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It's now 2019 and everything is getting old.
Ellen Degeneres is now sixty, Comments on why I'm wrong about Florida's flag are
getting ancient, not that I read those, or anything, and millennials are now officially
full-grown adults.
The youngest are graduating college and entering the job market.
The oldest, are well into their careers.
And while some companies are busy complaining about millennials killing their business,
others are realizing Hey, this generation might not be exactly the same as their parents,
and are adapting.
Imagine that.
Hence: Lots of bright colors, artsy fonts, emojis, and manufactured authenticity.
Prolly not a great time to announce the new PolyMatter branding…
One of the most successful of these companies is called WeWork.
In case you're not a 20-35 year-old who lives here and likes to work from a beanbag,
(no judgement), here's the idea:
Instead of leasing an office for a whole year, or trying to write a script about this hot
new startup called WeWork in a Starbucks while the barista yells “Karen!” for the 7th
time in 2 minutes,
You can rent a space in one of WeWork's 500 buildings
in 97 cities.
For somewhere between two and eight hundred dollars a month, you get a private office,
a desk, or the opportunity of a desk.
They provide the Wifi, furniture, printers, and cleaning.
It's got all the ingredients of a fun, exciting, young startup - craft beer, pictures of people
doing yoga, and chairs that don't look like chairs.
It may not sound revolutionary but it's perfectly timed with the rise of independent,
remote, and freelance workers, who there are now 68 million of in the U.S. alone.
There just one problem, or a few billion, actually.
WeWork is the 4th highest valued startup in the world, just behind Uber and its Chinese
Many have called it massively overvalued, even the most overvalued.
Meanwhile, it's starting a school, called WeGrow, a gym called “Rise By We”, and
renting apartments called WeLive, Which all sounds a we bit… scattershot.
So, what's the deal?
The answer is just as interesting as what it says about… our whole economy.
The way WeWork makes money, or tries to, is actually pretty simple.
It is starting to buy a few of its own buildings, but for the most part, here's how it works:
First, it finds big, centrally-located buildings in young, densely populated areas and signs
a five, ten, even fifteen-year lease.
Which makes the landlord really happy, at least, for now.
And then, they turn around and sublease to you and I, on a monthly basis.
Pretty simple, right?
A little too simple, you might be thinking.
If WeWork can make money appear out of thin air by splitting a big lease into a bunch
of tiny ones, why doesn't the building just do that itself?
Isn't WeWork just an inefficient middleman?
Instead of paying one landlord, now we're essentially paying two.
And that's true - nothing stops the owner of a building from creating its own shared
Some do.
But it's not so simple.
For two reasons.
First, WeWork and the owner are really playing two, very different games.
At its core, WeWork is one, giant, $47 billion bet that its real estate will increase in
Because if you and I pay more every month for a desk, WeWork still pays the same 10,
15, whatever-year lease, and they pocket the difference.
On the other hand, if can I say, when? property values fall, they have to pay the difference.
Now, each lease is under a different subsidiary, so if it can't afford to make payments,
the company, as a whole, is somewhat protected.
But if a bunch of them fail at the same time, like during a recession, it could be really,
really bad.
And remember that most of WeWork's customers are small startups and freelancers, ya know,
the businesses most likely to fail during a recession.
The owner, on the other hand, gets a consistent, arguably lower-risk paycheck and makes its
building more valuable in the meantime.
The second reason is that WeWork has an unfair advantage.
Unlike the property owner, it can set prices unreasonably low, attracting far more customers.
The secret is that WeWork is always on sale - you just don't know it.
How can it sell a service for less than what it costs?
The answer is a little, actually, remarkably not-so-little, company called SoftBank.
You've never heard of it because it's a multinational holding conglomerate.
In English, a company that owns companies.
A big pile of money.
Softbank's Vision Fund is nearly $100 billion, provided by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab
Emirates, and companies like Apple and Qualcomm.
Best friends, I hear.
To put that in perspective, because, frankly, anything after like 6 zeros(?) tends to look
the same,
These are the other biggest venture capital firms.
The Vision Fund makes even Goldman Sachs look more… bronze than gold.
So what does it do with all that money?
Mostly, invest in tech companies.
And, when those run out, anything that remotely looks like one.
Basically, add “big data” or “blockchain” to your name and then buy a bigger wallet,
because Softbank wants all of it.
Just a few weeks ago, it poured another $2 billion into WeWork.
And if you think that's a lot, which, it is, it was originally going to be sixteen
So, Softbank, in a round-a-bout way, is paying for part of your office, in hopes that the
company will grow and one day make a profit.
Which is all too common - Enjoy those $1 scooters, and cheap Uber rides because some venture
capitalist somewhere is paying for them.
It won't last forever, just ask anyone with Moviepass how that turned out.
But hang on.
Why does Softbank, who likes tech companies like Uber and Bytedance, invest in WeWork,
who leases real estate?
Well, that's the question - is WeWork a tech company, or does it just really want
to be?
Because, if it's just a middleman between property owners and renters,
and Uber just a platform connecting drivers and riders,
both of which use technology but suffer the economics of a non-tech company,
then they're a lot less exciting.
If that's true, a lot of investors are spending a lot more than they should, and when they
realize this, things are going to get ugly.
Think about it this way: A tech company can potentially have seven billion users instantly.
A thousand downloads don't cost any more than one.
Scale is (nearly) unlimited.
And therefore, so are valuations.
WeWork, however, will always have to buy or lease more space as more people join.
It scales, but not in the same way.
To put it in perspective, there's this other, less exciting, co-working company called Regus.
This is its total square feet, and this is WeWork's, again, with a valuation of $47
So what's Regus valued at?
4 Billion - That's not with a zero.
Oh yeah and, fun fact: Regus actually makes a profit.
I know right?
Who does that?
So old fashioned!
The question is: What makes WeWork worth that extra 43 billion?
Why is it valued like a tech company?
And Regus, based on, ya know, how much money it can make?
Now, it's tempting to stop here.
To say WeWork is just a real estate company and yes, it's overvalued.
But, that's not totally fair.
There's a reason WeWork is so much more successful and it's not just that Softbank
thinks its money is a hot potato,
It's because WeWork has mastered the art of telling a story.
Regus has nice, professional photos and advertises with generic phrases like “Stay productive”,
But WeWork understands The Millennial.
Big art pieces, craft beer, and so many mentions of the word “community” that I'm afraid
to Control-F their website for fear of crashing my browser.
“WeWork… (is) a state of consciousness, a generation of interconnected emotionally
intelligent entrepreneurs.”
Roll your eyes all you want, and trust me, I have, but it works.
And it does have useful data, on where people work, when they're most productive, and
so on, which they can use to redesign and optimize buildings.
That's valuable information.
It has to decide, for example, how many conference rooms to build based on how much they'll
be used.
That's worth thousands of dollars a month, because if it builds even one too many rooms,
its wasting space that could've been a desk, and made more money.
So, is it real estate or tech company?
But, make no mistake: its core business fundamentally relies on property values.
That's true no matter how hard it tries to distract us, “Hey look over here, we're
not just a real estate company”,
We're opening a high-end gym in New York, we bought a wave-pool company, Seriously though,
why?! and we're starting an elementary school!
Which, by the way, costs up to $42,000 a year, a total of $388,000 from age 2 to 11.
Although, to be fair, it's no ordinary school - “A field of super-elliptic objects forms
a learning landscape that's dense and rational – yet free and fluid.”
Whatever that means, it's not enough to save the company from the fate of Regus, who
after the dot-com crash, filed for bankruptcy.
To survive its first recession, WeWork will have to change its strategy or significantly
diversify its income.
Economic downturns are inevitable, you have to protect yourself by spreading your eggs
across multiple baskets.
Likewise, it's only a matter of time before the next big hack - and when it happens, you
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The Most Overvalued Startup in the World?

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王語萱 2019 年 9 月 23 日 に公開
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