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. Adam and Miguel realized they were in the wrong business. The strongest ideas come from customer research There's another important lesson in how Adam and Miguel eventually settled on the idea of WeWork: They used the opportunity Green Desk had given them to observe their customers. "Now we know to call them members." Without first-hand customer research, the two founders couldn't have known that there was a market for the WeWork brand—or what the brand even was. Hire the best people. Don't wait three years." Adam insists he now spends 30% of his time recruiting, and he still thinks he could do more. First secure your audience, and then release more products By all accounts, Miguel and Adam have realized their dream from 2010: WeWork has become an ecosystem. This year, it has opened fitness studios called Rise, and soon it will open WeGrow, a for-profit elementary school.
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.
Sometimes, a blank slate and a complete rebrand can be the most efficient path forward.
2. The strongest ideas come from customer research
There’s another important lesson in how Adam and Miguel eventually settled on the idea of WeWork: They used the opportunity Green Desk had given them to observe their customers. They spent more than one year rubbing elbows with customers, watching what worked and what didn’t, and noting the community that developed. “Back then we called customers tenants,” said Adam. “Now we know to call them members.”
Without first-hand customer research, the two founders couldn’t have known that there was a market for the WeWork brand—or what the brand even was.
Marketers who want to dominate their niche should spend time onsite with customers.
3. Nail your vision early
While dreaming up WeWork, Adam and Miguel invested a lot of energy defining their long-term vision for the venture. It took them six months just to decide on the name.
And as early as 2010, they talked about WeWork as a metropolitan ecosystem replete…