WeWork Puts Cash To Work To Build Out Expansive, Expensive Vision

WeWork was born in 2010. Even after a year, the firm didn’t warrant a mention in Wall Street Journal’s piece on coworking. Instead, the article detailed companies working with “shared workspaces,” which included accelerators and education spaces such as Plug and Play Tech Center, Launchpad, and General Assembly.

It’s doubtful you’d see the same startups mentioned hand-in-hand with coworking today.

Now, more than a half-decade later, WeWork’s 275 locations in 59 global cities have helped define modern coworking.

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And like any good unicorn, WeWork has outgrown its initial vision. So where’s WeWork going? According to its CEO Adam Neumann, in an interview with Bloomberg, the company is “building a community of creators.”

That mission is backed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund, a fact that has helped Neumann and his company show signs this year that they are capable of bringing WeWork’s (expensive) new mission to fruition. Let’s examine its progress to date.

WeWork Funding

Before diving too deeply into WeWork’s activities over the past year, let’s take a moment to look back at the company’s funding status.

According to Crunchbase, WeWork has raised approximately $6.9 billion across 11 rounds. That puts the company’s valuation at $20 billion, according to the Crunchbase Unicorn Leaderboard. With that valuation, it is the tenth most valuable private company in the world.

Much of its first billion in funding totals was compiled over a period of five years. From WeWork’s $1 million seed round in 2011 to its 2016 $680 million Series F raise, the startup raised $1.7 billion.

In 2017, those raises were reduced in comparative scale to mere blips.

This August, SoftBank announced a massive $4.4 billion funding round into the coworking space—an amount that makes up approximately 63 percent of WeWork’s known fundings today.

The new capital was a massive bet, and one that has likely served as the catalyst for increased acquisition, investment, and business activity.

WeWork Acquires Community

Prior to 2017, WeWork was not an acquisitive company. But it turns out buckets of cash can accelerate an appetite for startups.

WeWork has acquired five companies in the latter half of 2017, out of seven total known acquisitions. Three of those acquisitions—Fieldlens, Spacemob, and Unomy—appear to be related to the core parts of WeWork’s real estate business. The last two, however, fall more in line with WeWork’s mantra of creating community.

In October, WeWork acquired Flatiron School, which teaches web application development over the course of 12 weeks. More closely related, however, is its acquisition of Meetup, which facilitates community events in physical spaces. WeWork, reportedly, spent $200 million on the deal.

But acquisitions aren’t the only way to build a community or make it happy.

WeWork The Investor

It’s likely a number of ambitious entrepreneurs call WeWork home. Therefore, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the company has made overtures to the cohort.

In March of this year, the company celebrated reaching 100,000 members with a Creator Awards competition that would give away $20 million in cash to entrepreneurs—no strings attached.

As the year wore on, the coworking startup also partnered with Techstars, a Colorado-based startup accelerator, to give alumni of the program discounted access to WeWork’s spaces. WeWork has also partnered with the Sports Innovation Lab in Boston to build a new space that aims to “accelerate innovation in the sports technology sector.”

More recently, WeWork has also announced its intentions to become an accelerator. Called the “Area 51 Paradise Ranch” (we are not making this up), the accelerator program is, according to Wired, invite only and confined to WeWork’s NYC coworking space.

But the company hasn’t just launched pilot programs and competitions. In November, WeWork became the lead investor in The.Wing’s $32 million Series B. New Enterprise Associates, which invested in the coworking space for women as part of its Series A, also joined WeWork in the follow-on round.

WeWork has also deployed two grants of equal size into Victor Tech Inc and Brave Initiatives.

WeWork Goes Corporate

While WeWork has spent a lot of PR energy this year focusing on supporting entrepreneurs and freelancers, its actual paying customers have become increasingly corporate. Here’s ReCode on the numbers:

The number of enterprise companies leasing space from WeWork almost doubled, or grew 90 percent in July of this year compared with the same month last year. And the number of seats, or workers enterprise companies had working at WeWork grew nearly five times, or 360 percent, meaning that existing corporate clients are taking more real estate.

The growth in enterprise now makes up 30 percent of WeWork’s monthly monthly revenue and 20 percent of its total membership. Customers of WeWork’s enterprise plan include IBM, Microsoft, and Amazon.

Alongside this, WeWork also announced discounts to enterprise software for its members through a services store. Samsung has also partnered with WeWork to offer care centers at coworking locations.

And like any good corporate town, WeWork offers more than just discount to software for its members.

WeWork Is Life

In an attempt to fulfill its ambitions to be a community, WeWork has scattered itself amidst other aspects of daily life.

Staying true to WeWork’s roots, its education program WeGrow, aimed at five-year olds, will focus on teaching entrepreneurship. The company plans to launch WeGrow schools internationally. For adults, the acquisition of Flatiron School also serves as a buoy to its education efforts.

Its WeLive project, which offers fully-furnished housing targeted at entrepreneurs, has hit some snags since its 2016 launch. Unlike its rapid office expansion, WeLive has stayed confined to the two initial locations: New York City and Washington DC. According to Buzzfeed’s reporting on the company’s plans, at least three dozen WeLive locations should have been opened by the end of this year. The head of WeLive, Jim Woods, told Bloomberg that finding space was a bigger hurdle than initially expected.

But while WeWork figures out how to live and learn, the company also announced plans this year to get into a little bit of fun as well. WeWork now owns a cut of WaveGarden, which builds wave-pools for surfers. And if surfing isn’t enough a workout for coworkers, a handful of WeWork’s locations also offer gyms and wellness rooms.

We Fill In The Blank

The year has been a bit wild for WeWork.

Frankly, there is no clear reason a company that has come to define the coworking market to concern itself with educating youngsters and developing wave-pools. And as of this point, WeWork hasn’t excelled at invading other facets of their tenants lives.

However, a few billions dollars can throw a lot of spaghetti at a wall. It’s possible that, in 2018, some of it will stick.

iStockPhoto / Good_Studio

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