JustCo takes on Asia

cecilia.chow@bizedge.com

JustCo, Singapore’s biggest co-working operator in terms of space, continues to expand aggressively. Its latest launch is Verizon Innovation Community, which JustCo founder and CEO Kong Wan Sing considers “a first-in-Asia initiative”.

The launch marks a shift in co-working towards collaboration between co-working operators and big corporates to curate communities within their premises. “The concept of co-working has evolved,” says Kong. “It’s about creating a community, and it’s something that is taking off among multinational companies.”

Verizon Communications, an American multinational telecommunications giant, currently occupies about 20,000 sq ft at its Singapore head office in Ocean Financial Centre. The Verizon Innovation Community takes up 10,000 sq ft, or half of the space.

 

JustCo's Kong: I’m very ambitious and I know my vision. With my key partners [GIC and Frasers Property], we can go head-on with WeWork (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore).

 

Innovation hub

Members of the innovation community that will be curated and managed by JustCo will be in the fields of cybersecurity, fintech/blockchain, digital media, Internet of Things and artificial intelligence. By having a targeted membership within the innovation community, the intention is to “give our workforce access to new and fresh perspectives in terms of ideas, talent and cutting-edge technologies”, says Nick LiVigne, Verizon’s global lead for innovation community development, in a statement.

While the Verizon Innovation Community may be “the first of its kind in Asia”, it is by no means the last. Another US multinational conglomerate has asked JustCo to curate and manage two whole floors of its headquarters in Bangkok. Meanwhile, global architecture and interior design practice Wilson Associates intends to move its offices in Bangkok, Japan and Singapore to JustCo’s co-working spaces. Including the new innovation community, JustCo now has 13 co-working locations in Singapore, two in Bangkok, three in Jakarta and two in China. There are more than 12,000 members working out of JustCo’s co-working spaces currently.

 

JustCo co-working space at AIA Sathorn Tower (Credit: JustCo)

 

Expanding regional footprint

JustCo’s regional footprint will include Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, Manila, as well as cities in Japan, South Korea and Australia, bringing its total co-working space to 2.1 million sq ft within the next 1½ years, says Kong.

In Singapore, JustCo also announced that it would be opening a new 17,000 sq ft space across two floors at MacDonald House, a gazetted national monument located on prime Orchard Road. A global investment company has already signed up for 10,000 sq ft, or a whole floor, ahead of the co-working space’s opening in July.

Besides the opening of these two new co-working spaces in Singapore over the next two months, JustCo will also be opening a new 60,000 sq ft space at Marina Square shopping centre in July. According to Kong, the company has been approached by several other mall operators to look into the possibility of a co-working space within their premises.

 

The 40,000 sq ft JustCo at Marina One East Tower opened last year, with another 40,000 sq ft to open soon at Marina One West Tower (Credit: JustsCo)

 

In March, JustCo secured US$12 million ($16.1 million) in its Series B funding, which gave Thai developer Sansiri a 6.09% stake in the company. Following the investment, Just- Co’s valuation increased to US$200 million.

On May 16, JustCo announced a US$177 million joint investment with Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC and Singapore-listed property group Frasers Property. The investment will enable JustCo to ramp up growth of its Asian platform. The cash infusion enables JustCo to build up its technology and software engineering capabilities as well as develop an application and payment gateway for its members.

 

Taking on WeWork

According to Kong, there are not many co-working players that can stand up to US co-working giant WeWork. “I’m very ambitious and I know my vision,” he says. “With my key partners [GIC and Frasers Property], we can go head-on with WeWork.”

 

The 50,000 sq ft JustCo co-working space at UIC Building at 5 Shenton Way (Credit: Albert Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

 

WeWork, which started in New York City in 2010, is considered the world’s biggest co-working player and has a valuation estimated at US$21 billion. It has received investments from the likes of Fidelity Investments, JPMorgan and SoftBank. The latter pumped US$4.4 billion into the company last year.

However, JustCo’s Kong believes being a first mover and having local market knowledge will be the key to the company’s success in Asia and give it an advantage over WeWork. “Just look at Grab and Uber,” he says, pointing to Singapore-based Grab, which recently acquired ride-sharing giant Uber’s Southeast Asian business.

“We’re already the largest in Southeast Asia in terms of square footage, but it’s predominantly in Singapore,” Kong says. “In Asia, we reckon we are among the top five.” To him, that is not enough. He wants JustCo to be the biggest both in terms of footprint and number of members in each country. That means doubling JustCo’s regional footprint to three million to four million sq ft and driving membership to 200,000 to 300,000 by 2021.

 

The flagship JustCo at 120 Robinson Road stil enjoys an occupancy rate of  80% to 85% despite increased competition in the neighbourhood (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/EdgeProp Singapore)

 

Tech and real estate

JustCo was founded in 2015 by Kong, who actually started the company as an offshoot of his serviced office business. However, the serviced office business ceased operations two years ago. Kong, a Malaysian-turned-Singaporean, says his father was a garment manufacturer who produced apparel for the likes of Adidas, Nike and Reebok. “Like all Chinese businessmen, when he made money, he would put it in real estate,” he adds.

When Kong graduated from the US, he worked for several years with a private equity firm there before returning to Malaysia to help run his father’s real estate business. “We were property developers for seven or eight years before I moved to Singapore,” he says. To him, the experience in property development, especially commercial real estate, “definitely helped” when he ventured into co-working.

While co-working is not a real estate business per se, it needs space in order to operate, observes Kong. That explains his choice of real estate developers such as Sansiri, Frasers Property and GIC Real Estate as investment partners.

 

This story was first published in EdgeProp Singapore  Issue #832, May 28, 2018

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