- Founded in 2015, Shanghai-based naked Hub operates close to 50 flexible workspaces across Asia and Australia, with more on the way.
- CEO Jonathan Seliger discusses the company’s growth plans and their 4 key differentiators, which includes building their own community platform.
- naked Hub makes its UK debut this year in London and is in talks with contacts in the US.
In little more than two years, coworking brand naked Hub has rocketed from a single location in Shanghai to a global portfolio of almost 50 flexible workspaces across Asia and Australia.
It’s nothing short of impressive — and their journey is only just beginning. Allwork.Space spoke to Jonathan Seliger, CEO of naked Hub, to discover the brand’s fascinating story, the “boundless” opportunities in Asia, and how they differentiate from powerful rivals like WeWork and Ucommune.
naked Hub is part of the naked Group, a luxury resort operator in China founded by Grant Horsfield in 2007. As global demand for flexible space surged, the Group identified an opportunity to diversify their brand by launching naked Hub in Shanghai in November 2015.
“I decided to jump off the cliff with them, so to speak” said Jonathan Seliger, who joined naked Hub in 2016. For the former Richemont and Coach executive who had built a career in luxury retail, this was his first taste of the coworking sector.
“I’ve been personal friends with the naked founders since 2005, and I was an early investor in naked Resorts,” he explains. “When I heard about the coworking business I was fascinated. I went to see some WeWork locations and mystery-shopped coworking spaces all over Manhattan.
“I was blown away by the energy and exuberance, and the way it was disrupting the traditional real estate industry.”
When Seliger joined naked Hub as CEO, the brand had 5 workspace locations in Shanghai. In November 2016, the company acquired $33 million (USD) in a funding round led by Gaw Capital Partners to power their growth across China, Singapore and Vietnam.
In April 2017, naked Hub had 21 locations under development. By October 2017, that number had grown to 35. Today, the brand has almost 50 locations open or under development, totalling 300,000 sq m (3.2 million sq ft).
The number continues to grow. In an interview with Reuters in January 2018, Seliger suggested that naked Hub would manage 200 locations worldwide by 2020.
Asked if that figure still stands, he said: “It’s a number. The way things are going, it could be more!”
Writing is on the wall for traditional operators
“The opportunities in China alone are boundless. To put it into perspective, Shanghai is a city of 30 million people. It has 8-9% GDP growth per annum, it’s full of Grade A and B towers but there’s a high barrier entry to real estate. That’s a perfect recipe for what we do.”
Referring to research by JLL that 30% of all corporate portfolios will comprise flexible space by 2030, for Seliger, the future opportunities are clear:
“The writing is on the wall for traditional landlords. 30% of the workplace is going to convert to us, one way or another. For instance we’re in talks with developers to take over multiple buildings, as naked Hub, and manage them on behalf of the landlord.
“It’s a seismic shift.”
And of course it’s not just Asia that is enjoying a flexible workspace boom. naked Hub has already identified key growth markets in Australia, evident by their acquisition of Australian coworking brand, Gravity, which currently operates 3 locations in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
“We’ve always identified Australia as a place for naked Hub,” commented Seliger. “It was a natural expansion for us. We looked at various options, which included doing it ourselves and hiring a local team. But we wanted to accelerate the process, which meant finding a strong local partner.
“Fortunately through some agency contacts, we found Sergio and Jacqui [Gravity co-founders] and we loved what they had done with their spaces. We realised we had a lot of simpatico, and the business is well-run. It’s ready to scale.”
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Differentiating in a competitive market
naked Hub isn’t alone in its quest to grow across key global markets. How do they differentiate from challengers such as WeWork and Ucommune?
“We don’t look at other operators as direct competitors,” says Seliger. “We compete for real estate sometimes, but really, our direct competition is the Grade A and B traditional office operators. The challenge is to convert traditional office users into our community-driven spaces.”
According to Seliger, naked Hub has four key areas of differentiation: hospitality, design, technology, and community.
“naked Hub was born out of hospitality. We recruit from hospitality or luxury retail to curate the user experience with a high touch-level of service. Our attitude and approach to service is very in-depth, compared to the perfunctory sense of service at some other spaces.
“Next is design. We have a 50-strong in-house design team who do nothing but design naked Hubs! That gives us the advantage of speed and enables us to learn. We’re now on version 4.0 of our design bible and our spaces are constantly evolving.
“It’s a living product. If you look at the design of our first Hub compared to our most recent, it’s like night and day.”
“In terms of technology, we have a team of innovators and we’ve developed our own member app. It’s a very robust platform with lots of functionality. Members can post their needs on the platform and the community responds, helping to solve problems organically.
“Right now we have a 60% solve rate within our community.”
This leads to their final differentiator: community. “We invest a lot of time and resources into cultivating an authentic online and offline community. Every workspace community is different because it’s a reflection of the needs of its members in that particular space.
“We have a team who are ‘connectors’ — their job is to understand members, bring new ‘Hubbers’ onboard, solve their needs offline, and develop an active programme of relevant events.”
These four key elements, specifically the people-first combination of a powerful member app with a hospitality team on the ground, reflects naked Hub’s laser focus on its members.
But what if you could take this a step further, and replicate a strong sense of community with the help of technology? Such is the widespread appeal of naked Hub’s app that they now package and sell it as a Community-as-a-Service (CaaS) platform.
In addition to fostering online community, it’s an operating system that runs daily operations such as CRM and property management. To date, naked Hub has sold the whitelabel product to 4 regional real estate developers, including Shanghai-based Ascendas-Singbridge.
By equipping workplaces with their CaaS app, naked Hub is essentially sharing a community starter kit. But, that’s not to say that community can be bottled.
“Our communities are not cookie-cutter in any way. We take a very localised approach — I don’t expect the community in Shanghai to look like London. It grows authentically.”
Speaking of London, the new space — which represents naked Hub’s first foray outside of the Asia Pacific region — is located on Buckingham Palace road near Victoria Station. It’s currently under development and is set to launch in July 2018.
“It won’t be our last,” says Seliger. “We already have 2 or 3 more buildings lined up in London, which we plan to open by the end of 2018 or early 2019.”
And does the U.S. feature in their long-term vision? “We’re very open minded. We are currently in contact with people in New York.”
He added, “The market, our brand – it’s evolving so quickly, we are doing things we didn’t imagine just 6 months ago. Watch this space!”