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Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Meet our founders of the week:CO-55’s Farah and Ahmed Salim

OUR FOUNDER OF THE WEEK– Every Tuesday, Founder of the Week looks at how a successful member of Egypt’s startup community got their big break, asks about their experiences running a business, and gets their advice for budding entrepreneurs. Speaking to us this week are Farah (LinkedIn) and Ahmed Selim (LinkedIn), siblings and co-founders of co-working space startup CO-55.

We both studied at Northeastern University in Boston before joining the family business, an export-import firm. We worked there for two years until we noticed a gap in the market for co-working spaces and seized the chance by establishing CO-55 three years ago.

We first came up with the idea for CO-55 after noticing that entrepreneurship is becoming increasingly popular among younger generations and that social media was placing a lot of attention on the startup ecosystem. We wanted to find a way to service the industry — all of these businesses would require a working location at some point in time.

We were introduced to different co-working space concepts while living in the US. We conducted market research and discovered that 99% of co-working spaces operating in Egypt were housed in two-bedroom residential apartments and lacked a license. The remaining 1% were affiliated with global companies that needed an office to use when visiting Egypt on business. Since 2019, it has been our job to build something that is entirely Egyptian, meets international standards, and serves all startups.

Before we entered the industry, we wanted to learn everything we could about it. There were few market participants at the time and no manual for how to carry out the business. We were taking shifts at the front desk and juggling work to understand the ins and outs of the business.

Three years later, we have reached the point where we have accumulated enough knowledge to begin expanding. We established two new facilities in New Cairo this year.

We have shifted our focus to serviced offices. We currently cater to multinational corporations that want to operate in Egypt but do not want to own assets and prefer flexibility. Companies are also showing heightened interest in satellite offices, as employees are becoming more reluctant to commute. Now our clients include VMWare, Oncare, DiDi and Verizon. We owe a great deal to our outsourced services from LEOS’ DEN marketing agency and Two Emms interior design firm.

Farah: The best part about our job is hearing positive feedback. This brightens my day. It also makes me really happy when I introduce myself to someone and mention CO-55 and they already know about it.

Ahmed: The best thing about our job is that we get insights about how the economy is performing. Companies — no matter what field they operate in or how big or small they are — are always looking for workspaces. Sometimes there are a lot of international corporations interested in opening offices, and other times there aren't any leads or sales. We also work with a variety of industries, which allows us to become acquainted with and have a comprehensive understanding of the job industry as a whole.

The worst aspect of our job is the stress, responsibility, and its ups and downs. We have a lot of responsibility and monthly commitments to meet. Also, we’ve switched all of our attention, energy, effort, time, and money to CO-55, which forced us to quit working on other projects.

The three most important KPIs we monitor on a regular basis are office turnover, occupancy rate, and how quickly we occupy the space. We always aim to open the space with at least 40-50% occupancy, and the footfall and how busy the space is are also crucial KPIs for us.

When we have a problem at work, we always turn to our father. He has more than 30 years of experience in real estate, including residential complexes, commercial centers, five-star hotels, and administrative offices. CO-55 is a real estate company with a twist, so he knows how to help. He’s also always challenging us to think outside the box and determine our next steps.

Moving forward, our plan is to expand to more governorates, but with tailored services and offerings. We want to build an infrastructure that provides people working in governorates with good internet, amenities, and all the necessary services for a comprehensive and spacious working environment that matches them and the nature of their work.

Our future plans also include owning the assets we operate rather than renting them. We have already purchased a property in New Cairo and will begin operations in Q4 2023. We are also heading to Sheikh Zayed very soon.

If we could give budding entrepreneurs one piece of advice, it would be to grow a thick skin and to be extremely resilient and persistent. We also encourage working with a co-founder.

Farah: I believe we are aligned in terms of business inspiration. We were inspired by the energy of “I want to establish my own business and be the CEO of myself.” There was a lot of potential, and we were able to be very generous with our spaces given there was no adequate competition.

Being a startup founder is a lonely journey. You must forego your social life and other interests in order to focus on your career, and establish the name you told yourself you would build.

Ahmed: The last great thing I watched was WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a USD 47 bn Unicorn.

At first, our family was very skeptical of the industry. However, now that we have reassured them, they are happy and proud of what we do.

Farah: A startup I believe is killing it is Thndr. Ahmed: I believe Breadfast and MaxAB are doing a great job.

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