Horizons Offices: Office Services for Local Start-Ups and International Corporates in Africa

Founder and CEO Ian Kabiru presents Horizons Offices, a private Kenyan company that provides serviced office solutions, including virtual, serviced and managed offices, as well as meeting rooms for hire to a large number of enterprises in Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria.

Interview with Ian Kabiru, Founder and CEO at Horizons Offices

Ian Kabiru, Founder and CEO at Horizons Offices

How would you analyse the trends of the sector here in Africa? What are the major differences between the countries?

The serviced office sector across the region is just at the beginning stage. You might see slight differences across the different countries. For instance, Southern Africa is quite well developed, Johannesburg in particular. Then moving up to East Africa, Nairobi, and then in West Africa, Accra and Lagos. There is a convergence in the regional hubs ready to serve international companies looking for quick and easy access into the African region who are already familiar with the concept. These tend to be the key customers that we in the service office sector are taking care of. It is very much at the infancy because traditionally, we are still at the stage where if you want an office, you go through the motions of looking for a building, you are offered an open floor, you will have to make the investment yourself, which is quite capital intensive, and then in most of these countries you are going to be tied down to a long term lease. This is locking out a lot of businesses from having access, particularly world class businesses to world class offices. This is actually the problem that we in the serviced office sector are solving. If you are not looking at starting from the top, but starting small, you want space for one or two people, you are not sure how well your business is going to do, you are also trying to conserve your cash and use your cash for things that start-ups should be spending it on such as hiring staff, marketing, etc., service offices are really playing into that. The trends are tending towards growth and as the awareness of what a service office is grows, that growth attraction will actually pick up quite rapidly.

What do you bring that is different from the other companies here that are offering the same service?

We are relatively new in Ghana. We think we have the best office facility. Our priority is really to spread the word that firstly, we are in town and here to do business at Horizons Offices. Secondly, to explain to people exactly how a Horizons Office adds value to their business.

We are local, which is a very big differentiator in that we are an indigenous African serviced office operator. I am Kenyan, but I consider myself African first and foremost. We have a lot of companies who might be a bit apprehensive about how exactly to navigate the terrain in Africa. For a first-time company coming into the region, there are challenges. This is where we can bring more than an office to the table. We give you more comfort because we have a better understanding of how to do business here. One of the things we try to do is to squeeze out a lot of the costs. Making the service office itself is expensive, but we know how to get the job done without compromising on quality at a very affordable cost. Business is all about people and the business networks. In addition to helping you get your business up and running quickly, Horizons brings a huge network of supporting businesses. From a professional business point of view, you want to establish yourself properly. Who should I work with? Which customer should we be targeting? I come from a background which straddles both the corporate world and the entrepreneurial world. Those are quite interesting networks which we make available to all our prospective clients. Horizons calls itself home to “traffic as business.” Africa is different from the rest of the world because we are very warm. We try to build relationships with our clients and much longer term engagements with clients. Many people see service offices as a stepping stone to something else, but we take a different view. You will see that a lot of our clients have been with us for more than five years, starting off coming in slow and being able to grow gradually. We are able to do that because we provide very flexible solutions. Whether you want to have a space for yourself, or as your business grows and you want to grow into a customized space, we take that hassle away from you and we are able to create spaces for growing companies to exacting standards. Many of our clients will come and insist that they do not want to compromise on the standards that they enjoy anywhere else in the world, such as the US or Europe. They demand those same quality standards in Africa and we can deliver that at an affordable cost. We walk the journey with our client. We build the relationships. We truly are a home for your business to grow and to be successful.

What are the specific challenges for you in terms of capital intensive? How interested are you in being partnered with funds that specialize in emerging countries?

We are very interested. The challenge of any business and our business in particular is access to capital, which comes in at the right price on the right terms that will not strangle you and make it difficult for you to get off the ground. The problem that we face in having access to these funds is that there is a certain scale that you have to achieve. There is a mismatch here. The kind of scale that the funds are interested in investing in is in most cases well beyond the reach of small businesses trying to grow, and we are no exception. So, we have tried to figure out how we can get to a point where we begin to become interesting to the sort of capital that is out there. They need to be a bit more creative and find ways and means of breaking down that particular barrier. Everybody asks why there is this interest in investing in Africa. It is simple. The return that you make here is unlike what you will find anywhere else. For any players in this space that are able to bridge this gap, the rewards are huge, and we are ready for them. We would embrace them because that is the capital that we need. We still have a long way to go. We are trying to build a network across the region. So far, we are only in East Africa in Kenya, West Africa in Lagos and Accra. We have a lot of ground to cover and we are looking to partner with anyone who buys into what we are trying to do. There is that narrative of trying to create linkages across Africa. Right now, the discussion is around creating a trade zone. We see ourselves as being a major enabler to that whole process, giving businesses that want to spread their wings across the region a comfortable base to operate from. That takes money, and certainly the capital that is looking for opportunities would do well to look at that sector and we are ready to discuss.

What are your current priorities and projects?

We are relatively new in Ghana. We think we have the best office facility. Our priority is really to spread the word that firstly, we are in town and here to do business at Horizons Offices. Secondly, to explain to people exactly how a Horizons Office adds value to their business. Putting it simply, we allow you to hit the ground running, cost effectively. And then we create a great environment, the best possible for your business to succeed. We are very excited to be here in Ghana because Ghana is the gateway to West Africa. There are wonderful people and great opportunities and we are very excited to be part of that.

Project yourself in the medium term. What will Horizons be in two or three years’ time? What do you want to achieve?

The first thing is to have a presence across the region. We will consolidate our position in East and West Africa, but we will be looking into Southern Africa as well. The second thing, which is very exciting, is the emerging youth market. The difficulty that a lot of young people are facing is how to get started. We will be creating great working environments for them that are very cost effective, and then creating very powerful networks both within and across countries for Africa’s new and upcoming generation. You can feel the vibe. These are guys who have huge ambitions. They do not see themselves as having any limitations. We will create that environment for them to achieve their dreams.


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