After leading Airbnb’s rapid expansion, Eugen Miropolski is rolling out WeWork’s $10bn business across the globe.
There’s a new tech giant in London with a plan for European domination.
Calling WeWork a tech firm isn’t quite accurate, the co-working and workspace group is far more akin to a property business than a tech business.
Despite this WeWork boasts all the characteristics of a tech group with explosive expansion, huge funding rounds, and a rapid five-year ascension to reach a $10bn valuation.
WeWork’s first London workspace opened in October 2014. Just 13 months later, the group now has six buildings in the capital filled with thousands of businesses and startups from Soundcloud to Skyscanner.
These businesses have been attracted by WeWork’s rolling office contracts, the company’s focus on community, and its promise to will help members “Create Your Life’s Work”.
WeWork’s six buildings in London is just the start.
Eugen Miropolski, WeWork’s general manager of Europe, told The Memo that next year the co-working space will open its 7th branch in Shoreditch with “many more buildings” opening throughout 2016.
The Memo understands that WeWork has plans to blanket London with as many as 30 locations over the coming years.
First London, then the world
For now London is Miropolski’s main focus, he explains “it is by far our biggest market in Europe, the second largest city worldwide outside of New York and is actually growing faster than New York right now.”
Part of the appeal of WeWork is that its memberships are akin to those of a private members club, so workers aren’t tied to a particular location.
If you’re working in West London one day, you can work at WeWork Soho, the next you can hold a meeting from WeWork Aldgate Tower in East London.
“The more buildings we have in a city the more energy there is, because the community is more connected and there’s more activity between buildings,” says Miropolski, who adds that the tech hub growing around Stratford “is an interesting area for us to start looking at.”
But WeWork will expand across Europe in 2016, with workspaces opening in Paris and Berlin early next year. Soon members will be able to drop into spaces across the continent as and when they wish.
Miropolski, who joined WeWork in 2015 after leading Airbnb’s European expansion, tells me his ultimate vision for Europe is that “there will be a WeWork everywhere… our strategy is to focus first on the big connecting capitals.”
Critics have slammed WeWork for what they see as an excessive $10bn valuation and worryingly fast expansion to 61 workspaces.
They point to Regus, which with 3,000 locations is the world’s largest workspace group, but has a current valuation half the size.
“So many people talk about valuation,” says Miropolski. “When the right conversation is about the value that we are providing.”
That all sounds quite idyllic as we sail through the current tech boom with the likes of Uber and Airbnb reaching similar multi-billion dollar valuations.
But what about when the economic tide turns?
Regus similarly expanded quickly during the dotcom bubble in the early 2000s, before nearly going bankrupt when the tech bubble burst.
Miropolski is insistent that WeWork won’t suffer the same fate.
“Only a small fraction of our community is tech related, we have service companies, PR agencies, media companies, freelancers, graphic designers, photographers, lawyers, accountants and even beauty salons.”
What if the whole economy collapses? Something we faced less than a decade ago following the financial crisis in 2007.
If this happens, Miropolski predicts WeWork will be the ideal place for larger corporations looking to downsize and rent more flexible workspace.
Working is just the beginning
If WeWork succeeds it will fundamentally change the way we work, with community-centric workspaces and rolling office contracts whose flexibility encourages entrepreneurship.
In the future WeWork even has plans to expand beyond workspaces into accommodation with WeLive, a secretive project to build micro-apartments to house the workers of the future.
Miropolski was coy on when exactly WeLive would launch and what the project involved, he only hinted “there will be a big opening, but not yet. I think the first one will be in the US, but we need to wait a little bit.”
With London’s rents rising and a looming property crisis as thousands are priced out of the property market, WeLive might be coming at just the right time for Britain’s entrepreneurs looking to live on a budget in the capital.
And if the success of WeWork’s buildings in London is anything to go by, four of the six workspaces are already full with growing waiting lists, for better or worse it might not be long before we all become part of this so-called “WeGeneration”.
If you are interested in viewing a WeWork location please call Gryphon Property Partners or click on one of the following WeWork locations - Soho - Aldgate - Spitalfields - Moorgate - South Bank - Devonshire Square