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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 yellsKaren!” 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

  • competitor.

  • Many have called it massively overvalued, even the most overvalued.

  • Meanwhile, it's starting a school, called WeGrow, a gym calledRise By We”, and

  • renting apartments called WeLive, Which all sounds a we bitscattershot.

  • So, what's the deal?

  • The answer is just as interesting as what it says aboutour 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

  • offices.

  • 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

  • value.

  • 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.

  • Oops.

  • 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 morebronze 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, addbig dataorblockchainto 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

  • billion.

  • 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

  • billion.

  • So what's Regus valued at?

  • 4 Billion - That's not with a zero.

  • Hmmm

  • 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 likeStay productive”,

  • But WeWork understands The Millennial.

  • Big art pieces, craft beer, and so many mentions of the wordcommunitythat 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?

  • Yes.

  • 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 rationalyet 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

  • don't wanna be the guy with the same or similar passwords across all your accounts.

  • Dashlane can conveniently store and fill those passwords, so you don't have to.

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