Oct 11, 2017

WeWork founder says we've lost community

Selling the intangibles of emotional intelligence and mood music (WeWork).

WeWork, the $20 billion office leasing startup, announced a push into the think-tank space today — a partnership with Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson and the tony Aspen Institute for a series of studies on the future of work and cities.

Like Uber and Airbnb, WeWork has attained an astronomical valuation while changing and defining how many people live and work in cities around the world. With the move into public policy, co-founder Adam Neumann seeks to better understand — and, if he can, influence — what happens next in those cities.

Adding it up: Data is said to be the new oil, and artificial intelligence to have a future as big as electricity. But WeWork reflects today's reality in American startups, whose splashiest members start with something wholly different — the intangibles of emotional intelligence and mood music.

Here's how it works: WeWork leases out multiple, sprawling floors in office buildings in the world's biggest cities in 18 countries and counting, and decks them out with working and relaxing spaces big and small. Those are then rented to individual workers, startups and established companies at rates averaging $650 a month per person. While definitely working spaces, they are more akin in feel and appearance to upscale boutique hotels, meticulously designed and managed (check out the images here). On giant screens at headquarters on West 18th Street in New York, executives and technicians monitor the empire, including what type of maintenance has been requested in each building, and whether it's been done; month-by-month going into next year, what deals and what office developments are coming next; and how precisely its spaces are used.

  • Given that WeWork offices currently host about 150,000 workers (whom it calls "members,"), that is substantial cash flow. In August, a $4.4 billion investment from Japan's SoftBank lifted WeWork's valuation to $20 billion, which elevated it into a tie for sixth place among the world's most-valuable startups.
  • There are copycats, but WeWork seems to set the pace, selling an incredibly energetic atmosphere and the convenience of someone else taking care of everything — you just walk in and start working, probably with a latte at your fingertips.
  • The model demonstrates yet again that people — investors, anyway — will pay handsomely for the equivalent of mood music along with a quality product.

The culture starts here: Neumann and co-founder Miguel McKelvey have been the recipients of years of fawning media coverage. Most of these articles and videos point out their fondness for new-agey language (like this 2015 appearance in which, it was noted, Neumann said the word community "at least a dozen times"), and the 6-foot-5 Neumann's looks ("he resembles a rock star," one writer said flatly).

And it's true that Neumann is well situated — a billionaire at 38, No. 12 on Fortune's list of 40 under 40; his portrait on the current cover of Forbes; married to a cousin of Gwyneth Paltrow.

Enter emotional intelligence: Neumann clearly wants to add substance to WeWork's public persona — for lack of better phrase, to show that he is not just a pretty face. He is making no quiet thing out of his leap into public policy — the company is doing a big rollout of the partnership with Aspen.

The research: With the reams of data collected and collated on its work spaces every day, WeWork has the unusual makings of a comprehensive understanding of how work is really done today around the world. The relationship with Aspen intends to help cities understand the economic impact of innovation clusters, with research into these concentrations of startups and surveys of WeWork's far-flung membership (Isaacson is leaving Aspen at the end of the year for a professorship at Tulane University).

On a ride with him to Battery Park (taken, how else, by Lyft), I asked why the high-profile leap. He points to his t-shirt, which says, "We are human." When he and McKelvey began the company seven years ago, he says, "it was always about the future of work, the future of 'we.'" It's high concept. "We were promised that through technology, we would all come together. But instead it feels that people are more disconnected than ever."

Lostness is what ails us: Neumann, with WeWork — and a slowly developing urban residential offering called WeLive — said he hopes to help re-establish some of the lost community (there is that word again). Going back centuries, the residents of urban areas were glued together in part through town halls, gatherings in taverns, cafes and open spaces to hash out the subjects of the day. "We would like to try to be that now," Neumann tells me.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 1,094,068 — Total deaths: 58,773 — Total recoveries: 225,519Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6 p.m. ET: 273,880 — Total deaths: 7,077 — Total recoveries: 9,521Map.
  3. Public health latest: The CDC is recommending Americans wear face coverings in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
  4. 2020 latest: Wisconsin's governor called for a last-minute primary election delay. "I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting," President Trump said on the 2020 election, as more states hold primaries by mail.
  5. Business updates: America's small business bailout is off to a bad start. The DOT is urging airlines to refund passengers due to canceled or rescheduled flights, but won't take action against airlines that provide vouchers or credits.
  6. Oil latest: The amount of gas American drivers are consuming dropped to levels not seen in more than 25 years, government data shows. Trump is calling on the Energy Department to find more places to store oil.
  7. Tech updates: Twitter will allow ads containing references to the coronavirus under certain use cases.
  8. U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt: Senators call for independent investigation into firing of Navy captain.
  9. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Government will cover uninsured patients' coronavirus treatment

Azar at Friday's briefing. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The federal government will cover the costs of coronavirus treatment for the uninsured, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at a White House briefing Friday.

How it works: The money will come from a $100 billion pot set aside for the health care industry in the most recent stimulus bill. Providers will be paid the same rates they get for treating Medicare patients, and as a condition of those payments, they won't be allowed to bill patients for care that isn't covered.

More states issue stay-at-home orders as coronavirus crisis escalates

Data: Axios reporting; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a stay-at-home order on Friday as the novel coronavirus pandemic persists. The order goes into effect Saturday at 5 p.m. and will remain in place through April 30. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson also issued a statewide social distancing order on Friday.

The big picture: In a matter of weeks, the number of states that issued orders nearly quadrupled, affecting almost 300 million Americans.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health