WeWork: The Only AEC Unicorn

WeWork is a company that provides co-working office spaces, along with HR, community events, and a network that mimic a more traditional work environment. WeWork is a fascinating company, and the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry has a lot to learn from its approach to the design and operations of co-working office spaces. There's a growing trend that describes "buildings as products," and WeWork is at the forefront of that effort. As proof of both its penetration into the market and its potential, WeWork, valued at over $16 billion, is the only AEC tech startup that qualifies as a unicorn. Below are three characteristics of WeWork that we think are important to understand:

1. Brand

If we view buildings as products that AEC provides to users and clients, they must have a brand identity. All of the products in our lives, whether they are from Apple, Coca-Cola, Post-It Notes, or Toyota, have an established brand identity. If you were to remove the logo from any of these items, odds are you would still be able to identify the product. In the same vein, if you were to go into any WeWork co-working space in the world, you would find consistency that identifies it as a WeWork space.

WeWork goes beyond a visual identity to create its product brand. It combines three assets for its clients – physical space, community, and services – in every location in a continuous way. This approach demonstrates that the first step to creating buildings as products is to create a brand.

2. Workflow

Thoughtful, tech-enabled workflows also contribute to the concept of buildings as products at WeWork. The company purchased CASE, a BIM consulting and design technology firm, and the acquisition of CASE has become an integral part of the WeWork story. The CASE alumni are now grouped under a "physical products" team that owns the design workflows which create the product that is a WeWork location. In "WeWork's Radical Plan to Remake Real Estate With Code," Wired Magazine gives us some insight into the process at WeWork. 

3. Scale

There are many architects with a visual identity to their work (Gehry Partners, for example, has a distinct style that is readily identifiable), and many firms use BIM in workflows. So how does WeWork create the potential of $16 billion worth of value for its investors? The answer is its ability to scale. WeWork is really an architecture, engineering, construction, and operations (AECO) company, combining design services with ownership under one business. Its product is a very narrow slice of the total building marketplace: co-working office space for small-to-midsized companies in major cities. This focus, both from a business and branding point of view, allows it to scale the business. There are a large number of cities in the world that would need one or more WeWork locations. The company isn't complicating its business by trying to offer other building products, such as WeWork data centers, apartment buildings, or coffee shops. This laser focus is the reason WeWork can scale its business.

This combination of brand, workflow, and scale make for a fascinating story at WeWork. As a unicorn startup with a valuation that eclipses many other successful startups, we should note how WeWork's workflows can be pushed beyond AEC and into other verticals within our industry.