The We Company has put the skids on the road show it reportedly had planned to begin this week to drum up investor enthusiasm for its WeWork office-sharing startup, and it will delay its initial public offering until later in the year, the company said in a terse release last night.
“The move reflects the difficulty the company, along with its co-founder and chief executive, Adam Neumann, have had getting the offering off the ground, even after dramatically slicing its valuation and revamping its governance,” Maureen Farrell wrote for The Wall Street Journal in breaking news of the forthcoming announcement.
“It is a blow for a company that had been one of the most richly valued of a raft of startups planning to go public in a banner year for IPOs, but has been dogged by doubt over whether it can thrive as a public company,” she continues. Sources tell Farrell its valuation has tumbled from $47 billion in a fundraising exercise this year with SoftBank “to something closer to between $15 billion and $20 billion or possibly lower.”
“WeWork has become an extreme example of the excesses afforded to technology entrepreneurs in the era of unicorns -- startups valued at $1 billion or more. [Neumann] was able to raise billions of dollars at astronomical valuations and spend freely, while retaining effective control over operations through special classes of stock,” Bloomberg’s Gillian Tan, Liana Baker and Michelle Davis write.
“In an effort to keep its IPO on track, WeWork last week took steps to limit Neumann’s control of the company after an IPO, as well as other measures to improve its corporate governance,” they add.
“Over the past few weeks, The We Company -- which has expanded to include a boutique hotel operation, members-only financial services and a charter yacht service (!) -- has made several moves to allay investors’ concerns. The company unwound some particularly egregious transactions with Neumann and added new directors. It also moved to limit Neumann’s power at the company,” Jonathan Shieber and Ingrid Lunden write for TechCrunch.
“And last week, the company amended its prospectus to include the appointment of an independent lead director. It also slashed the strength of Class B and Class C shares so Neumann would not have 20 times the voting power of other shareholders, and removed Neumann’s wife from succession planning at the company. And then SoftBank, to shore up the IPO value, reportedly was prepared to buy at least $750 million in additional shares in the process,” Shieber and Lunden continue.
“Reuters reported last week that We Company might seek a valuation in its IPO of between $10 billion and $12 billion, a dramatic discount to the $47 billion valuation it achieved in January.… Were We Company to have pressed on with the IPO at such a low valuation, it would have represented a major turning point in the growth over the last decade of the venture capital industry, which has led to the rise of startups such as Uber Technologies Inc., Snap Inc. and Airbnb Inc.,” write Reuter’s Joshua Franklin and Anirban Sen.
“It would have meant that We Company would be valued at less than the $12.8 billion in equity it has raised since it was founded in 2010, according to data provider Crunchbase. And it would have been a blow to its biggest backer, Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp., at a time when it is trying to amass $108 billion from investors for its second Vision Fund.”
“WeWork, the biggest private tenant in Manhattan, leases large amounts of office space and converts it into sleek work areas. Though the company has grown quickly, it remains deeply unprofitable, and is expected to keep losing money for some time. In the first half of this year, it recorded an operating loss of $1.37 billion and spent $1.5 billion in cash,” Michael J. de la Merced writes for The New York Times.
“Analysts and investors have also said that the We Company has not been forthcoming with detail on profits and occupancy that would give them greater insight into how its properties are performing,” de la Merced adds.
“For a business that claims its mission is to ‘elevate the world's consciousness,’ We’s IPO process reveals a glaring lack of self-awareness,” Inc.’s Guadalupe Gonzalez suggests before detailing its problems with Neumann's finances and influence, its inflated valuation and its lack of transparency.
“It's a tough business trying to raise the world’s consciousness, especially when you have yet to do enough soul-searching of your own,” she concludes.
Sounds like a good, old-fashioned tent revival might have been more appropriate than that road show the company canceled.