Report: WeWork has a new CEO and he’s a real estate — not a tech — exec

If WeWork wanted to cement the impression that it no longer strives to be viewed as a tech company but rather as a real estate giant focused on leasing space, it would probably choose a veteran from the real estate world.

That’s just what it has done, too, according to a new story from the WSJ that says the company, which was famously forced to pull its initial public offering last fall, has settled on Sandeep Mathrani as its new top banana.

Mathrani has spent the last 1.5 years as the CEO of Brookfield Properties’ retail group and as a vice chairman of Brookfield Properties. Before joining the Chicago-based company, he spent eight years as the CEO of General Growth Properties. It was one of the largest mall operators in the U.S. until Brookfield acquired it for $9.25 billion in cash in 2018.

Mathrani also spent eight years as an executive vice president with Vornado Realty Trust, a publicly traded real estate company with a market cap of $12.5 billion. (Brookfield is slightly smaller, with a market cap of roughly $8 billion.)

Mathrani will reportedly relocate to New York from Miami, where, according to public records, he owns at least one high-rise apartment that he acquired last year.

He’ll be reporting to Marcelo Claure, the SoftBank operating chief who was appointed executive chairman of WeWork in October in order to help salvage what Claure has himself said is an $18.5 billion bet on WeWork by SoftBank.

Specifically, Claure told nervous employees at an all-hands meeting shortly after his appointment, “The size of the commitment that SoftBank has made to this company in the past and now is $18.5 billion. To put the things in context, that is bigger than the GDP of my country where I came from [Bolivia]. That’s a country where there’s 11 million people.”

Claure — who earlier spent four years as the CEO of SoftBank-backed Sprint — was reportedly trying to hire T-Mobile CEO John Legere for the CEO’s post. Legere later communicated through sources that he had no plans to leave T-Mobile, yet just days later, in mid-November, Legere, who joined T-Mobile in 2012, announced that he’s stepping down as CEO after all, though he will remain chairman of the company. (According to the Verge, his contract is up April 30.)

Sprint and T-Mobile were expected to merge, though 13 states, led by the attorneys general of New York and California, are suing to block the deal over concerns that the merger would hurt competition and raise prices for users’ cell service.

Either way, Mathrani is a stark contrast to WeWork’s co-founder and longtime CEO Adam Neumann, who was pressured to resign from the company after his sweeping vision for it as a tech company that enables customers to seamlessly shift from one WeWork location to another while also paying for software and services was met with extreme skepticism by public market investors.

Indeed, though SoftBank marked up the company’s value over a number of private funding rounds — all the way to a brow-raising $47 billion — public investors began raising questions about its real value, and WeWork’s governance, as soon as WeWork publicly released the paperwork for its initial public offering.

Between the in-depth look its S-1 provided into the company’s spiraling losses; the degree of control held by Neumann (not fully understood previously); and a series of unflattering reports about his leadership style, including beginning with the WSJ; it didn’t take long before the company was forced to abandon its IPO dreams.

No doubt it’s now Mathrani’s job to eventually resuscitate those.

According to the WSJ, SoftBank has already established a five-year business plan that it expects will get the company to profitability and allow it to be cash-flow positive by some time next year.

Part of that plan clearly involved layoffs; it cut 2,400 employees in late November, shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. It has also been selling off companies that were acquired at Neumann’s direction but are seen as non-core assets.

What WeWork does not intend to curtail, reportedly, are its efforts to open new locations, even if it acquires them at a slower pace than in previous years.

Ginni Rometty leaves complex legacy as she steps away as IBM CEO

When Ginni Rometty steps down as CEO at IBM in April and her replacement Arvind Krishna takes the helm, more than eight years will have passed since she took the reins at Big Blue. The executive helped lead a massive transformation, but IBM has had a bumpy financial ride throughout her tenure — at one time recording an astonishing 22 straight quarters of declining revenue.

To be fair, Rometty took over at a tumultuous time when technology was shifting from on-prem software stacks to the cloud. She saw what was coming and used the company’s considerable cash position to buy what she needed to make that switch while taking advantage of IBM’s extensive R&D to build other pieces in-house. But the transition took time, which resulted in some financial missteps.

She deserves credit for trying to move the battleship in a new direction — culminating with the $34 billion purchase of Red Hat — even if the results were ultimately mixed.

Leading the way

Rometty was the first woman to lead IBM in an industry where female CEOs are scarce. When she came on board in 2012, there were just 21 women running Fortune 500 companies; last year, that number had risen to 33, still a paltry 6.6%. Along with Safra Catz at Oracle and Lisa Su of Advanced Micro Devices, Rometty has been part of a small group of female CEOs at large technology companies.

Startups Weekly: One Medical IPO raises unicorn hopes

Maybe ‘tech-enabled’ is good enough for public markets?

Everybody’s talking about revenues after WeWork, but maybe you still don’t need to have all the right numbers in place to achieve a strong IPO? That’s the initial takeaway Alex Wilhelm has after One Medical’s successful debut this week. One might think it looks like a tech-enabled unicorn, that doesn’t generate the recurring revenue and margins of a true tech-powered business.

But, the doctor-services provider closed up almost 40% on a somewhat ambitious price of $14 per share. It had raised $532.1 million during its time as a private company, with a fairly recent valuation of $1.71 billion. With its closing value of $19.50 per share today, One Medical is now worth $2.38 billion.

That’s despite gross margins under the 50% mark, deeply minority recurring revenue and 30% revenue growth in 2019 at best, as Alex noted on Extra Crunch Friday. It is now worth about 8.5x its trailing revenues.

“There are cash-generating SaaS companies that are growing only a bit more slowly that are trading for lower multiples,” he has previously observed. “I cannot see what makes the company — an unprofitable, only moderately growing upstart with non-recurring revenue — worth a SaaS multiple. Especially as its gross margins aren’t great and aren’t improving.”

Meanwhile, mattress-seller Casper, which also filed new information about its IPO plans this week, has numbers that aren’t all that different. But it’s just hoping to not take too big of a haircut on its last private valuation, Alex separately noted on EC.

Maybe public investors still care about a great story, despite the rough debuts of Blue Apron, SmileDirect, WeWork and a range of others? Certainly, One Medical’s work to improve medical care is laudable regardless of these questions (in fact, it won the Best Healthcare Startup Crunchie in 2013).

Stay tuned for more.

How acquirers look at your company

Let’s say the public markets are not for you, though, and instead you want to get acquired. Ed Byrne of Scaleworks looks at this both as a startup investor and, through a separate part of his company, as an acquirer, and has kindly provided a detailed explainer on Extra Crunch for startup founders.

Here are his key deciders from the purchaser perspective:

  1. Downside protection: Are we confident we are not going to lose money?
  2. Median: If we work hard, focus on good business operations and execute the low-hanging fruit, will we be able to grow this business enough to make a solid return (solid return being an increased valuation multiple from a higher revenue base)?
  3. Upside: If one of our category creation ideas pans out, and we succeed in winning a very targeted segment of the market, is there an opportunity for this business to be a real winner and provide outsized returns?

Buying and taking on someone else’s business is always a scary proposition — the unknown unknowns — but if you get comfortable with the fundamental of the company, acquisitions can be a real accelerator compared to the epic effort — and high risk — of starting from scratch.

Where top VCs are investing in travel, tourism and hospitality tech

Want to build the next Airbnb? In this week’s investor survey, Arman Tabatabai spoke to some of the most active and successful investors in travel-oriented industries today — the general mood is pretty positive, with M&A expected to help incumbents boost consumer-facing service quality, and new technologies cracking open more possibilities for companies of all sizes.

Respondents include:

A conversation with ‘the most ambitious female VC in Europe’

Starting a company in Europe? Want to? Here’s how Blossom Capital cofounder and long-time investor Ophelia Brown explains the opportunities in the region to Steve O’Hear.

Having now been in this ecosystem for so long, I think the inflection point is the number of successful high-growth companies that we’ve produced from Europe, be it Adyen, Spotify, Farfetch, Elastic and Klarna, where my [Blossom] partner Louise was as well, I think what it has really shown to people is that you can take risk at the early stage and build meaningful businesses from Europe. And I think that’s really encouraged a new next generation of entrepreneur. And Europe is changing its mindset that it’s okay to fail.

And I think the other shift is that now people are saying, “okay, well, I’m not going to move to the valley and trying to build my teams because talent is so competitive and so expensive over there, I want to build in Europe.” And then finally, the great engineering, design, product talent here and then being helped by funds like us to scale it at the beginning and early stages, and then going on to produce some really interesting things. I don’t think U.S. funds are coming over here because they see cheaper pricing and lower valuations. They’re coming over here because they are looking at markets and industries and finding the potential next best thing over in Europe.

Around the horn

SoftBank wants its on-demand portfolio to stop losing so much money (TC)

Tracking corporate venture capital’s rise over the past decade (EC)

True product-market fit is a minimum viable company (TC)

Gauging email success, invite-only app launches and other growth tactics (EC)

All eyes are on the next liquidity event when it comes to space startups (TC)

Essential advice for securing your small startup (EC)

Adding India to your business (TC)

#EquityPod

This week’s episode features Alex along with co-host Danny Crichton talking about:

  • Kleiner Perkins’ fast investment of a recent $600m round
  • Free Agency’s tech play for talent management
  • The huge round for “Ring for enterprise” Verdaka
  • Insurance startup funding trends
  • Updates on the on-demand wars
  • The latest in tech IPOs

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Justin Kan opens up (Part 1)

I am a chaplain trying to understand the tech world, and to me, that means I need to understand people like Justin Kan.

Who, after all, most “represents tech?” There are the obvious answers: secular deities like Bill Gates, Elon Musk or the late Steve Jobs. Or there are the often-marginalized figures on whom I’ve often preferred to focus in writing this column: the immigrant women of color who built the industry’s physical infrastructure; social workers and feminist philosophers who study how tech really works on a subconscious level, and how to fix it; or the next generation of leaders who represent the future of tech even as they worry about the inequalities they themselves embody.

But you can’t understand what has come to be the power and mystique of tech without also understanding the minds of its enigmatic founders. Justin Kan is a serial entrepreneur and founder who, whether you appreciate his public voice or not, certainly stands out as one of the most interesting examples of that classic Silicon Valley archetype: a tech entrepreneur ostensibly doing much more than just selling technology.

Kan famously started his business career not long after he graduated from Yale in 2005 by creating Justin.tv, a tech platform from which he broadcast his own life 24/7. Fifteen years later, Kan’s original idea seems quaint, given the level of self-promotion and oversharing that’s become commonplace. And yet, as he was arguably the first person to turn surveillance capitalism into not only overt performance art but also a noteworthy career in startups and venture capital, one can’t help but take the idea of Justin Kan seriously, at the very least as a harbinger of what is to come.

What Nutanix got right (and wrong) in its IPO roadshow

Back in 2016, Nutanix decided to take the big step of going public. Part of that process was creating a pitch deck and presenting it during its roadshow, a coming-out party when a company goes on tour prior to its IPO and pitches itself to investors of all stripes.

It’s a huge moment in the life of any company, and after talking to CEO Dheeraj Pandey and CFO Duston Williams, one we better understood. They spoke about how every detail helped define their company and demonstrate its long-term investment value to investors who might not have been entirely familiar with the startup or its technology.

Pandey and Williams reported going through more than 100 versions of the deck before they finished the one they took on the road. Pandey said they had a data room checking every fact, every number — which they then checked yet again.

In a separate Extra Crunch post, we looked at the process of building that deck. Today, we’re looking more closely at the content of the deck itself, especially the numbers Nutanix presented to the world. We want to see what investors did more than three years ago and what’s happened since — did the company live up to its promises?

Plan of attack