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Beyond the entire conversation about whether this is legal or illegal, and whether this is typical or atypical, there is a much more significant issue.

The entire image and “vibe” of this guy / his team is supposed to be an egalitarian re-invention of the status quo. The kibbutz story. The “community adjusted EBITDA.” The rebranding to “We.” But this sort of real estate self-dealing isn’t a We move, it’s a Me move. And thus, we find ourselves facing a bigger issue that is far more troubling if you’re a shareholder or employee (and somewhat enjoyable if you’re a competitor): the emperor has no clothes and the CEO is full of shit. He is self-serving and isn’t optimizing for the benefit of those around him.

As others in the tech industry are only beginning to figure out, once your curated narrative dies and the reality of who you really are comes to the surface, an unstoppable cycle of “bad press” and “negative sentiment” emerges. That’s a hard cycle to work out of, especially if the value of your company is predicated on your image / the image of the company. Hiring Obama’s speech writer and lobbying Congress doesn’t fix the underlying issue, and eventually you’re living in a Reverse Metcalf’s Law situation that’s scaling in the wrong direction.

As WeWork is built on an image of selling “a new, better way of working” to companies of all sizes, it becomes extremely problematic if people start to associate the brand with “the rich keep getting richer, and they’re screwing us over and working us to the bone along the way.” An image of a “collaborative enterprise” becomes a laughable fantasy novel next to the reality of, “we are funded by third world despots and our CEO is lining his pockets with as much of our money as possible, while scheming up ways to do petty things such as avoid paying the cleaning staff any sort of decent wages or benefits.”

This isn’t the We Company. It’s the Me Company. That’s not very innovative. That doesn’t foster greater productivity. And eventually, a lot of tenants aren’t going to pay for it, because it seems a lot of them really think they’re paying to be part of a progressive, futuristic environment. If their smartest and most progressive employees start telling them they don’t want to visit the office, they’re going to get rid of that office. Companies’ desire to please their knowledge workers — what originally drove WeWork’s success — thus ends up killing it.




I really don't know what you're talking about. I'm a WeWork customer - we rent an office at a WeWork for our small company.

We're not at WeWork because of hype, or the image of the CEO, or anything like that. We're at a WeWork because it's a cheap/easy way to get an office, that we can scale when the company grows with minimal issues since it's month to month. We shopped around a few competitors, WeWork happened to be the best combination of price vs. space vs. availability, so we went with that.

I haven't exactly done a poll, but I doubt that most WeWork customers know or care about WeWork's culture too much - they just need an office, and WeWork is providing a cost-effective solution. Maybe it's artificial because of VC money - if so, I certainly don't care - it'll be good while it lasts!

For contrast: at my previous company, we also wanted to move to an office (instead of working out of my apartment). We spent a huge amount of time looking at offices, and ended up staying put, because it was hard to find a decent office with a decent price, and signing up for a 2-year lease is a huge commitment which is not fun to make when you don't know the future size of the company - do you get lots more space than you need and pay extra? Do you get less space and are in a tough spot if you grow too fast?


> We're at a WeWork because it's a cheap/easy way to get an office, that we can scale when the company grows with minimal issues since it's month to month

Where is WeWork month to month? Yes the open plan area is month to month, but the instant you try to get a private room they want you to sign a 6 month commitment.

I have not gone to ones in the US, though. This is outside the US. Are they truly, genuinely cancel-any-time month to month? Or "yeah it's month to month but if you cancel before 6 months is up you have to pay 50% of the remaining months"?


I've managed WeWork leases in both SF and NYC and they were both month to month with a dedicated office. I think there is a 30 day out but it was pretty easy.

There is some variation between offices though, so entirely possible you had a different experience.


Alright, I am going to check again. Thanks!


I think that's fair. I also think you represent the initial use case and one that's still very relevant today. WeWork has made it clear though that real growth for them now needs to come from mid and large companies willing to use their services at scale and have had some success doing that. I would pivot a little away from OP's "human sentimental" angle and more towards "this obvious ethical lapse, and a board that can't or won't control it" will make those larger organizations pause before becoming too dependent upon WeWork.


I never got that image from WeWork. Anyone around during late 2008-2009 knows what happened to leases and rents. It seemed apparent from the beginning that WeWork was just exchanging future risk for current cash, and thus everything else was marketing farcical bullshit.

The fact that no one can actually do real work at a WeWork was just icing on the shit pie.


I'm currently in a non-WeWork co-working space. It's not clear what you mean with "The fact that no one can actually do real work at a WeWork was just icing on the shit pie.".


My guess is that this person is super angry about open plan offices


WeWork isn't an open plan office. At least, not the one I work in in London. We just pay an extraordinary amount of money for a small glass-walled room. We internally have an open plan office, but that's just because we opted for a single WeWork room.


At least in my NYC WeWork the sound isolation is so bad that it might as well be an open office. I can clearly hear all the phone conversations my WeWork neighbors make. I assume they can hear mine as well.


The two I've been in in seattle have been basically silent inside our office.


One of the reasons that I didn't sign up for a WeWork space was that it seemed to noisy. WeWork plans social events in the office every day.

I guess it's good if you like to meet people. Not so much if you need a quiet space to work.


Don’t they serve beer whole day there? Or have they stopped doing that? I guess that was seen as one reason why you couldn’t get serious work done.


in the book Disrupted (about the author's time working at Hubspot), he posits that the free beer offered at startups is to soften the blow of the long working hours and relatively low salaries.

In this case, the free beer might be an intentional way to take "loud room I can't work in", to "laid back atmosphere I feel home in". The latter is false, but it's not as bad as being stuck with "loud room I can't work in".


Different people have different fcactors effecting quality of life. Some people want something more laid back and are willing to give up salary. Others want to optimize salary and work at a big corporation. The market can take a number of strategies—it’s up to the employees to vote with their feet. Given the inherent instability of startups and if they in fact do it less, that vote should be easy to cast if someone is not satisfied.


Drinking or not drinking beer during the times you should be productive is a matter of self-discipline and I doubt it has any direct relation to productivity.

Disclaimer: I work in a private office in a London WeWork and the free beer is a nice to have, even if it wasn't a consideration while picking an office.


The place I'm in doesn't serve beer at all. I can see that not being great for productivity.


I tend to think the beer, or the bar serving it, are not the ones at fault.


> The entire image and “vibe” of this guy / his team is supposed to be an egalitarian re-invention of the status quo. The kibbutz story. The “community adjusted EBITDA.” The rebranding to “We.”

This is all just marketing. It's like believing all the actors in a commercial really are elated and blissful just because they chose the right brand of soda.


It's not. It's a product. Once you let go of the 'cool vibe' brand, you get an overpriced cowork and no one will use that.

Like a luxury alcohol makers, they are selling identity, not chair by hour.


In this case yes.

But I think it's very important to remember that companies can have moral standards and follow them. Many companies don't sell-out in crucial ways, and throwing one's hands up and condemning them all is punishing the ones that stay true.

I think moral outrage is a very important and effective market force. It will do things our government never could, like take down facebook. I'm glad we have this tool.


> But I think it's very important to remember that companies can have moral standards and follow them. Many companies don't sell-out in crucial ways, and throwing one's hands up and condemning them all is punishing the ones that stay true.

I agree, which is why I criticize shallow analysis of a company's motivation based on its skin-deep marketing veneer.

In this case it's not even moral standards - the implication is that WeWork's CEO is neglecting his fiduciary duty to maximize shareholder value by lining his pocket instead.

That's in fact a corruption of capitalism, it's illegal, and he can be sued for that by shareholders.

> I think moral outrage is a very important and effective market force.

I completely agree, which is why it's important to look beyond the marketing.

If a company can breach standards of morality and decency, but get away thanks to some 30 seconds commercial featuring smiling kids, then we will not be effective as a public in enforcing those very real consequences that companies should face for their actions.


To add to what the other commenter noted about varying levels of truth...

There is marketing of product and then marketing of company and then marketing of person/people. Not only does each have varying levels of truth, but each also has varying types of intent. The later in SV seems designed to encourage beliefs about a person or company that are immune to facts that counter them.

Branding it as marketing starts, to me, to sound like a convenient cover for propaganda.


Embracing militant veganism as a "marketing" gimmick, to name one example, sounds even more psychopathic than usual for marketing.


Marketing can be based on varying depths of truth. Generally speaking, the greater the depth the greater the long term value and efficacy of the marketing. (Marketing is not always a veneer.)


Either way, the truth value can be deduced by taking a hard, penetrating, objective look at the commercial entity, its policies, actions, and impacts.

It is not ascertained by buying into the shallowest outer layer of its marketing veneer.


Absolutely.


petty things such as avoid paying the cleaning staff any sort of decent wages or benefits.”

It’s pathological. WeWork, Google, Facebook and all the rest don’t need to shaft their cleaners, catering staff, security guards etc. The cost is a rounding error and it’s directly antithetical to their stated brand values. But they just can’t help themselves.


I believe there was a NYT story posted last year about how all custodial services are contracted out these days, and ye olde American success story of 'going from the janitor supply closet to the boardroom' was gone forever. The used an example of a cleaner at HP in the early '80s who became a manager of some sort.

The comments on that article? Mostly something along the lines of "maximizing shareholder value" and "fiduciary duty to the corporation". Anything to avoid having to admit that this is wrong.


I remember a similar story but from Kodak. I think the shareholder narrative and the race to the bottom started in the 70/80s has lead to the current situation. Short term mentality and spreadsheet driven management has taken a toll on the American dream. It seems like the last blue collar stronghold- drivers- is the one under siege right now and bound to collapse in the coming decade(s?). It does worry me to think about easily we are able to brush that aspect of technology to the back of our minds and pretend it’s not going to affect almost everybody in one way or another


I think Kodak was the company in the article, actually.

> Short term mentality and spreadsheet driven management has taken a toll on the American dream.

Yes, but stock market growth since the '80s is a big reason why the "wealth" of the average American has increased, even though wages have stagnated and debt has increased. One hand has been feeding the other for a long time.


Sadly, this is the way that IT is going as well. It's getting harder to start at the help desk and work your way into a real position anywhere. When we interviewed for a Desktop Support person, 80% (my guesstimate) of our applicants only had (limited) access to the Office 365 portal, performed basic password resets, and did shit-work like wipe drives. They were totally silo'd out of being able to grow. They weren't even given local admin permissions on workstations to be able to do any real troubleshooting.

Of course, all this is in the name of "security" and the least-privilege thing. It's horse shit really. You need to be able to trust your employees and then audit. But it's easier to manage people when you can just lock them into a position and leave them there to rot.


Helpdesk?! Outsourced development for major institutions is done that the developer has a remote access to the virtual machine with the IDE, repository cloned, etc. Growth? Your are a JAVA+Angular whore. Complaints? This workplace is for team-players only. Fired? Revoke the access with one click.


WeWork’s customers are also maintaining their own curated narrative. Many of them don’t actually care about ideology, they just want a hip co-working space where they can drink beer and socialize with other startups and “crush it” everyday.

It’s only fitting that the owner would also be full of shit.


I won't vote you down, but I think this is a pretty gross generalisation, is it not?

For every person shouting about crushing it and hammering back booze there are another handful quietly getting on with their work, happy to have an office space with stable, fast internet, clean, stocked kitchens, 24 hour access and clean, comfortable spaces - where they don't have to worry about sorting bills and contracts, cleaners, etc etc etc.


I'm genuinely curious. WeWork seems seriously over priced. At one person it's maybe 25%-50% more then else where. At 4 people it's like 300% more and keeps getting worse.

A couple of examples. Friends in Pasadena have an office that could fit 6 comfortably, 8 less so. $1300 a month. Guy at WeWork 1 block way, $1100 a month for an office just big enough to fit one desk.

A "hot desk" in Tokyo is $490 a month where as at my co-working space my dedicated desk is $400 a month. That includes "fast internet", meeting rooms, printers, copiers, cheap snacks, receptionist, networking events, cleaners, open 24/7 etc... The rent 3 person private office for $1k where as WeWork a single person private office is $1100.

They claim "coffee". Hardly seems like coffee is work $1k a month. Besides, there's probably 11 craft coffee places withing a 3 minute walk of my office.

And it's not an exception, there's been an explosion of co-working / shared office spaces in Tokyo over the last 2-4 years.


Speaking of coffee, so many people think that you need to go to some hip overpriced place to get caffeine. It's not true, and they are all just complete idiots hypnotized by marketing. I can literally buy a 6 lb tub of restaurant-quality instant coffee for the cost of about 15-20 of the overpriced "pour overs" you can get from your local hipster who went to barista school.

The great thing about instant coffee is that you don't even need hot water to make it. I've found that it mixes up great with cold water in one of those protein drink shakers with the little springy balls.

This is awesome because there's no heat or hot water in the storage unit I'm renting. That's a subject for another post, but I just need a parka and a pair of fingerless gloves to get the exact same experience as those co-working hipsters. Plus, I'm not subjected to the torture of an open plan office. My unit is in the basement, and it's dead quiet.

I'm sitting here, only five subway stops away from the fancy WeWork downtown, laughing my ass off at the startup bros high-fiving and "crushing it". I've got a way better experience, and all in I'm saving like $100-200 per month over those hipster bros.


Sounds fine if you don't care too much how your coffee tastes. Granted, buying coffee from a cafe always comes with a markup, but nice fresh-ground coffee beans (which you can also do at home and do pour over if you want) definitely beat instant coffee.


Aeropress + an electric kettle == pretty good coffee with roughly the hassle factor of instant.

Honestly, I think it's even decent with coffee that's ground ahead of time if it's stored well. Alternatively you can use it to make coffee concentrate that will keep for a few days in a fridge.


Grandparent is definitely being sarcastic...


No he’s not? I didn’t find that post particularly sarcastic, caffeine is just a chemical. If all you care about is getting a quick fix all the extra taste and ceremony has no added value.


I was unsure myself until I got to this:

"This is awesome because there's no heat or hot water in the storage unit I'm renting. That's a subject for another post, but I just need a parka and a pair of fingerless gloves to get the exact same experience as those co-working hipsters."

a spectacular work of satire


There's a big difference in taste between cold instant coffee and a pour over. If you don't care about the coffee itself, I suggest caffeine pills. A half pill is equal to a cup of coffee and you can get the equivalent of 200 cups for $10.


Wow, I literally cannot tell if this comment is trying to sarcastic or serious.


Same here. I read it 3 times and am still unsure. Leaning towards sarcastic, though. I think it's just really subtle satire.


What instant coffee brand do you recommend?


I hypothesize that every university main campus has, nearby, a small-business incubator building with individual offices for lease. And I suspect that a good percentage of commuter campuses have them, too. If those are unavailable, class B office space is readily available in single-story strip-mall form, and sometimes old industrial buildings get converted to class C.

Your startup business probably does not require couches, stocked kitchens, and wi-fi. It needs a mailing address, a phone number, a website, and a way for people to pay you. Those folding tables from Costco will still be useful after you can afford real desks.


You can get 90% of that for a half or quarter the cost at a B grade office building, and not deal with noisy neighbors or occupied conference rooms. It usually takes committing to a contract, but if you're not ready to do that you probably don't need office space.


Just to counter your point - I worked from home as a freelancer for about 4 years. I decided I wanted separation between church and state, as it were. Definitely wasn't ready for a contract, but have been in a WeWork for 3+ years now (and am still happy to not have to commit to location/broadband/cleaner/whatever). I'm sure I could have paid for cheaper work space (although, London) - but the money I've made from meeting people here and chatting over lunch / coffee that I didn't have when I worked from home and attended meetups has more than covered everything I've spent. Not to mention my productivity increased noticeably.


Except there's no free beer anymore.

Which should tell you something's up with their finances.




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