Jessica Tan | Forbes
The Great Room, a two-year-old co-working-space operator with an adjacent members-only business club on the 18th floor of Centennial Tower, commands a lavish view of Marina Bay and a giant ferris wheel known as the Singapore Flyer. Its membership roster boasts stars from Singapore's tech and startup scene, such as Lai Chang Wen, 31, cofounder and CEO of last-mile logistics firm Ninja Van, and Vinnie Lauria, 38, founding partner of venture capital firm Golden Gate Ventures.
On a recent morning, the Great Room CEO and cofounder Jaelle Ang whisks through a stylish reception area adorned with five-star-hotel touches, including leather sofas, Italian hand-dyed rugs, framed artwork, even coffee baristas and a concierge. She discloses that the club, which has three sites in Singapore and one in downtown Bangkok, is preparing to open two more next year--a second in Bangkok and one in Hong Kong.
Ang, 38, a trained architect and ex-banker, whose family has real estate interests, started the venture right after helping to roll out a $1.1 billion project with a Four Seasons luxury hotel and residences, plus a Capella hotel, along Bangkok's Chao Phraya River for Thai developer Country Group Development on whose board she still sits. Her marketing savvy has attracted investors, including the family office of Goldbell Group's William Chua, once among Singapore's top 50 richest. Ang, who was a childhood pal of Chua's two sons, Alex and Arthur, is now raising $110 million for further expansion by tapping other wealthy families and property developers she knows in the region. "My Asian godfathers [are] coming in," Ang says, smiling.
Taking their cue from global peers such as Soho House and WeWork, which started in the U.K. and the U.S. respectively, private members' clubs and co-working spaces targeting mostly the Millennial crowd are Singapore's latest real estate wave, backed by some of the nation's richest.
Last December 1880, a private members' club that also offers a co-working venue, opened on the third floor of the hotel InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay, which is owned by Kishin RK's RB Capital. Kishin, 35, who is listed with his father, Raj Kumar, at No. 9 with $2.7 billion, is a key investor in the club, which is the brainchild of Canadian entrepreneur Marc Nicholson. The club has more than 1,100 members, half of them women, and is not in any hurry to recruit more. "It's all about building a community. Having the right mix of members is crucial," Kishin says.
The Straits Clan, a popular club located close to Chinatown, has a similar philosophy. Its 800-plus members are drawn from an array of fields, from the arts to startups as well as law and finance. The club's cofounder is Wee Teng Wen, grandson of billionaire banker Wee Cho Yaw (No. 6) and managing director of hospitality firm Lo & Behold Group. The young Wee, 37, who declined to disclose how much he has invested, says he sees Straits Clan as a "unique social network."
The newest entrant is Sherman Kwek, son of property tycoon Kwek Leng Beng and group CEO of City Developments. In July, Kwek junior, 42, oversaw the opening of the Singapore unit of Chinese co-working-space provider Distrii, at CDL's Republic Plaza office building in the central business district. With a 62,000-square-foot space, one of Distrii's earliest members is BitTemple, a global blockchain incubator.
Sustaining the early flush of success is the biggest challenge facing these new-age ventures, which draw their revenues largely from membership fees (joining costs for clubs range from $1,800 to $3,600 and are topped by a monthly fee) and food and beverage. Madison Rooms, a private members' club started in 2016 by a pair of young entrepreneurs, shut down recently. Weekly events such as discussions or lectures can help clubs stay relevant, says Kishin, but "the risk of failure is huge."
The Great Room: The Great Room hosts fireside chats on topics such as blockchain, fintech and health tech. Members have access to all Great Room locations in the region.
1880: The 22,000-square-foot club's bespoke features include a 1.5-ton Madagascar crystal reception table and a bar studded with 360 vintage teapots. It also boasts a dramatic entrance escalator that runs through a mirrored tunnel.
Straits Clan: Housed in a 4-story building on a street that has been home to Chinese clan associations since the 19th century, the Straits Clan has a membership waiting list. It has reciprocal arrangements with more than two dozen clubs across Australia, Europe, the U.K. and North America.
Distrii republic plaza: The tech-driven Distrii has an app that connects its 15,000-strong community across more than 30 locations in China and Singapore.