When Tracy-Ann Brown started at WeWork in 2011, there were just a dozen employees. The entire team sat elbow to elbow in a single office at the newly opened WeWork Empire State.
“That was an amazing time to be at WeWork,” says Brown, who originally came in one day a week to help co-founder Miguel McKelvey with the bookkeeping. Within a few months she moved to full-time. “Everybody just jumped in to do whatever was needed. Sometimes that meant working all night, and believe me, I did that more times than I can count.”
Nine years later, we have thousands of employees in 425 locations in 27 countries around the world
“That same passion is still there for me,” she says. “I always feel like I’m creating something new.”
Brown says WeWork has changed a lot since the earliest days when there were just a handful of locations in New York. The company has quickly expanded to other parts of the country, then to cities around the world.
Brown and other employees who’ve been with the company from the beginning say they’ve found ways to successfully adapt to being part of a global company. As WeWork celebrates our ninth anniversary this week, they shared a little about what they’ve learned.
Step outside your comfort zone
Over the past nine years, Brown has taken on assignments that were not necessarily in her area of expertise—like starting new departments from scratch.
“My superpower is the institutional knowledge I’ve gained over the years,” she says. “I can apply that to any job I have taken on in the company.” Next, she’s helping to build our team in Japan as the vice president of people operations.
“When people come to me for advice, I tell them if you’re asked to do something totally different, just open yourself up to it,” she says. “A feeling of accomplishment and success comes from knowing you’re doing something needed.”
Play to your strengths
Just 24 hours after first hearing about WeWork in 2010, architect Devin Vermeulen was hired to design interiors. He remembers his interview with McKelvey.
“Miguel said to me, ‘Do you have a computer? Because we can’t afford one,’” says Vermeulen. “Luckily, I did.”
But in his first two years, WeWork’s creative director says he had a drill in his hand more than a laptop. No project was too small, whether it was putting together furniture or hanging artwork for members.
Back in college, Vermeulen felt like his passions—sketching ideas for houses, designing flyers for events, DJing at a campus radio station—were all over the place. “I saw it as an inability to focus,” he says. “I always thought I needed to be an expert at one particular thing.” Working at WeWork, Vermeulen says, has helped him see that his many interests are an asset.
“Don’t be afraid to play to your strengths,” he advises. “I’m not built to wear one hat, but that allows me to bring a different perspective to what I’m doing.”
Learn everything you can
Carlos Villamil was working for the company that installed the aluminum and glass in our first location in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. Just before the second building was slated to open, he was asked to interview for a full-time job with co-founder Adam Neumann.
“The interview was just the two of us walking around the block,” says Villamil, a senior construction manager. “At the end, he hired me on the spot.”
Originally from the Dominican Republic, Villamil took a job at a company that renovated the exteriors of buildings when he came to the U.S.
“I had no clue about construction,” he says. “I started carrying around the toolbox for another guy and learned everything I could. Three years later I was the foreman.”
He followed a similar trajectory at WeWork. He started out as a project manager, but after just a few months, he was in charge of construction.
“You can be or do anything you want,” he says. “It’s up to you. The way you do that is learning everything you can.”
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
With three buildings open in New York by 2011, WeWork turned its attention to San Francisco. Ernie Tovar, one of the first West Coast employees, remembers that there wasn’t yet a playbook for opening new locations.
“There were times when I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be doing,” says Tovar, who had to figure out things like the best process for moving in new members. “I know other people felt that way. But we wanted to get this building up and running, so we just kept going.”
Tovar, now a community lead, says he was lucky to have colleagues who let him know that they had his back. He passes their advice to new employees.
“Ask questions,” he says. “Make mistakes. Know that there’s somebody out there who will help you become the leader you want to be. I’ve had some great mentors, and I hope that I’ve been a mentor for other people on their own journey.”
Treat everyone as you want to be treated
Marga Snyder remembers hearing Neumann pitch WeWork at a networking breakfast in 2010. Snyder—who is passionate about sustainability and runs a community garden on the side—says Neumann’s message about community and togetherness struck a chord with her. “I was all about it,” she says. “I believed in it.” She spoke with Neumann after his pitch and started at WeWork a few weeks later.
Nine years after joining the company as a community associate, Snyder says WeWork “still feels like home.” Each time she walks into a new building, the aesthetic puts her at ease, and the connections formed between the members remind her of the importance of her job. Still on the community team, Snyder cherishes the camaraderie that she feels here, and tries to preserve that feeling with her advice to new employees.
“Treat everyone the way you want to be treated,” she tells them. “Be as honest as you can. You live with your decisions, so don’t take shortcuts and be true to who you are.”