The working place should inspire creativity

09 July


Zheko Kolev is Strategic Development Director at WeWork, a US start-up company worthing more than $ 20 billion, offering its members a network of buildings with smart workspaces that foster collaboration between companies across sectors. WeWork has 242 locations in 71 cities across 5 continents and is a home to over 20,000 companies. Kolev graduated Finance at Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, and holds a Master of Business Administration from Babson College in Boston, USA. He speaks 6 languages and has been involved in companies' global development in several countries, including Italy, the United States and England. Kolev was among the speakes of this year's DIGITALK conference, organized by Capital and the funds LAUNCHub Ventures and NEVEQ.

WeWork's network is growing at a fast pace. What is the strategy of the company to keep this growth?

On the one hand, our growth strategy continues to be directed in attracting successful start-ups and small and medium-sized businesses by delivering a growing product and an ever-increasing range of services that meet the needs of this traditional segment for us. On the other hand, the successful attraction of companies into two relatively new WeWork segments is also our strategic focus - concerning companies of between 100 and 1000 employees and those with over 1000 employees, which is also part of the focus of my work over the last 18 months. This may surprise some people, but 23% of the Fortune 500 corporations have offices in WeWork. Some of these large companies have offices in WeWork with more than a thousand jobs plus conference rooms, meeting rooms, entertainment and recreation areas, etc. I can not share the name, but a leading technology company has offices in WeWork with a total capacity of over 10,000 jobs on five continents. The companies in these two segments are from all sectors - from technology leaders to leading European and US banks, and up to date they generate about 45% of our sales, given that their contribution was less than 5% just 24 months ago. Part of our future growth will be due to the merger and acquisition operations. Here it is important to note that our efforts in this direction are more about our desire to generate additional added value for our members than expanding the business itself. And yet, by acqusition, we entered the Singapore market, and our interest is not only in acquiring locations and members, but to join WeWork with the talented team that built this business team and shares our values as a company that has made us number one in making such a deal.

A new service will soon be featured - Powered by We. What exactly does it represent?

Imagine a company that wants its employees to work in WeWork space, but has recently bought or signed a 20-year contract for renting a building or even renting a whole campus of buildings. Through Powered By We, instead of moving the company to our location, we turn their real estate into a WeWork Building. We design and build the internal spaces according to the WeWork standard and then we are responsible for the facility management. A Powered By We Building can get everything that our members would find in the standard WeWork locations - community management, event organization, infrastructure maintenance, conference room management and meeting rooms, reception and registration of guests, organizing incoming and outgoing mail, etc. We already have several completed Powered By We projects for leading global brands and we have more in the tube to come.

Big companies are currently moving thousands of their employees to WeWork. What makes a bank or a leading technology company choose WeWork instead of the more traditional office solutions on the market?

Some of the reasons overlap with those for which small, medium and start-up companies join WeWork and others are unique to the different corporations. I would say that one of the main reasons for all companies is attracting and retaining talents. In 2020, more than 50% of the workforce will be made up of people born between 1980 and 2000, or the generation known as the millennial one. Compared to previous generations, the demands of millennials on employers are different, and many traditional companies are too late in seeing this change in the values of people who are about to dominate the jobs market soon. For many of these people the important social benefits are not limited to car, home, TV - it is important for them to have a job that allows tghem to create valuable social contacts; to express their creativity; to let them participate in causes that they find important; to expand their horizons; to acquire new skills and above all to have a life-rich experience. Given that most of us spend 80-90% of our time at work, it's important that the workplace is a conductor of creativity, knowledge, shared causes and interests, friendships and experiences.

How WeWork can facilitate the relationship between companies and the new generation?

Most corporations, albeit late, have understood the new expectations that the young generation has in their working environment, but it is not easy for a company with more than 100,000 employees to decide that from tomorrow its offices around the world will resemble the headquarters of Google and that the experience of its employees will be as complete as the employees of the companies that have begun their existence in the past two decades and have built their working culture around this generation. Taking and implementing such a decision can take more than a decade and no company can keep its product world-class, if it fails to attract top performers for such a long time. For this reason many leading banks and other companies with a more traditional profile come to us saying that they want offices in WeWork because they are losing their best youngsters who are going to work for less money in new-generation companies and often even in start-ups. When a bank or other traditional company moves to WeWork, the workplace is completely changed - an open design where the concept of closed boxes is forbidden, furnishings and materials that give a professional appearance, but at the same time remind of home-like coziness and comfort, music in all common spaces and colors that inspire people to be creative, instead of trying to make everyone look the same way and think in a box.

How important is the design of the WeWork?

Design and spatial solutions are important, but it is not the most important thing - each WeWork team that manages a building has to organize between 7 and 10 events a week, some of which are regular and are held in any of our locations around the world as e.g. themed breakfast every Monday morning, Happy Hour every Thursday night, morning and evening sports training or massage sessions. Other events aim to help employees spend more time together, leaving for a moment the professional issues aside. Others target people from different companies, but with similar interests to share experience, or enable all WeWork members in a building to learn about the latest innovations in the industry. Our goal is for our buildings to host the most interesting events a city can offer, and world-renowned entrepreneurs, industry leaders and even statesmen are often guests of these events. I remember a recent event with the participation of Sir Richard Branson, and recently, the mayors of London and Chicago made a joint press conference, where the business connections between the two cities were deepened thanks to the presence of WeWork. Halloween and our Christmas parties are more impressive than some rock concerts, and each August we organize WeWork Summer Camp - a three-day tattoo festival with world-class performers, sports tournaments, TED Talks where our company employees can spend a great weekend together.

Does WeWork establish a working relationship between big and startup companies?

Surprisingly or not, big companies see the contact with startups and freelancers as a unique opportunity to access innovation and collaborations that can give them a new and unimpeded perspective. An investment fund, a bank, or a large software company can not afford to rush to officially embark on Blockchain technology for example. Such a solution requires serious preliminary analysis. How would investors react, how would customers react, how would this affect other business areas in which the company has an interest or participation? A feasible first step would be a joint project or other type of collaboration with people and small teams already working in the field, and WeWork is the home of most successful innovative startups and most leading freelance experts in one city. In this respect WeWork offers unique conditions for cooperation on all topics and between companies of all sizes. I say unique conditions because if you imagine a traditional coaching, there are usually 100-200 workstations, in the best case - 500. At the same time, the average size of a WeWork location is over 1500 workstations, often over 2000, in the beginning of 2019 we will open our world's largest location with over 6,000 workstations plus dozens of conference halls, meeting rooms, thousands of square meters with shared spaces, etc. With us, every building has plenty of space for companies of any size and competence on any business relevant topic. On the other hand, the online platform allows each member of our team to quickly and effectively check which are the companies and the people in a building or in a city that is competent on a certain topic.

Let's focus on your traditional members - start-ups and fast beginners. How does WeWork change their way of working and what are the greatest benefits for them besides the workplace?

All the benefits that apply to big companies, such as making it easier to attract talent, full service office needs, community membership, social contacts, and especially the flexibility of our contracts, are also important for smaller companies at WeWork , but there are some other unique WeWork features that have completely changed our set of capabilities to start-ups around the world. These companies in very few countries around the world can afford to rely only on their home market to be truly successful. On this occasion, if I can afford to make a recommendation to Bulgarian entrepreneurs, it is - from the very first day of setting up their company to think about their strategy for international development.

Does WeWork have its own social channels?

Years ago WeWork created an internal social network similar to LinkedIn or Facebook, where all of our members around the world communicate and work together. If years ago it was an extremely expensive and difficult venture for a start-up company from Hong Kong to find reliable partners and start selling in the UK, it is enough today to write in our social network "Hello, WeWork London, we are a start-up company from WeWork in Hong Kong, which has successfully developed an innovative product that helps visually impaired people looking for partners to help with the distribution of the product in the UK". One of the largest distributors of such products in England and also is our member, and the fact that both companies are at WeWork means credibility, which enables this partnership not only to stand on a firm grounds but also to be executed quickly and cheap. If you think, there is no other platform that gives you such an opportunity, because only in WeWork our members are not only virtual profiles but are people who actually work and develop their business in our buildings. This is a guarantee that the person on the other side of the line represents a verified and reliable company with a clear location and business history.

Currently, the world economy is growing and the climate seems comfortable for WeWork's development. If the situation changes, how would the company's strategy change?

Our strategy will always be that WeWork is the home of the happiest and most productive people on the planet. While our members believe that WeWork has never worked in a more stimulating environment, other companies will have to worry about the negative phases of the business cycle. Someone will say that happiness, and especially happiness at work, is a bit abstract and controversial category, but in fact happiness can also be measured. Leesman is a company whose goal is to provide in-depth information to its corporate clients about how satisfied employees are with the office space they are working in. At this point I cannot reveal the name, but literally last week, a leading global banking and finance company with more than 80,000 employees and offices in more than 70 countries, informs us that WeWork's offices have achieved 78.5 on the Leesman index, in the categories of productivity, happiness and active engagement of employees with space, WeWork's result was 100%. The overall result of WeWork's offices is an average of 20 points higher than the result of their headquarters and all other external vendor offices they use.

Is WeWork's business strategy in the long run, given the term of the building contracts?

We apply a series of policies and strategies that significantly limit the market risk. On some markets, we use a different business model compared to the usual one - instead of being a long-term tenant of buildings, we are joining with local partner building owners. We invest together and share the revenue. Thus, if there is a change in the price levels of rents on a given market, we have the opportunity to adjust to the new market conditions. Although we offer flexible terms of use for our offices, many of the big companies we are working with are looking for long-term solutions, and as I have already mentioned, the two big business segments already account for about 45% of WeWork's sales, that guarantees the relationships with many of the companies we work with.