a desire to help startups solve the challenge of workspaces and startup accommodation. After all, he was in those shoes, some time back.
A lot of startup founders work from coffee shops. Providing a conducive place to work and helping startup businesses to be successful is Worknasi’s mission.
Currently, Worknasi has rented out 8 office spaces and 3 meeting rooms which starups and individuals have been using. Some 100 hours have been spent so far on the platform, in the past four months, Worknasi been in operation. Now, while this is a modest beginning, it means a lot to startups looking for ways to bootstrap.
Meanwhile, Worknasi has been able to make some revenue. Precisely, the startup has made some four million Tanzanian shillings (circa 1,900 USD) from transactions. Most of this has been ploughed back into the business.
The sharing economy is a new thing in Africa, and that is a challenge to the businesses.
Edgar says, “we have Uber and the likes and people are catching up with it. But something like sharing offices is new. So, it is hard to get people to list their office space, even if they have. We have been faced with a lot of questions from office owners, bordering on instances of theft, unruly behavior and users spying on their business activities under the guise of sharing an office space. It has been hard to convince them to lease out their office room spaces. At least for the meeting rooms, it has been easy, because they know the user comes and uses it for a period of time and leaves. We are still educating them on the importance and opportunity in it.”
He also cites capital and mentoring as challenges he faces as a serial entrepreneur and startup founder.
“Sometimes, entrepreneurs just need support from someone who has been there. Some of us have no experience in business, having graduated just a few years ago and decided to do business. The businessmen in Tanzania are not involved with startups; they focus on their traditional businesses mainly banking. When it comes to tech, you do not get a lot of people to hold your hand and help you. To find funding opportunities, we depend on international funding opportunities and competitions. We need more Tanzanians to invest in startups and tech businesses, because they understand our environment. If you take someone from Silicon Valley to Tanzania, what he is expecting is quite different from the reality which exists.”
Startup entrepreneurship and the startup ecosystem in Tanzania are still at the stage of infancy. Startup entrepreneurs meet with challenges such as government policies and regulations and lack of support from government stakeholders.
Edgar does not think doing business in Tanzania is easy, because the ecosystem is not mature enough.
“We need more acceleration programs and internal funding systems and these are pretty hard to find. But we hope for the best, because things have started changing. [For instance,] ,Government has started getting involved by creating the BUNI Innovation Hub, via the office of the Commissioner of Science and Technology.”
Despite the challenges, he sees hope in Africa, and in the continent’s startup ecosystem.
“The environment is quite different from how it was, when I started establishing startups three years ago. A lot of opportunities are coming, though they are coming from outside the country. Acceleration programs too. For me though, I have two acceleration programs, the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program, this year and I am also in the Microsoft Insiders for Good Entrepreneurs Fellowship Program. All these are opportunities. I think it behoves young people to keep pushing and looking for opportunities for us to grow, because the opportunities are there. We are not informed enough, as young people. We should find a way to be more informed so that we can see the opportunities, grab them and work on them.”
Based on his experience, Edgar believes nothing comes easy.
” I have never seen anybody successful that said it was easy. We cannot complain, however. Though it is hard, there is no other way around. We have to go through hardships to realize our dreams. There are days you cry in the office; there are days you cry at home, but that’s the good thing about entrepreneurship. It is part of the process. Even now, I feel like I should do some crying. Imagine blowing up a rocket! I have never had a big failure like that, so it is nothing compared to what other people are facing. I can live with that. There is no way out, we just have to keep pushing. I do believe in Africa and its potentials.”
On how his business model competes favourably with other co-working models, he says the only affordable co-working space available in Tanzania, outside Worknasi, is Buni Hub, which is owned by the government. Other private co-working spaces in Tanzania are too expensive and the average startup may not be able to afford it.
“It doesn’t make sense for a startup to pay lots of money in dollars, to work from a co-working space. What we are planning right now is, we are using other people’s offices currently, but we have also realized that a lot of buildings are empty.Because two years back, real estate was booming, with a lot of buildings with no occupants. So, we are approaching these building owners and telling them they can still make money by partitioning those spaces into small offices and renting them out to startups who share the costs, thereby making it more affordable for them. We already have lot of inquiry about spaces to work out from and a lot of buildings are empty. So, we want to approach them and convince them to lease out their spaces to startups at affordably rates. Affordability is the edge I have over competition.”
Globally, the future of offices is flexibility. People can work from anywhere, go into an office, work for a few hours, pay and leave. People now carry their laptops and tablets around, so they need to be able to work from anywhere. Africa needs to take advantage of the co-working model.
Edgar sees Worknasi expanding to other African countries and he and his team are dedicated to the task of finding new ways to make it easier for people to access office spaces as much as possible, creating exciting office space experience for all their users.
Chiamaka Akuba50 Posts
Chiamaka Akuba is a graduate of Mass Communication of the University of Lagos, Nigeria. She is passionate about emerging markets and entrepreneurship and is actively working with the industry. She loves her conversations challenging and can’t help laughing when you call her ‘Honourable Writer of the Federal Republic'. Chiamaka is a Staff Writer at Outrepreneurs.