WeWork rebrands to The We Company, moves beyond space provision

By Amy Tan / EdgeProp Singapore | February 15, 2019 1:00 PM SGT
In January, the world’s largest co-working space provider WeWork announced that it is rebranding itself as The We Company. Under this new name, the company will expand into other areas, and will comprise three business units – WeWork, which deals with coworking; WeLive, which deals with residential spaces; and WeGrow, which includes an elementary school and coding academy.
Expanding its service offerings in Singapore, WeWork has launched its eponymous start-up lab at City House at the corner of Robinson Road and Boon Tat Street in the CBD. The City House location is one of nine co-working spaces that WeWork has in Singapore to date.
Present in 425 locations around the world, WeWork has more than 400,000 members. Through its labs, the firm hopes to nurture promising start-ups by giving them access to mentors and potential investors through this platform.
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The WeWork Labs concept was introduced last year in countries such as the US, South Korea, Brazil, Israel and India. Since its launch, the labs have supported more than 1,000 start-ups. “We don’t actually invest in these companies ourselves or take any equity,” says Turochas “T” Fuad, WeWork’s managing director for Southeast Asia. “It is sort of an incubation programme to help these companies grow and remove some of the challenges that they face in the early stages as a start-up.”
WeWork launched its eponymous Lab at its City House location (Credit: Samuel Issac Chua/Edgeprop Singapore)
Each lab location has a manager who takes on the role of collaborator and innovator. In Southeast Asia, Adrian Tan heads this initiative. Previously, Tan was a programme director at Vietnam Innovative Startup Accelerator (Viisa) as well as entrepreneur-in-residence and programme manager at Singapore-based start-up incubator Joyful Frog Digital Innovation (JFDI). As head of WeWork Labs, he will be organising lecture series and meetings with potential investors for start-ups.
“At the end of the day, MNCs also want to work with start-ups and entrepreneurs to create something that is more specific to their industry,” says Fuad. “So, we become the bridge between companies. We give them a place to work, and tap into our global network or mentorship programme.”
WeWork, however, is not the only co-working operator assisting start-ups. On Feb 11, JustCo announced that it has partnered Trive Ventures, a Singapore-based venture capital firm, to launch a nine-month start-up incubation programme at JustCo in Marina Square.
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For Fuad, WeWork Labs is the company’s way of giving back to the start-up community. “Think of this as another product or solution that we offer – in this case, targeting the start-up ecosystem. In a way, we are helping to grease the wheels in the ecosystem in the country that we participate in and contribute to,” he says. Outside Singapore, the company has also launched the platform in Bangkok.
Additionally, WeWork has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Ngee Ann Polytechnic in a collaboration under the school’s Global Entrepreneurial Internship Programme (GEIP). Through the programme, students have a shot of getting an internship at WeWork Lab’s start-ups. Students can also take part in training programmes that are relevant to the needs of the community in key Southeast Asian cities such as Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta. Students will be able to use WeWork’s collaborative spaces in these locations.
Addressing growing needs
Since opening its Singapore flagship space, WeWork Beach Centre, at end-2017, the company has expanded to nine locations, with almost all of them achieving close to full occupancy. Its members typically take up leases of more than 24 months. The company now has a waitlist of companies wanting to lease its spaces.
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Long-time members, such as job-search engine provider Indeed, have continued to lease space even after expansion. Indeed was one of WeWork’s first members at its Beach Centre location. At that time, the company was looking for an office space for 30 people, and now, they are occupying an entire floor at Beach Centre.
“We’ve actually got another floor at Beach Centre just to serve the needs of Indeed in terms of their growth in Singapore,” says Fuad. “So, now they have close to 200 members sitting in our Beach Centre location with a dedicated floor just for them.”
Currently, 45% of WeWork’s members in Singapore are large MNCs. The remaining are a mix of freelancers, SMEs and start-ups.
According to data from HR&A Advisors, having a WeWork co-working space can help generate as much as 29% in rent premiums for landlords.
In January, conglomerate Softbank Group announced that it is slashing its investment in WeWork from US$16 billion ($21.7 billion) to US$2 billion. Fuad states that before the reduction, Softbank had already invested more than US$10 billion in the last 12 to 18 months.
Demand for co-working space is also set to continue. He observes: “We don’t see demand hitting its cap just yet. If anything, we are getting a lot more people asking for similar working arrangements that WeWork provides and, at the same time, they are asking for different locations across the island as well.”
For now, WeWork is focused on locations in the CBD but will soon look at locations outside the CBD where there is “a hub of different segments and markets that different companies are at”, he says.
For Fuad, WeWork Labs is the company’s way of giving back to the start-up community. (Credit: Samuel Issac Chua/Edgeprop Singapore)
Unlocking value
Outside Singapore, WeWork will debut its first Malaysian location at Equatorial Plaza, Kuala Lumpur, in the coming weeks. The new location will have the capacity to accommodate 1,900 desks across five floors and will be the largest WeWork space in Southeast Asia.
The space is created with a local partner, Douglas Cheng, director of Daman Land, as part of WeWork’s participating lease partnership. Fuad shares that the partnership will see Daman Land maintaining the lease and providing the capital for operations. Meanwhile, WeWork will design and manage the space.
“This [arrangement] allows us to tap into a local partner that understands the local market a lot better than us. At the same time, it lets us apply a global playbook and localise it to fit that particular country, allowing us to expand and diversify a lot better,” he adds.
Looking ahead, WeWork is banking on this strategy to expand. “Our CEO is a huge proponent of regionalisation, so if you walk through our floor area, every single function that is required to run the company here is all sitting in Singapore,” he says. “Of course, we work closely with headquarters to ensure the branding is consistent. We are never just selling an American product. We localise it as much as we can.”