[THE INVESTOR] Co-working space is an upcoming trend among both small and large businesses as tenants can enjoy a range of benefits, from reduced overhead costs to easy access to potential partners.
Standing at the forefront of the global shared workspace industry, New York-based WeWork has been scaling up its operations around the world, running 212 offices in 66 cities as of now.
Since it launched its first shared workspace in Seoul in 2016, the number of its locations here currently stands at four -- including at Samseong, the affluent neighborhood of Gangnam, and downtown Euiljiro -- while four other offices, are scheduled to open in the first half of this year.
Matthew Shampine, general manager of WeWork Korea, said the co-working company has a whole lot more in the pipeline to offer the Korean market.
“We really do believe there is more value for our members as we create a bigger community,” Shampine told The Investor in a recent interview.
“As we launch in more locations, there are more buildings all around the cities where you can book conference rooms, go to events, and also grow your network,” he added.
WeWork Korea's general manager Matthew Shampine. Kim Young-won/The Investor
He said WeWork will continue to invest heavily in Korea to really build the best community to help local companies be successful.
In a recent announcement, the US firm said that it would launch the eighth WeWork office in Yeoksam, also in Gangnam, in June and has earmarked 1.2 billion won for the WeWork Creator’s Awards competition in Seoul, aimed at supporting content developers, artists and startups.
“In Korea, oftentimes you need to think internationally a lot sooner than you would in China or the US since the market is relatively small, and WeWork is a real place where you can go and travel, whether it is New York, Los Angeles, Shanghai or Beijing,” he said.
Shampine was appointed head of the Korean operations last August when Japan’s SoftBank and its tech fund Softbank Vision Fund, backed by Saudi Arabia, decided to invest a total of US$4.4 billion, valuing the US co-working firm at US$20 billion.
Of the total investment, US$500 million has been allocated for Southeast Asian nations as well as Korea.
The following are excerpts from the interview.
The Investor: How did you join WeWork?
Shampine: I and my former colleagues at Mercedes-Benz, most of whom were engineers, started a business and developed all the platforms you need for an online business. We found WeWork on Craiglist when it first started in SOHO. There was like one floor that WeWork operated in its first building. It was great for us, and very lucky timing. We were able to know co-founders Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey well because we were like the only members. Then we built WeWork’s backend system, like conference room management, scheduling, member management and a way to meet each other, in 2011.
TI: How many new offices does WeWork plan to open in Korea this year?
Shampine: There are no set limits in terms of the number of locations. Along with the four existing offices in Seoul, there will be four others that will be newly up and running in the first half -- in Gwanhwamun in March, Yeouido in April and Seoul Square (opposite Seoul Station) in May. The second Yeoksam office will be launched in June. We are fully committed to growing a very large community for WeWork and all the other business lines we have.
TI: Do you have any plans to launch WeWork’s other services, like communal housing business WeLive?
Shampine: Although I completely agree about the potential of WeLive, as of now, we are very focused on growing WeWork and making it successful in Korea. More practically, other services are easy to implement, like Meetup that we recently bought. We are really pushing that out because Meetup is already popular here in Korea. Meetup is perfect since it is really around this idea of interests. We have people and space, so we can provide them that platform.
TI: How do you differentiate yourself in the co-working industry which is seeing an increasing number of newcomers?
Shampine: I am much more concerned about how our team can make WeWork better and make it more valuable to our members than anything else; how do you help our members meet other people that are interesting to them; how do you help them kind of have this life where they really love coming into the office every day because they see their friends and people they have lunch with.
I tell our community managers all the time that one of the biggest aspects of their job is actually getting to know their members and then figuring out how to connect them to others who have similar interests.
TI: Does WeWork call itself a company based on the sharing economy?
Shampine: I think it really depends on how you define that word. I think a lot of people will definitely put us in that area. In a lot of ways, it makes sense. We are collectively giving all of our members access to the amazing buildings and amenities. We do believe that everyone is better together in terms of more people, but also it means you can collectively have event spaces, coffee, or beer, and interactions. That is what actually makes it better. So as we build the community that is definitely part of what we are trying to do.
TI: What is your take on criticism that WeWork, worth a whopping US$20 billion, is overvalued?
Shampine: We are very much at the beginning of what we are doing. And as we are expanding the community and growing at the pace we are growing, the potential for WeWork continues to evolve. If you really start putting things on paper, you see that we have a couple of hundred WeWorks offices open now and two WeLives open. We are at a very early stage in what we are building as a community.
TI: How can a startup grow into a unicorn like WeWork?
Shampine: We are less focused on valuation or what everyone is saying, and instead more focused on building communities and being able to make an impact on the world, in terms of how people view success, view work, and view living. I think that is the viewpoint we have over the last seven plus years.
TI: Can you share WeWork’s sales performance in Korea?
Shampine: We don’t really want to comment on specific numbers.
TI: Can you share some information on WeWork’s initial public offering plan?
Shampine: We obviously cannot comment on that. We most recently announced our partnership with SoftBank, so we are really focused with them, building out great communities around the world.
By Kim Young-won (email@example.com)