What does your company do?

Smartworks is a provider of agile, flexible workspaces, with over four million square feet across 31 locations in nine metropolitan cities in India. We create a holistic experience for member companies by offering cost-effective solutions and a technology-driven environment in large campus-like (standalone) facilities that cater to the needs of today's workforce and business dynamics.

With more than 400 clients, we're home to many global enterprises, SMEs and high growth startups like Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks. We've scaled up rapidly since we launched while ensuring profitability for the last two financial years. In the last quarter of 2019, we raised the equivalent of $25 million in funding from Singapore's real estate giant Keppel Land Limited in the Series A round.

What led you to launch this company?

My co-founder Neetish Sarda and I had exposure to the U.S. and Singapore markets that made us evaluate office spaces back home in India. Our experience of visiting traditional offices across India and noticing features like poor design and aesthetics, low employee energy levels, limited flexibility and dysfunctional employee culture reinforced our belief that the commercial office space in India needed disruption along with an affordable mass-market solution.

During Kellogg treks to the Bay Area and other campus visits, I had exposure to large campuses like office spaces of LinkedIn and Google, which were bubbling with vibrancy and world-class amenities, making employees more productive and yearn to go to the office. We decided to bring the same experience to India for our working professionals in a more affordable and accessible fashion, disrupting the commercial real estate space in process.

Since India's office space market hadn't seen significant disruption in decades, we were the first ones to identify the need for managed space services for the enterprise segment here. By identifying unbranded developer properties, we created a more organized branded supply and generated superior margins while delivering significant savings to our occupiers. We had to face the initial challenges of convincing enterprise clients to move into our flex spaces. Though they were reluctant initially, we tasted success soon. Since then, there is no looking back.

How did Kellogg prepare you as an entrepreneur?

Kellogg pushed me outside my comfort zone and elevated my self-awareness. I majored in entrepreneurship at Kellogg and learned foundational entrepreneurial skills in a structured manner. Real-life case studies, student treks to the Bay Area and guest startup speakers were hallmarks of the program. The New Venture Development class, in particular, enabled me to kick start one of my first startups within the school, teaching me several valuable lessons.

I had the privilege of getting taught by some of the world's leading professors, like Professors Mohan Sawhney and Carter Cast, who I continue getting advice and learning from. Finally, the phenomenal peer network I bonded with — especially the entrepreneurial community — broadened my horizon.

How has the pandemic impacted your startup?

COVID-19 and subsequent restrictions brought unprecedented challenges for the office sector. Corporate occupiers were forced to adopt work-from-home practices and reimagine their workplace strategies. Major real estate decisions were delayed, hampering demand. However, flex space has emerged as a major winner from this pandemic, as flexibility has become the buzzword for all occupiers.

We were growing 2.5 times every year coming into pandemic and still grew 30% during the pandemic year. While there was an initial slowdown in 2020, demand spiked as companies started looking at flexible workspaces as viable options for expansion, business continuity and to hedge against future uncertainties. However, the pandemic didn't impact us as much as we cater to a different segment — large enterprises with steady and stable requirements. Further, we benefited from market consolidation and a stable business model, enabling us to capture additional market share and increase our market leadership as the fittest players will survive and thrive during this time. We had healthy growth despite COVID-19 and given the solid macro headwinds for the industry, and we look well poised to capitalize on the strong demand. The combination of strong macro headwinds and our market leadership position augurs well for our long-term sustainable growth.

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