If one were to steal a page from an entrepreneurship handbook, the general rule of thumb for establishing a successful business is to identify your customers’ needs and fill the void in the marketplace. Timothy Tiah, who left the famous blog advertising community Nuffnang — which he co-founded — to establish Colony, a co-working space in Vipod Business Centre nestled between Pavilion KL and KLCC, was not going to just give his customers what they wanted, that is a functional communal workspace for freelancers, digital nomads and solo business owners. He delivered a much-improved version of a shared office that eschews the cookie-cutter design that has been plaguing most co-working spaces in Kuala Lumpur. If you relish taking a dip in the swimming pool after a stressful meeting or sneaking in a nap on a hammock between assignments, read on.
Colony, which opened in July, aims to be a “serviced workplace” — not so much a co-working space — that challenges the traditional definition of an office and revolutionises the way we work. Spanning 18,000 sq ft with 50 rooms, Colony still mimics the functionality of a typical office but the experience is enhanced with facilities such as an on-site café by espressolab, a napping area and a rooftop gym to foster an almost home-like yet conducive working environment. Therefore, Colony’s main competitors are not the Instagram-worthy co-working spaces that have been sprouting up across town but drab offices that are still fettered by the outmoded “cubicle” mindset.
Setting up Colony was no walk in the park, but it was inspired, serendipitously, by a jog. Tiah was training for a marathon at the KLCC Park one morning when he passed a group of office workers who looked forlorn and depressed while walking to work. “I tried to find one smile among the 30 to 40 faces but to no avail. You see, our lifestyle as consumers has changed a lot. We’re so well travelled and have so many more choices now. We’re used to a different level of service … better service, be it at a hotel or restaurant. We’re constantly improving but the notion of an office has remained fairly the same for the past 20 years.
“I did a lot of research on why companies cannot retain millennials. It turns out that the younger generation prefers a good working environment to a high-paying job. This is why I set up Colony, whose concept is modelled after, say, the cool Google or Facebook office in Silicon Valley.”
And what a cool place Colony is! The cavernous space, amplified by a lofty ceiling and large windows that allow natural light to flood in, looked as if it had tumbled out of an architecture magazine. At the lobby, we were greeted by the pleasant sight of towering bookshelves and the sound of a coffee machine whirring in the background. Further ahead, a very long corridor with chequered floor, whose actual length is disguised by the illusion of lighting and mirrors, led us to another foyer that doubles as an event space. The latter, teeming with Scandinavian furniture and bean bags, has played host to product launches and group discussions for companies such as LinkedIn and Microsoft.
Colony has certainly nailed the art of first impressions but that is only the prelude to what the serviced office has in store. Customers who sign up for a desk here can use any of its facilities, which include the massage room (where you can hire a certified masseuse on ad-hoc basis), the rooftop swimming pool that overlooks the city skyline, lounge areas and meeting rooms, which are named after famous explorers such as Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie and Russell, the adorable boy scout from the animation Up. Working mothers would be glad to know that there is also a lactation room for breastfeeding.
There is nary a boring corner or bad view at this serviced office, thanks to the expertise of architect Katrine Cheong, the principal of Hoe & Yin design studio, as well as Tiah’s creative wife, Audrey Ooi, who contributed to the décor. But if one were to pay close attention to the details, you would have probably guessed that the oil paintings in gilded frame, dark-coloured wall paint, dangling ornamental lights and plush leather sofas all allude to the setting of a modern-day gentlemen’s club.
Due to the fluid and laidback nature of desk renting, co-working spaces are customarily anchored by start-ups but Colony has managed to attract a diverse pool of tenants. “We have project teams from Maybank, SMEs and corporate entities renting a space here. It’s a very varied industry, but not very techy. Our maximum capacity here is around 250 people and we’re only at 40% to 50% occupancy currently. In fact, we broke even when we hit 30% in our second month. We want to maintain a 60% to 70% occupancy to avoid overcrowding and diluting the experience.”
Co-working spaces are commonly assumed to be a hive of activity where people may wind up sharing their skills and knowledge to collaborate. But Tiah has little interest in that as Colony does not thrive on the spirit of community — it only sets out to be a workspace with slivers of the comforts of home. Tiah is off to a profitable start and the 33-year-old, striking while the iron is hot, is already eyeing a second branch in the next few months, most probably around Mid Valley Megamall. “Like I mentioned, our direct competitors are office hubs. So, you can easily guess which areas I have set my sights on. Actually, I almost set up Colony next to The Edge office. Did you know that?” Tiah laughs.
Colony@KLCC, 6 Jalan Kia Peng, KL. Call (03) 2181 0608 or visit www.colony.work for renting details per month. Private office starts at RM2,088; reserved desks, RM688; open hotdesk, RM386. This article first appeared in Issue No.86 of Haven.