WeWork

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WeWork Companies Inc.
Private
IndustryCommercial real estate
Founded2010; 10 years ago (2010)
FoundersAdam Neumann
Miguel McKelvey
Rebekah Neumann
HeadquartersNew York City, ,
U.S.
Number of locations
120 cities, 828 buildings (as at 2020. Value is self-reported)[1] (2019)
Area served
Worldwide
Key people
Marcelo Claure
(Executive Chairman)
Sandeep Mathrani
(CEO)
BrandsWeWork, WeWork Labs, WeLive, WeGrow, Rise by We
ServicesShared workspaces and related services
Members600,000
Number of employees
6,000
ParentSoftBank (80%)
SubsidiariesFlatiron School
Websitewework.com
www.we.co

WeWork is an American commercial real estate company that provides shared workspaces for technology startups and services for other enterprises. WeWork designs and builds physical and virtual[2] shared spaces and office services for entrepreneurs and companies.[3] Founded in 2010, it is headquartered in New York City.[4] As of 2018, WeWork managed over 4 million square metres.[5] WeWork's parent company is The We Company.[6]

The company gained mainstream media attention in 2019 with its failed IPO. The Wall Street Journal noted that upon the release of its public prospectus in August 2019, the company was "besieged with criticism over its governance, business model, and ability to turn a profit."[7] WeWork lost over $2 billion in 2018.[8] In September 2019, following mounting pressure from investors based on disclosures WeWork had made in its S-1 filing for the IPO, company co-founder Adam Neumann resigned from his position as CEO and gave up majority voting control in WeWork. Amid growing investor concerns over its corporate governance, valuation, and outlook for the business, WeWork formally withdrew its S-1 filing and announced the postponing of its IPO. At that time, the reported public valuation of the company was around $10 billion,[9] a reduction from the $47 billion valuation it achieved in January and less than the $12.8 billion it had raised since 2010.[10][10]

In October 2019, Neumann received close to $1.7 billion from stakeholder SoftBank for stepping down from WeWork's board and severing most of his ties to the company.[11] He was retained as a consultant with an annual salary of $46 million.[12] The New York Times called the company's failed effort to go public and related turmoil, "an implosion unlike any other in the history of start-ups," which it attributed to Neumann's questionable tenure and the easy money previously provided to him by SoftBank, led by Masayoshi Son.[13]

History and funding

The kitchen area at a WeWork space in New York.
Conference rooms at a WeWork space in San Francisco.
Branded entrance to a WeWork office in Manhattan.
WeWork in Denver, CO
Entrance to WeWork in downtown Chicago
Event held at WeWork Toronto
WeWork offices in Washington, D.C.

2008–2015

In May 2008, Israeli-born Adam Neumann and American-born Miguel McKelvey established GreenDesk, an "eco-friendly coworking space" in Brooklyn.[2] In 2010, Neumann and McKelvey sold the business and started WeWork with its first location in New York's SoHo district[2] with partial funding from Manhattan real estate developer Joel Schreiber who purchased a 33-percent interest in the company for $15 million.[14] By 2014, WeWork was considered "the fastest-growing lessee of new office space in New York" and was on track to become "the fastest-growing lessee of new space in America."[15] "During the economic crises, there were these empty buildings and these people freelancing or starting companies," Neumann told the New York Daily News. "I knew there was a way to match the two. What separates us, though, is community."[2]

WeWork members have included startups such as Consumr, Coupon Follow, Fitocracy, HackHands, New York Tech Meetup, Reddit, Turf, and Whole Whale.[16] In 2011, PepsiCo placed a few employees in the SoHo, Manhattan WeWork, who acted as advisors to smaller WeWork member companies.[15] The first WeWork Labs opened in New York's SoHo in April 2011.[17] WeWork Labs functions as a startup incubator, providing an open workspace with the goal of encouraging collaboration among members who "don't have their business ideas fully cooked."[17]

WeWork investors as of 2014 included J.P. Morgan Chase & Co, T. Rowe Price Associates, Wellington Management, Goldman Sachs Group, the Harvard Corporation, Benchmark, and Mortimer Zuckerman, former CEO of Boston Properties.[15][4] As of January 2015, the firm had 51 coworking locations across the U.S., Europe, and Israel – twice as many as it had at the end of 2014[18] with plans to expand to reach every continent (except Antarctica) by 2017.[15] On June 1, 2015 the firm announced that Artie Minson, former Chief Financial Officer of Time Warner Cable, would join the company as President and Chief Operating Officer.[19] WeWork was named among the "most innovative companies" of 2015 by Fast Company magazine.[20]

2016

In January 2016, WeWork was chosen by Fortune magazine as one of its three unicorns to bet against. At this time, the company had a valuation of $10 billion.[21]

It was announced on March 9, 2016, that WeWork raised $430 million in a new round of financing from Legend Holdings and Hony Capital, valuing the company at $16 billion.[22] As of October 2016, the company had raised $1.7 billion in private capital.[23] In October 2016, the company announced their plans to open a fourth location in Cambridge/Boston area. It opened offices in Boston's Leather District and Fort Point in 2014 and have plans in place for a larger office in Back Bay. The first Cambridge office will be in Central Square and have space for 550 desks.[24]

2017

On January 30, 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported: "SoftBank Group Corp. is weighing an investment of well over $1 billion in shared-office space company WeWork Cos., in what could be among the first deals from its new $100 billion technology fund."[25] In April 2017, the firm launched an online store for services and software for its members.[26] The company has also started offering fitness classes at a number of its locations and is[when?] opening a gym at a New York location.[26]

In June 2017, WeWork opened its first space in the country of India in the city Bangalore, named WeWork Galaxy. The capacity of this space was 2,200 members.[27] Karan Virwani, son of the Embassy Group owner Jitu Virwani is now the CEO of WeWork India.[28]

In July 2017, after an investment round the valuation of the company reached $20 billion.[29] Later that month, it was announced that WeWork would expand heavily into China, with US$500 million invested by SoftBank, Hony Capital[30] and other lenders to form a standalone entity called WeWork China.[31] In September 2017, WeWork expanded into Southeast Asia via the acquisition of Singapore-based SpaceMob, and it set aside a budget of $500 million to grow in Southeast Asia.[32] The firm's top competitor in China is Ucommune, which was[when?] valued at $1.8 billion, making it the only Chinese unicorn in the co-working space.[33]

In late October 2017, WeWork bought the Lord & Taylor Building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan from the Hudson's Bay Company, for $850 million.[34] The deal also includes the use of floors of certain HBC owned department stores in Germany, New York, Toronto, and Vancouver as WeWork's shared office workspaces.[35][36] The sale was officially finalized in February 2019, at which point Lord & Taylor's flagship store inside the building had closed completely.[37]

2018

In January 2018, students taking online university courses from 2U gained access to WeWork common spaces and meeting rooms.[38] WeWork began looking into developing partnerships with universities as part of a planned expansion to reach more students, and in December 2018, WeWork opened its first location on a college campus at the University of Maryland.[39][40]

In March 2018, SEC filings indicated that WeWork had raised over $400 million alongside Rhône Group, a private equity firm to start a fund to purchase properties directly.[41] In April, documents filed by the company in association with a plan to raise $500 million through the issue of high-yield bonds showed that the company's revenues rose in 2017.[42]

In July 2018, the company restricted employees from expensing meals that contain pork, poultry, or red meat. The firm also announced that it would not provide meat for events at its locations nor allow meat at self-serve food kiosks in its locations. The policy was rolled out to cover employees globally.[43][44]

In July 2018, WeWork closed a $500 million funding round aimed at expanding its business in China and valuing the company's subsidiary at $5 billion.[45] In November 2018, the firm secured an additional $3bn of funding from SoftBank in exchange for a warrant enabling it to buy new WeWork shares by the end of September 2019.[46]

The Wall Street Journal reported that Neumann enjoys flying on private jets, and in 2018 the company purchased one for more than $60 million.[47]

2019

In January 2019, the company decided to change the legal name of WeWork to We Company and, according to the August 2019 Form S-1 filing, the firm paid $5.9 million to license the name from an entity called We Holdings owned by Adam Neumann and additional WeWork founders.[48][49] In early September 2019, Neumann returned the $5.9 million to the We Company for the use of the trademark and the company will hold all of the trademark rights for the "We" family trademarks.[50]

In January 2019, WeWork secured an additional $2 billion from SoftBank Group Corp. It had considered investing as much as $16 billion but downsized plans as it dealt with turbulence in financial markets and opposition from investment partners.[51]

In late-January 2019, WeWork announced that it would move into two floors of a building in Tampa Heights in 2020 as part of its expansion into Tampa.[52]

IPO filing and postponement

On April 29, 2019 WeWork filed confidentially for an IPO.[53] On July 18, 2019, Wall Street Journal reported that Adam Neumann has liquidated $700 million of his WeWork stock before its IPO.[54] The company was looking to raise over $3.5 billion as a result of its IPO.[55]

In August 2019, The We Company filed S-1 paperwork to go public.[56] Media coverage highlighted the company's heavy losses revealed by the S-1 filing disclosures,[57] while analysts expressed misgivings over WeWork's ability to become profitable in the future. Some analysts wrote: "We cannot even fathom the contortions that would be necessary to articulate a path to profitability here," and noted they did not expect the company's valuation to reach far beyond $20 billion.[58][59]

On September 4, 2019, WeWork added its first female director, Harvard Business School professor Frances Frei, to the company's board of directors.[50]

On September 17, 2019, The We Company, the parent company of WeWork, decided to postpone their IPO until the end of 2019. In a prepared statement, the company said "The We Company is looking forward to our upcoming IPO, which we expect to be completed by the end of the year"[60][61] The company's prospectus brought heavy criticism for its leadership by Adam Neumann, its business model, and its heavy losses.[7][8]

On September 24, 2019, WeWork put its Gulfstream G650 up for sale. Critics said the plane had become a "red flag in the lead up to the company's IPO" and had created perceptual problems with employees who didn't receive promised bonuses or raises.[62]

According to a September 27, 2019 report in Fortune, WeWork was looking to divest and sell off three businesses acquired in preceding years: Conductor, a SaaS SEO marketing platform company; Managed by Q, an office management platform; and Meetup. The company was also looking to lay off between 2,000 and 3,000 people to reduce costs. The report also stated that approximately 20 long-time friends and family members would be let go from the company.[63]

In October 2019, WeWork announced the opening of new co-working locations in Singapore and Manila.[64] Also in October 2019, WeWork abandoned plans to open an office in the U.S. Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh. The company had planned to build out as much as 105,000 square feet in the building.[65]

On October 14, 2019, CNBC reported that WeWork had recently warned clients that approximately 1,600 office phone booths at some of its offices in Canada and the United States were tainted with formaldehyde. The company said another 700 phone booths would possibly be taken out of service as a precautionary measure. This situation came to the attention of the company after some members reported eye irritation and a strong odor.[66]

On November 6, 2019, SoftBank Group reported a $9.2 billion in write-downs on its investments in WeWork. This amount is approximately 90 percent of the $10.3 billion SoftBank invested in WeWork over the past few years.[67]

An analysis of the company in late 2019 by The Guardian listed several factors that led to its misfortunes: an expensive business model, "weird" behaviour exhibited by Neumann, and "alleged self-dealing and self-enrichment by Neumann." His frequent sell-offs of stock and to lease buildings he owned to WeWork was discovered and publicized earlier in 2019 by The Wall Street Journal. The final outcome is ownership by SoftBank and a valuation of $8 billion which is significantly less than the $13 billion that has been invested in the company.[68]

Layoffs

On November 21, 2019, WeWork laid off 2,400 employees, almost 20% of its workforce globally.[69] In late March of 2020, WeWork laid off another 250 employees in an effort to lower expenses, followed by another round of employee layoffs at the end of April.[70][71]

Changes to corporate governance

On September 13, 2019, We Company announced changes to the company's governance to include the ability for the board of directors to pick any new CEO and not having CEO Adam Neumann's family members on the board. Neumann also agreed to transfer to the We Company any profits from his real estate deals with the company.[72] On September 20 it was announced that Wendy Silverstein, the co-head of WeWork's real estate investment fund ARK, had departed the company the week before. Silverstein had joined the company in fall 2018 as a veteran of the New York real estate industry. Silverstein claimed her exit was unrelated to the company's delayed initial public offering.[73] On September 23, The Washington Post reported that the company's largest investor, SoftBank, wanted Neumann removed as chief executive because they had lost confidence in his leadership.[8]

On September 24, 2019, it was announced that Adam Neumann would step down as CEO of the company due to backlash during the IPO process.[74] In a statement, Neumann responded, "While our business has never been stronger, in recent weeks, the scrutiny directed toward me has become a significant distraction, and I have decided that it is in the best interest of the company to step down as chief executive."[75]

Neuman's exit package was valued at US$1.7 billion, with $970 million for his remaining shares, a $185 million consulting fee and a $500 million in credit to assist him to repay his loans to J.P. Morgan Chase.[76]

2020

In a January 2020 interview with Fortune, co-founder McKelvey said the new strategy to save WeWork is to slow down. He said "A big benefit to slowing down a little bit is that we’re going to focus on [the product] more."[77]

In late January 2020, WeWork announced they would be phasing out free beer at all North American co-working locations.[78]

On February 1, 2020, WeWork announced that they would be bringing on Sandeep Mathrani to succeed Adam Neumann as CEO, beginning on February 18, 2020. This is a result of [79] the latter's recent "tumultuous" behaviour. Mathrani is a former senior executive at GGP Inc. and Brookfield Property Partners.

On February 3, 2020, WeWork launched its first space in the Middle East in Abu-Dhabi's technology park Hub 71 under the name WeWork x Hub 71.[80]

On February 10, 2020, WeWork announced the temporary closure of 100 buildings in China due to the COVID-19 pandemic.[81]

In early March 2020, WeWork announced the selection of Kimberly Ross, the former CFO of Baker Hughes and Avon, as the chief financial officer.[82]

On June 5, 2020, co-founder Miguel McKelvey announced that he would be leaving WeWork at the end of the month.[83]

In September 2020, The Information reported the valuation of the company fell 89 percent since their failed IPO in 2019.[84]

Acquisitions and investments

WeWork has acquired and invested in a diverse and at times "unusual"[85] assortment of companies. According to Pitchbook, WeWork acquired a total of twenty companies between 2015 and 2019. These included:

In April 2018 it was announced that WeWork had merged its China operations with local competitor Naked Hub.[98] In terms of investments, during the $32 million series B of a women's only co-working space, The Wing, WeWork contributed a portion of the fund.[99] It also invested in medical marijuana provider and a wave pool maker prior to its IPO attempt.[85]

Ventures

Rise by We

Rise (previously known as WeWork Wellness) is a luxury gym concept, currently[when?] only available at WeWork's Manhattan location.[100] The space consists of a boot-camp space with cardio equipment, and a boxing area, general workout area, spa, and yoga studio.[101] It also hosts fitness classes and offers personal training sessions.[102][103]

WeGrow

Announced in November 2017 for a planned opening in fall 2018, WeGrow is a private school for children aged 3 through students in grade 4.[104] The first permanent location was in WeWork's New York headquarters.[105]

In September 2019, it was announced that Rebekah Neumann would step down as CEO of WeGrow and will relinquish her role in WeCompany.[75]

WeLive

WeWork launched a separate but related "co-living" venture called WeLive in 2016. WeLive applies the same basic principle as WeWork to housing, offering rental apartments that are grouped together with a number of shared spaces and services, such as cleaning, cooking, and laundry, as well as group activities and events. The first tests of the concept launched in New York City and in Crystal City, Virginia, near the Ronald Reagan National Airport in the Washington metropolitan area.[106] Leaked internal documents from 2014 stated that WeLive was projected to make up 21% of WeWork's revenue by 2018.[107] By the end of 2016, WeLive had mostly phased out subsidies for its spaces in New York City under a "friends and family" arrangement that discounted rents by 15% to 20%.[108] A third WeLive location in Seattle was planned to be opened in the new Third and Lenora building in 2020, but the lease was terminated in October 2019.[109] Competitors to WeLive include Common, headquartered in New York, and HubHaus, headquartered in San Francisco.[110]

Valuation

In January 2019, the company's valuation was stated as $47 billion, though by September when an IPO was planned and postponed, the valuation was reduced to $10–12 billion, less than the $12.8 billion it had raised since 2010.[10] Throughout the fourth quarter of 2019, WeWork's estimated market capitalization fell in part due to numerous investigations of Neumann's behavior and business practices, such as engaging in nepotism.[111] The company's unprofitable status and lack of clear strategy to achieve profitability in the future also contribute to continuing losses.[9]

In 2018, WeWork's losses and revenue both doubled. According to the Financial Times, the company lost $219,000 each hour of each day from March 2018 to March 2019.[112][113]

WeWork's August 24, 2019 SEC filing states that the company faces substantial risk in the event of an economic downturn: "...we have yet to experience a global economic downturn since founding our business," and "an economic downturn or subsequent declines in market rents may result in increased member terminations and could adversely affect our results of operations,"[114] because the company has $47 billion of future lease obligations and only $4 billion of future lease commitments.[115]

Lawsuits

Former executives sue WeWork

As of June 2019, three former executives were at various stages of suing WeWork, one alleging age discrimination, one alleging sexual harassment claims that resulted in retaliation, and one alleging retaliation for filing a complaint that women were paid less.[116]

In October 2019, Medina Bardhi, the former chief of staff for Adam Neumann, sued The We Company over various allegations including a gender pay gap, marijuana use by company executives, and pregnancy discrimination.[117]

In February 2020, Ayesha Whyte, former director of employee relations, sued WeWork for gender and race discrimination, "saying she was promised a well-paying job that never materialized, all while less-qualified white people were promoted."[118]

On July 8, 2020, former WeWork stock plan administrator, Diane Allen, and former head of diversity & inclusion, Christopher Clermont, filed separate complaints against WeWork. Both alleged race discrimination, while Allen also alleged gender discrimination and lack of action over a sexual harassment claim.[119]

WeWork sues SoftBank

In April 2020, SoftBank, the main shareholder of WeWork, pulled its $3 billion tender offer to buy shares directly from some of WeWork's major stockholders.[120] SoftBank cited failure by WeWork to obtain certain regulatory approvals, new criminal and civil investigations, and government actions due to the COVID-19 pandemic as reasons for withdrawing the offer.[121] In turn, WeWork's special committee of the board of directors sued SoftBank over the withdrawal of the shares purchase.[122]

On May 4, 2020, former CEO Adam Neumann separately sued SoftBank for withdrawing the $3 billion tender offer.[123]

Competitors

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