UK expat spots gap for serviced office space in Kenya

Until a few years back, the concept of virtual and serviced offices was unknown in Kenya. Alexander Andrewes, a UK citizen who came to Kenya in 1994, was among the first entrepreneurs to introduce the concept in the market. Andrewes started Eden Square Business Centre (ESBC), a firm that provides serviced offices, meeting rooms, virtual office packages and administrative support. He sat down with How we made it in Africa‘s Regina Ekiru to discuss the business.

Alexander Andrewes

Alexander Andrewes

What motivated you to invest in serviced and virtual offices?

In 2005 I set up a business in Kenya dealing in interactive media services; I looked for serviced offices in Nairobi but found none. What I wanted was the convenience of walking into an office that is fully serviced, complete with furniture, internet, telephone networks and other administrative services. Realising there was a gap in the market, I sourced US$150,000 capital to start ESBC. We eventually secured 14 office units at the Eden Square building in Nairobi’s Westlands and opened our doors in April 2006.

The serviced offices are fully equipped offices ready for immediate occupation; the only thing our clients need when moving in is their computer.

The virtual offices, however, are suitable for startup firms that do not have the capacity to incur huge overhead costs. Clients are provided with all the facilities of a fully functioning office, but only at certain times.

What we offer our clients is the convenience of not having to worry about water, electricity, security and other administrative aspects of running a business. This provides them with more time to concentrate on their businesses. We have seen small entrepreneurs that started at ESBC with virtual offices, then moved on to serviced offices and eventually relocated to their own office premises.

Did you face any challenges in introducing the concept to the market?

Yes. It was difficult finding property owners willing to lease to us. Selling the serviced office concept to local firms was also a daunting task. In fact, it took us nearly three months to get the first client and all this time we were paying rent. However, once we got our first client, we received referrals and before long had run out of space. From the sales and earnings made, we expanded our facilities and by July 2007 we had opened our second centre. Today we have over 180 office units in five different locations and plans are underway for the launch of more offices in two other locations. The ESBC client portfolio has grown to over 200, comprising non-governmental organisations (NGOs), big corporate organisations and small business startups. Some of our past and current clients include General Electric, Grey Marketing Limited, General Motors, Ericsson, Rockefeller Foundation, the Louis Berger Group and Google.

Some other companies have started offering the same solutions; how are you coping with the competition?

At ESBC we are not worried about competition. The market is big enough to take in more developers. We are focusing on improving the quality of service and opening more offices. If anything, the coming up of other competing firms has helped make the concept of serviced and virtual offices more known.

What are your future plans for the company?

In the future, ESBC will be offering financial and strategy business advice to startups, NGOs and international firms opening branches in Kenya for the first time. We realise that Nairobi is a hub not only for Kenya but also for the East Africa region. Our goal is to provide serviced and virtual offices in Nairobi first. After this, we will be looking at investing in Uganda and Tanzania. We want to be the leading provider of serviced and virtual office solutions in Africa. We plan to achieve this by focusing on the needs of our customers and providing an efficient, convenient, innovative and cost-effective world class service.