Harsh Mehta is co-founder and COO of OfficeLinks, a company that operates shared workspaces. The company started in 2003 with a single location in the Chelsea area of New York City and has since grown to occupy five locations in New York and one in Chicago. The newest location, on Park Avenue South, differs from other OfficeLinks locations in that it is an open workspace which encourages companies to come together, share ideas, network, and collaborate. Born in India, Harsh came to NYC fifteen years ago and has met with many international entrepreneurs in the course of his business. In a recent chat with New York International, he shared his views on workspace development and entrepreneurship in NYC.
When you started your business, what was the biggest challenge you faced?
The greatest challenge then and even today is to find high quality, high caliber individuals to grow a team with. Finding capital is easy if you have the right business and know where to look; finding growth opportunities is easy; finding really good customers is a little harder. The difference between good businesses and great businesses is frequently the quality and caliber of the people that help operate those businesses. That was my biggest challenge back then and is a challenge today.
Compared with your situation in 2003, how difficult is it to start a business in NYC today?
It has become easier today than it was five or ten years ago. I think the barrier to promoting an idea today is no more than spending $25 setting up a Squarespace website and setting up an email account for your business. Also, ten years ago there was a certain stigma against established companies working purely with startups and entrepreneurs. The question was, whether they would be a stable partner for them or not. A lot of these reservations have gone away. These days, working together with entrepreneurs and young startups is often preferred in many instances in larger organizations.
Harsh, right now we are sitting in your newest workspace at 460 Park Avenue South. What is so special about this office?
We call this office the “OfficeLinks HUB.” When we started designing this location two years ago, it was kind of an experiment. At the time, we had seen a large number of open-plan collaborative tech co-working spaces opening up. That’s what our business model was all about. We couldn’t really figure out how it would work – but as we have seen, it works very well. The facility is consistently full. We are currently in talks about enlarging the workspace within this building.
What is your business model for OfficeLinks HUB and who are your investors?
HUB is a curated community and requires a brief application to be filled out. Once you become a member, access is available at $35 a day for occasional use, $229/month for 2 days a week and $500/month for unlimited access during business hours. All of our growth has been very measured and very organic. We don’t have any outside capital partners or debt on our books. Our approach to growth has always been focused on urging a high ROI allowing us to operate a facility with a higher level of services.
What kind of companies are you looking to attract?
We have a lot of diversity in all of our workspaces. Our ideal client does not represent a certain industry or demographic but rather a certain psychographic. We like individuals and businesses that are innovative and that are doing new things in their respective industry. The companies in this workspace are tech startups, social media consulting firms, and even spiritual non-profit companies.
What are your recommendations for companies that are outgrowing shared office spaces?
A lot of people look at office space just as office space. Not many look at it as a strategic component of their growth strategy. There are various options: Move into larger co-working spaces; take on sublets for short periods from other large companies; or go out and engage in a larger direct lease. There are many ways of negotiating all of these options. Having a very good sense of your space strategy should be critical.
Office space is and always will be an issue in NYC. What will the future look like in this area?
How workspace is going to develop is going to be more a function of the demands of the people that work in it. Technology is the biggest driver in determining how workspace evolves. We also see an increasing number of large companies taking on less real estate and shifting to more flexible workspace options. I see two themes coming up: Firstly, people and businesses want to be as agile as they can. Secondly, businesses are realizing that they have core competencies. Outsourcing everything that is not within their core competency is a development that we will see in the future.
As part of your work you meet with many international entrepreneurs. Which problems do you see them facing?
There are two specific challenges that international startups have when they come to NYC. The first is the ability to hire the right people, because these companies don’t have a deep network yet to identify the right people. It is critical to success that you start with the right people for your business. The second is when companies come from a country where English is not the first spoken language; that can be a big barrier to adapting to or understanding the local business culture quickly. The City could help to alleviate these two issues.
Speaking of the City’s efforts: What more could they be doing for international entrepreneurs?
NYC has certainly been the leader in demonstrating how local policy can help attract world class top businesses to the region – especially after the start of the financial crisis in 2007. The way Mayor Bloomberg and his administration reacted and helped incubate a lot of technology and media companies in NYC has been a success story that many other cities around the world have tried to replicate. I think the City can do even more than they have done. You have various partnerships around the city that the NYCEDC help foster and there is the NYU Polytechnic space on Varick Street where the City has heavily invested, but I am sure that there is a lot more that they can do when it comes to helping international businesses come to NYC and create more jobs.
What are the top three things you love to do in NYC?
I enjoy watching live music, practicing yoga, and hanging out on the High Line.