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The flexible workspace industry in Africa

KTN Interview

KOFISI CEO, Michael Aldridge, was recently interviewed by The Business Coach, Ian Dennis for KTN on the Flexible Workspace industry in Africa. Below is a transcript of part of the interview and you can listen to the whole show by clicking on the links at the bottom of the page.

Ian – Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen and welcome to the Business Coach Show in which we help entrepreneurs better their businesses. My name is Ian Dennis and tonight on the show we are going to be exploring flexible workspaces and the communities that are growing out of this.

On the first half of the show, I’m going to be having a conversation with Michael Aldridge who’s the Founder and CEO of KOFISI based here in Kenya, with different particular locations around Africa and after the break I’m going to be linking up Michael to Aidah, who’s the General Manager at Mettā to explore the future of the flexible workspace. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the show.

Ian – Michael quite a pleasure meeting you finally, I know we’ve had a conversation via phone but it’s nice meeting you and just coming here to KOFISI. This place looks so beautiful.

Michael – Thank you, we’re really proud of the outputs. It’s been quite a journey to get to here.

Ian – Interesting, I think the space just looks so lovely and we’re just walking in, and I was like ‘Wow!’.

Michael – Thank you!

Ian – Beautiful, Beautiful, beautifully done. Just take me through the name ‘KOFISI’. First of all, what exactly does it mean?

Michael – Well, you know we when we started, we had a critical principle about the way we want to operate, which is as a collaborative force – so the whole concept for us was about improving workspace in African cities that we operate in.

It was about collaborating with local talent and international ideas, working with local businesses who are working with international businesses, working with local staffers and so the whole thing was very collaborative. KOFISI actually is a combination of two words, it’s Kushrikiana and Ofisi which means ‘cooperative office’.

You know, we’re firmly an African brand, we’re a pan-African brand, so we wanted a name that evoked that kind of feeling when you heard it, and we went through a long process to actually to get to that place, but you know it also sets us apart from other from other people in the industry.

Ian – When you set up, how exactly was the journey because I know you’re in so many different African cities. Just take me through the genesis of the business, how did it come about and how exactly did you spread it all through?

Michael – The journey really was something that matters to me a lot – and matters to us as an organization, that is – investing in people – and it’s about how can we stimulate better productivity – more work from better output from individuals.

The most important part of any businesses is its people, and so investing in those people is an important part of growth. For us that was about creating spaces that would make individuals feel proud to come to work and would stimulate greater mindset. It would create bigger output, but the most difficult part of the journey for growing an African business, is that you’re driving standards but you’re also having to sort of forge the industry itself, because it’s just not understood as a concept yet.

Ian – And last year the pandemic was with us and it’s still with us and there’s a lot of disruption and in terms of the work from home culture this has been reignited through the pandemic. I don’t know, how exactly has it been for KOFISI through this particular period of time?

Michael – On a corporate level, your ability to grow has been very difficult. It’s been about survival. But for our industry actually it’s been a growth period. We’ve increased our numbers in terms of clients, space and centers and so we’ve been quite blessed in that way.

At the end of the day, I think companies have learned two things. One is that their people can be as productive through technology and two, that there’s still a need to come together. You know, you still got to reaffirm your faith, you’ve got to come together, you’ve got to live your values, you’ve got to emphasize your purpose and so you do need arenas or places to come together and that has led to the idea that space could actually be seen more as a service than it is an asset.

Ian – What do you think reignited that? Because it’s a very interesting trajectory that, as KOFISI, you guys are experiencing unlike what the traditional workplaces are experiencing. The corporates within their offices, most of the employees are working from home.

How exactly has it been that KOFISI has managed to, within this particular pandemic period, to increase the number of persons coming to work in-house?

Michael – There are particular areas of the industry right, there’s different types. I mean broadly speaking there’s two types: there’s co-working, which is where individuals are coming together and forging a community together, sharing ideas and giving them a sense of a professional environment takes them out of the attic or the café or the basement right? And it brings them together – and that was the original movement earlier in the decade.

As it’s moved forward, so you have what we call ‘enterprise flex,’ which is where you’re talking about companies and their requirements. Companies are very different organizations and organisms and they still need a centre of gravity and we’re in that sector which we’ve always felt is the stronger area to be in, because it’s more secure, more certain and it’s dealing with larger spaces for larger clients. By nature, those businesses still, in fact if anything there’s more of them, that want to now become more efficient from what they were before.

Ian – You’re targeting what’s called enterprise and guys are different cooperates. Traditionally in the working space, guys are targeting the individual clientele, so what exactly informed your business model?

Michael – Well two things. One was that I’ve come from a background in what’s referred to as ‘outsourcing’, which is a very developed industry in in the UK where companies would take what they would call ‘non-core services’ and they would then ask experts to manage that for them with a view that they would get process improvement and savings.

So, a typical example of that is something like payroll services or HR services which tend to be outsourced to a professional. So, outsourcing as a model was something that I was always very interested in and to that extent, we came at this market from an understanding of how corporates outsource and we went to corporates to say, ‘How are you handling your space? How are you going to grow?’  You know we have space algorithms to ensure that we get the maximum use of the space and we can blend facilities together. We understand the impact of colour fabrics and light and all these things that can create stimulation, that’s our expertise. So, we came at it much more from an outsourcing, as we refer to it, mentality, and we were able to talk to a lot of these larger companies in corporate terms and persuade them that this was the right thing to do and here we are, eight years later with 300 clients. You know it’s working and I think that we’ve proven that there is more resilience in this model than perhaps the commentators suggest.

Ian – Take me through which particular African countries do you have KOFISI’s presence on and why.

Michael – We started with the Eastern zone driven by the increase in mobilizations that were going on because of natural resources and with Nairobi being the powerhouse of the Eastern Coast, and we just grew out from there. The way our model tends to work is that we follow with clients, so whether you’re expanding, exploring or even entrenching in a market you know we can help you. That was our plan, to build a stronghold on the eastern side. We now have five centres here in in Nairobi and we’ve got three more opening, so it’s a very strong part of our business here and we’ve got exciting expansion that’s going to go on into Ethiopia into Rwanda, Mauritius, we already have presence in Tanzania and operations in Mozambique as you move further south.  Then we went down into South Africa, because you know, that gives you a degree, an absolute sense of credibility when it comes to certain types of international brands and then we worked our way round. So, we’re working our way around the clock. We into the west now so it’s east south west

Ian – Just take me through your mindset when you decided ‘I’m now leaving the UK coming to Africa and I’m coming to conquer’. What is going on through your mind?


Michael – I’ve always enjoyed international travel and I’ve had the pleasure of working in a bunch of countries around the world and I was looking for something else that would give me that opportunity to travel and it started really as a as an idea that I thought I could travel in and out. I did do that for some time which was probably to the detriment of everyone.

I’ve always sort of felt that once one has a concept, one has an idea, and there’s a drive to deliver on that idea. The environment you’re operating in becomes your home and yeah that can vary from it being you know, your bedroom, it could be a rural location in the UK or it can be the glories of working in city like Nairobi. I mean it’s just so captivating once you move here that, when I look back on it now, I can’t imagine why I ever thought I wouldn’t have lived here but also, I feel like this is very much my home now.

Ian – What do you think is the future of the of the industry?

Michael – I think, first of all, like we’ve said, I think it’s going to be a fantastic growth period for this sector. The statistics are very compelling in the sense that less than a quarter of a percent of commercial space here is in flexible workspace, whereas, in other markets it’s up to nine / ten percent globally. So, there could be 20 times growth in this market just to catch up to where we were, plus we’ve now got more people that want the space. That would suggest that in a 10-storey building you’d expect to see one storey of that, right, one floor of that to be flexible working. That said, I think in the sector, those that will succeed are those that can continue to innovate.  We’ve moved away from community events and it’s much more technology-enabled services that clients want.

To see the whole KTN The Business Coach interview please click on the links below: