Last week we announced that Techworld was going to be investigating Tech City’s expanding co-working scene through a new series called Tech City Spaces. Today we’re happy to bring you the first review.
Central Working likes to think of itself as more of a business member’s club than a co-working space.
Its swanky pads in Shoreditch and Bloomsbury are designed for a variety of members, including start-ups that need a permanent home and senior level directors at multinational firms who may only need to work from London just a few days a year.
Central Working also owns the bustling basement of Google Campus, which is free for anyone to use once they have signed up online and received their membership card.
But today I’m in the Shoreditch space, which is arguably at the epicentre of Tech City.
If you looked up at the stereotypical multi-storey office building (actually next door to Google Campus) from the outside you wouldn’t think much of the exterior, but as soon as you enter the doorway on the first floor the quality of the venue hits home and you quickly realise that you’ve just stepped into somewhere “cool”.
Co-founder James Layfield told Techworld that £500,000 was spent kitting out the Shoreditch venue with bespoke furniture and pieces of art to create a space that was somewhere between a posh airport lounge and a Starbucks. Layfield’s business partner, Steve Pette, is in fact the former head of innovation for Virgin Airlines.
The place oozes style and is a pleasure to work from once you block out the occasional high noise levels with a decent set of headphones and adjust to the lack of airflow on a hot summer’s day. Indeed, Central Working has attracted some big names, with cloud communications firm and Google-collaborators Twilio setting up their European HQ in Shoreditch and Angry Birds creator Rovio setting up their UK operation in Bloomsbury.
Layfield was keen to stress that “serendipity” occurs naturally at Central Working, pointing out that members are only too keen to aid neighbours on everything from coding to marketing.
To encourage collaboration Central Working has set up a Facebook group for members to liaise on and introduced a slightly more traditional corkboard that was covered with bits of paper from members seeking help, when I visited.
The levels of service at Central Working are high and this is probably down to the fact that the two community assistants at each venue – tasked with introducing members to each other – come directly from the hospitality industry.
Central Working has 700 members on its books but it’s pushing to get a thousand signed up by the end of the year. Layfield said that 300 to 400 of those members very rarely come in, suggesting that roughly half are on the £99 per month club membership, as opposed to the £349 per month unlimited membership or the £449 resident membership.
When the company opened its first space in Bloomsbury in May 2011, the club membership was only £35, some £64 less than today’s rate. Layfield said the price hike reflects the level of demand for spaces of this nature in London and the fact that Central Working now has more spaces to offer.
Layfield has aggressive and highly ambitious expansion plans that involve setting up thousands of branches around the world. “I’d be happy if there were 200 central working spaces in five years time. But there are 12,000 Starbucks branches so why shouldn’t there be 12,000 Central Working spaces.”
First impressions: trendy, colourful, organised, efficient, hot.
Club membership is £99 per person month and gives member’s access to all clubs for up to four days each month.
Unlimited membership is £349 per person per month (£299 when three or more sign up) and gives members’ unlimited access to all clubs.
Resident membership is £449 per person per month (£399 when three or more sign up) and gives companies with less than 10 full time team members a permanent desk at their chosen hub.
Aimed at: start-ups, travelling business people
Location: 6-8 Bonhill Street (EC2A 4BX), Shoreditch. Six minutes walk from Silicon Roundabout
Capacity: 12 per company
How it could be improved: air con, higher quality coffee machine
What the punters say
Alex Peretti - founder & CEO of FolioShack (resident membership)
James Olver – head of European sales at Braintree Payment Solutions (unlimited membership)
What made you choose Central Working?
Alex: I became a member of Google Campus when it first opened and became very familiar with the basement cafe, which is run by Central Working. I really got on with Steve and James who run the space and therefore was excited to move into their dedicated workspace. They are always keen to make connections and take an interest in FolioShack.
James: Braintree chose Central Working because they provide one of the best environments for a start-up in London. What they have created is similar to an incubator model where all the start-ups work in one area, share ideas, expertise and knowledge all with the common goal of growing. The creativity that goes on in the Central Working offices is immense!
How could it be improved?
Alex: A challenge all workspaces face is to facilitate communication between members, and I think it could be interesting to experiment with new ways of doing so.
James: As Central Working grows I think that more meeting rooms would be useful. Also, with it being so popular there are times where you find yourself working on sofas and bean bags - in time and given the amount of space available it would be an idea to replace some of these with standard desks.
How long do you plan to stay in total?
Alex: We do not have plans to leave at the moment and would just need to consider it out of necessity when the team grows.
James: Central Working take care of you in the office and are always on hand to make sure you have everything you need so I can see us being there a long time, we will probably stay there until we, as a company, outgrow them and need our own Braintree office!
What do you think of the pricing?
Alex: Although expensive, Central Working has a great vibe to it, and as FolioShack clients usually come from the enterprise, having a space that makes an impact is important. The cost would become prohibitive as a team grows, which is common to most workspaces.
James: I think the pricing is fair, I looked at a number of shared office spaces before choosing Central Working as our base at Braintree and they are competitive. If you think about it in terms of an amount of money for a desk you are looking at it in the wrong way, at Central Working you are paying for the desk but also the support you get form them, their network which is huge and also the environment where there are loads of young businesses or start-ups all sharing ideas and helping each other out!