8/29/2019

Top 10 Insights From WeWork's Business Model and IPO

The WeWork IPO is expected to be one of the biggest of the year, but despite the company’s high price tag and impressive funding history, the filing did raise some questions and concerns among major investment firms and industry leaders. Here are the top 10 insights from WeWork’s business model and recent IPO filing. 

“WE” Ticker

The company released that they will be operating under the ticker “WE,” on an undetermined exchange. 

Huge Revenue Growth

WeWork has been growing at tremendous rates. The revenue for the first six months of 2019 is nearly 85% of the total revenue for 2018. The coworking industry, on the whole, has seen a considerable increase in membership numbers, and WeWork is no exception.

Rising Losses

While WeWork has more than doubled its revenue in the first six months of the year, it also is losing money just as quickly. In the IPO filing, it indicated that its losses increased to more than $900 million in the first half of the year, which adds to more than $1.9 billion in total losses from the year beforehand. Some analysts estimate that WeWork is burning cash too quickly, due in part to its recent acquisitions along with the notion that the WeWork business model is not sustainable. 

Costly Lease Agreements

One red flag raised in the IPO filing was the expensive lease agreements WeWork is currently operating under. WeWork said that future lease payment obligations were at more than $47 billion. Since the WeWork business model functions by offering short-term leasing operations to its members to provide extra flexibility, it could present a risk to WeWork, as these customers are not required to stay for the long-term. 

Complicated Corporate Structure 

When WeWork rebranded itself as The We Company earlier in 2019, it had to adopt a new corporate structure, which is called an umbrella partnership corporation. This structure turned WeWork into a limited liability company, which then oversaw joint ventures in Asia. This new structure has significant benefits for Neumann and his wife, as well as other executives because they can pay tax on any profits at an individual income-tax rate. On the other hand, public shareholders will have to pay double taxation.

Business in China

The business that WeWork is currently operating in China can also pose a risk, as it is often run by local groups, which WeWork can’t control. The laws are also unique to China, such as the 1017 China Cybersecurity Law, which grants the government access to all enterprise data. While the WeWork IPO filing didn’t dive too much into this, it could indicate future trouble.

 All-Male Board of Directors

The WeCompany has also released who will serve on its board of directors. With no women included in the lineup, this could prove to be an area of criticism that the coworking giant will face in the future.

CEO’s Potential Conflict of Interests

The CEO of WeWork, Adam Neumann, has extended control over the company. He controls the majority of the voting rights, and it is possible that his control could increase in the upcoming years. A real potential conflict of interest could be in the buildings that Neumann owns and leases to WeWork in exchange for rent money. Between 2016-2019, WeWork paid more than $20 million to the investors, which includes Neumann. That means he directly benefits by the rents charged to his own company.

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Commercial Real Estate Disruption

WeWork started as a coworking business, but it has become much more than just that. The coworking giant has disrupted not only the coworking industry but also the commercial real estate business as it continues to diversify its investments. WeWork has started to purchase buildings and then lease them out to their members at a greater cost, but for flexible leasing terms. WeWork has more than 5.2 million square feet of commercial real estate in New York City alone. If WeWork were to fail, it could mean that commercial real estate prices in large coworking hubs, like London and New York, could suddenly plunge, affecting many other smaller independent businesses and possibly local economies.

What They Didn't Mention

Not mentioned in the filing is the occupancy rate or vacancy rate. Earlier this year, WSJ reported that occupancy rates had decreased to 80%. As time goes on, this specific information might be requested from the company.

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