Inside WeWork’s universe of trademarks
Firm's 94 registered businesses and slogans show an evolution in marketing strategy
Two weeks ago, a Washington D.C.-based patent lawyer filed a trademark request for a client she’s had for the better part of a decade. It was routine for Allison Strickland Ricketts: The attorney had done this at least 94 times for the Delaware-registered holding company since 2011.
But this trademark filing was more expansive than usual — the company’s listed goods and services included co-working services, household linens, educational services, apartment rentals and even restaurant services. The final section of the filing listed dating apps, babysitting services and pet day care.
That same day, the business world awoke to the news that WeWork was no longer calling itself WeWork. Now named the We Company, the $47 billion startup was no longer bound by a moniker that many critics said showed its true face — an old-school office-leasing company that masqueraded as a tech firm.
To paint a clearer picture of the We Company’s evolving marketing strategy as it hurtles toward a likely public offering, The Real Deal analyzed every brand and business it has filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The We Company declined to comment for this article.
In the beginning, there was WeWork
In 2009, a pitch deck created by CEO Adam Neumann and fellow co-founder Miguel McKelvey imagined a WeWork ecosystem that would create a platforms for all aspects of life. For members of the “We” community, there would be a WeBank, to provide exclusive financial services and loans. Its members could retreat to a WeSleep, a boutique European-style hotel for members, and WeLive, for We residents hoping to live a block from the beach.
For some respite, the WeSail would be available to anyone in need of a Caribbean yacht cruise. And for the more charitable members, they could donate to WeGive+ to support disaster relief and human rights causes.
From that pitch deck, only WeSleep was ever trademarked though Neumann has said he plans to launch WeBank. Other endeavors over the years have been listed as abandoned with the trademark office, such as “Peoplehood,” which was slated as a retail store to provide “general consumer merchandise,” and “The Tribe School,” an elementary school in Tribeca designed by Bjarke Ingels.
It wasn’t until 2014 that WeWork’s ambition beyond co-working — and its now-famous avant-garde marketing — was laid bare at the patent office in D.C. Between 2014 and 2015, WeWork, then valued at $1.5 billion, trademarked a slew of potential new business lines. There was WeMove, an entry into health and fitness; WeBike, a valet service for bicycles; WeEat, software for meal delivery; WeLive, a residential division that would become one of its three primary business lines; WeWork Labs, an accelerator for startups within its co-working walls; and WeLearn, a suite of educational services.
Its trademarked catchphrases included “A Physical Social Network,” “We Generation,” “Do What You Love,” “Create Your Life’s Work,” and, in a final brush of workplace optimism, “Thank God It’s Monday.” In many respects, that’s the tip of the iceberg.
A more enlightened We?
A day after the company name officially changed this month, the We Company filed a trademark for a new catchphrase: “Elevating the World’s Consciousness” — a bombastic reaffirmation of the company’s desire to provide more than just office space. It also filed for the phrases “Creator” and “We Are One.”
Our mission is to elevate the world’s consciousness. The idea that began years ago was always about more than work—it was about supporting all aspects of the way we work, grow, and live. We’re in a constant state of self-discovery, self-growth, and change. https://t.co/2fXj3Tof7C pic.twitter.com/uzlaaZMxa5
— The We Company (@we) January 8, 2019
Under the re-branding, the We Company is now split into three distinct branches: WeWork, the well-known office business; WeLive, its shaky residential play with just two locations; and WeGrow, an educational offering that includes a coding school, gym and elementary school.
But the switch-up comes at a time when the company heads into an uncertain economic future. Investor confidence in the high-minded startup was shaken this month following a reduced commitment by SoftBank, its largest backer. Reports first emerged last month that investors in SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund, which is backed by the sovereign wealth funds of Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, had balked at a $16 billion investment. This month, SoftBank announced it would commit to a $2 billion investment instead, separately from the fund.
And the company has a decision to make: do its executives seek an initial public offering in trying economic times, or do they push on and continue to raise money to fund its expansion, as they continue to increase the exposure in hundreds of markets? This could be a difficult path, considering the company is yet to turn a profit, and has racked up huge losses even as it commits to new business lines.
This week it announced Made By We, a no-membership-needed co-working desk service, which had been trademarked back in 2015. Last week it signed six new leases for its HQ By WeWork for mid-sized tenants.
Other real estate firms have also begun to adopt the all-encompassing business strategy. For example, Compass, the brokerage that is also backed by SoftBank and valued at $4.4 billion, announced plans for an end-to-end platform, and intends to provide lending, cleaning and moving services to clients.
But one Reuters Breaking Views column offered a sobering take this month, ”WeWork seems to be on a path to enlightenment, when what it needs is one toward profit.”