Hong Kong startup wants to be Uber of office spaces

Booqed, which matches available spaces with users looking for work desks and event venues, is looking to expand its services into the region including Singapore and Seoul, and at a possible Australian IPO.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Hong Kong startup Booqed is looking to change how organisations utilise spaces and link them with people seeking temporary offices and event venues.

The business model emerged out of frustration when the co-founders, who needed a conducive space to conduct a video conference, spent three days searching for a suitable room only to show up to find there was no record of their reservation and the $100 deposit they paid.

They decided then to set up a P2P marketplace with the aim to "redefine and reimagine" the use of space, said David Wong, Booqed's co-founder and CEO, in a phone interview Thursday with ZDNet.

The startup's platform allows organisations to rent out under-utilised space, including office spaces, F&B outlets, and music studio, to be used for various purposes such as to host events and as co-workspace. Through the platform, host companies can list and manage their space.

Through its mobile app, users can find, book, and pay for a space. They also can provide a rating of the space after they have used it. The app currently is only available on Apple App Store, but an Android version is scheduled for release in the next three months.

Co-founder and COO Charles Oh said a new version of the app would be released in three to five weeks offering several new features, such as allowing host partners to set the lead time to make a booking, so they could have more time to prepare a venue if they needed to.

Wong added that there was potential to extend the platform for businesses to utilise as their backend booking system. He noted that in Hong Kong, for instance, the spectrum of host partners could span from those that had invested millions of dollars building their own booking platform to business centres that still used pen and paper to track their bookings.

"There are so many different systems that it would be almost impossible to integrate our platform with any of these backend systems," he explained. "What we're looking to do instead is to offer an API (application programming interface) so the organisations can hook up their backend with ours and do some integration. This isn't something that we're looking to do in the near-term because it requires significant work, but it's something we're looking at."

For now at least, Oh said it could extend the use of its basic system for free as a value-add service to its partner organisations, especially those that still relied on manual paper-and-pen entries.

The startup had roped in various organisations in Hong Kong, including business centres, co-working spaces, music studios, and gallery space. It recently signed up a hospitality company with F&B outlets, including Michelin restaurants.

Both platform and mobile app are available for free, with Booqed receiving a 10 to 20 percent commission fee from each booking. The startup handles all payments in order to minimise administrative work for host businesses and users, who can pay via credit cards or PayPal.

Development work on a mobile app and booking platform began a year ago, but the service was officially launched in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, just a month back.

It also just launched in Singapore, which Wong hoped would eventually serve as its Southeast Asian hub, as the startup looked to expand its service over the next six months to other markets in the region, including Seoul, Tokyo, Shanghai, Bangkok, and London.

He added that the startup was targeting markets that had active freelance communities and were popular among business travellers and small and midsize businesses, which often visited Asian cities and needed a temporary workspace.

To better cater to the region's local practices and preferences, he said there were plans to incorporate local payment platforms such as Alipay in China and Apple Pay.

Asked if there were concerns about subletting rules that might restrict companies from renting out their space, Booqed said its business model would not be affected since it was focused only on short-term usage. Bookings typically were based on hourly or daily basis, or spanned a couple of days. Anyone that required a space for a week or longer would be referred directly to the host partner.

In addition, the startup's Terms of Service states that the host is "selling a license to the guest" to use the space. This distinguishes, from a legal perspective, such services from a short-term rental or lease since it does not indicate any interest or tenancy in the space, according to Booqed.

Apart from Wong and Oh, there are three other co-founders in the startup, each with equal share and who have been bootstrapping. The team currently is readying a pre-series A round to fund its international expansion.

Wong said: "We're targeting to raise up to US$1 million, but the sweet spot is US$500,000. Looking further into the future, we're also exploring a number of options including listing on the ASX (Australian Securities Exchange) or doing a Series A. We'll probably come to a decision on this early part of next year."

Asked why it was looking at an Australian IPO when it had yet to launch its service in the country, he pointed to a strong focus on high tech and Asian opportunities in the market there. He revealed that his team already had began initial discussions with finance and corporate advisors Down Under, where there was "an openness about the solution we're offering".

He also noted that the ASX only required one board for companies to list, and added that the Australian market showed a lot of interest in early startups.

Wong said plans also were underway to launch Booqed in Sydney and Melbourne.

Oh said: "Australia is an interesting market. The number of freelance [consultants] and business travellers there are incredible including both international and domestic travellers, especially between Sydney and Melbourne."

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