A Software Platform for Startup Coworking Spaces
The Binary Workshop’s co-founder and CEO Ashwin Shankar sees coworking spaces as vital resource for entrepreneurial ecosystems everywhere. Says Shankar, “Economic growth depends on entrepreneurial innovation. The average person associates startups with Silicon Valley. But entrepreneur ecosystems are now in every major city in the world, including here in India. Coworking spaces play a vital role in developing ecosystems by offering entrepreneurs a focal point to engage with the local ecosystem and benefit from affordable workspace, networking, and other such resources that are vital on an entrepreneur’s journey.”
When The Binary Workshop was setting up [email protected] project and researching the challenges that startup coworking spaces faced, they saw a real need for better software. “Coworking spaces everywhere are sorely underserved in our opinion. There isn’t good software to simplify the operational aspects of running a coworking space, especially self-service tools for membership, event management and billing. Existing solutions we found focused on specific problem statements and use cases. So that’s a great market opportunity for us. We estimate that coworking spaces using our platform can function smoothly with minimal headcount, and also easily expand to manage multiple locations under a single platform, allowing users mobility and convenience,” says Shankar.
The Binary Workshop is a technology agency in Chennai, India that offers consulting, training, and management services for cloud-based solutions. With expertise in product development and project management, particularly with startup companies, the firm recently shifted its focus to building its own software platform for managing startup coworking spaces, called [email protected]. The need for the platform arose from requirements to manage their own coworking initiative in India, [email protected] https://theworks.at.
[email protected] software platform aims to automate most, if not all, parts of managing and using coworking spaces by serving two distinct needs: i) provide a web-based administration console for managers of one or more coworking spaces, and ii) provide a constellation of self-service mobile applications for users who wish to visit and use these coworking spaces. For managers of coworking spaces, the platform streamlines and reduces operational complexity and costs by automating common administrative tasks that would otherwise be done manually, reducing management headcount. For coworking users, the platform provides a set of mobile applications, such as membership management, space and facilities booking, event and service discovery, deal redemption, etc. These apps allow users to manage their entire coworking experience themselves with minimal friction and inconvenience.
The Binary Workshop is first deploying their coworking software platform locally in Chennai at [email protected] coworking project. They will eventually make the platform itself available as a white-label service to coworking spaces around the world.
The Binary Workshop needed a complete backend for [email protected] coworking software platform. There were a number of requirements, including desktop and mobile support, the ability to manage dozens of mobile apps, single sign-on (SSO), role-based access control for end users, the ability to easily connect to many different external data sources, and the ability to seamlessly push new applications and application updates to end users.
The ability to deploy the platform on cloud infrastructure was also important since The Binary Workshop would be developing the solution as a cloud-based service, and selling and hosting dedicated nodes for each individual coworking space. They needed a solution that would allow for easy replication of capabilities across customers, and simplify and streamline hosting and management of the platforms.
The team spent several months architecting how they would build all these capabilities by hand and assessing what technologies to use, including NoSQL, SQL, Node.js, AngularJS, and PhoneGap. A key challenge was finding a pragmatic way to add new backend services and new applications to the platform. For example, how would they add a new REST-accessible data source or a new REST-accessible SQL database on the backend, and then securely share this new service with only a subset of applications and users of the platform. Another significant challenge was how to push new mobile app functionality to end users with a server-based approach, so end users wouldn’t have to constantly update dozens of mobile apps on their phones and tablets.
It became clear that building the backend components of the platform, including security, as well as scaffolding each individual application to consume backend REST services was a non-starter. They had a small team of developers and needed to get their platform to market quickly. The team decided to take a REST services-oriented approach to building their coworking platform and found that DreamFactory was ideally suited for the task.
The Binary Workshop implemented their coworking software platform directly on top of DreamFactory. They are also using the open source DreamFactory Mobile Application (DMA) to deploy mobile apps running on the platform to end users.
“We had a big list of technical requirements we couldn’t have built ourselves in any reasonable timeframe. DreamFactory does all the heavy lifting on the backend and has literally saved us many man-months of development time. We can now focus on what we do best—build a great solution that delivers exactly what’s needed for users and managers of coworking spaces -- and not worry about building our own REST API integration, app scaffolding, backend security framework, and mobile app deployment tools,” says Shankar.
The platform uses DreamFactory’s user management system for single sign-on (SSO) and role-based access control to dozens of applications, APIs, and multiple backend data sources.
Mobile app deployment
The platform pushes new mobile applications and application updates to end users with DreamFactory. Users simply install a customized version of the Dreamfactory Mobile App once and applications are seamlessly managed on the server with [email protected] powered by DreamFactory.
The platform breaks up functionality into micro-applications and hosts these applications on a private server installation of the DreamFactory open source package. Each [email protected] micro-app is implemented with HTML5 and AngularJS for both desktop browser and mobile usage.
Binary Workshop has heavily customized the web-based DreamFactory Admin Console (used by coworking space employees) and the DreamFactory Mobile App (used by coworking startups) with their corporate brand identity.
External data access
The platform adds new REST connections to external data sources with DreamFactory. New services are instantly available to every application hosted on the platform.
Since [email protected] is running on DreamFactory, they can package and deploy the software platform, backend data schema, REST services, and applications to any cloud computing platform like AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud. This enables Binary Workshop to deliver their entire coworking software platform to coworking spaces around the world based on latency convenience.
DreamFactory has been instrumental for The Binary Workshop. Says Shankar, “We couldn’t be happier with DreamFactory. DreamFactory has been a life saver for us. We’re very excited to get our product to market and our technology partnership with DreamFactory is instrumental to our success.”