Investors brace for big money tech IPOs
WeWork Cos., the world’s biggest co-working company, is planning to go public, joining a wave of highly valued technology startups moving to the U.S. markets.
The New York-based company said Monday it filed paperwork confidentially with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to hold an initial public offering. WeWork, which rents office space to companies and freelancers, would likely be the year’s biggest U.S. IPO after Uber Technologies Inc., which expects to start trading next week. WeWork, which also goes by the brand We Co., was most recently valued at US$47 billion in a January investment from SoftBank Group Corp., its biggest investor.
Similar to the crop of other big-name tech IPOs this year, such as Uber and Lyft Inc., WeWork runs a business with eye-watering losses. That’s due in part to heavy real-world expenses, such as building lease commitments that can last 15 years. The company lost US$1.93 billion on US$1.82 billion in sales last year.
In an email to staff Monday, WeWork’s chief executive officer, Adam Neumann, painted the company’s responsibilities in the lofty terms expected of a company whose mission is to “elevate the world’s consciousness.” The email’s subject line read: “Just Getting Started.”
“We have regularly focused on how to take our business to the next level in every aspect,” Neumann wrote in the email viewed by Bloomberg. “Partly due to technology and partly due to the times we live in, the world has never felt smaller and yet more people than ever are sharing that they feel alone. As one of the world’s largest physical networks, it is our responsibility to help lead the way and set the global example for people and corporations on how we should take care of each other and of our planet.”
Since its founding in 2010, WeWork has raised more than US$12 billion in funding, most of it from SoftBank. The Japanese conglomerate has reshaped the world of tech startups with its US$100 billion fund backed by Saudi Arabia. SoftBank is a major investor in several of the biggest public offerings planned for this year, including Uber and Slack Technologies Inc.
WeWork said it initially filed plans to go public in December and recently issued updated documents. Around the time WeWork first filed with regulators, the company was in talks with SoftBank to sell a majority stake. As global markets faltered, SoftBank backed off the plan and agreed in January to invest US$2 billion to increase its minority stake. SoftBank’s stock is up almost 50 per cent since then.
Although WeWork’s IPO filing isn’t yet available to the public, the company has made select disclosures about its financial performance for the last year or so. The bond market got a first glance in April 2018, when WeWork was selling US$702 million in bonds rated as junk.
Since then, WeWork has briefed reporters periodically on certain financial information. It has shown a pattern of growing revenue and growing losses. The company coined its own earnings metric, called “community-adjusted Ebitda,” which eliminates all expenses related to its investments for expansion and into new markets. The company indicated the measure was an attempt to convey whether its existing buildings are profitable on their own, though it also invited derision from critics who say the operation is unsustainable.