When Softbank first expressed interest in discussing business, Neumann insisted that Son should visit WeWork's headquarters in person. "It wasn't because we were trying to be cheeky," he says. "It was because part of what we do is energy -- and I can't put energy on a piece of paper."


Not everyone is convinced, however. Some of its critics say that WeWork should be treated like a traditional property company, not a Silicon Valley unicorn. WeWork doesn't actually own most of it spaces, but takes out long leases on buildings, which it then offers out in smaller chunks and on shorter terms. This can be a risky model: serviced office provider Regus (now IWG) thrived in the dotcom boom only to suffer when the bubble burst, filing for bankruptcy protection for its US business in 2003.

"The problem was catastrophically falling rents," IWG CEO Mark Dixon, who founded the company in 1989, tells me later. There was no real fall in demand, he says, but a disjoint in cost base. "If you sign leases that are too long and you're fixed at double the market on your liability side on leases, you basically lose all your margin." Today, IWG remains one of WeWork's main competitors, and, with over 3,000 locations to WeWork's 200, it is much bigger. IWG has been publicly traded since 2000; at the time of writing, it has a market cap of £2.2 billion. Dixon insists that he is not worried about WeWork. "There's no magic ingredient that they have that everyone else doesn't have," he says. IWG launched its first space under co-working brand Spaces, which is closer in style to WeWork than its more formal Regus offices, in 2015. I ask what he makes of WeWork's $20 billion valuation. "Well, it's a great story," he says.

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