If last year’s talk was on game changers, this year, it will be more on disruption and disruptive technology. This was one of the fearless forecasts mentioned in 2015 by several leaders in the world of technology, and is increasingly being felt across industries today. This is the same value proposition Mario Berta had in mind, when he created and launched FlySpaces.com in October last year.
He describes FlySpaces as a market place for short-term office and retail space rentals. “We started FlySpaces in Manila, and it is where our operational headquarters is located, although our holding company is based in Singapore. We are expanding aggressively throughout Southeast Asia.”
Looking at the first three months, “aggressive expansion and growth” seems to be an understatement. Already, the company had expanded to Cebu, and this January, had opened in Singapore, partnering with businesses and offices with room to spare. Berta says his target market is geared toward growing and flexible type of businesses, like the SMEs, who need short-term office spaces, or even just a meeting room for important clients and investors. And in a largely consumer-driven Philippine economy, the start-up is also looking at the huge potentials in retail spaces. Berta adds that he sees the same potential in other Asian countries as well, and as such his goal is to expand in other neighboring countries too. Brimming with optimism, Berta says FlySpaces will also be “opening in a Southeast Asian city every other month.”
The young Italian CEO says his optimism is well-placed. He says, “I’ve been living in the Philippines and parts of Southeast Asia for about seven years. By building several companies for other organizations, the first things you need is a lawyer to incorporate the company and then an office space. So I went multiple times in multiple countries and went through the hassles of finding an office space.”
When asked why he chose Manila to launch FlySpaces, he points out that since the economy on this side of the world is doing so well, the vacancy of affordable yet premier office spaces are very low. Consequently, the prices have been been very high, with the landlords usually requiring at least three months’ deposit and three months’ advance payment, apart from a minimum lock-in period with zero flexibility. “What happens then is that the small and medium enterprises struggle to expand, because for them the affordability of an office space in the right location is a huge challenge. That is where FlySpaces intends to address the need.
Berta admits that he is not the first player in the market to think of providing solutions to this problem. He acknowledges that there are now a number of player coming into this market, with most coming before FlySpaces did. What makes them different, he says, is that “our objective with FlySpaces was simply to aggregate all the unsold short-term inventory in a pre-determined city.” Their inventory comes from two main players: businesses which are in the business of renting, like Regus or other similar companies, while the second comes from all those in the business of co-working spaces. In other words, Berta says his company acts like a marketing and sales component, where FlySpaces market what those two main players have.
In assessing their first quarter performance, he notes that the demand is definitely present. The main challenge for them, Berta say, is that “the market still need to be educated on the benefit of a platform like ours and on the benefits of flexible office spaces. The local companies here, either they could not afford a short-term office space with the rate of Regus, and can’t afford to be locked in either with the terms a regular office space requires, so they’re in limbo.” This is exactly what they offer at FlySpaces, he emphasizes— the capability of offering office spaces for as low as P5,000 a month, to an average of P50,000.00 a month per seat.
Berta, who came from one of the companies incubated by the global powerhouse that is Rocket internet, says he belongs to the new breed of young expatriates who have embraced Southeast Asia as their home. In particular, he adds, living in the Philippines for five years now has made him appreciate the country’s culture even more, and considers himself very much comfortable with the Philippine lifestyle. Outside of FlySpaces, he says he has invested in a bar in Makati with some of his friends, and goes out exploring the rest of the islands in his free time. He is also into karting as a sport he says, and is one day considering learning golf, as he observed that the sport seems to be one of the ways business people like to network here.
And like many young entrepreneurs these days who have already carved out a name and niche for themselves, Berta says, he would also like to help other start-ups in building their businesses too. It’s a small way of giving back, and giving tribute to the generosity of those who mentored him, until he is able to stand on his own.