The Struggles of Setting Up HERSERLEF: The Co-Working Space

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Source: HERSERLEF Facebook Page

Starting a business is never easy, especially in the bad economic climate these past few years. Business costs are constantly rising, and business owners tend to pass these costs down to the consumers.

Cafes and co-working spaces are no different. They have a lot of overhead costs too. And if you’re one of those consumers who like to work at cafes or co-working spaces, productivity comes with a huge dollar sign. The longer you stay, the more you have to pay – it’s only fair, right?

This is where HERSERLEF sets itself apart. It’s a time-based co-working space that charges RM0.18 per minute, and has free unlimited coffee. They’ve also got snacks like cakes and cookies, as well as flavoured and normal drinks.

The only catch? You’ll have to clean up your own plates and cups. That’s it!

You might be wondering, If it’s a time based co-working space, there’ll be added pressure to finish work faster to save money, isn’t it?

Don’t worry – HERSERLEF caps the charges at RM16.20. This means you can stay all day to study or work without worrying about your costs.

So, how did the HERSERLEF’s co-founders, Johnny and Ed Jane, manage to make this concept work in Malaysia? Certainly not without hardships and challenges. Here are some of the lessons they’ve learned.

Source: HERSERLEF Facebook Page

1. Lack of successful pioneers in Asia

Before they started HERSERLEF, they discussed its concept with a few experienced people to get their feedback. Most of them shot it down. Their only case study was a cafe based in Russia, and it was also their only source for market research.

According to them, Europeans value time differently than Malaysians. They don’t mind spending money on space and time to be productive. For them, these are precious commodities which are worth paying for.

Malaysians on the other hand, are less willing to spend money just for things like space and time. They see these as something which should be free anyway, without realising how important it is to have a quiet, open space to work in.

So, even with the Russian case study, applying the data they’ve gained to the Malaysian market showed that it was still an entirely different ball game altogether.

2. Self-doubt and surviving their first month

During the 1st week of operation, only one customer showed up. The numbers didn’t increase in the following weeks either. During their first month, they only had 10 customers.

Needless to say, morale was low. They started second-guessing themselves, and began to think that their mentors who didn’t think HERSERLEF would work were right.

However, by the 2nd month, HERSERLEF’s customer base started expanding. Their existing customers started bringing in friends and colleagues. They gained so many new customers that they broke even, just in the second month of operating!

However, Life still threw a curveball in their direction…

3. Having to re-align the business direction

Source: HERSERLEF Facebook Page

Previously, they opened HERSERLEF to different customers. It initially served as a space to hold events, as well as an area where visitors can play card games and chat among themselves.

However, after listening to their customers’ feedback, HERSERLEF decided to focus on its core vision, which is to be a quiet space for people to study and work.

This meant HERSERLEF had to lose some of its existing customers, in order to make way for others. They stopped being a venue provider, and visitors could no longer play games or speak loudly. They devoted their attention into maintaining its regular customers and finding new ones as well.

4. Sacrifices and time commitments

Source: HERSERLEF Facebook Page

One of the reasons Johnny and Jane set-up HERSERLEF was is to show the value of time. They wanted to make Malaysians realise how much time they spend working and studying.

At 0.18 cents per minute, if you hit the maximum cap, you deserve a pat on the back for being such a hard worker!

The founders of HERSERLEF themselves know the value of hard work. As HERSERLEF operates from 10am to 10pm a day, they spend up to 15 hours a day, seven days a week running the business (the off day is used to restock). When asked if it affected their family time, they shared that it’s been a blessing in disguise that their hometown is far away from Kuala Lumpur, which means they can spend more time to focus on HERSERLEF.

Of course, Johnny and Jane would travel back to visit their family on Chinese New Year. Even then, they had to sometimes skip the celebrations just to run the business.

5. Working with a minimal advertising budget and small manpower

Source: HERSERLEF Facebook Page

HERSERLEF consists of just Johnny and Jane for now. They thought of hiring part-timers, but decided against it because HERSERLEF doesn’t have consistent SOP to be followed by employees just yet.

They’re still finding the right implementation to cater to its customers, and the last thing they want is for its staff to be confused or unable to execute their tasks well. So for now, HERSERLEF is just the two of them.

One of the key things which make HERSERLEF work is that they rely on their customers to clean up after themselves. This reduces the costs of having to hire a staff to clean up after their customers. It’s a novel concept in Malaysia, but so far they’ve managed to develop this new culture for their business.

In terms of marketing and advertising, HERSERLEF initially struggled to bring in customers. However, their concept eventually paid off – because of their low prices, customers gave them more publicity by sharing it with their circle of friends.

HERSERLEF still does a little bit of Facebook advertising every now and then, but at this moment they are a firm believer in organic growth.

HERSERLEF leading the way in pioneering time-based space in Malaysia

Source: HERSERLEF Facebook Page

HERSERLEF has managed to change the mindset of Malaysians to practise better self-service as well as showing respect to space and time. That’s no mean feat! Their success so far has come from a lot of hard work, sacrifices and some pivoting as well.

Are you a big fan of co-working space? Have you been to HERSERLEF? Let us know what you think of co-working spaces!  

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