Open office for new ideas
Updated: 2012-03-23 08:47
By Su Zhou (China Daily)
Su Di, the co-founder of Garage Cafe, says the cafe is where investors can meet bright and enterprising youngsters. [Wang Jing / China Daily]
Garage Cafe helps entrepreneurs avoid high office rentals, bond over coffee
It is one of the most happening places for entrepreneurs in Beijing to meet, exchange ideas and even find seed capital for their fledgling ventures. But very few realize that the place in question - the Garage Cafe in Zhongguancun - is fast emerging as the destination of choice for those who have been unable to realize their dreams due to spiraling rent prices for offices in Beijing and its suburbs.
Zhu Huaming, the owner of Beijing-based Plato Interactive, was one of the many wannabe entrepreneurs who flocked to the Garage Cafe in hopes of becoming a successful mobile application developer.
"Like every other businessman, I was willing to invest even the last penny to make Plato Interactive a reality. But the prevailing high rent for office space in Beijing was proving to be a formidable obstacle to bringing in other team members and attracting angel investors," he says.
Zhu's first office located near the Third Ring Road in Beijing cost him more than 10,000 yuan ($1,581, 1,199 euros) per month. Further searches only coughed up even more expensive options.
Luckily for Zhu, his search took him to the Garage Cafe, which was just not a cafe in a garage, but rather a coffee shop on the second floor of a hotel in Zhongguancun.
Where it differs from other popular cafes like Starbucks is that it is an establishment that aims to provide entrepreneurs comfortable daily workstations for the price of coffee.
Su Di, the co-founder of Garage Cafe, says that he and his co-founders were inspired to start something like this after reading about the humble beginnings of Internet giants like Google, Amazon and Apple in small garages.
"We wanted to create an establishment that would provide an entrepreneur with virtually everything he needs to start," Su says.
But for many like Zhu, it was the Garage Cafe where he and his team successfully created and incubated their first mobile messaging application, the MM, which was later released on Apple's App Store and Google's Android platform.
Zhu and his team have subsequently moved on to a new 200 square meter office near the Sanyuanqiao subway station. "The team is growing every day and the Garage Cafe is becoming too crowded for us," Zhu says. "But for startups, it is a great place to be in as it instills in you the passion for work and provides an open platform to connect with people from all walks of life."
Su, the 33-year old promoter of the cafe, says that his prior working experience in the Internet industry made him aware of most of the problems that startups and investors faced.
"I have met a lot of potential investors who are tired of looking for potential projects around the city. With the cafe, what we are trying to do is to not only provide a better workplace for entrepreneurs, but also an alternate location for investors to meet up with bright and enterprising youngsters."
To date, Garage Cafe has hosted 30 teams, and 15 of them have successfully incubated their ideas and moved on to own offices in the city.
Such establishments are now becoming increasingly popular in big Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai, especially among entrepreneurs as office prices are escalating. Most of these establishments have varied focuses - the one in Zhongguancun is largely Internet-centric.