Coffee shops are quickly becoming the go-to place for the world’s digital nomads. On any given workday, you can probably spot a few squatters with laptops at a cafe, buying coffee and snacks to justify the fact that they’ve been there for hours.
“Starbucks is the most [global] coworking space in the world,” says Andrew Collins, the CSO and co-founder of Loop, a startup based out of Shanghai and Singapore. “Our goal is to disrupt Starbucks, and get folks out of the cafes and into collaborating across the best coworking spaces.”
To do that, Loop wants to create a global network of coworking spaces, starting with Asia. For $30 USD a month, users can access Loop’s network of partner spaces and book meeting rooms and hot desks on a pay-as-you-go basis through the company’s app. Existing members of partner coworking spaces in Loop’s network will automatically become Loop members for free.
“We’re targeting the reporters, the freelancers, the solo entrepreneurs, anyone who’s not location-dependent,” says Mr. Collins.
The company doesn’t want to deal with the brick-and-mortar aspects of coworking. Instead, Loop will focus on fostering the movement of people – and their social capital – through existing spaces. Currently, Loop has more than a hundred partner spaces around the world, including CoCoon in Hong Kong, The Hive in Thailand, and Bitspace in the Philippines. In June, the company plans to launch a beta test with XNode and naked Hub in Shanghai and The Working Capitol in Singapore.
Loop’s business rides on a global trend of coworking, which was popularized by companies like WeWork, a U.S-based company that just raised $430 million USD in March to expand into Asia. In China, coworking spaces have grown exponentially from a few hundred spaces in 2008 to several thousands in 2014, according to the Wall Street Journal. Companies from other industries, such as real estate and hospitality, have also jumped on China’s coworking craze by building their own spaces, such as UR Work, a coworking space by Chinese real estate giant China Vanke.
“It’s not just about the coffee and the beautiful office,” says Mr. Collins. “It’s access to people. We want to make [users] feel part of a community.”
Some coworking spaces might be savvy when it comes to real estate and interior design, but clueless when it comes to fostering collaboration and building community, he says. He describes a friend’s experience at SOHO 3Q, where they had bad wifi and weren’t allowed to eat food in the space’s casual areas.”They were told to eat at their desk,” he says.
“Because of all this WeWork frenzy, a lot of people [are] naively jumping into the game, wishing they can make an easy fortune out of it,” says Wei Zhou, the CEO of XNode. “To a certain extent, in China, space has become a commodity.”
As a company without physical spaces of their own, Loop will have to provide other value-added things, says Mr. Zhou. So far, Loop is focusing on networking benefits, such as matching users through their personal profiles on the app. The company is also offering corporate perks to their nomadic user base, like discounts on GuavaPass and SoftLayer web hosting services.
Loop’s concept is not new. WeWork’s Commons membership, which precedes Loop, lets members work out of multiple WeWork locations, addressing similar pain points around traveling and networking. In Europe, there’s another platform called Seats2meet, which lets users book meeting rooms, work spaces, and event venues across the continent with the similar goal of encouraging collaboration and knowledge sharing. As one of the first players to break ground in Asia, Loop will have an advantage. Still, in a highly competitive market, Loop will have to work hard to pitch to both members and partner spaces.
Founded in 2015, Loop is funded with $100,000 USD of seed funding from Mailman Ventures, the investment arm of sports and digital tourism agency Mailman Group. In addition to coworking spaces, Loop is also courting companies with cool work spaces. According to Mr. Collins, Loop has already signed partnerships with companies like Omnicom Media Group and Gravity Media. In September, the company plans to roll out its app to all partner spaces in Asia.
Image credit: TOONG
Correction (5/26/2016 11:29): This post has been updated to correct a mistake. Loop offers members discounts with SoftLayer, not Amazon.