WeWork, the beleaguered coworking startup, has filed for bankruptcy protections in federal court.
The bankruptcy announcement caps a stunning downfall for the once-high-flying, SoftBank-backed venture, which was privately valued at some $47 billion at its peak.
“Now is the time for us to pull the future forward by aggressively addressing our legacy leases and dramatically improving our balance sheet,” said David Tolley, WeWork CEO, in a news release. “We defined a new category of working, and these steps will enable us to remain the global leader in flexible work…. We remain committed to investing in our products, services, and world-class team of employees to support our community.”
Once a much-celebrated tech unicorn that promised to revolutionize the future of office work — via, among other things, free-flowing craft beer — a perfect storm of factors caused WeWork to start to come undone in the wake of a botched attempt to go public back in 2019.
At the time, IPO paperwork revealed larger-than-expected losses and potential conflicts of interest with the company’s cofounder and then-CEO Adam Neumann. Neumann, whose unorthodox leadership style resulted in WeWork’s culture becoming the subject of much news coverage, was ousted in 2019 following pressure from investors. (Notably, Neumann still received an eye-popping golden parachute upon his departure).
WeWork eventually went public roughly two years later at a much-reduced valuation of some $9 billion. But by 2021, market sentiment, and the easy access to capital that helped prop up much of the startup world before the pandemic, had started to shift. Although WeWork billed itself as a tech company, some critics noted its core business was not in tech but was really in real estate, renting space in office buildings to retrofit and sublet to startups, freelancers as well as large and small companies.
Even after going public, the company has struggled to turn the ship around. The flexible workspace provider was confronting a difficult time in the commercial real estate sector after the pandemic led to a rise in hybrid and work-from-home options – threatening the very office culture WeWork’s foundation was built upon. Meanwhile, increased competition in the coworking space, higher interest rates and macroeconomic uncertainty also cast a cloud over WeWork’s attempts to save itself over the past few years.
Shares for WeWork have plunged roughly 98% in 2023 alone. In May, WeWork announced a leadership shakeup with the departure of its chairman and CEO Sandeep Mathrani, a real estate executive who investors hoped would save the company. David Tolley, a WeWork board member, stepped up as interim chief executive and was officially named CEO in October. In August, meanwhile, the company said that it had “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay in business over the next year as losses and debt continued to mount.
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