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Co-working in Kuala Lumpur – WOTSO

Co-working in Kuala Lumpur
WOTSO CEO Stuart Brown

I was delighted to chance upon a co-working space in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with the cool, colourful and spacious design aesthetics I like.

WOTSO brings its successful model from Australia, with a 24/7 office neatly tucked into the Mercu Summer Suite building in central KL. Here, CEO Stuart Brown talks business.

Stuart, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. First up, what does WOTSO mean – is it an acronym?

There are two stories here – the one I prefer is WOTSO is an acronym for We’re Off The Surfs Overhead. However, for those that don’t surf on our team, WOTSO is an acronym for the business that once occupied our very first space workspace located in Neutral Bay.

Balancing the needs of large corporate clients with those of SMEs, freelancers and digital nomads – how does WOTSO accommodate them all?

We listen to exactly what our members want and diversify our space based on that. Our team has been in the property business a long time – far longer than WOTSO has been around – so we are well accustomed to adjusting our spaces to suit the needs of businesses of all shapes and sizes. We know that everyone works differently and expects very different things from their working environment. It’s about balancing that, while we still maintain the fun, energy and vibrancy that WOTSO has become known for.

Spending money on hot desks or office space may not be a budget priority for cash- strapped small business owners. How can you convince them otherwise?

Very true – I think when a small business is in the early stages of growth, prioritising an office, or even a permanent desk can feel really intimidating and not necessarily, a priority. This is exactly why we built WOTSO on flexibility. We know how important it is for budding businesses owners to network, change their environment (i.e. leave their kitchen bench) and be surrounded by likeminded individuals. We also know there are financial pressures of long-term leasing contracts that are just not viable for small business owners – this is where WOTSO can support businesses in their early stages of growth and remove that pressure in a way that other workspaces can’t, and don’t.

WOTSO co-working space in Kuala Lumpur

What does WOTSO offer that other workspaces don’t?

Outside of our flexibility, we offer an industry agnostic co-working environment that thrives off having so many different businesses under a WOTSO roof. We like the fact that our members are from a hugely diverse range of industries. Often times when people think of co-working or shared workspaces, they think tech, they think Silicon Valley. Sure – we have incredible members in tech, but we also have members who are lawyers, psychologists, marketers, carpenters…. The diversity of WOTSO members never ceases to amaze me and I have been in this business a long time!

What are the benefits of having a co-working space within a residential setting, such as the Kuala Lumpur WOTSO at the Mercu Summer Suites?

Across all of our WOTSO spaces, we are finding the balance between work and lifestyle. Our positioning in the Mercu Summer Suites is another example of WOTSO giving our members proximity to lifestyle elements. Being in a residential setting with strong amenities enables members to work where they live, go to the gym, eat and play.

WOTSO offers its members flexible working arrangements and supports a broad range of businesses under one roof

Looking at the corporate/world of work more broadly, do you think there is a general disillusionment with ‘office politics’ that is driving people to work for themselves? In addition, do you think more women are looking for alternative ways of working that will allow them to realise their leadership potential (with or without children)?

At the end of the day, there is always going to be politics, by nature of people having differing opinions and perspectives on their work, as well as the work of others. However, I certainly believe that the autonomy that comes with running your own business and that flexibility to be accountable only to yourself, is a major driver for many new business owners. At WOTSO, we have a really strong network of female employees who, like all of our team members are really looking for new and innovative ways of achieving their work and constantly searching for the best outcomes for the WOTSO business. They have a strong leadership mindset – whether it is leading a team, their space or even progressing and pushing their own roles that I think comes as a mix of their own skillsets and expertise, as well as the environment they work in.

How do you think the workspace sector can withstand any impacts from the current troubling economic climate?

WOTSO was born out of a downturn in the economic climate. We recognised (quickly) that so many businesses really couldn’t afford to run offices with overheads and long lease terms. We are the solution to that. Co-working and shared workspaces are no longer a trend or a movement – it is a way of working that makes having an office style environment possible without the ridiculous costs that so many have become accustomed to.

WOTSO staff member, Khalil Kamarudin

Do you think the co-working market is becoming overcrowded, or only in some countries? Where do you see the most scope for growth? For example, wellness services? childcare support? More seminars and networking opportunities?

As more and more businesses start to look for a different way of working – where they work, how they work etc. – the co-working market is growing. Where WOTSO is situated in Asia Pacific, the want for co-working is a growing one. The way we started our business – and intend to grow it further – is by positioning ourselves primarily in localised areas, whereby our members have access to amenities such as wellness services, gyms, day care and supermarkets. We want to make the lives – in both work and leisure – of our members simpler and more enjoyable. By hosting regular networking events in our space – both during the day and after traditional working hours – our members also have the opportunity to grow their network within our space. To me this is a true point of different with WOTSO – our approach and proximity to amenities outside of what we offer, as well as our ‘always on’ networking opportunities is really where set ourselves apart. That, and very cool workspaces!

Future plans for WOTSO?

We are constantly future planning the WOTSO business. Co-working and shared workspaces are seeing huge growth year on year, so it is an exciting time for WOTSO to be in the mix. We will be opening two new locations in Australia before the end of 2019, as well as looking at expansion plans for existing sites and of course, looking for new site opportunities as we make our way into 2020.

In previous interviews, you’ve made it clear that nurturing staff talent is critical. What makes WOTSO a great place to work?

WOTSO is about giving people – our team – that opportunity to really find an area of the business that they like and are passionate about and allowing them to grow their capabilities there. Our team have the opportunity to get involved in event and marketing led activations, as well as sales and building out their spaces to make them an exciting, vibrant space for their members. Whether it is developing Pitch Nights, Friday Drinks or other such events for our members, the WOTSO team is a fun, energetic and passionate crew who really reflect what WOTSO is all about – community, networking and growing your business.

Does WOTSO have any ‘giving back’, or community initiatives, on the go or in the pipeline?

WOTSO, both in Australia and in Malaysia, are always partnering with community led organisations that are specific to a site. We like to engage in community activities that promote collaboration, innovation, as well as giving back. It is important that we work closely with local suppliers within each space to really support both growing and established businesses in our network. At a corporate level, we align ourselves with a couple of key charitable organisations, such as the Kids Cancer Project – lending our support to these organisations to raise awareness and funds for their missions and work with such important causes.

With so much going on, how do you relax?

When I’m not at work, or spending time with my family, you can find me at Bondi Beach surfing. The ocean is my downtime.

And, finally, your favourite holiday destination?

I’m off to Hawaii for some sun and good surf. So, with that around the corner, I’m going to say Hawaii in this moment!

“Co-working and shared workspaces are no longer a trend or a movement – it is a way of working that makes having an office style environment possible without the ridiculous costs that so many have become accustomed to”.

Stuart Brown

For more information about WOTSO click here

Read my articles about working and living abroad here

Try these Kuala Lumpur restaurants

Try these Kuala Lumpur restaurants

These are Kuala Lumpur restaurants I would return to a second time (and especially to Lai Po Heen, pictured above, at the Mandarin Oriental hotel). This will depend on whether they can maintain a consistent standard of service.

Dumplings, food, Asia, Kuala Lumpur, restaurant
HoMinSan black truffle pork dumplings

The choice of KL restaurants and cafes at the Pavilion mall (Bukit Bintang) can be overwhelming. So, it’s good to have at least one go to, reasonably priced place. HoMinSan is one such place for me (for an early lunch).

I think I’m getting slightly obsessed about a couple of their dishes in particular: try the deliciously delicate black truffle pork dim sum (poking a chopstick into it makes the juices spurt and splatter out, so watch your clothes). And the goose too, with it’s addictive fat that melts into the meat and mouth. Those two together with chrysanthemum tea cost under £10.

Chicken, food, restaurant, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, travel, eat
ChoCha’s herb stuffed chicken

This is where I had my first taste of the nutty-tasting black rice, coupled with a tender herb stuffed chicken. They need to do some work on their selection of wines (by the glass) and, apparently, their duck, but apart from those things, well worth the visit for a calm place away from the city bustle, offering good Asian fusion food. Average meal for one with wine around £20.

By the way, you must visit the hipster cocktail bar upstairs, Mrs Jones Parlour. It specialises in hand-crafted and global gin concoctions. My own drink choice was the not-too-sweet but lovely gin, jasmine and tarragon combo at just under £8.

Cocktails, gin, botanicals, restaurant, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, food, travel
Mrs Jones’ Parlour

Mixed reviews on Tripadvisor, not helped by the duck salad I had (way too many bones), but get past that and here’s somewhere for a healthy lunch at the busy Suria/KLCC mall. Despite the disappointing duck, the Asia beef salad was plentiful and fresh, not overpowered by the dressing, while the crispy fries lightly sprinkled with paprika did work. No alcohol but good choice of alternative drinks.

Get here at the right time and you can bag a prime seat to watch the fountain light show while enjoying a good meal and drink. I’ve only ever had the flavoursome beef rendang both times I’ve visited, plus a nice glass of pinot noir.

Light show performance viewed from Mama San

I’ve saved the best of this list for last. If you are yearning for a delicious roast duck and plum sauce fix, complete with good quality wines, then look no further. If you are staying at this beautiful hotel where the service is excellent without being fusty, then even better.

Fine dining, Mandarin Oriental, duck, food, travel, luxury, restaurant, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Delicious duck at Lai Po Heen
Poolside at the Mandarin Oriental hotel

Click here for more about my trips to Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong

Hobbits, Tolkien, Oxford and Writing

 

Tolkien sign

I decided to hot foot it over to Oxford for a dose of literary inspiration, where the Bodleian/Weston Library hosts the J.R.R. Tolkien exhibition until October. The Financial Times published a pre-exhibition review that tells it far better than I can – you can read it here.

Hobbit cover
Tolkien illustrated the cover to his now-famous book

Writers’ craft

But I learned some valuable ‘writers’ lessons from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings creator.

  1. Lord of the Rings, sequel to The Hobbit, took Tolkien a long twelve years to finish, ‘squeezing his writing into late nights’ after teaching and family activities.
  2. He pursued his creative endeavors (drawing, illustrations, writing) alongside his academic day job and family.
  3. But he had a ‘room of his own’ where he not only wrote his masterpieces but also met with his students, marked essays and carried out his professor duties. In addition, it was a hub for entertaining his children with evening stories.
  4. His illustrations are quite beautiful and complement his writing perfectly. How I wish I could draw! Never mind, at least I can work on my photography.
  5. Tolkien was actually quite an extrovert. He formed a writers’ group with his mates, which served as an excuse and a ‘safe space’ to down beers, and read their written stories to each other.
  6. Nonetheless, he had a literary best mate, CS Lewis.

Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth is at the Bodleian/Weston Library, Oxford

June 1- October 28 – tolkien.bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Oxford's dreaming spires
Oxford’s dreaming spires

Trinity College, Oxford
Trinity College, Oxford

Tolkien illustration

 

 

Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong

 

Changi, Singapore - overlooking the South China Sea
Changi, Singapore, overlooking the South China Sea

I’m starting to prefer staying in the suburban outskirts of a city. Apart from getting more reasonably priced accommodation, it’s nice to be able to retreat from the frenetic centres to somewhere more quiet, if not totally peaceful. As long as there’s accessible transport to ferry me across to the centre when I want then that’s fine by me.

Changi Village in Singapore is a case in point. Just a few kilometres from the airport my hotel was about a five-minute walk from the South China Sea beach side. Nothing amazing about the hotel itself – but (on the whole) it was clean and quiet. Food there was horribly expensive without the quality to match, in my opinion. But, that only galvanised me to sample the nearby local restaurants, where prices were low and the quality significantly higher.

Changi, Singapore.jpg
Changi, Singapore

Quiet(er) Melaka (or Malacca) in next door Malaysia is a pleasant two-hour coach drive from Singapore (I used the bus company KKKL which I do recommend). And even in Kuala Lumpur, I stayed at Airbnb apartments that just skirted the flashy main centres, though with easy transport to shopping malls for sheltering from the heat.

KL during the day

 

KL at night
Kuala Lumpur (or ‘KL’) during the day and at night

 

Mojo Nomad Aberdeen Harbour
In Hong Kong, I stayed at the Mojo Nomad hotel, with this Aberdeen Harbour view from my window. Nice.

 

Hong Kong cafe.jpg
G4 Space cafe is just down the road from the Mojo Nomad hotel and worth checking out

 

Read my other Asia posts here:

Travels through Asia – dining in Kolkata

Travels through Asia