WeWork’s presence in 100 cities across 27 countries can provide an air of familiarity for jet-setting entrepreneurs. But business realities in so many markets are less consistent than the aroma of fresh-brewed coffee. History, culture, technology, and economics shape the climate in which startups operate—and can make certain cities appealing for certain businesses (and maybe not so much for others).
Globally, WeWork is a powerful economic multiplier—by a minimum of 1.2 in international megacities like Sao Paulo and Seoul, and 2.3 in major U.S. cities like Seattle, according to the company’s first Global Impact Report. So we talked to four entrepreneurs and WeWork members from those cities about what it was like founding their companies there. These members—Hana Lee, CEO of vegan-skincare brand Melixir in Seoul; Mateus Teixeira, CEO of cryptocurrency gateway Warp Exchange in Sao Paulo; Jude Dai, founder of Immersive Square; and Zachary Rozga, CEO of the Consumer Engagement Company, both in Seattle—recognize the power of WeWork in letting them focus on their businesses. Here they share their best tips, lessons, and strategies for launching a business, no matter what city you’re in.
Play to your city’s strength
South Korea is to beauty products what Italy has long been to luxury fashion—so for Hana Lee, who worked for another Korean beauty startup for four years before launching Melixir, the decision to found her vegan-skincare line in Seoul was a no-brainer. “It’s really fast to make cosmetics in Korea,” says Lee, who was able to launch her first product in about six months, versus the typical two or three years. “I can be four times faster than manufacturing in the States, and I can react on trend very quickly.”
As new companies like Melixir and established businesses are recognizing how being in Seoul can help their business, they’re boosting the city’s economy. According to the Global Impact Report, the WeWork economy injected $1.2 billion into the local economy last year alone.
Warp Exchange’s Teixeira also thinks that founding his company in the Brazilian financial capital of São Paulo gives him an advantage. “We are at the very center of everything that’s happening,” he says. “Despite being a crypto gateway, we always have contact with the stock-exchange market, the finance market,” which Teixeira says has proved essential as he scales his business. The trends are on his side: He points out that twice as many people are invested in Bitcoin than in the national stock market.
Rozga found that Seattle’s greatest strength might be its large pool of coding talent—and coders’ eagerness to get involved in startups. “I’ve been able to get incredible engineers to help me build our technology product in their nights and weekends,” he says, which might not have happened had he launched elsewhere.
But also take advantage of its weaknesses
“Banking is in the middle of a revolution here,” says Teixeira. “New legislation that is coming to banks is changing how the market behaves. Currently we have an all-out war for the customer”—in particular, the tens of millions of “unbanked” Brazilians who are putting their money into checking accounts for the first time while searching for the lowest fees. Cryptocurrency, according to Teixeira, is a “solution for many of the problems” facing the Brazilian consumer in this changing environment. “You can be your own bank if you have your own cryptocurrencies.”
Go all in on your startup community
Jude Dai’s experience starting Immersive Square—which creates pop-ups and corporate events around augmented reality and other digitally-enhanced experiences—was completely dependent on her own deep involvement in Seattle’s startup ecosystem. She learned about immersive storytelling at a conference, “and that kind of put into my head that this was something I would like to do.”
Before long, she was networking with others in the industry at Meetup events and leaving her day job to work full-time on her self-funded startup. “I’m glad I didn’t do the halfway—doing a daytime job and moonlighting a little bit—because I never would’ve been able to immerse myself sufficiently in the startup world,” she says.
Not only did Dai benefit from being at the epicenter of immersive experiences, but being a WeWork member helped her grow her business without eating into her budget. The Global Impact Report assessed a global savings of $24,000 for a member company over basing one’s company in traditional real estate.
Both Teixeira and Rozga enjoyed many benefits of being part of the WeWork Labs community. WeWork gave them the visibility that helped them scale up, Teixeira says—and he met a fellow member who became an investor and a housemate. For Rozga, Labs helped him expand his network beyond Seattle to L.A. and New York City, where his media product is a more natural fit.
Or embrace your loner status
“Frankly, if I were to do it all over again, I would most likely not start this company in Seattle,” says Rozga of The Consumer Engagement Company. That may come as a surprise, given the city’s status as the home of Amazon, Microsoft, and countless startups. But for Rozga, that’s sort of the problem: His company, which creates an advertising product, has nothing to do with the core interests of that city’s tech community.
“If you don’t have the words “artificial intelligence,” “machine learning,” “augmented reality”—if that’s not your core competency as a business, [investors in Seattle] just ignore [you],” Rozga says. “They just don’t care if it’s not something that’s going to be sold to Microsoft or Amazon.”
His solution: He took advantage of the city’s great coding talent while seeking investors elsewhere.
Dai, who is also in Seattle, hasn’t locked down any local investors either, but she sees potential in starting an impact-oriented product that’s outside the typical portfolio that appeals to hungry FANG (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) acquisition teams.
“The vision I have in mind is not necessarily building to fit their roadmap,” she explains. “I’m looking for investors who invest in people who can work together with other entrepreneurs to build a sustainable business ecosystem. The world can use some diversity in its ‘portfolio.’”
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