Shared offices with a mid-century modern decor are popping up in the world's largest cities. They are the many tentacles of coworking giant WeWork, which is now worth a staggering $20 billion. The company is in 20 countries and has over 200,000 members, and it plans to double all those numbers by 2020. But, 10 years ago, success seemed improbable.
Neither of the two founders, Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey, had any real estate experience. When they found themselves sitting in a drab Brooklyn office begging the landlord to rent them his building, and were told no, all signs pointed to their venture's not working out.
Here's their story and the eight lessons marketers can learn from it, including how to tell a story that's worth $18 billion.
1. Don't be afraid to pivot
Before there was WeWork, there was Green Desk. Adam was running a baby-clothing startup. Miguel worked as an architect. They met in an office space. After commiserating on the lack of resources for entrepreneurs, they pitched the building owner the idea of letting them lease the building to create a coworking space. At first, the owner declined. But they persisted, and a startup was born. Sort of.
Green Desk focused on sustainability. It featured recycled furniture and fair-trade coffee. And it opened its doors the same month as the 2008 financial collapse, which turned out to be good for business: People who were laid off flocked there, and the business was quickly profitable.
Adam recalled, "Within a few weeks, we realized it was more than a shared office space—it was a community." However, all of the branding, leases, contracts, and partnerships didn't reflect that. Adam and Miguel realized they were in the wrong business. So, in 2010, they sold their stake and started over.
Adam and Miguel's pivot provides a fascinating case study: Although WeWork has gone global, Green Desk has never expanded beyond Brooklyn.