WeWork has built its business around community. But its distributed network of locations may have been what helped the company make its use base even larger. “We were the first physical business to expand as aggressively internationally simultaneously before we actually owned the U.S.,” said Jennifer Berrent, chief operating officer at WeWork, onstage this week at the Fast Company Innovation Festival.
Long before WeWork had brand recognition, says Berrent, the company made the decision to grow internationally. She says the company was barely known in its home city of New York, let alone in smaller cities around the U.S. As it was making plans to expand, certain questions arose.
“Should we own the U.S. like most other physical companies have done—be it Starbucks, Walmart, the Gap, any company that has an exceptional physical presence—or do we do cities of the world, and do we really start having our presence all around the world at the same time?” she asked.
What the company found was that members were as interested in having access to offices in places like Shanghai, London, Tokyo, and Berlin as they were in other major cities in the U.S. Starting in 2014, WeWork began to open international offices in Amsterdam, London, and Tel Aviv. At that point it had a total of just 21 offices, according to a Forbes article in 2014. “We were almost barely known,” says Berrent, “and when we went to smaller cities, we would find coworking spaces with much more brand equity than WeWork had.”
Using its global growth strategy, WeWork has grown to 287 locations worldwide; its member base now totals 268,000. The company has gone from courting small businesses and startups to major corporations. A year and a half ago, the company launched a product called Powered By We, in which WeWork designs, constructs, and operates offices for corporate clients. A compelling piece of that business is something called “Global Pass,” which entitles businesses to use WeWork’s network of desks and office spaces around the world. As it continues to pursue big businesses, these kinds of flexible arrangements allow companies to move workers around the world for various periods of time.
While there is still a lot of competition in the coworking arena, WeWork has managed to capture the attention of big investors. Existing investor SoftBank is considering taking a majority stake in the company, which could push WeWork’s current $20 billion valuation up to $40 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. Such funding only serves to assist WeWork in its global conquest.