We’re updating this blog in light of a story that is currently in the news. WeWork is considering the anticipated valuation of its IPO…that it could be too high. Skepticism is rising over the business model. One of the concerns is what we pointed out here a little over a year ago…will the business model work in a down economy?
The lowered valuation is not a small jump. It’s about $27 billion. The original valuation was $47 billion and they are considering cutting it to a little over $20 billion. By the way, SofBank invested in WeWork at the $47 billion dollar valution. Ouch.
The New York Times just published a feature on WeWork called The WeWork Manifesto: First, Office Space. Next, the World. It’s a very interesting article about how WeWork has gone from start-up idea to a market valuation of $20 billion in only 8 years.
It’s a very interesting article and I really have to give credit to the co-founders for creating something that appears to be working so well. It’s good for companies to have options. WeWork is one of many providers of co-working space. It’s hip, cool and very open space. There are some real benefits to it – chief among them being flexibility since tenants don’t have to lock into long-term leases.
Co-working providers claim to save companies a huge amount of money while providing flexibility and the kind of space that younger employees want. This is true, but you have to remember that if you rent a dedicated desk in a co-working location, each person typically gets a 4-foot-wide table with another table immediately next to it for another person. So a typical 10-foot-by-12-foot office that you would give a staffer in a traditional office build-out, would likely have 4 people in it at a co-working office. While prices vary by location, those 4-foot tables go for $500 a month. So that one office costs $2,000 a month. It’s easy to see how co-working providers can afford to offer free beer and other amenities.
WeWork has been in business for 8 years now – all of which have been in an expanding economy. It will be interesting to see what happens when the economy takes a dip. I hope they do well, but I’m dubious. Practically every executive suite operator went under in the recession of the late ’80s and early ’90s and landlords ended up taking back the empty spaces left over. Since WeWork members are on month-to-month contracts, they can move out quickly if they start feeling the effects of a downturn and are trying to reduce cost. Thus, WeWork and other co-working providers will lose revenue much faster than building landlords whose tenants are committed to multi-year leases. That will put a major strain on their ability to stay in business, much less grow.
So while a recession may result in tough times for the operators of co-working locations and executive suites as well (think Regus), they remain a great option for tenants who need short-term space for projects or when testing the water in a new market.
Bob Gibbons is a Real Estate Advisor & Tenant Advocate (also known as a tenant rep) with REATA Commercial Realty, Inc. which is a tenant advisory firm based in Plano, Texas. Bob serves companies in Plano, Frisco, McKinney, Allen, Richardson, Addison, Dallas, and the surrounding areas and specializes in companies which lease or buy office and warehouse properties.