A Fraction of the Price
I think what’s really powerful about today as it relates to starting a business is that you can now purchase everything for a fraction of its full price! So, you used to need a company car; now you have an Uber account or a Zipcar account. You used to need lots and lots of servers; now I have an Amazon Web Services account. WeWork does something similar for space. You used to need to sign a five- or ten-year lease, or at least a three-year sublease. Now you come to WeWork and you take space on a month-to-month basis. You only pay for what you need—for an environment that’s really lively and full of other like-minded people, and you derive all this business value from that community and from that platform.
You need to keep in mind that you’re going to hit adversity and determine how you’ll navigate that adversity. Seth Godin wrote a book called The Dip, and the idea was basically that when you start a new concept, you have this upswing of enthusiasm about the potential and the excitement in yourself, and then you realize how hard it is and your motivation dips. You should take the dip into account when you ask yourself whether you should start putting your idea into action. In other words, ask yourself: “Can I do this, try it, persevere beyond the dip, and keep going? Do I have that much in it to begin with?”
You know going in that you’re going to encounter adversity. Whether it comes in month one or month six or whenever—that’s TBD—but I think you have to know that going in, and so when you hit it, you have that perspective and you see it for what it is. It’s the dip on the journey, and you grind through it and you do what you need to do.
Communicating the Value Proposition
Are there obstacles to communicating the value proposition of shared space to companies? The answer is absolutely, like there are with any big, disruptive concepts. There are many people who are just stuck in this idea of “I’ve been in business a long time, I think about space as a function of square feet per employee,” and that’s not the way that we present our offering. So the challenge is reframing people’s thinking from this notion of a square foot to a notion of a platform and a collective set of benefits, with some of those benefits deriving from this kind of intangible thing that we call community. But we see people adapting to this way of thinking every day. More and more people are coming to us and saying, “I see the value in what you’re doing. I want to be part of that. I have to plug into that.”
Focusing on the Mission
What I’m seeing in WeWork in this moment where we’re growing so rapidly is super exciting, and it’s exhilarating. Obviously, it’s also super challenging. There’s just a lot of work to do to capture the opportunity, and as the member community grows, there’s just more and more potential in it. But if I had to zoom out on that and say, “What are the the things that are key in this environment to rapid growth?” the first probably is just focus: really knowing why we’re here, what the mission is. It’s this idea of giving people a way to make a life and not just a living. It’s giving a platform for entrepreneurs, creators, freelancers, and businesspeople where they can come together and collaborate and accelerate their vision, whether that’s a nonprofit or a for-profit. That clarity, that focus, that sense of purpose is critical.
Hiring the Right People
And then the next piece probably is finding the right people to join that that mission. And so that’s about hiring. When I joined the company, we had a couple hundred employees, and today we have about 1,500 employees. So hiring and how you hire is critical. You can’t grow rapidly unless you nail that. And then, obviously, the whole people piece of the business is an extension of that.
And then the other thing is really looking for ways to create little systems. In startups we’re always talking about something such as a behavior or a tool or a product will scale. When you’re in a customer-facing business like this, where we’re in front of the member every day, all day, I think it’s important to find simple little behaviors that you can systematize so that you’re not recreating an action from scratch every time. This allows us to share the learning that happens in one building with the other 73 buildings.
We’re learning faster than anybody else. And the reason we’re learning faster is because we have this clear sense of focus, because we hire with that sense of focus. With each new building that we put out in the market, in each new city and in each new country, it’s another set of data points coming in about how the building systems work, how the team is structured, how we write our member agreements, and on and on. All these things relate to the velocity of the business.