WeWork's decline

I've seen headlines in the news over the past few days that WeWork is in financial trouble (again!). It got me thinking about their business, and what went wrong

It feels like their entire marketing + messaging is about providing a space for people to work, for which they've now become a commodity. In London, there are many options to choose from, and so it will become a race to the bottom on pricing, where they'll be forced to cut corners with the service provided (even a few years ago, WeWork had daily water with fresh fruit and biscuits - small point but an example of how they've had to cut back)

But it seems to me that they're missing the real opportunity to provide value - community.

How WeWork could leverage community within their business

WeWork have always claimed to be a technology company, without being one. But they do have network effects built in, even if they're not taking advantage of it. If you're looking for a job, it's possible that another WeWork member is a company you would consider joining. If you're in a particular position (for example, as CMO), there will be many others in a similar position, in a company that uses WeWork for their office. If you're an indie hacker or solo founder, there will be hundreds of others in that position at WeWork, not just around the world but within your city.

And yet, the main thing they are selling to you as the customer is a desk, a rectangular glass-walled office. Seems like a missed opportunity.

Here are some ideas that I would explore if I was running WeWork:

  • Founder and C-suite circles: Communities like Hampton are bringing founders together to connect and learn from one another. Particularly since the pandemic, I've seen more interest in this type of thing, where people are able to get to know others in a similar position. WeWork has data on everyone who uses one of their spaces, and should be more proactive in offering this type of product, bringing in external coaches and advisors to facilitate one-off sessions. The desire of founders to pay for community is a way in which WeWork could meaningfully increase lifetime value of a member, and make their product more sticky, as opposed to just being another office space provider.
  • Sector specific events: Similarly, they have companies focused on FinTech, EdTech, real estate and many other sectors, and yet don't make any effort to bring them together. While they don't seem to do it now, OnDeck used to have sector-specific communities that they would run, and WeWork seems perfectly positioned to do the same.
  • Curated Offices: I've engaged in numerous discussions with startup founders who are in the initial stages of their business journey. They're in the process of experimenting with ideas but are without a team or investment; in many instances, they're consciously choosing to bootstrap rather than raise capital. Among this group, there's a palpable need for community: the experience of sharing a space with others who are navigating similar challenges. This sense of community is valued for several reasons, including accountability and camaraderie with those who understand firsthand the obstacles of the startup world.
    • Some makeshift solutions I've observed include hosting co-working sessions at home, or organizing shared work time in coffee shops or members' clubs. Yet the idea of an actual office space for people in like situations is complicated. Someone must bear the costs of the office, cultivate the community, and essentially operate it as a business. This could make products like WeWork more appealing, transforming the mere renting of space into something more valuable – a genuine community. It's no longer just a commodity, as it stands today.
    • I believe this sense of belonging and understanding is a key reason why people apply to programs like Y Combinator. They're seeking an environment where others intuitively "get it".
    • This is particularly easy to implement right now, when WeWork has a lot of spare capacity, so doesn't need to take a financial hit to get it started.

I'd imagine the reason they haven't explored this is because of the perceived operational overhead of doing so. But I think that's short-sighted, and turning away from the work that would actually put them back in a position where they're providing unique value, as opposed to just selling desks.

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