“The We Company (“WeWork”) announced that it has confidentially submitted an amended draft registration statement on Form S-1 with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) relating to an initial public offering of its common stock. WeWork initially submitted its Form S-1 with the SEC in December 2018. This process will enable WeWork to make the decision to become publicly traded, subject to market and other conditions,” reads the entirety of a press release published this week by office-space-rental unicorn-startup WeWork as an under-detailed pre-announcement of its upcoming IPO.
Launched in New York in 2010, WeWork began with the idea of providing flexible office and desk space to suit independent workers and startup companies of all sizes. In the nine years since its establishment, WeWork has raised over $12 billion in investment, largely from the Softbank Vision Fund, rebranded slightly, and diversified its service offering. The ‘We Company,’ as it is now called, includes flexible residential space provider WeLive, entrepreneurship-focused school and education project WeGrow, a wellness club, and coding academy, alongside the original WeWork office space rental business that started it all.
The We Company’s last three purchases, however, broke the mould slightly in that they built upon the success for WeWork’s core activity - making office space better. Eight months ago, WeWork paid $100 million for Salt Lake City-based office management startup Teem, then in February the firm announced the acquisition of San Francisco-based spatial-analytics provider Euclid. Both acquisitions have clear advantages for WeWork’s office real estate and other operations, but they also open up new markets in the rest of the commercial real estate sector. A direction that the We Company has reportedly dubbed “Workplace Insights.”
“Our goal is to help enterprises create the most efficient, effective, and engaged workplaces for their employees. We will be able to provide enterprises with holistic insights around how their workplaces are used – ultimately, helping them to make more informed decisions to support their growth and company culture,” said Shiva Rajaraman, WeWork’s chief product officer. “We’re moving toward a Google analytics for space and making sure rooms are used the right way,”
This new strategy has continued with the acquisition of Managed by Q in April. Managed by Q provides companies with a single platform to manage all of their workplace tasks and services with the aim of helping them save time and money, by creating a “better” environment for employees. WeWork believe their scale and global presence, combined with Managed by Q’s expertise in workplace management, will be able to deliver an “unprecedented and seamless office experience for growing companies everywhere.”
The shift towards workplace analytics has been positively received by investors in a way that residential and education initiatives have not. Teem, Elucid, and Managed by Q, in combination with WeWork’s global presence and access to a seemingly endless pot of gold provided by Softbank, creates a serious commercial real estate services proposition for investors.
The young, freelance-startup-hipster-gig economy vibe the firm projects is also likely to woo certain groups of investors, in the same way Apple and Tesla appeal to certain groups, for example. This all suggests the WeWork IPO maybe well received if and when it comes to fruition but most investment decisions require hard numbers not just interesting acquisitions and a cool vibe.
The We Company reported $1.8 billion in revenue for 2018, double that of the previous year, but it also reported a loss of $1.9 billion. Losing more than you make is not appealing to investors but the ability to generate billions in revenue cannot be ignored. Recent workplace analytics acquisitions offer new avenues for profit generation but also improve the service and functionality of WeWork’s core activities. WeWork is already the first thought for startups looking for a space to develop, so expanding the space available and improving the attractiveness of that space are the logical growth strategies.
“Our valuation and size today are much more based on our energy and spirituality than it is on a multiple of revenue,” WeWork cofounder and CEO Adam Neumann told Forbes in 2017, when the young company was worth some $45 billion according to funding metrics.
The company currently has 651 active locations in 115 cities around the world. With its 30+ sites in the US, 10 in China, half a dozen in India, and others from Costa Rica to the Philippines, the startup can consider itself truly global, providing a launchpad for domination of the rapidly growing international flexible workspace market. However, as many WeWork skeptics point out, any significant dip in these gig/startup working trends could be catastrophic for the We Company.
“Venture capitalists are funding questionable businesses they pray will scale,” says WSJ columnist, Andy Kessler, who points out that WeWork’s business model, “works great in up cycles but is still unproven, especially in downturns.”
How all this translates to the public investment markets will only become clear when the IPO takes place. No other information has been released by the company, leaving rumours and speculation to their own devices. If and when the IPO takes place, it is hard to say how success might be defined but it will no doubt attract a lot of interest from investors across the spectrum.