Nyambura Gichohi and Wachuka Gichohi have found a formula for running a successful co-working space business.
The two sisters are the founders of Ikigai which has grown from one outlet to three.
Ms Wachuka, the chief operating officer, was working in real estate development while Ms Nyambura, the CEO, was working at Microsoft before they plunged into entrepreneurship.
“We always knew that we wanted to start something together. Nyambura was thinking about setting up incubator containers in Nairobi's Kibera and at the time she worked with an incredible shoemaker. That, and our combined passion for design, spaces, and the outdoors, our love for entrepreneurship, people, and connection are where the business idea started to form,” she says.
Before settling on starting Ikigai, they had thought of starting a coffee shop, but when the two racked their brains on the matter, they shelved it.
“We realised that food and beverages were something we were not cut out for. We had also travelled out of the country and worked in coworking spaces while abroad,” she adds.
They found their first space on General Mathenge Road in Nairobi's Westlands. It was an old dilapidated standalone house on two acres of land, but they saw its beauty and potential.
“Most co-working spaces in Kenya and around the world are located in commercial buildings, but when we saw the house, we immediately knew it was right for us,” says Ms Wachuka, adding “It had this breath-taking garden with incredible trees. We were not sure what it would look like, but we took a leap of faith and great risk.”
They invested Sh10 million to get things rolling, money that went into the cost of renovation, paying a designer, buying furniture and fittings, and beautifying the garden, among others.
They hit a fracture-inducing wall when the designer they hired to bring their vision and concept to life disappeared.
“We were left to our own devices, just the two of us, and that was an important part of our journey and learning. We jumped in headfirst, designed, and did most of the project ourselves with the support of a great construction team,” Ms Wachuka says.
Before the space was even ready for use, they got two referrals from their networks. Two organisations looking for a coworking space for their teams signed up as the first members of Ikigai.
They are still members over six years later.
They started with 3,000 square feet of space and a team of three (including themselves), they now have a team of 40 and 45,000 square feet of space shared among the four locations.
The sisters run a membership model, which comes with communal kitchens with refreshments, kitchen appliances, wellness spaces such as a spin studio, prayer rooms and mothers’ rooms, conference rooms, phone booths, speciality coffee bars and restaurants, housekeeping, and receptions.
Besides outdoor workspaces and meeting rooms, they have introduced outdoor Yoga and spin classes for their members.
Over the years, they have managed to attract startups, SMEs, to large international companies.
Do they have any regrets thus far?
“Yes, we have regrets, although we like to look at them as lessons. When we started, we were trying to do everything ourselves. We wore all the hats. We were designers, planners, managers, baristas, receptionists, and the list goes on, and that was very exhausting. We should have learned to delegate earlier in our business,” says Ms Wachuka.