WeWork goes full throttle in China

June 04, 2018 14:13
Alan Ai, general manager of WeWork Greater China, said the firm is going to enter eight cities in China this year. Photo: WeWork

A platform for creators, WeWork is bent on establishing a global presence. Founded in New York City in 2010, the company now has about 248,000 members around the world.

As WeWork continues to expand, China, with its government actively supporting innovation and entrepreneurship, emerges as a potentially lucrative market for co-working spaces. In April, WeWork acquired a smaller local peer, naked Hub, as part of its plan to go full throttle in China.

Alan Ai, general manager of WeWork Greater China, recently sat down with EJ Insight to discuss its expansion plans in the country.

On China Market

EJ Insight: In China and Hong Kong, how is the occupancy at WeWork locations?

Ai: We are a private company and do not disclose occupancy rates. That said, we are seeing significant demand for our product around the world, in Hong Kong and Mainland China. We are able to open most of our buildings completely full and we see really steady occupancy across all regions. As we grow our footprint, within cities, we benefit from a network effect, which means that we attract and retain more and more members.

Q: Could you tell us more about the collaboration between WeWork and naked Hub? And how does this aid WeWork’s expansion in China?

A: We are joining forces with naked Hub, which is part of naked Group, a leading hospitality, design, technology and lifestyle brand that was founded in China in 2007 and has hosted over 1 million guests from China and around the world. Naked Hub launched in 2015 and provides 10,000 members across 24 locations with the community and services they need to make a life, not just a living.

In naked Hub, we have found an equal who shares our thinking about the importance of space, community, design, culture, and technology. Together, I believe we will have a profound impact in helping businesses across China grow, scale, and succeed.

When WeWork opened our first location in Shanghai in 2016, our goal was to give Chinese businesses of all sizes the community, culture, and services to start and scale their operations and provide an environment that promotes innovation.

Today, we have 20,000 members across more than a dozen locations. By the end of this year WeWork will serve more than 40,000 across 40 locations in Greater China. Together we will have a community of 80,000 people this year.

Q: On WeWork’s expansion in China, where there is intense competition, how would the firm compete with local peers?

A: While it is only natural that the market becomes more saturated for such a fast-growing industry, we do not consider ourselves as a co-working company, so we do not see other spaces as competitors. We are more than just space; we are a global platform of creators that helps people to create a life, not just a living.

WeWork is the response towards this market demand of changing shifts towards how people live and work – one focused on a movement towards meaning – by providing the environment for our creators to thrive in and ultimately connecting them to our over 248,000-member network.

Since WeWork entered the Greater China market in 2016, we have built a thriving community that connects businesses of all sizes, from all aspects of the workforce and aligned with our global mission of helping people to “work to make a life, not just a living.”

Q: While China promises to be a lucrative potential market, the Chinese market is said to have a preference for local brands. What is WeWork’s response to that?

A: WeWork is a global playbook that operates with a local execution. We have taken several approaches to demonstrate our commitment to the Greater China market.

Firstly, WeWork is committed to the Greater China market with strong local leadership and team. WeWork China is committed to serving our stakeholders and members as the local hub and gateway for them to unlock their potential and achieve their business objectives globally. WeWork's leadership team in Greater China is both firmly rooted in China and also vastly global in their experience and background.

Secondly, WeWork has been working closely with key partners and experts to help create the unique WeWork experience in Greater China. For example, we have established a vibrant partner ecosystem with Hony Capital, Sino Ocean Group, Zhima Credit, a subsidiary of Ant Financial Services Group, and others.

In mainland China, WeWork and Zhima Credit have entered into a strategic partnership to create the world's first credible community of workspaces. The partnership will provide deposit-free services to member companies who meet the credit score standard set by Zhima Credit and WeWork together.

The year 2018 is a new era for WeWork in China. WeWork will continue to accelerate our expansion in China in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai. We are also planning to enter into Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Nan Jing, Xia Men, Xi’An, and Wuhan in 2018 to help drive local economic development and innovation.

On Hong Kong Market

Q: WeWork has established a partnership with Hong Kong-based property developer Swire Properties. Could you tell us more about the cooperation?

A: WeWork looks forward to growing our existing global partnership with Swire Properties in expanding our footprint in Hong Kong, in addition to China and the US. With enterprises looking towards the future of work, WeWork will lead the way forward in providing more for our fast-growing enterprise membership base in the wider region. Please stay tuned for the opening date of WeWork’s Cityplaza Three location in Hong Kong.

On “Powered by We” Business

Q: WeWork has announced the opening of Asia’s first Powered by We for Standard Chartered’s eXellerator in Hong Kong.

A: It has been a great experience working with Standard Chartered. Despite a tight project timeline of about three months, with maximizing the Standard Chartered team full potential in mind, WeWork plays an integral role in bridging the touchpoints of fully utilizing the strategic space in terms of efficiency, well-being and engagement amongst teams.

Q: For Powered by We clients, WeWork offers its proprietary data systems and WeOS. How does it help the clients manage and operate the workplace?

A: By offering Powered by We, this is the extension of WeWork’s product that helps companies find, build and operate their own space, while providing services that enhance employee experience. Companies can tap into WeWork’s proprietary software and hardware infrastructure to better manage, design and operate their own real estate portfolio.

Coupled with WeWork’s proprietary data systems, including its offerings underpinned by its WeOS, WeWork’s solutions are helping enterprises to innovate and better manage their workplaces.

WeOS will continue to provide the insights that enhance operations and management of the creative space for users. The insights collected will be used to drive engagement, productivity, collaborations and happiness of the team. WeOS is the company’s smart office.

Q: Following the eXellerator, what is WeWork’s next Powered by We project in the region?

A: As part of WeWork’s enterprise business solutions, Powered by We caters to companies with more than 1,000 employees. The Powered by We has received positive feedback so far, as global corporations need more from their space today in terms of efficiency, effectiveness and building company culture. In fact, about 22 percent of Fortune 500 companies are WeWork members.

In addition to the Fung Group, WeWork will also work with Hony Capital, China’s leading investment firm that backed WeWork’s expansion in China for a Powered by We assignment. There are certainly more customers in the pipeline, and we will share more with you all in due course.

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EJ Insight writer