“The bigger you get, the more scrutiny there is, and the larger the losses you have, the more sensitive investors are to it,” said Jane Leung, chief investment officer of Scenic Advisement, an investment bank for shares in private companies.
WeWork was founded by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey in New York in 2010. The pair bet that co-working would be big, and they began taking out pricey leases on large commercial spaces in New York and other major cities, then renting out portions to start-ups. In time, WeWork, which is officially known as the We Company, expanded to offer larger spaces to corporate tenants such as Expedia, JPMorgan Chase and Siemens.
Mr. Neumann, an Israeli who lived on a kibbutz, and Mr. McKelvey, who lived on a commune in Oregon, quickly distinguished WeWork as an unconventional company. Mr. Neumann spoke passionately about its role in creating a better world, while Mr. McKelvey, a vegetarian, led an effort to make WeWork a meat-free company.
That idealism was reflected in the financial prospectus. “We are a community company committed to maximum global impact,” the company wrote. “Our mission is to elevate the world’s consciousness.”
The company’s ambitions have since expanded beyond co-working spaces into housing and education.
But in recent years, its rhetoric has collided with the realities of running a complex business. It has been criticized for being largely backed by the SoftBank Vision Fund, which counts the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia as a major source of capital.
And Mr. Neumann, the animating force behind the company, has come under scrutiny for several potential conflicts of interest. His wife, Rebekah, has started an elementary school as part of the company. Mr. Neumann has used the company to invest in inland surfing parks.
The Wall Street Journal has revealed instances when Mr. Neumann had WeWork take out leases on buildings he owned, and has sold off a large number of his shares in the company, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, before the I.P.O. Wednesday’s filing stated that Mr. Neumann would eventually transfer the properties he had leased to WeWork to the company, and that he would refrain from buying any new properties with the intent of leasing them to WeWork.