It has been a busy first six months for WeWork in terms of its South African operations. In September of last year the company opened up its first co-working spaces in Rosebank (The Link), which is also the first location on the African continent.
This was followed by the opening of two additional spaces – one in Johannesburg and the other in Cape Town – as WeWork looks to expand its footprint in the country.
Now with six months under its belt, it’s time to find out how things have been going for WeWork in South Africa. To gain that insight we recently sat down with WeWork South Africa GM, Stafford Masie, following a media roundtable and tour of the company’s Rosebank location.
To gain more insight into how WeWork operates locally, how the past six months have been, as well as what the future may hold, we asked Masie about the way in which the company goes about picking a location, how it enables collaboration between its members, and the notion of flexing alongside your business.
Here’s what he had to say.
Hypertext: During our tour of the building, you ran off some numbers with regards to collaboration between members of WeWork globally. This building has only been open for six months, but do you have any local numbers yet?
Stafford Masie: Our buildings have only just opened up, so members are still settling in, but they are interacting with the app and engaging from a networking perspective. In terms of businesses working with one another in this specific space, we do not have that stat just yet, but we see a lot of it happening already.
We see it all the way from contracting, like one of the independent graphic designers in the building doing work for Naspers which I mentioned earlier, all the way to general mentorship.
It’s also not always a commercially-driven engagement that happens either. Sometimes members just say, “we want to do UX masterclasses,” so they get people together because it’s their passion, for example.
And those are the types of things that are happening in the spaces.
Hypertext: You’ve spoken about the idea of flexing, and WeWork growing as your company numbers do. Have you seen organisations grow in their time here?
SM: So 43 percent of the members in our building are enterprise, such as FTI Consulting, Naspers and others. All those companies are growing their numbers here, and in the six months that they’ve been here, they’ve chosen to take up more space.
This building is 99 percent full, partially because of popularity and companies wanting to take space, as well as the existing members requiring more space.
Hypertext: While you cannot comment on how many spaces you’re planning for SA, you did speak about clusters of WeWork spaces in cities like London. Can something similar be applied in Johannesburg for example?
SM: When WeWork has numerous points of presence inside of a city, it starts offering another set of value differentiators. If you go into London and you have seven buildings surrounding you, on any given day that could mean 14 different events you could be participating in, and that’s huge.
So it makes sense, and people often ask why do we have so many WeWorks in proximity to one another, it’s because we do things like that in a WeWork environment. That’s an incredible value proposition and the city becomes a campus.
Everywhere we go, WeWork does that. Do we have any specific plans for South Africa right now? All I want to tell you is that we have three buildings up and running in six months, and that’s impressive expansion, so we’re focused in filling the new Sandton and Cape Town buildings.
Hypertext: When it comes to picking a location for a WeWork building, what is the thinking that goes into it?
SM: To answer that I need to take a step back.
When WeWork hires folks like myself in countries like South Africa, it’s because we have insights on the ground.
The cities, the movement of people within those cities, traffic patterns, business currents and where they flow, and if you take a look at Africa, the likes of Cape Town and Johannesburg have the best mix of all those elements.
Then if you move further into the continent, you have Ghana, Lagos in Nigeria and Mauritius, and those are the arterial veins of how business moves in Africa, especially if you look at the telecommunications and banking sectors.
So WeWork does rely on our local insight in terms of where we should be.
There’s also an algorithmic, data-driven approach to that process behind where we choose to locate. It’s a science. We take a look at things like density, we’ll take a look at traffic, we’ll take a look at all of these factors and general real estate numbers in order to validate our decisions.
Hypertext: Lastly given the issues surrounding WeWork last year, what is the local thinking about the future of the business?
SM: We’ve eclipsed quite rapidly as a business. In six months we’ve gone from a startup to a very serious business. If you take a look at the leadership we have now, and the bench of leaders we have inside of EMEA [Europe, Middle East and Africa], they have incredible track records of running and turning around large businesses.
So WeWork as a business right now executes quite a lot, we’re more focused on profitability and accountability. We also have a shareholder now who has doubled down on us, and it shows the belief that they have in the product and the opportunity.
Our mandate right now is to drive profitability in the business. We’re quite confident we can do that and grow responsibly.