Small Talk: Trying to make sense of the WeWorld

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WeWork CEO Adam Neumann (Credit: Getty Images and iStock)

WeWork CEO Adam Neumann (Credit: Getty Images and iStock)

The best part about the stock market is how much of a sure thing every investment is, and the best part about startups is that they are all guaranteed to become incredibly prosperous businesses. So when the guaranteed success of a startup meets the guaranteed success of the stock market, any investments are guaranteed to make you so much money that the word “guaranteed” will quickly start to sound weird based on how often you’re using it.

And that brings us to WeWork.

The massive company, which has the complementary goals of subleasing office space and revolutionizing human society, is expected to hold its initial public offering this fall, and everyone from recent business school graduates to established titans of finance has reacted with a resounding cry of, “Wait, what exactly do these guys do again?”

The basic answer is “everything.” As far as I can tell, in an ideal WeWork world (quick side note: how has the company not launched a division called WeWorld yet?), a person would wake up in their WeLive apartment, drop their kid off at a WeGrow school, go to their job in a WeWork building, pick up dinner on the way home at WeTraderJoe’s, and then go to sleep in a giant, collaborative WeBed. And, of course, they would take occasional breaks to WeWee.

But as the company prepares to go public, it has also started to release more information about how it actually works. This has led to several concerns about WeWork’s ability to accomplish many of its lofty goals, such as changing the concept of what an office looks like and existing beyond December.

The company’s landlords are feeling particularly anxious about the WeWork IPO. One even told The Real Deal that there were certain things in the company’s initial disclosure report that he would “rather not have seen,” although he did add, “Obviously, I’m sure a lot of it can be explained.” Coincidentally, “I’m sure a lot of it can be explained” is almost the exact same reaction my mom had when I was 19 and she came home to find a giant vomit stain on our basement couch. So hopefully WeWork’s explanation will be better than mine was.

Another group dealing with some WeWork IPO anxiety is SoftBank, which you may remember as the company that previously felt good enough about WeWork to invest more than $10 billion in it. The conglomerate has now somewhat reversed course and is urging WeWork to shelve its IPO plans, which feels a bit like your parents subsidizing your music career for 10 years before politely asking you to think about law school.

WeWork has made some changes in response to these concerns. It will postpone its IPO until at least mid-October, and it is putting more restrictions on what CEO, Future President of Earth and Messiah Adam Neumann can do. He will not be allowed to make real estate deals going forward, for instance, and he will give back the $5.9 million the company paid him for trademarking use of the word “we,” which is probably good news not just for WeWork but for the English language in general.

But despite these concerns, the company is still planning to go public. So given that WeWork seems set on making its stock market debut no matter what, all of these issues are ultimately leading up to one major question. And that question, of course, is: if I try to copyright the term “WeWorld” now, will I eventually be able to sell it back to WeWork for an exorbitant fee? And also, should I plan to buy stock in WeWork?

The answer to the first question is a resounding yes. It’s a little tougher for me to answer the second question, given that my entire experience with the stock market so far consists of pretending to buy some shares in Dell during the “Stock Market Game” in sixth grade before getting bored and going back to playing MarioKart. So, for now, I’m just going to say “maybe,” and hopefully that will leave everyone satisfied.

And if it doesn’t, just check back in with me about buying WeWork stock in, say, five or 10 years. I’ll probably be able to have a more definitive answer for you then.

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