An excerpt from an upcoming book on what went wrong with WeWork. This should be talked about in business schools as one of the examples of why egos and delusional ambition can lead to disasters. These guys are richer than many many people on Earth and have more money than most folks can earn in a lifetime. Nonetheless, it’s staggering to see their silly actions.
The Verge has an interesting interview with Mark Zuckerberg. The interview touches upon a lot of things but there are two that I want to quickly highlight here. Mark talks about how people shouldn’t expect that there is no transgression on his company’s platforms. That is always bound to happen. Instead, what people should expect is that Facebook is there to police the platform when it happens and puts in place integrity systems to deter bad demeanor. Secondly, I think the idea of interoperability is great, but not 100% perfect. That’s just how it is in life. There are always advantages and disadvantages to everything. Apple’s business model doesn’t involve interoperability that these guys advocate for, but in terms of net benefits to the society, has Apple been a positive force? I’d say so.
Master’s Degrees Are the Second Biggest Scam in Higher Education. My experience is that Master’s Degrees often still hold values because hiring companies value them. There are some exceptional programs that are worth the investment, but many aren’t. It’s crazy to think that so many people got into a huge debt to get something that is far less valuable
Lifetime emissions for an EV in Europe are between 66 and 69 percent lower compared to that of a gas-guzzling vehicle, the analysis found. In the US, an EV produces between 60 to 68 percent fewer emissions. In China, which uses more coal, an EV results in between 37 to 45 percent fewer emissions. In India, it’s between 19 to 34 percent lower.
Inside the fall of WeWork. It’s mind blowing that there continues to be more investigative pieces on how dysfunctional WeWork is. It’s inconceivable to think without public scrutiny how the company would be and how it would harm public investors’ interest. One notable quote from the piece is that WeWork’s operations make the current White House look like a well-oiled machine.
Interactive map of Apple’s supply chain. I attempted to make such a map, but Apple makes it super difficult to get the data from their weirdly designed PDF instead of a CSV. Kudos to The Prepared for this tool
SoftBank has been known for being a big money player. Their investment fund, the Vision Fund, worth of $100 billion is made of mostly money from the Middle Eastern governments. They have poured money into startups around the world, including big names such as ByteDance, WeWork, Uber, Slack, Flipkart and Brandless, as well as established companies such as Sprint in the US.
By all means, being able to the tune of $100 billion is a massive undertaking. It shows the trust of investors in Son, the founder and CEO of SoftBank, and his team. However, three years after the money was raised, there have been concerning signs of SoftBank’s investment strategy and execution.
SoftBank’s most infamous flop is WeWork. After pouring $9 billion into the startup, the Japanese firm had to see WeWork’s IPO scrapped, its CEO and founder ousted and to plan another $10 billion bailout at a valuation that is significantly lower than what Son and his team expected (per WSJ). It’s mind-blowing that billions of dollars were invested with what seemed to be insufficient scrutiny and due diligence
SoftBank executives were alarmed by what they found looking deeper into the company’s financials, people familiar with the matter said.
In addition to WeWork, other high profile investments such as Uber and Slack haven’t met expectation either. Uber had to scale back its valudation upon going public and since being on the stock market, neither Uber nor Slack has been trading above its initial price
Six years ago, SoftBank bought a controlling stake in Sprint. This paragraph below from CNBC summarized how the move is six years later
SoftBank successfully engineered a sale of Sprint for $6.62 per share to T-Mobile in 2018. (State attorneys general are in court attempting to quash the deal on grounds that it will unacceptably decrease competition.) But SoftBank acquired its majority stake in Sprint for $7.65 a share in 2013. When SoftBank bought Sprint, it was the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier by subscribers. When SoftBank sold, Sprint was a distant fourth behind Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.
But Sprint’s annual revenue has shrunk since SoftBank took over, from $35.3 billion in 2012 to $33.6 billion in the latest fiscal year. Recently, subscriber numbers have been dropping, and the company recorded a $1.9 billion loss last year. Still, Claure made over $40 million in compensation from 2015 through 2017, primarily because of stock awards that resulted from keeping the shares above $8 per share, which was only marginally higher than the price SoftBank paid in 2013.
Sprint even acknowledged in April it didn’t have a sustainable path forward in a filing to the Federal Communications Commission, asking for the regulator to approve its sale.
“Sprint is in a very difficult situation that is only getting worse,” the company said in the letter. “Sprint is losing customers — which then reduces revenues and cash flow — further limiting its ability to invest in its network and service its debt. Simply put, Sprint is not on a sustainable competitive path.”
Furthermore, troubles have surfaced at other startups that SoftBank invested in. Fair, an online car-leasing startup, announced that it would lay off 40% of its workforce this week. Wag, an on-demand dog walking firm, laid off more than 50 employees this year already. Brandless saw declining revenue by 54% compared to the same period last year and planned to cut marketing budget.
On the other side of all the problems that hit SoftBank lately, the Japanese firm does have success in the form of its investments in Alibaba and Flipkart. Plus, its capital allowed ideas and founders to come into life. Nonetheless, the struggles at companies listed above do call into question its hype, strategy, execution and credibility. When you want to raise an unprecedented amount of money and invest in an unprecedented fashion, you are put under unprecedented scrutiny and expectations.
Retailer Adoption of Apple Pay Quickens. Since I was able to use Apple Pay on my phone, I have been using it as the first payment method, even in a city as small as Omaha. I have been a pretty happy user ever since.
Business schools should use WeWork as a useful case study for multiple reasons. Once revered and valued at $120 billion, the startup pulled the plug on its own IPO after backlash from the market knocked its monstrous valuation down to around $15 billion. Today, its CEO resigned from his position while still remaining as the non-executive chairman.
There are several reasons that can contribute to the spectacular fall of WeWork. One of them is the severe lack of governance. The CEO controlled too much power, including leasing his buildings back to the company, charging the company $6 million for the trademark of WE brand, giving his wife power and buying companies that don’t seem to align with WeWork’s business. You can read more about WeWork in its tremendous take-down.
If there were proper checks and balance of his power, the litany of scandals and problems that contributed to the incredible stumble of the startup wouldn’t have existed. Only after its attempt to go public did the market, analysts and investors put pressure on the company and did things start to change.
The WeWork saga is very much similar to the story about Uber that I read in Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber. Uber’s founder and former CEO was ousted because of his abuse of power and behavior detrimental to the health of the company. Kalanick was removed because the Board and investors decided to put check and balance into Uber after years of keeping blind eyes.
I am actually glad to see this kind of developments take place. It means that the market and investors are doing their job to keep the founders and CEOs in check. As I grow up, I tend to believe that humans are prone to being power drunk and greed. We cannot be trusted with power without governance and checks and balance. That’s why the three-branched government was designed the way it is now. The sad thing is; however, that when you look at what is happening in politics, I really doubt the checks and balance is properly working as it should.
Starbucks has around $1.6 billion in stored value card liabilities outstanding. This represents the sum of all physical gift cards held in customer’s wallets as well as the digital value of electronic balances held in the Starbucks Mobile App.* It amounts to ~6% of all of the company’s liabilities.
This is a pretty incredible number. Stored value card liabilities are the money that you, oh loyal Starbucks customer, use to buy coffee. What you might not realize is that these balances simultaneously function as a loan to Starbucks. Starbucks doesn’t pay any interest on balances held in the Starbucks app or gift cards. You, the loyal customer, are providing the company with free debt.
This week, WeWork, that famed coworking space startup, filed its paperwork to go public. Here are my takeaways
The Positive Stuff
WeWork grew dramatically in terms of revenue, workstation capacity, memberships, run rate revenue and committed revenue backlog which as of June 30, 2019 is approximately eight times that as of December 31, 2017.
Enterprise memberships which refer to companies with more than 500 employees make up of 40% of all memberships and new locations seem to be filled up quickly
Net Capex per WorkStation added has gotten smaller
The not-so-positive stuff
While revenue grew fast, so did losses. WeWork lost money as quickly and almost at the same rate as they generated revenue. And the company continued to lose money to the tune of approximately $1.7 billion last year and $1.3 billion in the first half of 2019.
The company is projected to continue losing money from its operations and keep investing in new leases and workstation. The contractual obligations run up to $47 billions in the future. It remains to be seen whether the company will start generating profit and honor such a sizable obligation. On top of that, the majority of WeWork’s revenue comes from the US and recently, the inverted yield yesterday which caused one of the worst drops in the stock market’s history is seen as a sign of upcoming recession in two years. One of the concerns about WeWork is whether they can operate in recessions with huge fixed costs in the form of long-term leases.
Additionally, what stood out from WeWork’s S-1 for me is the influence of the CEO and his wife. Here is what the S-1 has to say about the Neumanns
We have entered into a number of transactions with related parties, including our significant stockholders, directors and executive officers and other employees. For example, we have entered into several transactions with our Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Adam Neumann, including leases with landlord entities in which Adam has or had a significant ownership interest. We have similarly entered into leases with landlord entities in which other members of our board of directors have a significant ownership interest, such as through ARK (as defined in “Business—Our Organizational Structure—ARK”).
In the event that Adam is permanently disabled or deceased during the ten-year period commencing upon the completion of this offering, a committee will be formed for the sole purpose of selecting a new Chief Executive Officer. The composition of this committee will be as follows:
Bruce Dunlevie and Steven Langman, who are currently members of our board of directors and members of our compensation and nominating committee, to the extent they are then serving as our directors, will serve on this selection committee with Rebekah Neumann (with the size of the committee fixed at two or three, as applicable); and
if neither Bruce nor Steven is then serving as one of our directors, Rebekah will choose one or two board members who are serving at the time to serve on this selection committee with Rebekah. In the event that Rebekah is not able to serve as described above, the trustee then acting on behalf of Rebekah and Adam’s estate will serve in all such capacities and make all such determinations. In addition, Adam and our board of directors have a process in place to designate an interim CEO in order to give the selection committee time to select a long-term CEO. Any selection of an individual to serve as our Chief Executive Officer must be made with the unanimous approval of the selection committee.
The company entered into leases with some buildings as soon as Adam acquired ownership of those buildings
For one of these four properties, we entered into a lease agreement with the landlord/partnership entity within one year following Adam acquiring his ownership interest, and in the other three cases we entered into a lease agreement with the landlord/partnership entity on the same day that Adam acquired his ownership interest. During the years ended December 31, 2016, 2017 and 2018, we made cash payments totaling $3.1 million, $5.6 million and $8.0 million to the landlord/partnership entities under these leases. During the year ended December 31, 2018, we received payments from the landlord/partnership entities in the form of tenant improvement reimbursements of $11.6 million related to these leases. During the six months ended June 30, 2019, we made cash payments to the landlord/partnership entities totaling $4.2 million under these leases and received no tenant improvement reimbursements related to these leases. As of June 30, 2019, future undiscounted minimum lease payments under these leases were approximately $236.6 million, which represents 0.5% of the Company’s total lease commitments as of June 30, 2019.
The company paid almost $6 million for the We trademark which was owned by WE Holdings, which is controlled by its own directors
In July 2019, WE Holdings LLC assigned residual rights related to “we” family trademarks to the Company, which we desired to obtain following our rebranding in early 2019. In consideration of this contribution and in lieu of paying cash, the Company issued to WE Holdings LLC partnership interests in the We Company Partnership with a fair market value of approximately $5.9 million, which was determined pursuant to a third-party appraisal.
Even though he will function without an employment contract, Adam will have total control over the direction and decisions of WeWork due to his ownership of B and C class shares. His influence isn’t particularly reassuring given how much has been written about the chaos at WeWork. I had one here
The grand vision which sometimes seems closer to delusion than ambition to me is reflected within the first sentence of the S-1 form.
Mission: “We are a community company committed to maximum global impact. Our mission is to elevate the world’s consciousness”
I literally have no idea what “elevate the world’s consciousness” means and how a real estate company, not a tech one no matter how much they try to portray themselves so, can turn those words into actions and reality.