- People book conference rooms.
- Let people check in and check out.
- Let people book hot desks.
- Manage access for members, hot desks, event participants etc.
- Lots of other stuff.
At some point, the off the shelf software is no good, especially if you're looking to... build a single experience around the world for lots and lots of office buildings under your management! The software will have a lot of other admin and reporting doodads. Especially if you're trying to turn your office company into an everything company. Then the scope goes way up.
You might even start thinking about managing everything because you're a control freak... stuff like central air con control and energy use analytics across all properties... I'm just throwing stuff out there, I've never worked for WeWork.
Does this justify hundreds of engineers? It is so easy to hire more people when you have a massive war chest. Projects begin to justify themselves because you'll need them "soon enough". And if the founder pulls it off, then they're a genius! Or not.
Once WeWork solved its core engineering problems (bookings), engineering job descriptions got more and more abstract - "build the operating system for the workspace", "bridge the gap between physical and digital", "create a sense of community", "humanize through technology" (all copied directly from their engineering website), so it's clear that they are paying thousands of engineers to do nothing.
I know for a fact that they have large data and machine learning teams spread across SF, NYC, Tel Aviv, Shanghai and maybe more that collect and analyze data from all their operations - few hundred offices and few hundred thousand members. At this scale there is zero reason not to use off-the-shelf products (or pay one of the dozens of companies out there that specialize in this), but they decided to custom build all the infra in-house from scratch.
That's going to be an awkward presentation to management when they present their revenue forecasts under different economic scenarios...
And another 480 to change the UI in annoying and unnecessary ways every three days.
I liked the product, and wanted to purchase it. We Co had so over funded Teem that the sales people couldn't keep up. They were doing demos with experienced Sales Engineers and literally couldn't explain how things worked. We had 2 demos in 2 successive weeks and the product fundamentally looked different both times.
Think about that: Imagine having unlimited eng and product resources and pushing code so fast that your sales team can't keep up sounds good right?
Wrong...we didn't buy Teem we went with their competitor who was behind on a few items, but had a concise product and a concise roadmap that met our needs, not the needs of 1000 coworking spaces tied together.
They also were into custom spaces. They needed software to design the office floor plans for big customers like MixPanel.
Lots of software. Not just booking rooms and events.
That sound like some useless bullshit if I've ever heard it.
This is an algorithmically hard problem, and I'm not surprised that there might be significant benefits to investing in solving it very well.
The problem is interesting, but it isn't one you need to set up an entire engineering team to solve.
Binpacking is np-hard but humans still do a very good job of playing Tetris. It is hard to imagine getting a positive return on automating something they (in the long run) will do a few times a year.
”there’s a team of 5 Monday to Wednesday, one of 7 Tuesday that also have a meeting room, one of 4 Tuesday to Friday, one of 3 for the next three weeks, one of 2 that have to sit side-by-side, …. Figure out who to place where, minimizing the times we have to tell customers to move desk, maximizing the ‘cohesion’ of desks assigned to each group. Oh, and do this knowing that the problem may change at any time”
And all of that, hopefully, in a building with a high occupancy rate, all the time.
That's totally fair. I think they actually do some other types of more mundane optimization that are geared towards managing the properties. I think a number of the engineers also work on the learning platform for their education services.
In fact it sounds way more useful than most software projects I see.
And the software to do those things isn't worth billions.
There are LOTS of companies spending a million a month or more on AWS.
That would be $52M per year. I would guess there are under 100 companies with that kind of AWS bill and probably closer to a couple dozen with that kind of spend.
edit: I suppose Chaos Monkey could be purposed for this task in hindsight.
A test is not 'proven unnecessary' if you temporarily disable it, and show that a bug does not arise to fill it up!
If you're affected by the WeWork layoffs and looking for a new role, fill this out: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdx4TOVN7AdgvyAZGbq...
If you're interested in recruiting ex-WeWork folks, you can look them up here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/14CAtBsn3ZTL59tNMVbew...
If I were running Twitter, I would freeze the feature creep, have a robust security and site-reliability team, perhaps make small improvements to UI/UX by eliminating friction/impedance. Similar to how Craigslist and surprisingly how Ebay is today - it is pretty much the same experience as 2008, I vividly remember. Instead, engineering resources can be channeled to new ventures (or augmentation projects) for additional growth.
Plus, the problems you need to solve get more complicated, you have new compliance needs, paying customers are demanding new features that may require changes across your entire stack, performance is more of an issue (saving 3% of your compute costs didn't matter when you were paying $500/month for infrastructure, but saving 3% of 10 million dollars/month starts turning into real money) and writing and deploying software used by hundreds of millions of people is literally orders of magnitude harder than software a few million people use.
If you go to their about page, they show a little table, where they have 163 million monthly active users and only 966 employees. Not sure how good this comparison is with Google and Amazon because the kind of tools Amazon builds vs what Automattic builds (WooCommerce, Wordpress) are totally different.
Simply making a process 2% more efficient can save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Or increasing advertising conversions by 1%. etc etc.
There aren't many technical challenges I have encountered, when reduced to their smallest functional dimensions, that couldn't be fundamentally addressed by a single engineer. Obviously, efforts like writing an entire (practical) operating system are impossible for a single engineer to accomplish, but even then a single engineer could lead the entire effort or massive parts of the effort (e.g. the Linux kernel).
Conversely, I have seen far too many cases of "too many chefs in the kitchen" when it comes to a software project. This is the end of the spectrum where you end up stuck on Docker with a stochastic and otherwise insane architecture that isn't even consistent within each product, much less across the entire organization.
Say that a tweak to the page improves ad revenue by $50M. 98% of tweaks have neutral or negative effects. The expected value of the tweak is thus $1M, well over one engineer's salary. You need to have 50 of them going on in parallel to have a good chance of actually finding a successful tweak, though. (Well, technically about 150 to have a 95% confidence that at least one will prove useful, but there's also a good chance that more than one will be useful then.) That's what all the engineers are doing - independently implementing different changes and discarding 98% of the results.
When I did this kind of work, the vast majority of engineering time was actually spent measuring the results. It was not unusual for the actual implementation work to be done in about 3 hours, but the experiment design, approval, configuration, logging, data-collection, and analysis to take 3 weeks. And that was with a fair amount of existing tooling for measurement & process.
Hopefully Windows 10X puts an end to the "10x developer" meme.
Majority of its business value goes to real estate owners.
Also see the other child comment: Once you have a significant amount of revenue, investing the effort improve things by 0.1% (or even 0.01%) can have a not-insignificant impact on the bottom line.
WeWork has 466 thousand members.
The scale is quite different.
If they were a normal company, they’d focus on the top x projects that generate value and spend as little as possible on the rest.
I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the basic twitter.com tweeting/commenting/retweeting system isn't remotely the most complex system that Twitter even has.
edit: This is based on some of the pointless pie in the orbit of pluto projects I've heard they were trying to work on.
EDIT: Nevermind, I got confused with this part of the article:
> New York-based WeWork has roughly 15,000 employees
Though pretty much everyone expects that number to drop a good bit with layoffs (including this one) in the coming months.
- API on top of Kubernetes: 2 people
- Tools around the API on top of Kubernetes: 1 person
- API and tools specific for continuous integration: 2 people
- Database operation: 2 people
- Event/Data pipeline: 5 people
- Authentication: 3 people
- Mobile API: 2 people
- Mobile App: 2 people
- Web API: 4 people
- Web App: 4 people
- ETL/Data science: 5 people
- Document writers, testers, new tech on-boarding evangelists: 5 people
That's 40 people for one feature. And you have 12 features, you need 500 people.
A WeWork-like model has appeal to someone like me that would love good coffee and an office/hoteling space! Especially as I travel a lot and sometimes want a reliable private workspace in an arbitrary city. Coffee shops frankly don’t cut it for working/meeting with people all day.
Also there’s often a need for meeting spaces in arbitrary cities. my company would have used an airBNB style conference room scheduling solution half a dozen times last year.
All to say there’s at least a potential customer base here. Whether it’s a profitable business model, well, maybe :)
At first, he said he was confused why the kitchen of all places was constantly the most time-costly area of his properties to clean. Then one of the renters let him know what was going on.
Now there's an opportunity.
Edit: Googled it, You are NOT kidding wow. On the one hand, it's a great idea. On the other hand CloudKitchens?
I grok that, but...is the target market here DevOps people who make a great alfredo on the side?
In either case, you can imagine opting in to a monthly spend for N employees of your company, at some kind of discount, to spend at the cafeteria. Wouldn't be much different from the private club model of running a restaurant, where you have a given monthly spend that you have to use no matter what. And everyone in the WeWork already has badges so it'd be simple tap-to-pay that would go directly onto/against your monthly coworking bill.
These exist. They exist all over the world. Regus being one.
If you think the services for a wedding are expensive, try booking a convention. Companies have way more money to spend than random couples do, and the hotels/convention centers know it.
For example, here's a typical catering menu for a convention center. Note that most of these prices are per person, and also note all the extra fees that they'll ding you for on pages 2-4 on top of the already high food costs (e.g. $2 per meal and break per person for plates).
(There's a reason why we try not to design database like that. Perhaps there is a management lesson in there somewhere.)
tl;dr They used sensors to determine that people drink coffee in the morning and the line was long. They also used sensors to determine that small groups of people were booking large conference rooms so they made more small conference rooms.
WeWork’s potential lies in what might happen when you apply AI to the environment where most of us spend the majority of our waking hours. I head down one floor to meet Mark Tanner, a WeWork product manager, who shows me a proprietary software system that the company has built to manage the 335 locations it now operates around the world. He starts by pulling up an aerial view of the WeWork floor I had just visited. My movements, from the moment I stepped off the elevator, have been monitored and captured by a sophisticated system of sensors that live under tables, above couches, and so forth. It’s part of a pilot that WeWork is testing to explore how people move through their workday. The machines pick up all kinds of details, which WeWork then uses to adjust everything from design to hiring. For example, sensors installed near this office’s main-floor self-serve coffee station helped WeWork discern that the morning lines were too long, so they added a barista. The larger conference rooms rarely got filled to capacity–often just two or three people would use rooms designed for 20–so the company is refashioning some spaces for smaller groups. (WeWork executives assure me that “the sensors do not capture personal identifiable information.”)
As someone else mentioned, cool/potentially profitable company. Just not worth 40B.
The idea that this was anything close to being "AI" is a bit silly. The insight that there were long lines for coffee in the morning and small groups were taking large conference rooms are simple observations that one person could've made and written a report about.
This spring I talked to their software engineering manager/lead at a tech meetup in Shanghai (the guy was from SF) and he said that they plan to hire tens of engineers just to analyze their beer consumption data to optimize supply.
In fact, that guy has probably long since left and is doing his own beer analytics startup.
The morale there must be terrible. Anyone good who survives the cuts will GTFO to greener pastures.
Anyone who stays or anyone desperate enough to join will be terrible.
Good bye We, consider this my eulogy, we hardly knew ye, and may you rest in peepee.