WeWork raised $4.4 billion in 3 months -- here's how the co-working giant became the most valuable startup in New York City

Wework culver city los angeles laWeWorkA common area is shown in WeWork Culver City in Los Angeles, California.

WeWork, a startup that leases trendy, millennial-friendly office space to startups and Fortune 500 companies, just became the sixth most valuable startup in the world.

It’s been raining money all year long at WeWork. The company has raised over $US8 billion in funding to date — with $US4.4 billion flowing in since July — at a $US20 billion valuation. It’s the third biggest startup by valuation in the US after Uber and Airbnb, and the largest in New York City.

And still, no one can seem to agree if the co-working giant can justify its sky-high valuation.

Take a look at how an architect and a serial entrepreneur set out on a mission to reinvent the office and, in the process, built a global brand that’s worth $US20 billion.

WeWork founders Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey met -- where else? -- at the office.

Scott Legato/Getty
Miguel McKelvey (left) and Adam Neumann speak during the WeWork Creator Awards in Detroit, Michigan.

Neumann came to New York City in 2001, fresh off his service in the Israeli military. He started a company called Krawlers, which sold clothes with padded knees for crawling babies.

'We were working in the same building as my co-founder Miguel McKelvey, a lead architect at a small firm,' Neumann told Business Insider's Maya Kosoff in 2015.

'At the time, I was misguided and putting my energy into all the wrong places,' he added.

Neumann also had an interest in real-estate. While working in the gentrifying neighbourhood of Dumbo, he fell in love with a vacant warehouse on Water Street.

In an interview with Fast Company, Neumann recalled approaching the landlord and asking for the building. The landlord said, 'You're in baby clothes. What do you know about real estate?'

Neumann shot right back: 'Your building is empty. What do you know about real estate?'

He and his new friend McKelvey struck a deal to start a real-estate business there: Green Desk.

In 2008, Green Desk became an early incarnation of WeWork. The company offered sustainable co-working spaces featuring recycled furniture, free-trade coffee, and green office supplies.

Source: Forbes

Customers, called 'members,' could rent a desk or a private office month to month. Neumann and McKelvey made money by charging more for those spaces than their lease payments.

Green Desk offered most things individuals and small companies needed: fully furnished offices, conference rooms, high-speed internet access, utilities, printing, and a stocked kitchen.

Something clicked for Neumann and McKelvey. They saw that it was the focus on community, not sustainability, that drove people to Green Desk. In 2010, they sold their stake and began WeWork.

A private office in WeWork Soho in New York City.

Neumann and McKelvey had only $US300,000 between them, low credit scores, and no building. Still, they convinced a landlord to rent them one floor of a building on a trial basis.

The first WeWork location was just 3,000 square feet in a tenement-style building in SoHo. It had creaky floorboards and exposed brick, which the founders power-washed clean.


Source: Forbes

Early on, Neumann and McKelvey imagined office rentals as part of an ecosystem, complete with apartments, gyms, and even barber shops, that served the concept of a communal life.

Business Insider
Adam Neumann (left) and Miguel McKelvey discuss WeWork at IGNITION 2016.

'It was always thought of, 'How can we support this person who wants to live more collectively, live lighter -- who wants to have less stuff, who wants to pursue their passion, pursue a life of meaning, rather than looking for just material success?'' McKelvey told Business Insider.

They used their flagship in Soho (which turned a profit one month after launch) to host developers and investors and grow the WeWork brand.

A common area in WeWork Soho in New York City.

Source: Forbes

WeWork opened four more locations in the next two years. It caught the attention of Benchmark, a top venture capital firm that made early bets onBay, Twitter and Uber.

A common area in WeWork Park South Lounge in New York City.

Benchmark led a Series A funding round of $US17 million, pushing WeWork further into growth mode. WeWork shot up to 1.5 million square feet of space and 10,000 members by 2014.

As even more venture funding flowed in, the number of WeWork locations exploded. Today, the company has more than 120,000 members in 164 offices spread across 17 countries.

Brigitte Kroone
A common area in WeWork Metropool in Amsterdam.

Sources: Business Insider and Wired

Most WeWork locations have a similar layout, but no two look exactly alike. WeWork Old Street in London features bare concrete and graffiti art that give it a fun, industrial feel.

A common area in WeWork Old Street in London.

WeWork Sony Center in Berlin's Potsdamer Platz does away with the quirky wallpapers often found in WeWork locations and opts for glass walls with sweeping city views.

A common area in WeWork Sony Center in Berlin, Germany.

WeWork has been criticised since the company doesn't own any actual real-estate assets and relies on the health of the startups who occupy those properties.

Melia Robinson/Business Insider

Source: CB Insights

In an effort to diversity its revenue streams, WeWork got into residential real estate in 2016. WeLive provides fully furnished micro-apartments. People can join these communities and instantly tap into amenities like free internet, maid service, and new friends.


Private studios start at $US3,050 in New York City and $US1,500 in Arlington, Virginia.

What is co-living and why is it popular »

WeWork Wellness is planning a line of fitness centres. There haven't been any openings yet.

To protect against a collapse in the startup world, WeWork started building offices for big companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM this year, in cities where they have fewer employees.

Members work in a conference room in Boston's WeWork Back Bay, where Amazon added 200 employees in 2017.

Source: Wired

WeWork has a projected annual revenue of $1 billion for 2017, up 88% from last year.


Source: CB Insights

And WeWork has room to grow.


'In the big picture, we see WeLive as a huge opportunity, as big as WeWork, for sure,' McKelvey told Business Insider for a story about co-living earlier this year. 'I think we're lucky to have a good foundation in place where people trust us and are interested in the product.'

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