“Now, I cannot think of anyone who is more adept at office design than myself. I am confident with my expertise as I have spent a number of years in this industry, from 2001 until now. I can forecast future design trends.”
This is not an exaggeration once you know more about Sombat Ngamchalermsak, co-founder of Paperspace, who conceptualized office design for companies like the biggest tech and social media corporations globally.
After receiving a Degree in Architecture from King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology Ladkrabang (KMITL), Sombat started his early design career working in an international company in Singapore for five years. Later, he was sent by the company to establish an office in Bangkok where he continued working for five years before setting up a new venture of his own.
Despite the fact that he was established in the industry since he designed for many notable companies like Facebook (although it was, at that time, a small company in 2007), Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google while working at his previous company, he had challenges setting up his own studio. He couldn’t successfully pitch for a single project during the first year.
“This made me realize that, in order for Thai entrepreneurs to grow, one needs to extend their businesses into the (Southeast Asia) region. I then partnered with a Singaporean company and founded Paperspace, which was set to be a ‘platform’ for a new kind of design company”.
Sombat believed that there must be thousands of small design studios across Asia which were struggling like his due to lack of core business elements – marketing strategies, laws and regulations and operating systems. Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) companies are just like small factories – when overloaded, shortages in supply and manufacturing capacity occur.
The original business model of Paperspace was to invite SME design companies to subscribe for membership in the platform. Paperspace then acted as the agency, pitching projects and awarding to members selected by their relevant expertise.
“Apart from that, we also manage their back-office requirements from administration, documentation, marketing and finance since these are known to be the challenges for SME design and architecture companies. I can still recall how I went blank when a client asked for VAT invoice during the first year of Paperspace.”
Currently, Paperspace has been operating for 2 years with presence in Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines with 20 member companies, in spite of being a startup.
Sombat says “The shift to a digital platform was inspired by my experience designing for AirBNB. I only met the client via video conference during the six month project duration,” he adds “Currently, we are developing a mobile application for Paperspace.
“Our model is similar to AirBNB. Guests opt to book curated accommodations that have passed standards and are regulated through the platform, which they have grown to trust. Similarly, Paperspace curates the collective members that are required to pass set criteria prior to being accepted as a member. One of the requirements is to do a demo project with Paperspace to see if they can meet the set standards.
“To pitch for more projects and gain more clients are real challenges because the concept of selecting design and architectural services on a digital platform is still new. Clients are still not convinced that they can find a good design company on a digital platform. They still think that Paperspace is an agency or a marketplace.
“My goal in the next five years is to become a leader in the design service industry in Asia. My main focus is corporate clients who have an urgent need to reinvent their space but are at a loss on where to begin and how to proceed.
“There are thousands of design companies that are capable of renovating places aesthetically but not many have the competency to support organizations to reposition themselves successfully across spaces and employees.
Next year, we aim to open another Paperspace in Asia. We are currently negotiating with a potential collaborator to expand our market. Our strategy is to partner with a local company in the countries where Paperspace will open.”
My dream is for Paperspace to be the top of mind design firm when clients think of restructuring their office or expanding their business globally.