For any company, moving offices contains enough logistical complications in and of itself, but when you’re a new startup or moving to a new country, the process contains bureaucratic, logistical, legal, and other possible complications, making it even more challenging. That’s why we talked to the experts and the people who’ve done it to put together a step-by-step guide for wholly-owned foreign enterprises, foreign companies who want to set up a branch in China, and startups alike.
1. Make sure you have enough time
Right off the bat, some companies make the mistake of not giving themselves enough time for the move, says Jean-Baptiste Audran, co-founder of Scout Real Estate, a Beijing company that helps expats find homes, offices and retail space in Beijing.
“It’s a long process. You can’t just search for an office and think it will take you three months to do the whole work, ” he said.
For a company that is looking for an office around 200 square meters, he says the whole process will take at least seven months – two months to find it, one to sign, two to three months for renovations, and two to three weeks for the office to be ready for employees.
2. Decide what your business needs
There are several options in terms of types of offices:
A serviced office comes equipped with everything you need, so that you can move in and get started right away.
With a normal office, you’d need to renovate the whole space, but this is a good option for large offices who want a visual identity. There’s also the option of a pre-outfitted office, which saves you the hassle of renovation.
For software developer Cmune, which has three people in its new Beijing office, a traditional office space was not a good option because there were too many logistical issues that they didn’t have time to sort out themselves. “It was very annoying because we’re not people who do this work. We’re developers,” says Lanmay Zhang, their project manager.
A split office space with another company also saves you from needing to renovate, but you have to make sure you can register your office at the address if you choose this option.
A co-working space is another option that’s very trendy among tech startups right now in Beijing. There are several advantages to this option for small companies. You can rent monthly, which is more flexible for companies to grow quickly. “They’ll also help you to register your company, you don’t need to invest in renovation, you don’t need to care about internet applications…everything is ready,” says Audran.
Cmune settled in comfortably at coworking space DayDayUp because everything was made ready for them and there were many networking opportunities. “At the start, it’s very good for a small team,” says Zhang.
Beijing technology startup Origins didn’t choose any of these options. Their office is located in a traditional courtyard residence in the hutongs of Beijing. “Pretty much we knew we did not want to work in an office building,” says Liam Bates, one of the founders.
“If I wanted to go to engineering I would have to walk across the courtyard. It might be freezing cold, but that’s kind of the fun in it. At least you look out the window and it feels like you’re in China.”
Finally, you’ll want to decide whether you want to go with a developer or a private owner. A private owner will be a little more pushy and try to control you, whereas a developer like Wanda or SOHO in east Beijing, around the Central Business District, will tend to be more stable and professional, says Audran.
3. Decide where your office should be
For any company, it’s important to be close to other people doing the same thing. For tech startups, it’s especially important to be close to people in the same business, as well as tech investors and venture capitalists. In Beijing, Zhongguancun is the main tech hub, with many businesses like Lenovo, Tencent, Sina, and NetEase still located there, along with many smaller companies. Innovation Works, an incubator founded by Kaifu Lee, is located there, as well as Garage Cafe, an “open office” for startup entrepreneurs and venture capitals.
Zhongguancun is a good choice if you want to be right in the thick of it, but it’s quite far from the center of the city. So some businesses choose to be located closer to their employees. Chaoyang District, where most foreigners choose to live in Beijing, is home to coworking spaces DayDayUp and Manning International Business Center, both recommended by Audran. Tech Temple, a tech incubator, is also in the area.
Origins is within the second ring road, the older part of Beijing, but this location works out well for the company. “People like to come here,” says Bates. He says it is also valuable for the company to be able to host their launches and lend out the space for other events that reinforce brand values.
Now that you’ve done the groundwork, it’s time to start the search. Stay tuned for part II, where we’ll walk you through the rest of the process, from finding a listing, to signing the contract, taking care of the little details afterwards, and how to avoid common mistakes.