Tom Foster, head of franchising at Venture X UK and Ireland, believes the flexible coworking business offers an opportunity for ambitious entrepreneurs to invest in a growing sector
Why did you decide to launch Venture X in the UK?
I have a background in the hospitality franchise sector, investing in and operating hotels for some of the biggest global brands.
Franchising is a popular business model in the hotel, retail and restaurant industries and I strongly believe that coworking is not dissimilar to the hospitality industry when it comes to its core offering.
Coworking is in large part a hospitality product, quite similar to the hotel model. They’re both quite simple in their structure, as long as you lay strong foundations and ensure flawless execution. I was keen to bring my extensive hospitality experience to the world of work through Venture X.
As a premium coworking provider with a focus on member well-being, high-end design and inclusivity, Venture X offers more than just a place to work. It offers a destination you want to come to every day that gives you the space and support you need to thrive.
Its success is evident through its growth. It was one of the fastest-growing brands in the US last year, has almost 50 locations open globally and has signed master licence agreements in over 30 countries, with plenty more in the pipeline.
We believe that franchising is sure to become a bigger part of the coworking landscape and that there was a gap in the UK market for coworking spaces that offered both well-situated locations and a high-end space, along with a strong community feel.
The way people work is evolving and the pandemic has accelerated this. Businesses are looking for more flexible workspaces where their staff can access a wide range of amenities in the best possible location for them. Occupancy levels in our flagship space in Chiswick Park prove that.
We opened with a bang and hit 90 per cent occupancy in under three months, building a really exciting mix of tenants and a great community. Our tenants love the opportunity to mix with other like-minded businesses in a flexible space that meets every aspect of their requirements.
Were your expansion plans accelerated because of the pandemic and the increasing adoption of more flexible ways of working?
Definitely. The shake-up of the traditional work practices on the scale we’re currently seeing is pushing the boundaries of day-to-day work life and is making the concept of coworking more alluring to businesses.
The pandemic was tough on owners and operators of office space, including flexible spaces, and as people return to the office attitudes towards office space have changed.
The function of space has changed from being something that was considered primarily expensive into something that is more versatile and accommodating to the changing needs of the modern workforce post-pandemic.
From enabling employers to attract people from further afield to providing employees with spaces that work better for them, coworking spaces will definitely play an important part in the offices of the future.
The flexibility of a coworking space means businesses can easily adjust to trends such as the hybrid office, where people go into the office less often and for different reasons than they used to. They’re also a great option for companies still trying to figure out what the future will bring.
We expect to see more businesses looking to increase their flexible space footprint in order to be able to quickly adjust their offering.
What’s Venture X’S USP?
Venture X is synonymous with premium. We invest in high-end furniture and technology, including electric sit/stand desks for all private office members.
We also put a big emphasis on community, which is why we provide a large proportion of our space for people to socialise in and generous space per person inside the offices, while our staff receive hospitality training at our HQ in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The offices themselves typically have glass frontage to provide light and a community feel, with solid partitions on the side and investment in acoustics to ensure the privacy of our members.
Venture X is the world’s first coworking platform to be locally owned and globally connected. Each location is genuinely owner-operated, with the owners keeping a significant presence on site to enable them to interact with members.
The space will also likely be in the owner’s hometown, where they are already ingrained in the local community. This helps to build a community within the space.
In a more practical sense, this model means members have a direct line to the top if there are genuine issues and won’t be routed via a manager and back office team to get any problems resolved.
Why did the company decide to go down the franchise route?
We saw an opportunity to bring a brand that was already established in the US and was offering something unique to the UK market.
Venture X is being back by United Franchise Group, a 35-year-old organisation of affiliated, award-winning franchise companies and brands, with over 1,600 locations in more than 80 countries.
This provides the security of multiple revenue streams, simple operations, expansion opportunities and peace of mind for franchisees, who become part of a big franchising community.
Venture X has the support needed to grow exponentially in the coming years, as it’s backed by a forward-looking group that wants to change the workspace market across Europe as it has done in the USA and create workspaces that support the future of work-live destinations.
What type of franchisees are you looking to recruit?
Venture X franchisees tend to be people who have previously owned successful businesses and bring a wide array of skill sets to the table.
Aspiring entrepreneurs who have experience in the hospitality sector make up 25 per cent of Venture X’s network, including myself. Those who already own property assets and are considering the highest and best use are also attracted to the model.
That’s not to say you need to have a hospitality or property background to be successful. Coworking is attracting investors from a range of different sectors, all of whom are witnessing the significant changes to workplace practices and patterns going on around the world and recognise that coworking is a big part of this.
How much will they need to invest?
The minimum investment will be in excess of £500,000 and we’re looking for individuals with over £250,000 in liquid capital as part of an overall net worth of £1 million.
What do they get for their money?
Venture X equips its franchisees with the tools, support and knowledge to launch and run a successful coworking space.
We’re involved from the initial site selection to fit-out, to hiring staff, to setting pricing, to member engagement and all that’s in between.
We have developed a design and layout blueprint with the renowned global architect and design firm Gensler, which designs spaces that can spark positive change and create a future that promotes equity, resilience and well-being for everyone.
This has proven highly successful and is flexible enough to adapt to different markets and asset types. You simply cannot replicate this knowledge base as an individual and to hire a consultant to get you to the same level would likely be prohibitively expensive or time consuming.
Another huge asset Venture X provides you with is the global network of franchisees. We have direct relationships with a like-minded network, all of whom are proven operators and walking the same path you are. If you need to troubleshoot something, you have a great resource on hand.
What parts of the country are you planning on launching into?
We have ambitious plans and aim to open 10 Venture X sites within the next 18 months covering towns and cities across the UK and Ireland.
The UK is no stranger to the idea of coworking, with over 6,000 flexible workspaces across the nation accounting for roughly 85 million square feet of space. But all signs indicate that growth in coworking might have only just started, with factors like changing work habits, businesses seeking less restrictive leases and increasing localisation all impacting demand.
Our expansion plans stretch beyond the UK and Ireland, as we’re in the process of opening a venue in Madrid, which will be the flagship location of our master franchise development partner in Spain.
We’re also looking to have Portugal activated this year, with a flagship opening in Lisbon.
Additionally, we currently have interest in France and Germany and we anticipate having these countries awarded under our master licence programme this year.
What’s the optimum number of franchises you’re aiming for in the UK and how are you going to achieve this figure?
We want to see a Venture X in 50 towns and cities across the UK and Ireland that are synonymous with quality, professionalism and a great work environment.
We’re focusing on people first and finding great franchisees. We’ll get there by bringing new, talented individuals and organisations in to be a part of this growing sector.