To create Pakistan’s biggest entrepreneurial and freelancing community, Lahore-based company Colabs offers coworking spaces, business solutions, events, and educational programmes. Omar and Ali Shah, twin brothers who founded the coworking business in 2019, have two locations in Lahore, with a third on the way. What first seems to be yet another coworking space operator is really an ambitious plan to build the world’s biggest community of entrepreneurs and freelancers in the world’s fifth largest nation.
Colabs co-founder and CEO Omar Shah said, “We aim to knit together a community of 100,000 Pakistani entrepreneurs and freelancers, beginning with 5,000 seats within the next two years.” Before establishing Colabs in 2019, he returned to his hometown of Lahore after seven years in Dubai as a private equity and venture capital investor in developing markets such as Mexico, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Pakistan. Shah’s twin brother and Lahore real estate developer, Ali Shah, heads Sabcon, which has built a number of cutting-edge commercial buildings in Lahore over the last decade.
About 700 people use the startup’s workspaces right now. When it opens its third location at the beginning of next year, it hopes to gain an additional 400 customers. However, we enquired of Omar as to how a Pakistani coworking business with 700 seats could possibly grow to 100,000 members in the next five to seven years.
(To put things in perspective, WeWork presently has approximately 60,000 seats available in India. After forming a joint venture with a local firm in 2017, it entered the market and has since spent tens of millions of dollars.)
Family business in Lahore has developed and managed properties for decades. A few years ago Ali founded Sabcon to construct contemporary and creative structures, so we have a thorough understanding of the market. It is possible for us to design our workspaces more efficiently than the typical coworking operator, generating twice as much profit per square foot at half the expense. Thanks to our first two years of experience, we’re now prepared to expand our venues throughout Pakistan. “We’ve developed a playbook for rapidly converting buildings of various sizes into coworking spaces over the course of many months.
Colabs has been mainly self-funded up to this point, but in order to continue expanding, it will need outside funding. “When we began the business, we raised a modest amount of money from friends and family members and didn’t need to do so again. Because of the high level of inbound interest and readiness to expand our solution, we’re currently contemplating financing a seed round,” said Omar without revealing the amount they’re seeking to raise. He said that the company’s finances are sound and that it is still profitable even if it stops investing in expansion.
“We’ve created a community of startups, SMEs, big corporations, and some really brilliant freelancers that come and work from our spaces everyday and we’re always trying to consider how we can better serve them,” the coworking operator always had ambitions to expand beyond providing office space and seats, but they are now putting ideas into action. After receiving many requests, we recently began providing an end-to-end payroll administration solution to our customers,” said Colabs’ newly appointed Chief Operating Officer Fatima Mazhar.
As Careem’s Head of Expansion, she was one of the company’s initial ten employees and oversaw the company’s expansion into 100 cities. If you visit Colabs, you want to be a part of it right away. That’s why I chose to join despite receiving offers from various top startups and technology firms in Pakistan. I’ve always been drawn to companies with big goals that are reshaping their industry on a local level. Colabs wasn’t Pakistan’s first coworking space, but it was the first to think big enough to have an impact on Pakistan’s future of work.
“Our community and network is what we are very proud of,” she said, when asked how Colabs differs from the competition. That’s what sets us apart from the rest of the nation, in our opinion. We’re also making use of technology to streamline our operations and keep everyone at our facilities in touch with one another. We’re attempting to offer a variety of services to assist individuals in starting and scaling their businesses, from incorporation to payroll administration.