Charted: The Rise and Fall of WeWork
Despite its recommitment to core business fundamentals in the last few years, WeWork’s management—which saw a shakeup in May 2023 when CEO Sandeep Mathrani departed—is setting off a signal flare about the company’s future.
“Our losses and negative cash flows from operating activities raise substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern.” — WeWork, SEC filing, August 8th, 2023.
But how did the once-poster child of Silicon Valley end up seeing its valuation collapse more than 99% from its peak?
Pulling together data from Business Insider, YCharts, SEC Filings, and Crunchbase we follow the rise and fall of WeWork since 2011.
The Rise of WeWork: 2010–2019
WeWork was founded in 2010 by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey with the primary objective of providing shared workspaces catered to freelancers, startups, and companies seeking “flexible office solutions.”
The business model, which rested on renting space from developers long-term, renovating and parceling the property, and subsequently leasing it out to short-term clients, thrived in a decade of low interest rates.
Its valuation surpassed $1 billion in 2014, earning the coveted “unicorn” status. In 2017, SoftBank Group made the first of its total $18.5 billion investment in the company. Two years later, WeWork hit a peak valuation of $47 billion with SoftBank’s continued investments, raising expectations for an imminent IPO.
|July, 2012||$97 million|
|May, 2013||$440 million|
|February, 2014||$1.5 billion|
|October, 2014||$5.0 billion|
|June, 2015||$10.2 billion|
|October, 2016||$16.9 billion|
|August, 2017||$21.2 billion|
|January, 2019||$47.0 billion|
|August, 2019||$20-30 billion|
|September, 2019||$10-12 billion|
|October, 2019||$8.0 billion|
|December, 2019||$7.3 billion*|
|March, 2020||$2.9 billion*|
|March, 2021||$9.0 billion|
|October, 2021||$9.0 billion|
|August, 2023||$0.4 billion|
Footnote: *SoftBank valuation is based on discounted cash flow method.
The Fall of WeWork: 2019–2023
Intensive scrutiny fueled by the impending IPO raised several questions for the company. These included concerns around Neumann’s leadership style, excessive spending, creative accounting, and conflicts of interest leading to Neumann’s resignation and delay of the IPO.
In October 2019, SoftBank Group acquired 80% of the company with $5 billion of additional funding. A month later WeWork laid off 2,400 employees, nearly one-fifth of its workforce.
Real estate veteran Sandeep Mathrani was made CEO in 2020, tasked with turning the company around by eliminating recurring costs and restructuring its debt.
That same year the COVID-19 pandemic forced a significant shift to remote work, causing a decline in office space demand. WeWork’s business model, focused on shared physical spaces, faced a substantial challenge.
In 2021, WeWork went public through a SPAC merger, aiming to regain investor trust. The listing reflected a revised strategy focusing on key markets, cost optimization, and a pivot toward catering to larger corporate clients with hybrid work needs.
Over the past two years, its market capitalization as a publicly-traded company has plummeted from $9 billion to under half a billion dollars. WeWork disclosed $11.4 billion in net losses from 2020 through to June 30th, 2023 in their recent SEC filing.
What Happened to WeWork?
Aside from the trials and tribulations of former CEO Adam Neumann, the company’s sustainability itself has been questioned several times over the past decade. In 2019, the Guardian summarized the criticism succinctly by saying, the company was “renting long and subleasing short,” which left it “exposed to risk.”
Post-pandemic, the proliferation of work-from-home policies, along with the rapid rise in global interest rates in the last year—which can reduce cash flows for the commercial real estate industry—have magnified those risks.
WeWork is now battling an environment of excess supply, softer demand, increased competition and macroeconomic volatility, according to interim CEO David Tolley.
“It was foolish of me to invest in WeWork. I was wrong.” — Masayoshi Son, SoftBank Group founder.
The New York Times says that WeWork has more than 18 million square feet of rentable office space in the U.S. and Canada alone and that its failure could have a “sizable impact” on the commercial real estate industry.
At the same time, the Times notes that reporting the “substantial doubt” on continued business operations might help the company buy time with lenders to seek additional capital through issuance of debt, equity, or the sale of assets.
The Type of Business Every Country Wants to Start
This series of maps shows a regional breakdown of the most popular types of businesses people want to start, based on online search results.
The Type of Business Every Country Wants to Start
View a higher resolution version of this map.
Every year, millions of new businesses are started across the world—in 2021, nearly 5.4 million new business applications were filed in the U.S. alone.
And since startups and new businesses play a significant role in shaping a country’s economic growth, encouraging entrepreneurship is vital. But what types of businesses around the world are people most interested in starting?
These maps by ZenBusiness show the most popular types of businesses that entrepreneurs in nearly every country want to start, based on analyzing relevant internet search results.
Most Searched Businesses Around the World
To source the data, ZenBusiness analyzed searches from Ahrefs, specifically looking for the term “start a business” and its equivalents in local languages as of February 2022.
They then found the relevant topic or keyword with the highest search volume, and organized the results into 11 different industries:
- Beauty & Cosmetics
- Food & Drink
- Logistics & Infrastructure
- Personal Services
- Software Development
- Business & Financial
- Leisure & Tourism
- Real Estate
- Retail & E-Commerce
The data showed that the industries entrepreneurs are most attracted to vary greatly from country to country, depending on a variety of factors such as infrastructure, business climate, and culture.
Here’s a breakdown of the most searched businesses around the world, broken down by region.
From cooking gas refills in South Africa to supplements in the Gambia, entrepreneurs across Africa seem to be interested in starting a wide range of businesses (at least according to their searches).
But while the results varied across the region, the most-searched industry was personal services such as cleaning, interior design, and contracting. Cleaning was especially popular, ranking first in six different African countries.
One African country worth highlighting is Morocco, where freight is the most-searched startup term across the country. This makes sense considering Morocco is home to several major ports, including the Port of Tanger Med, which is Africa’s largest port by cargo capacity.
In Europe, real estate is the most-searched industry, ranking number one in seven different countries across the continent. Over the last decade, the European Union’s real estate market has boomed—between 2010 and 2021, home prices in the EU increased by 42%.
Retail is also a popular industry across Europe, with clothing-related searching taking the top spot in five different European countries.
Middle East & Central Asia
From soap production in Uzbekistan to dropshipping in Azerbaijan, the Middle East & Central Asia have the most diverse searches compared to any other region.
One particularly interesting top search was in the United Arab Emirates, where imports and exports ranked first. The UAE’s economy is heavily reliant on trade, especially oil, which makes up 30% of the region’s GDP and 41% of public revenues.
Rest of Asia & Oceania
Asia and Oceania had an interesting mix of unique business searches. For instance, pig farming ranked number one in the Solomon Islands, and lawn moving took the top spot in New Zealand.
But generally speaking, retail was one of the most-searched-for business types across this region, with clothing taking the top spot in countries like Australia, Indonesia, and Singapore.
Across North America, retail takes the top spot for most searched business type. In fact, the top searches in nearly half of the region’s countries are related to the retail or e-commerce industry.
The U.S. currently has the largest retail market in the world, although China is close on its heels. In 2021, America’s retail market was valued at over $6.5 trillion U.S. dollars.
Food was the top searched industry across South America, ranking number one in half the countries across the region. In Brazil, sweets took the top spot, which might not be surprising considering the country is the top sugar cane producer worldwide.
Clothing was also a popular business idea, taking the top spot in five South American countries.
Which countries surprised you the most with their new business interest?
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