There are several reasons why an individual or company would want to become a member of a shared workspace concept such as WeWork. For starters, you get to work in a hip office environment where all the decorating has been taken care of for you. Secondly, you get to choose a price structure that's tailored to your needs depending on whether you want a private office, a dedicated desk, or just the ability to come in and set up shop wherever there's space that day. But perhaps what's most appealing about WeWork is that membership grants an individual or a brand the chance to work out of the companies' 50-plus global offices, as well as the opportunity to network with its 30,000 some members that vary in occupation, age, and gender.
Just this summer, the company launched its first South Florida location on Lincoln Road in South Beach, and a couple of weeks ago they inked a deal to open a much larger outpost in downtown Miami at 121 SE First Ave. The new space is projected to hold about 800 people and will open sometime in 2016. Since launching in 2010, WeWork has been rapidly expanding, and apart from its large American presence, the company has offices in Israel, London, and Amsterdam.
Last week, the brand's cofounder and chief creative officer Miguel McKelvey was in town to participate in a panel discussion on the topic of creating your brand. He was joined by influential individuals like Lee Schrager (South Beach Wine & Food Festival), Matthew Chevellard (Del Toro Shoes), and Simonette Pereira (Style Mafia). The young entrepreneur holds an architecture degree from the University of Oregon and was instrumental in creating the design framework and leading the national retail roll-out for American Apparel. Together with his partner, Israeli-born former naval officer Adam Neumann, the two men are working to change office culture. Many WeWork locations currently have waiting lists and the company was recently valued at $10 billion.
New Times caught up with McKelvey to learn more about WeWork's decision to come to Miami, as well as the company's future, and, of course, to find out what makes it such a powerful brand in the collaborative workspace domain.
New Times: WeWork was founded in 2010, why did you decide that now is a good time to open in Miami?
Miguel McKelvey: With Miami we had heard a lot from people that live there and visit there that there's a great community of people that didn’t really have a space to work out of, and while there were some other co-work spaces, there wasn’t anyone doing it on the same size and scale and with the constant effort we put in. It seemed like the right time to come, both for us as a brand and for Miami.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
A big part of our difference is that we’re connecting people to an international network that’s growing by the day. Being a part of WeWork allows you to have a location in cities all over the world and to connect with our internal network with people all over the world. We’ve heard examples of people who happen to have a client in another city and by having a WeWork location that they were able to go and host a meeting. We’ve heard of people going to San Francisco and connecting with people there and getting advice on different topics, and we've heard about people doing business with each other out of that network. There’s certainly a value in having over 30,000 people in your business network. Plus, we’ve got a team of about 800 people thinking about how to improve the environment for our members. It’s a big organism of ideas.
So is WeWork less about offering people an affordable physical office space and more about enabling them to foster a network and to make connections?
I think it’s about both. There’s an environment we’ve established and there’s an energy level that comes from being in a WeWork building that you don’t see in other places, and that energy level and sense of community is really inspiring and engaging and makes people excited about what they’re doing. Part of that comes from the diversity; we have a lot of different people doing different things. We have great diversity in age range, gender, etc. that combines to produce an environment that’s unique to us.
What kinds of people gravitate towards WeWork?
It’s very diverse and it depends on the region. Diversity is what’s most important to us. You’ll see a tech start-up right next to a fashion company. What we found is that those two members are actually complimentary to each other and the fact that
Your Instagram account shows people taking a yoga class at the Lincoln Road location. Does WeWork typically offer such perks to its members?
The great thing is a lot of members do really cool things so it’s a mix of us offering them and members offering them. We could have a cold-brew coffee company and they might do tastings every week and put on an event where they’re giving away cold brews and that’s a member promoting themselves. We have companies that actually do yoga for other companies and so they do yoga at WeWork because they want people to tell their friends about it. And then there are cases where we bring yoga in. It’s a mix of a lot of different things. We also sometimes bring in speakers, and sometimes a member will want to host an event where they'll bring a speaker. We do a Halloween party in New York for 3,000 people and for that you have to pay for, but most of the events you don’t have to pay for.
Can you tell me a bit about some of your future plans for the company?
We’ve grown really fast and we’re expanding within most of the cities that we’re already in. We definitely think that building membership within a city is meaningful, so we will continue to expand our membership base in Miami and around the world. We’ll also continue to expand into new cities. We’re very interested in connecting with the global community and experimenting with what we do in other countries.
Your expertise is in brand building. How did you go about building the WeWork brand?
We were very conservative in terms of what we wanted to talk about versus what we wanted other people to say about us. We didn’t do much press in the beginning. We never wanted to be a company that was defined by how much money we raised so we were very careful about letting the member experience speak for us rather than letting these other things that are typically about metrics and money speak about us. We believe that if our members are happy and they’re connecting with each other they will spread the world for us. That was our strategy. At some point when the word got out and we couldn’t keep it a secret anymore we started doing more media but we’re always trying to balance that exposure with our own voice.
Is there anything that’s unique to the downtown Miami location that you can tell us about?
There are elements to the building that we think are different from what people have seen before both
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