The company was founded as a start-up in New York City in 2010, opening its first location in the SoHo district. The company’s founders, Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey, reported seeing a business opportunity following the financial crash of 2008, which saw the emergence of empty building space and an increase in the number of people starting new businesses or moving into freelance work. The idea to match these two trends attracted ample investment, with prominent firms such as J.P. Morgan Chase & Co, Goldman Sachs Group, and later Japanese conglomerate Softbank providing funds. Investment allowed for expansion into further U.S. cities, and then Europe and Israel by 2015. Their strategy of attracting investment to fund further expansion has continued, with a notable focus being placed on the Chinese market over the past few years.
Underpinning WeWork’s success is the rapid growth in the broader coworking space market, both in the U.S. and worldwide. In the eleven year-period from 2007 to 2017, the number of coworking spaces in the United States grew from only 14 to just over 4,000, while globally this figure grew from 75 to 15,500. By the end of 2020, it is estimated that almost 2.7 million people globally will use coworking spaces, with around 1.1 million of them being in the United States.
Such a fast-growing market allows space for multiple providers. In the United States, the largest provider is Regus, who leased 224 locations as of 2018. This compares to 154 locations for WeWork at that time. Globally, Regus reported revenue of over three billion U.S. dollars for 2018 and employed over 8,700 staff. However, Regus’ growth in recent times has not been as rapid as that of WeWork – their revenue increased by around 14 percent from 2016 to 2017, and fell by almost three percent from 2015 to 2016.