Published on 15 Oct 2019

WeWork’s IPO Attempt Failed. What’s Next for the Flex Space Industry?


The impact of the shelved WeWork IPO on the industry has been and will continue to be far-reaching. Never before have we seen a company lose this much value so quickly, or been this dependent on the capital markets for survival. While much of this was self-inflicted, the truth is that there are many parties that will shoulder the blame for this.  

If the rest of the industry can learn anything from this experience, it’s to never lose sight of the bottom line while pursuing your vision. 

The public markets have spoken, and “growth for growth's sake” is not a long-term viable strategy. The pendulum has swung, and there will now be a premium placed on companies that exhibit smart and sustainable growth, have a defensible business model with real barriers to entry, strong corporate governance, unit-economic profitability, the efficient deployment of investor capital, and a culture that prioritizes its people. Convene has been focused on all of this for nearly 10 years, and we have no plans on changing our thoughtful approach anytime soon.

WeWork’s Impact On The Industry 

While the longer-term impacts on the industry are hard to predict, we have seen some immediate reactions after WeWork’s IPO fallout that are worth highlighting.  

  1. Landlords are becoming more skeptical of coworking operators at a macro level. (Thankfully, Convene is not just a coworking operator.) Landlords with substantial exposure to WeWork are currently evaluating contingency plans, which will undoubtedly create some interesting opportunities for Convene (and others) to scale in a capital efficient way over the next 6-18 months. When looking at new deals, landlords are going to be asking the tough questions and become highly focused on unit-economic profitability, location specific underwriting, operator credit risk, and lease security. Overall, this is a positive for Convene as landlords move to quality brands and operators with a strong track record of financial performance (like ours). We are also seeing that landlords are much more open to partnerships and joint ventures as opposed to traditional leases. 
  2. WeWork customers are getting concerned about the WeWork “optics” and the longer term viability of the business (especially their enterprise clients) and are looking for other values-aligned flex space partners that can accommodate their workplace requirements at scale.   
  3. Liquidity in the sector is beginning to dry up and the smaller, less capitalized operators that require growth capital are in a tough spot. We predicted an accelerating industry consolidation earlier this year, and there is no doubt that this will be a catalyst to that as investor capital flows to the larger quality players. There are way too many players in the space and scale will be increasingly important for both success and survival.  
  4. New market entrants are circling, as private equity investors and large corporates that have been watching the industry closely are now starting to lean in. I would not be surprised to see a few of these players make investments in flex office providers in the next 6-12 months. 
  5. Valuation multiples are down across the sector, and that’s bleeding into other categories like coliving, short-term rental housing, and proptech more broadly as investors reset valuation expectations. The days of big revenue multiples for coworking providers are gone and Companies will now be valued on multiples of unit economic profitability, which is covered further in Axios: The Great Public Market Reckoning

Opportunity for Convene

Despite the “noise” around WeWork’s shelved IPO, we remain extremely confident in our business model, our approach, and in the macro opportunity that exists in front of us. Our model is fundamentally different – and our metrics prove it. You can read more about our financials and key differentiators in The Wall Street Journal - As WeWork Stumbles, Its Smaller Competitors Cash In; Business Insider - Convene’s CEO says the $500 million flex-space startup is a hospitality company that partners with real estate, not a tech company; and Commercial Observer - Coworking Buzz: Convene’s Ryan Simonetti on Everything Flex Space.

This industry is bigger than a single player, and regardless of what happens to WeWork, the structural shift towards real estate outsourcing is here to stay and will only accelerate in the years to come (CBRE recently published their Flexible Office Report that predicts the industry growing from 1.8% today to 13% by 2030). 

The Big Takeaway 

The playing field just became level, and the sprint just became a marathon. We like our chances in that kind of race. Convene is not WeWork nor are we a coworking company. We are a hospitality company that strategically partners with Class A developers and owners to design and operate premium places for people to work, meet, and host inspiring events. And we do it by creating great experiences for our clients and making buildings more valuable for our landlord partners. Win-win.