In the lush green neighbourhood of Baner-Pashan in Pune, is a charming bungalow property called the Daftar (Hindi for office). It houses close to 50 startups and has a community size of more than 1,200 members. The coworking space, designed and built to bring together like-minded professionals, has another branch in the Sopan Baug area of the city, one with a more quirky, corporate feel to it.
Together, the two properties are fostering the much-needed culture of co-existence in Pune, a city that is fast becoming a hub for young startups and aspiring entrepreneurs.
“We believe that when like-minded people with a bigger intent come together, they can achieve much more and can create wonders. We wanted to give this thought a format and platform, which led to the inception of ‘The Daftar’,” says Sunanda Verma Bhatta, who launched the coworking space with Co-founder Vandita Purohit in 2016.
Meant to be a contribution towards the startup ecosystem, the place has since expanded both in size and reach. What was initially a two-women endeavour now has their husbands joining in, helping them grow The Daftar, from a cosy bungalow to a massive 18,000 sq ft innovative and artistic space for coworking and collaboration.
Sunanda explains, “The idea is to create a community of like-minded people from diverse backgrounds who work together in an inspiring environment and collaborate to achieve bigger goals.” Incidentally, Daftar’s vibrant look and easy vibe draw a lot from San Francisco’s lively coworking culture, especially its many coworking spaces.
“While I was a part of a Startup Boot Camp in San Francisco, there was a lot of time spent at coworking spaces and cafes. Coworking spaces there are like community hubs, where one would get an opportunity to collaborate, network, and work alongside other individuals,” Vandita explains. Instead of the usual cubicle style – common in many IT firms – the spaces were designed in a creative manner that ensured engagement and productivity at the same time.
“Coworking is all about working together, collaborating, sharing, and learning from each other. How can that be possible when you work from partitioned cubicles?” Vandita says.
This thought soon grew into a full-fledged plan. In no time, Vandita and Sunanda were working towards having their first coworking space up and running in Pune.
Daftar’s eccentric charm has a lot to do with the diverse backgrounds of the founders. Sunanda and her husband Amit are management post-graduates – she has 10 years of experience as a brand strategist while he has dabbled in sales, operations, and even HR. Vandita, meanwhile, is an electronics engineer and her husband, Abhishek, is a mechanical engineer.
Both first-generation entrepreneurs, Vandita and Abhishek’s entrepreneurial journey had actually begun even before The Daftar. “I was 22 when my husband and I started our first venture,” Vandita tells us, who started Mint Tree, a sales consulting company, in 2009. “It was all about sales and customer experience. I always knew I would do something of my own; I can’t work under someone,” Abhishek adds.
With The Daftar, the crew of four is able to bring in an absolutely diverse mix of “energy, creativity, pragmatism, speed, and stability”, which ensures “momentum and sanity of work”.
“All four of us not only come from different backgrounds but are completely striking personalities as well and this has been our strength in a way,” the founders say. “We have got our own areas of interest and expertise, which helps in easier allocation of departments and work, and eventually translates into faster execution and decision making.”
Having diverse backgrounds undoubtedly means a better perspective and decision-making, and varied strengths. But more importantly, it’s about refining The Daftar’s offering – one that’s unique and stands out from the host of other players in the market.
In this case, the founders say it’s all about “design and experiences”. Apart from offering a workspace, The Daftar frequently organises networking workshops and activities focussed on health, sports, art, and music, with the ultimate goal of helping its community members unwind, relax, and get to know each other better.
“We also have multiple strategic tie-ups and associations to offer value-added services to our members,” Sunanda says.
Vandita chimes in: “For me, The Daftar is all about design… If you visit us, you will see that a lot of personal touches and thought has gone in the details.”
“We started with a capital of Rs 7 lakh and within three years our turnover has crossed Rs 1 crore. We are in talks with investors and are seeking funds for our expansion,” say the founders, tracing the journey of their three-year-old bootstrapped company.
Beginning in 2016, The Daftar’s journey has been one of new experiences and a lot of hustling. They started with a 30-seater coworking space, expanding to three centres over time with 550 seats and a 12,000-strong community of workers. A thriving coworking space in the heart of Pune, The Daftar boasts a good mix of products and services-based companies working in diverse domains, including automobile, digital marketing, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and Blockchain.
“We have freelancers, startups, remote teams, funded startups, architects, marketing and branding consultants, mentors - all working in diverse industries like machine learning, automobile, astronomy, and so on,” Vandita says. In her opinion, this diverse bunch not only fosters cross-cultural learning but also the creation of new ideas.
Since design is one of their USPs, the team ensures they use it to their advantage, especially in terms of basic amenities and infrastructure. “We always ensure we have big circulation and open spaces for our members to have enough space to relax and think creatively,” say Sunanda and Amit.
“We also have signature events like ‘Happy Hours’, ‘Brainathon’ and ‘All Hands’, which add life and interest to the place.”
For the founders of The Daftar, it has been all about “doing everything for the first time”. From selecting the property to hiring the team, onboarding members, and setting up systems and processes, every opportunity, they say, came “disguised as a challenge”.
And in every challenge and new learning - Team Daftar hustles their way up!