Small Business Q&A with Sanj Mahal, CEO and Founder of AndCo

There's now another option for freelancers when working away from home. Here, we talk to AndCo's founder and try out the platform ourselves.

Increased popularity of flexible working among millennials gave AndCo’s founder, Sanj Mahal, the idea to set up an online platform (not to be confused with Fiverr owned ‘And Co’) to give employees more options and flexibility to work away from the home and office. Here, he talks about how he set up the business and how it has partnered with venues and signed up customers.

What inspired AndCo?

I came up with the idea with my wife, Nicole, when we were both working together from home. We quickly realised how important maintaining a distinction between ‘work’ and ‘home’ is for your mental health and productivity. We wanted to create a scalable business that reprogrammed underused spaces like restaurants and bars and hotel lobbies, and encourage a new way of working. With the huge growth in flexible working, we saw a rising demand for new kinds of work space, and a frustration at both the cost of traditional co-working subscriptions and the alternative of having to buy coffee in a local café and endure poor WiFi.

How did you go about setting AndCo up?

Initially we had to establish the size of the marketplace and focused on where the potential AndCo members were. After a year of collating data, we then focused on raising capital through private seed funding. This funding was used to design the platform, develop the tech infrastructure (including machine learning), A/B testing on the acquisition channels and developing a marketing strategy to support our growth in venues and members.

“We then set out to build our iOS app, and began speaking with partner venues across London, of which we now have over 40”

Earning the trust of both venues and members will be a key enabler of our continued growth going forward as we to spread the message about AndCo’s unique, curated offering.

How did you deal with the day-to-day challenges of running the company?

One of the biggest challenges was the asymmetric nature of any marketplace. It was the balancing act between the functions of venue acquisition versus generating users. Venue owners were already thinking more creatively about their own space. Bars and restaurants are designed to encourage meetings, socialising and relaxation, so some venue owners needed some time to embrace the idea of their space being used for a different kind of activity, but also to consider how elements of their original space can contribute to developing a new kind of flexible working space. Overcoming these hesitancies has involved being as open and transparent about the needs of the flexible workers as possible, and providing support and encouragement to provide solutions that will benefit both the venues and the freelancers.

Further reading on flexible working

Co-working is growing faster in London than any other place in the world – why do you think that is?

Almost 53 per cent of people registered for freelance work are based in London, raising the demand for co-working spaces. With London’s long history as a European cultural hub, the city remains an attractive city for creatives. Creative hubs across the capital including Soho, Shoreditch and Kings Cross generate 10 per cent of the UK’s entire creative turnover, while London is also the world’s second biggest producer of TV content. This means the city attracts a greater number of people more likely to work flexibly and outside of a traditional office environment than any other city. On top of this, London has over 40 higher education institutions, adding students to the number of people looking for work spaces away from the office.

AndCo is a co-working and hot desk platform for London freelancers.

Anna Jordan, reporter at SmallBusiness.co.uk booked a local AndCo venue to see if it was worth it.

Merchants Tavern, Shoreditch
Merchants Tavern, Shoreditch

Curious to see what Andco is and how it compares to simply perching in a café, I sign up.

The website’s layout and design remind me of Airbnb, with page-length landscape images and bold text.

Signing up is easy and takes a couple of minutes. For trepid solo workers, the first month is free, but you have to sign up using your card details. If you want to cancel after the 30-day trial, it’s best to do so straight away. Your membership will keep going until the month is up.

The venue

I went to the AndCo workspace at Merchant’s Tavern, just off Great Eastern Street, Shoreditch.

When I arrived, I said I had a reservation with Andco, but I had to mention freelancing to the waitress before she knew what I was talking about. Perhaps she thought it was a table booking for lunch.

Word is that some places offer free tea and coffee for AndCo freelancers who come in – this is not one of those places.

I still felt obligated to buy a beverage, but that’s just my nature, so I bought a cappuccino.

It was a Friday morning and very quiet, so I had the freedom to choose more or less any table I liked.

However, as it’s mainly a restaurant, the lighting was dim. The atmosphere was calm, though – ideal for getting work done. It’s not as social as other spaces appear from the images on the website, but whether that a plus point is down to personal preference.

Wi-Fi is provided through AndCo’s own network. It’s just a case of clicking on the Wi-Fi button and logging into the Andco site with your normal details.

My verdict? I like the idea, but I wouldn’t pay £20 a month for it.

Michael Somerville, reporter at SmallBusiness.co.uk and GrowthBusiness.co.uk also reviewed a local AndCo venue to get a better idea if it would be worth signing up as a freelancer or sole trader.

I dropped into AndCo’s space at Italian restaurant, Passo, on City Road just near Old Street tube.

Passo, Old Street
Passo, Old Street

On arrival, a waitress knew exactly what I was talking about when I mentioned Andco and took me to my window seat. The only people around were staff preparing for a busy Friday night.

The music played was quite loud but didn’t distract me from my work.

A woodfire burnt in the background and I was offered water and/or a free tea or coffee on arrival meaning four or five uses a month will repay your £20 membership fee.

There are certainly benefits for using the service, you simply know that you’ll have a seat to work without going through the uncertainty of poking your head inside Starbucks only to see all the seats are taken.

To use the internet you use AndCo’s WiFi which is fast. Some of the venues offer fibre broadband of 100mpbs and 300 mpbs but it depends on the particular venue.

Locations are mostly in London’s tech district, Old Street, Shoreditch and Soho, with some in Notting Hill and Clapham. South East London is sadly under-represented though, although one MEAT Ligour in Croydon is available. Also, their search function needs work – when I searched Soho in the main search bar, it just showed me venues in Notting Hill and West Brompton which didn’t make much sense. Also, most, if not all, venues are not available on weekends.

Overall, I was impressed with Passo and asked if I could stay for dinner later, but would I get a discount being an Andco member? Sadly, no.

This is a promising idea that would work well for any freelancer, sole trader who is within easy commuting distance of Central/West or East London and is worth the £20 a month for the peace of mind it brings.