WeWork, you pay

It's finally arrived, the 'We' company IPO and it's a big one. WeWork scored huge investment over the years, and enormous losses to match—but we never really knew what state the business was in. With the filing of its S-1, the curtain is pulled back for the first time and it's brutal.

First, the numbers themselves:

  • Revenue grew from $436M in 2016 to $1.82B in 2018. That's a growth rate of 100% year-over-year, and its half-year result looks positive too: it's already at $1.54B and climbing for the first half of 2019.
  • Losses grew from $396M in 2016 to $677M in 2018. Then, in the first half of this year they skyrocked to $1.37 billion. It's getting worse every year, and there's no sight of it slowing down.
  • It has $2.47 billion in the bank and wants to raise up to $6B alongside the IPO which is... odd. And, according to Crunchbase, it already burned through all of the cash it raised in that $1B round earlier this year.

Then there's all the weird bits from the IPO cycle:

  • SoftBank, to date, has invested a staggering amount into the company: more than $10B to date
  • WeWork really wants to be considered as a tech company, even though it fundamentally is not and doesn't offer any actual services yet. I've always wondered why it doesn't sell space-managing software but it appears to think that it's proprietary. 
  • The company's CEO, Adam Neumann is one of three co-founders, but he controls the shares and all of the votes. I'd argue that one of the biggest risks in the entire IPO document is that the entire show depends on this guy alone.
  • The company is going public now because.... it needs money, basically, according to this interview. Usually a company going public tries harder to justify it in any other way than money, but there you have it. 
  • WeWork's founder borrowed money from the company at an interest rate of just 0.64%... and it has to pay him rent for a bunch of properties he owns, and it leases. It's amazing that this part alone isn't more controversial, but he got away with it.
  • The word "community" is mentioned in the IPO filing more than 150 times, but tries to downplay that it has more than $47B of long-term lease obligations, which have to come from...somewhere.

It's hard to have a take on this IPO filing that isn't hysterical—does it feel like the Pets.com IPO just before the dot-com bubble burst? Sorta, but at an outrageous scale that feels difficult to reconcile with reality. It's hard to know if it's ridiculous when every other IPO feels just as outrageous, losing billions of dollars a year and getting away with it.

Some writers are saying that there's a lot of investor skepticism, and it's likely to see massive public shorting in the near-term. WeWork is Big Property hiding in tech's clothing, trying to justify a huge valuation on promises it will be enormous, but it remains to be seen if it can keep operating for long enough to ever make actual money.

I'll keep writing about this as the IPO draws nearer, this is just the first salvo, and it takes time to really chew on these things. Maybe I'll see the silver lining by then?

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