WeWork Companies Inc., a provider of shared office space,
believes it can be as transformational to its industry as upstarts like Airbnb
Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. are in travel and transportation. The
four-year-old company, which divvies up rented office space and sublets largely
to startups, said on Monday it closed a $355 million funding round. The deal
values the company at about $5 billion, said people close to the matter. The
valuation puts the small New York-based company in the same league as social
bookmarking site operator Pinterest Inc. and media and Internet company IAC/InterActiveCorp.
Adam Neumann, WeWork’s 35-year-old co-founder, hopes to make
the company a hothouse for new business formation—by bringing together
entrepreneurs who share space, office services and, potentially, ideas. Unlike
its closest competitors, WeWork has a new-era sheen, its own mobile app, and
deliberately chose to place properties in hot areas like Washington, D.C.’s
Viewed as a traditional real estate venture, WeWork’s
valuation wouldn’t be nearly as rich, Mr. Neumann acknowledges. WeWork’s
investors see it as a force for upending small-business office rentals with a
new model providing sleek furnishings and plenty of collaboration.
Mr. Neumann said the company’s app, which serves as an
internal directory and allows WeWork customers to communicate idea and
applicants, also provides information on events like regular happy
hours—touchstones of the work community it aims to foster.
WeWork’s December revenue puts it on an about $150 million
annual revenue run rate. It expects to grow significantly in years ahead, which
would lower that ratio. Landlords typically trade between 18 times and 20 times
earnings, according to Jed Reagan, an analyst at real estate consultants Green
WeWork leased about 1.6 million square feet in New York,
making it the fastest expanding company by footprint in the city since 2010. In
all, it expects to have about 3.5 million square-feet globally by the end of
2015, total space larger than the Empire State Building. Also in the works is
living space, akin to a high-end dorm for 20-something workers, people briefed
on the company’s plans said.
Price depends on location. In the company’s Financial
District headquarters, it charges $400 a month for a desk and $1,400 a month
for a small two-person office, well above the area’s rate for such space. The
business is a risky one in which its costs, fees paid to landlords, are fixed,
but its revenues from startups and established businesses can fall quickly when
the economy slows.
As for his company’s next steps, Mr. Neumann said he is
focused on growing the business. He plans to expand WeWork from its current 23
locations to 60 in the next year. Landlords who have discussed the matter with
WeWork executives say they have said it is planning an initial public offering
sometime in the next two or three years.
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