A startup that’s using empty seats in cafes to round up digital nomads

Suvarchala Narayanan February 10, 2017 6 min

Cafes are a nomad worker’s lifeblood. As a gig-worker, when I first land in a new city, my first step is to scope out the best cafes to work from. On my priority list, The Eiffel tower falls after best coffee, best croissant, fast wifi and gorgeous french men views. But nomad friendly-cafes are hard to come by, only because it’s imperative that a few factors come together for it to be a really fulfilling experience.

The most obvious is the wi-fi. Anything under 3 Mbps is unacceptable. Between 10-50 Mbps is bliss, and the higher end is where you start thinking “I could really live here”. The second factor are charging stations or connection points for laptop and phone chargers. This can be a real deal breaker. So if a cafe has both of these sorted, consider yourself on a winning streak. But what really cements it for me is the coffee. If you’re going to be spending anywhere between 5-10 hours in a cafe, great coffee is non-negotiable. Good food is the fourth factor; important but not as much of a deal breaker as the first three.

While some cities are better than others in this area, India’s cities are definitely raising the bar. Places like Social Offline have upped the ante, transforming a part of their cafes into collaborative workspaces.

Social offline

While researching startups whose services and products cater to or engage the digital nomad and gig-work ecosystem, I chanced upon myHQ, a startup involved in creating work-cafe chains. Instead of building a single co-working space, they use technology to leverage underutilized spaces in cafes and restaurants, retrofit them with fast Wi-Fi, a payments system, connection points and sometimes even comfortable seating. They also use this space to host a variety of workshops from biotechnology meetups to the Delhi Coding Circle’s mobile apps case study workshop, which allow for continuous and peer-to-peer learning for the community. They have more than half a dozen locations across Delhi-NCR at present.

One of the myHQ cafes in New Delhi

Founded by two IIT-Delhi graduates, Utkarsh Kawatra and Vinayak Agarawal, the idea behind myHQ and the approach to it is perfectly in sync with the ways of gig-working. Apart from providing access to a consistent work-cafe experience, they are also leveraging location and other data that the user chooses to share to enable networking and community-based experiences

I spoke with Utkarsh and Vinayak about myHQ and the larger trends at play that are contributing to an evolving nomad ecosystem.

What is the story behind myHQ?

Utkarsh: Right from college, I have always liked working out of cafes, and spent a day/week working from such spaces. While I loved working in an informal setting- at a space that wasn’t my office or home- I faced many problems; the internet wouldn’t work properly, there were never enough plug points, finding a space was sometimes difficult etc. That’s when we realised that there was a need to address this problem. There a lot of spaces in the city that lie vacant – cafe’s, restaurant, lounges etc. which can very easily be turned into great work spaces.

What larger trends do you see in this space that makes this time a good one for a startup like yours?

Vinayak : The rise of the freelancer economy, along with more flexible working arrangements nowadays, is creating a vast demand for unconventional workspaces. India has the second highest number of freelance professionals (15M) in the world.The Cafe market in India is growing at 30% every year, compared to the FnB industry which is growing at 8%. With advancements in modern technology, more and more individuals are now becoming a part of the gig economy. It is now possible to stay connected, have online meetings and exchange information. All these trends make this space very exciting!

How does the app work?

Vinayak : Anyone looking to find a space to work, read a book, host meetings, network or to relax and eat can use the app to find nearby ‘myHQ spaces’. Users need to sign up through Facebook or email to see relevant details like photos, amenities, and other facilities of a space. They have an option of reserving that space by opting for one of the available subscription passes. The app is also useful to network with other members in the myHQ community.

Screenshots of the myHQ app

How does it work from the businesses’ side? How have they reacted to it?

Utkarsh: The cafes love the idea! Working on a revenue share model, our proposition for cafes is that they can increase occupancy rates during off-peak hours and get a retained customer base. The myHQ Team works very closely with the cafes to make sure that the users have a great experience. We ensure that the lighting and seating are optimal and comfortable, the music from the cafe or nearby establishments is not too loud, and that there is certain variety in the menu. At some cafes/restaurant we also have an exclusive area only available to myHQ customers to work with disturbances.

What kind of ecosystem do we need to support more gig workers/nomad workers in this country?

Vinayak : A wide availability of affordable good working spaces is something that would largely help the nomad ecosystem in India. Co-working spaces are a critical part of the digital nomad workforce where many entrepreneurs/individuals begin initiatives, organise events, and network

What’s your revenue model?

Utkarsh : Ours is a prepaid subscription model. There are three subscription plans to choose from – 1 visit, 5 visits and 25 visits. The plans are based on the number of visits instead of being valid for a month/week. The subscription fee that you pay is fully redeemable on Food & Beverages at the cafes – hence making the workspace rent-free!. As a myHQ member, you also get exclusive discounts at the cafes and are free to work out of any space you choose to!

You currently have a presence in Delhi and Gurgaon. When are you planning on expanding through the country?

Vinayak : Until now, we had focused largely on getting the technology right – from having centralised wifi and payment systems to inventory management. Having this in place, it is now possible for us to expand and grow rapidly. We are looking at doubling the number of workspaces in Delhi-NCR in February and then expand to other parts of the country over the next three months. Having myHQ spaces in multiple cities would be extremely useful for frequent travellers, who could benefit from a multi-city pass.

You have a community aspect in your app. How do you see people utilising that?

Utkarsh: Community and collaboration is what makes myHQ so successful. Since myHQ workspaces are present at across the city and users might not always visit the same space, they can connect with each other via the app. On the app every user has a profile page with their details. It is possible to search for other users based on their names, skill sets and interests. While a lot of connections happen virtually via the app, we also organise a lot of offline events to help grow the community. Many users use the app for professional help and discussions. A lot of freelancers in the community have gained new clients from within the myHQ network.

 

Updated on February 27, 2017, at 1.20pm with Digital Nomads and the Future of Jobs bands.


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