The entrepreneurs behind warehouse studios

Qube founders Nicholas Sonuga and Amin Hamzianpour  (supplied)
Qube founders Nicholas Sonuga and Amin Hamzianpour (supplied)

Amin Hamzianpour and Nicholas Sonuga met “spending countless hours in dingy, expensive basement studios”. As music producers in neighbouring spaces, they’d complain about how most of the limited studio options were “barely soundproof units in basements in the middle of nowhere,” Hamzianpour says.

“No community, no flexibility and extortionate fixed rates. We were paying for space we only used part-time.” After failing to find a flexible studio “where we could also feel part of a valued community of talented, ambitious creators”, they decided to start their own.

That’s Qube, a members’ club for musicians, podcasters and other artists. Today they have two branches — in Acton and Canary Wharf — with 32,000sq ft of studio space. Its 500 members include Anthony Joshua, Stormzy, M Huncho and Mabel, who book in for as little as an hour or as much as three years’ studio time.

The pair took contrasting routes to Qube: Sonuga says he “struggled with traditional education, I never engaged with the subjects at school” and worked as a part-time promoter for a decade before embarking on a degree in music technology at the University of West London. Hamzianpour, meanwhile, worked in wealth management at Morgan Stanley for several years before “shocking my parents” and quitting to make music under the alias A-Minor, with his tracks played on Radio 1.

It was then that the pair met as studio neighbours in 2016. When they initially decided to launch their own space, the following year, they swiftly found a large unit in a co-living space, which had a concrete cube in its centre. “Hence the name, Qube,” says Hamzianpour, 34. “We did an all-nighter to scramble together a pitchdeck.”

That site fell through, but the pair eventually put down a £70,000 deposit on a 15-year lease on another empty warehouse in Acton. “It was both of our life savings; a massive personal risk — the timer started immediately to raise funds and build out the space.

“It took thousands of cold emails, hundreds — and I really mean hundreds — of coffee meetings,” Hamzianpour adds, before they secured £2 million from 20 angels including Nikhil Shah, co-founder of streaming platform MixCloud, and Investec’s co-founder Bernard Kantor.

Building works continued apace until, two months before launch, asbestos was discovered in the roof. “All contractors had to leave. Ultimately the studios were completed so near to launch that we were only able to test the acoustic integrity of all the studios the night before opening,” Hamzianpour admits.

“Nick and I spent that whole night alone, testing the studios one by one, playing music and hoping that it wasn’t audible in the neighbouring room. It felt like Russian roulette going one by one through 40 studios.” But they worked — and the duo threw open their doors... in March 2020. “Can you believe it — smack in the middle of the start of Covid,” says Hamzianpour. However, since Qube had already sold 70 longer-term leases for studios, and was then allowed to keep studios open during lockdown for socially distanced, individual uses, “incredibly, we turned profitable in our first six months”.

Members now include producers and engineers behind artists including Simply Red, Sam Smith, Kylie Minogue and Ellie Goulding. Rental starts at £75 rising to £2000, depending on studio time. The studios are unstaffed at night — “we’ve had a few parties kick off, but nothing major: a membership committee listens to everyone’s music or podcasts before we accept anyone, and we make sure everyone will fit with the community.”

The duo — who raised another £500,000 in 2020 and £2 million in 2021 — brush off concerns that a bigger rival would copy their idea: “Our competitive moat is that creators are sensitive to products that feel too corporate”.

The Canary Wharf site opened in February, with studios specifically for YouTubers and TikTokers. Turnover is set to hit £1.6 million this year, and the pair aim to open six more sites in the UK and 12 overseas by 2028. “Our vision is to be the global home for creators — so in five years, if you are a digital content creator in any creative capital, Qube is where you go to create high-quality content.”

Founded: 2020

Staff: 19

Turnover: £1.6m this year

Headquarters: Acton