When Ron Chen graduated from the University of York’s Law and Management School in Britain, it was never his intention to co-found a HK$6.8 billion start-up. But fast forward several years and now, as CEO of ATLASPACE, Chen is currently overseeing 25 projects with a total of 2.3 million square feet of office space around this region.
Previously, Chen had worked in Morgan Stanley’s investment-banking division, where he participated in several successful capital-market transactions. The biggest takeaway from that experience? “There’s no room for mistakes,” he says, “because when you’re dealing with billions of dollars, a 1 percent error in calculations can result in millions of losses, so there’s zero room for error.”
Chen attributes his attention to detail and unwavering work ethic to his on-the-job training at Morgan Stanley. His experience with funding, financial modelling and learning how to gain an investor’s trust also helped him grow ATLASPACE from mere start-up to near-unicorn status.
Chen and three friends founded ATLASPACE in a small office space on Hong Kong Island in 2016. “When we started the company, we wanted to be involved in something in the real-estate industry, and that’s why we went to Korea, Thailand and Singapore, to see all the different businesses. When we travelled to Guangzhou and other major Chinese cities, we observed lots of commercial construction.”
After putting their observations together with third-party data, the team could clearly see there was an excess of office space across the border. What Chen and his team wanted to know was, “Who’s going to digest this space – or, will the demand meet the supply?” Through further research they learned that the Grade A office model hasn’t changed for the past three decades, offering only two services: leasing and property management. And this is where ATLASPACE found an opportunity to capture value in the market. “Basically, the landlord offers the tenant security and cleaning ladies, and that’s it,” Chen says. To harness the explosion in supply on the market and to create value for his customers, he knew he needed to create a win-win scenario.
“We asked ourselves, if we can change the entire office-operating business model to mirror that of the hotel-management model, will it work?” This became the question that drove ATLASPACE to achieve success in the market.
Designing a Grade A office model that’s inspired by a hotel model allows ATLASPACE to attract SMEs, start-ups and lower-budget companies. Lower-budget companies have historically avoided Grade A offices due to high investment costs, but ATLASPACE set out to change that.
“If you’re a low-budget hotel customer and sharing a room with someone else, what will you do? You’ll share a twin room. But if you have a larger budget, you’ll upgrade and stay in a junior or deluxe suite. Or maybe even a presidential suite. Hotels offer a wide range of products and services.”
What ATLASPACE does is offer a co-working space that’s similar in price to a hotel twin room, which attracts entrepreneurs and start-ups, while providing tailor-made premium private offices by request for SMEs and large enterprises.
Whether they’re occupying a co-working space or private offices, all tenants are able to enjoy concierge services provided by a Guest Experience Team that’s based on those found at five-star hotels.
Moreover, whereas most people would only enter a Grade A office building if they worked or had meetings there, ATLASPACE now offers a one- stop shop to capitalise on the density of consumers in such a building.
The company has developed several ATLASPACE-branded businesses, including a fitness centre, coffee shop, bakery, canteen, brewery, spa and art studio, which is innovative in a sector that generally limits its offering to private offices and co-working space without other facilities and services.
Chen walks us through a typical day of one
of its Grade A office clients. “At 8.30, when you enter the building you stop at ATLAS Coffee for a cappuccino then go to work. At lunchtime, you can go to ATLAS Kitchen for casual dining, or to ATLAS Fitness to work out without leaving the building. In the evening, you can go to ATLAS Wine or ATLAS Sports (a golf-simulator studio) to have a more casual business meeting to close the deals. Alternatively, you can go to ATLAS Spa or ATLAS (Art) Studio to refresh your mind and end your wonderful day.”
ATLASPACE, which opened its first centre at Guangzhou Agile Centre three years ago, has now expanded to 20 centres in Greater China, covering the main central business districts in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Xi’An. Last year, the team decided to open the Hong Kong centre at Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui with a total of 50,000 square feet under the name ATLASPACE.
“Hong Kong is our hometown and ATLASPACE is a Hong Kong-based company,” says Chen. “Also we saw the Greater Bay Area opportunities. With strong footprints and connections across Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, we picked a location that’s closest to the high-speed railway station in Hong Kong. Within the first three months, our 60 percent occupancy proved we’d made the right decision.”
ATLASPACE is now offering its clients a new service: Headquarters by ATLASPACE. From location selection and interior design to construction and property management, ATLASPACE has a dedicated team to manage the project from the first step.
“You know how frustrating and time-consuming it is to find the right office space and manage the interior design of the site?” asks Chen. “ATLASPACE has strong connections with property owners and we have a team of architects, project managers and property-management consultants. Also, we have partnership and investment in world-leading furniture and office-facilities companies. Our service will assist the company to save time and money by moving into its new office on schedule, so it can focus on business expansion instead of worrying about procurement, design, constructions, etc.”
When asked about his goal for ATLASPACE, Chen says it’s to manage the entire building, from co-developing the projects to property management, in order to achieve a win-win situation with property developers.
“With our experience and expertise in managing the current 25 projects in the region,” he says, “ATLASPACE is a strategic partner for SMEs and MNCs to find, build and manage their offices, and for property developers to add value to their buildings, which would differentiate them from other Grade A offices nearby,” Chen says.
“We don’t intend to dig wide, but to dig deep, to offer different ranges of products to change the traditional Grade A office infrastructure.”
Learn more at atlaspace.com.hk.