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Now that coworking startup WeWork has made its IPO filing public, the company faces the burden of convincing investors to look past its gaping losses to see its revolutionary workplace potential.
“Our space-as-a-service offering significantly reduces the complexity of leasing real estate to a simplified membership model, while delivering a premium experience to our members at a lower price relative to traditional alternatives and moving fixed lease costs to variable costs for our members,” the company says in its S-1. “Our membership model is transforming the way individuals and organizations consume commercial real estate.”
The company had secretly filed its prospectus with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission months ago. But today it made the filing public in anticipation of what is expected to be a public offering in September.
The company did not reveal how many shares it plans to sell, though it included a placeholder figure saying it would raise $1 billion in the offering. The actual number is expected to be higher, and WeWork indicated it plans to separately raise $6 billion in debt financing.
But first it will have to overcome the skepticism it likely faces after reporting a $904 million net loss for the first six months of 2019, with revenue of $1.5 billion.
Given a growing backlash over the massive losses posted by recent IPO giants like Uber, WeWork is making its public debut at a tricky time. But in the filing the company insists its losses are nothing to worry about because they represent investments in infrastructure that will pay big returns over the long term.
As long as it properly manages its debt, WeWork says, its business has a robust future, in part because its real estate management technology, its membership model, and its ability to create community enable it to lease space to members at costs up to 66% lower than if they leased their own office space directly. That technology has included a rash of acquisitions to extend the services WeWork offers clients.
Whether investors swallow this story or not, the company has clearly had a huge impact on the conversation about workspaces. Founded in 2010, WeWork has raised $8 billion in venture capital, led by SoftBank Ventures and Benchmark. The filing says WeWork now has 528 locations in 111 cities across 29 countries with 527,000 memberships.
The filing also speaks of cofounder and CEO Adam Neumann in very reverant tones: “From the day he cofounded WeWork, Adam has set the company’s vision, strategic direction, and execution priorities. Adam is a unique leader who has proven he can simultaneously wear the hats of visionary, operator, and innovator, while thriving as a community and culture creator.”
But the filing also sheds light on the complex nature of Neumann’s relationship with the company, noting that he:
- controls a majority of the company’s voting power, principally as a result of his beneficial ownership of the company’s high-vote stock, which gives him 20 votes per share.
- had personally purchased several buildings in WeWork’s early days that he then leased back to the company at a time when landlords were skeptical about the business model. (The company says it is working on a plan to sell those buildings.)
- has a line of credit of up to $500 million with UBS AG, Stamford Branch; JPMorgan Chase Bank; and Credit Suisse AG, New York Branch; of which approximately $380 million principal amount was outstanding as of July 31, 2019. Neumman apparently pledged an unknown amount of his stock as collateral.
- JPMorgan Chase Bank has also given him a total of $97.5 million in loans and credit, a figure that includes mortgages secured by personal property.
This intertwining of Neumann’s and WeWork’s finances will likely raise additional eyebrows among investors.
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