WeWork is Goop with computers

The commercial real estate company would love for you — but more importantly, investors — to believe that it's an innovative tech company.

Picture of brick building with WeWork logo on it.

If dividing rooms into smaller rooms is tech, and installing draft beer bars into rooms is tech, then yes, WeWork is tech.

Image: Eloise Ambursley/Unsplash and Protocol

Well, here we are again. Another week, another looming, existential question about the nature of a maybe-possibly-tech company.

If you've watched the documentary, or read a single piece of literature about it, or even walked by a WeWork office and seen its crisp and clean wooden interior, you'd be led to believe that yes, it's tech. It looks nice, and it has an app! WeWork, the coworking space now known as The We Company, has the shiny veneer of tech.

But WeWork technically is … a commercial real estate company. Is that considered tech? Experts and many, many, many other publications say no, it's not really tech — at least not according to a few key points and features needed for a company to be considered tech. The Protocol newsroom weighed in anyway.

This has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Anna Kramer: is wework tech?

Megan Rose Dickey: oooohweeeee

Megan: yes and no

Anna: respond in the thread megan lol

Karyne Levy: THREAD!

Megan: UGH FINE JESUS

Issie Lapowsky: reply all

Kate Cox: okay, first, I hate you

Kate: But secondly: no. It's property management that was sold like a startup. Leasing full-service office spaces is not dramatically changed by using an app to check people in at the door.

Owen Thomas: I remember the company going to great lengths to persuade me that it was tech, including opening a "West Coast headquarters" in the Salesforce Tower that was largely dedicated to housing engineers. I'm not quite sure what those engineers did!

Jane Seidel: it's got the tech startup aesthetic and a charismatic leader so it seems that's all it needs!

Megan: those engineers built the internal wework social network that no one used, obvi

Kate: Also, full disclosure: I worked in one for four months while the company I worked for was having its space renovated, and neither the WiFi nor the printer ever worked. Techless tech.

Jane: megan is that a real thing

Anna Kramer: so is tech really just the aesthetic?

Megan: YES!

Megan: did u not watch the documentary jane

Jane: I DID BUT I DONT REMEMBER THAT

Kate: It is a real thing, they tried to get us to use it

Megan: jeez what have you been doing during quarantine

Karyne: ugh should we have watched the documentary to prepare for this discussion?

Karyne: i did not know there were prereqs to being in this thread

Jane: my takeaways were: these parties are like camp for adults, adam neumann is a taurus because of course he is [Editor's note: What's that supposed to mean, Jane? — a Taurus]

Owen: I vaguely recall that the conference-booking software worked, when I was in a WeWork.

Owen: I also got the scoop on a startup that LinkedIn bought because they were right next door and Ramona the Love Terrier kept wandering over to say hello to them, lulling them into a false sense of security and familiarity.

Karyne: isn't this going back to what we talked about last week? where something is a "disruptor" (ew) or an "innovator" then it makes it 1 degree tech? what is the bar of tech something has to reach to be tech? is 1% enough?

Jane: it is literally a commercial real estate company

Karyne: once we had a conversation about whether Compass is tech

Jane: but i'm also trying to think of other real estate companies that have become so ubiquitous

Kate: It's a company that wanted tech money

Amber Burton: i agree, jane! it just has tech sprinkled on top

Tomio Geron: If dividing rooms into smaller rooms is tech, and installing draft beer bars into rooms is tech, then yes

Amber: The Wing also tried to do this in its own way

Karyne: i just read a thing — bc i decided to do research (google) rather than watch the documentary (cheating) — that wework said the word "tech" 123 times in its filing

Karyne: does saying the word "tech" make it tech?

Jane: omfg is THE WING tech..............

Owen: To be fair, many startups don't have much more than fancy offices and kombucha on tap and therefore claim to be tech.

Amber: Don't get me started on the wing lol

Karyne: the wing is tech because it duped everyone and made lots of money

Jane: if that is the qualifications for a tech company..............

Karyne: everything is tech

Anna: i think the idea of tech is just sexy so they wanted to look like tech, and they succeeded at that, but that doesn't actually make them a tech company

Karyne: now i'm knee deep in its S1

Karyne: please help me

Karyne: they call themselves "space-as-a-service," which makes them a SaaS company tbh

Kate: I'll throw you a rope Karyne, it's only $1.49 per foot extended. rope as a service.

Karyne: you are a RaaS company

Jane: where's Hirsh when you need him

Owen: Could effective investment in and deployment of technology have made WeWork a better business?

Owen: Or could it have taken its in-house technology and sold it to other real estate firms, and made a profitable business out of that?

Kate: I don't think anything related to tech was either (1) its draw or (2) its problem.

Kate: Also "space as a service" is the same thing that drove me bonkers when Zoom tried to launch "hardware as a service." We have a word for that, it's called RENTAL.

Karyne: you're disrupting the disruptors

Tomio: Wasn't it always a capital play? Throw money at buildings and hope it works out in the end?

Owen: There are a lot of inefficiencies in real estate. I think that's the draw. The fact that you're not locked into a long-term contract and can expand (or contract) as needed was appealing to startups.

Owen: But the problem was that those customers always hit a wall where there wasn't enough space available in a WeWork at any price for what they needed, so they moved out and got their own space.

Karyne: so are we saying .. wework is not tech?

Chris Fong: My two cents: WeWork is Goop with computers.

Biz Carson: So, you could argue that their technology was making it more efficient to scale the office size you needed without entering into a bunch of multi-year leases?

Megan: that's the headline right there: wework is goop with computers

Karyne: is goop tech

Jane: not nOW karyne

Karyne: sorry!

Owen: I don't think that constitutes a technology, just a business practice. Its business practices were beneficial for some startups.

Jane: hm ok biz you've got a point? i guess if a company is able to scale massively because of tech... it's a little bit tech

Owen: I don't know: Private equity helps a company scale massively, but that's not tech — that's just money.

Megan: perhaps we should come up with an ABC test for determining if something is tech

Jane: megan ur onto something i think

Megan: i know

Megan: 😈

Kate: If everything that uses tech to scale is tech, then literally all businesses operating in 2021 are at least a little bit tech. Which, you know, is an argument I've made before and would make again -- "tech" is not a silo, it's pervasive. But I don't think that makes WeWork a tech company.

Owen: It's kind of maddening to be tech-adjacent, to see how your business enables tech companies to succeed but isn't tech itself.

Owen: And I can see how that madness spreads: Why can't we be tech, when there's so much tech around us?

Tomio: There's is this tech? But there's also: can we sell this to investors as tech?

Jane: right it matters less if a consumer thinks it's tech, and more that the ppl with the money think it is

Jane: good thing we are spending time every week talking about this

Megan: boooo

Karyne: yeah like, if you can sell it as tech, then it's probably tech.

Megan: capitalism suuucks

Anna: hahah perfect place to end it

Megan: fin.

One hour later:

Issie: agh so mad i missed this convo!

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