“You haven’t seen the true mettle of a man until you witnessed how he struggle through tough times.” Says Mao Daqing. As Founder of Ucommune, the leading co-working space provider in Asia, Mao had experienced his fair share of tough times and seen how others drowned in the process.
Architect by training, developer by experience (over two decades with Vanke and CapitaLand all together) and co-working space entrepreneur by profession today, he had to struggle to create his vision of creating beautiful work spaces for everyone. The ideal working space would have the technology, facilities and services for the average entrepreneur to be successful. However, that is easier said than done. The property space is plagued with bankruptcies, lawsuits, defections and other things better left unsaid.
“Maybe I have the habit of sharing my mind too openly. When I was Vice Chairman with Vanke in 2014, I gave a speech warning about a potential property bubble in the Chinese market. After that speech, I received a barrage of criticism from people in high places for a long time. At the beginning of this year, we had a lawsuit with one of our competitors and rebranded our company to Ucommune. Things like that put many things in perspective. They make you reflect over why you started it all and what is it all for. Because when I started it three years ago I knew the long run I got myself into, I have learned to be more at ease with the small hurdles along the way,” Said Mao.
He recounted how his friends turned to drugs and alcohol to avoid the harsh realities of entrepreneurship and life. Once they began on the path of no return, they degenerated and had truly lost in the game of life. For Mao, he embraced adversity and picked up the grueling sports of marathon running.
“People only see the glamourous side of entrepreneurship for successful companies like Vanke and Lenovo. I have been friends with the Chairmen of both companies for long and I can vouch that they had their fair share of challenges. If you really want to be successful in life, hang in there when the going gets tough. You’re building the muscles for success.
Successful people have the ability to deal with difficult problems in a day that would have taken the average man 30 days to solve and crashed the weak man. Marathon gave me the stamina to stay the race and see things as they are, not as I wanted them to be. That helped a lot in problem-solving.” Said Mao.
His first challenge after leaving Vanke in 2015 was to convince investors to back his idea of opening a co-working space when it was a novel concept back then. He had to overcome their doubts about the viability of the business plan, his capacity to execute upon his business plans and the sheer scale of his ambition. He a had a lot to bear.
Along the way, he convinced important venture capitalist such as Sequoia Capital, Zhen Fund, Noah Wealth Management, Sinovation Ventures to back him in his journey. Along the way, he acquired smaller co-working outlets such as Rework, Serendipity Labs, Wedo, Workingdom for their choice assets around the world. Ucommune’s valuation had skyrocketed to US$1.8 billion within 3 years and had a presence in over 135 locations globally.
So, what was the turning point in his life?
“I was diagnosed with depression early 2012. An esteemed entrepreneur friend counseled me and introduced me to marathon running. He said that after I completed my first marathon, I will have the strength to face my unsurmountable problems. After 12 grueling months of training, I managed to complete my first marathon. When I returned to my former life, my colleagues, family, and friends didn’t recognize me. My speech, demeanour, and way of thinking shifted for the better. I’ve never stopped running since then and on average I run 1 marathon a month.” The marathon enthusiast has so far clocked in 88 marathons with the last one in Yun Nan, southwestern China.
SMEs and innovations in China are happening at an exponential rate — they have become a pillar of the national economy. The Belt and Road project will also witness the eruption of a large group of SMEs in the region and Ucommune is right at the forefront of that. “My vision with commune was and has always been to create a platform for dreamers, change evangelists to connect, share, collaborate and create together. Through curating a space where various contexts are enabled, the collaborative opportunities are unlocked and imagination maximized. The sharing economy thus is no longer just a business model, but more of an ideology, a way of reconstructing people-to-people relationships,” Mao said.
“The sport pushes you out of your normal boundaries, challenges your mental strength, and those small incremental adjustments really make the difference in the end — just like running startups.”
Looking ahead, Mao has big plans to boost the number of Ucommune locations to 200 in 40 cities, convening 8000 corporate members, covering one million sqm within the next three years. Singapore is the first city it has entered outside of China, doing so in June last year. Although the city-state already had more than 80 co-working providers, Mao was keen to establish a presence there, confident that Ucommune occupies a unique niche, leveraging its vast China network and resources. The brand, after acquisition spree earlier this year, has set up two locations Aye Rajah Crescent and Suntec Tower in Singapore, with the third one to open next year in CBD. In Hongkong, the UcommuneSheungwan location is set to open by early December.
“I think we are definitely well-positioned to face any international competition. China has tremendous resources and possibilities and we are leveraging just that. Also working to our advantage is the invaluable support from our phenomenal investors and our strategic alliance with the government- all making our value stronger when servicing our startup to MNC members.”
“Ucommune, with community apparently at the center, is all about building a seamless community where dreamers, change makers and creators work together to make great ideas happen. It’s for sure a long marathon, but we are in this shoulder by shoulder.”