WeWork, the troubled office space company built by the entrepreneur Adam Neumann that has struggled to right itself in recent years, is in talks with investors to restructure its outstanding debt of more than $3 billion and raise more cash.
An infusion of cash would most likely give WeWork the hundreds of millions of dollars it needed to keep operating for at least a few years, according to two people with knowledge of the negotiations. And restructuring its debt would give executives some leeway to continue reshaping the company without having to worry about running out of funds.
Yardi, a real estate software provider in Santa Barbara, Calif., is among the investors considering new investment in the company, the people said. Yardi has already been working closely with WeWork as it expands beyond offering co-working spaces to additional services like software for office management at its properties.
There is no guarantee that the WeWork deal will close, and even if it does, it could be weeks away, one of the people said.
The moves to overhaul WeWork’s debt come after the company burned through over $700 million of cash last year. Still, the company’s performance has gradually improved.
And the company’s talks with investors underscore the continuing challenges to its business, which involves leasing office space from landlords and then charging customers to use it.
SoftBank, the Japanese investment conglomerate that is both WeWork’s largest shareholder and its largest debtor, is playing a key role in the negotiations. It is not expected to, however, put any additional money into the company, the people said. Since 2017, SoftBank has poured more than $10 billion into WeWork and written off billions of dollars in losses on its investment.
SoftBank recently took more steps to shore up WeWork’s financial footing. It lent WeWork $250 million in January, and last month agreed to increase the size of a debt facility and extended the date at which it had to be paid back to March 2025 from November this year.
In addition to SoftBank’s efforts, the deal under discussion will give WeWork the breathing room to focus on improving its performance and growing the company, which involves finding areas to cut costs. In January, WeWork said it would cut 300 employee positions.
Sandeep Mathrani, a veteran of the real-estate industry who took over as chief executive in February 2020, has been working to improve the company’s financials — a task made easier as office occupancy, which was hit hard during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, ticked higher in the last quarter of 2022.
Last month, in a call with Wall Street analysts, Mr. Mathrani raised the possibility of a debt restructuring, saying that the company expected to work toward extending the dates by which its debt must be paid back. But the urgency to lighten its debt load may have increased as WeWork grapples with headwinds in its business.
Founded in 2010 in New York, WeWork, once a darling of the start-up world, has since become a cautionary tale. Mr. Neumann positioned WeWork as a technology-enabled company that transcended the traditional real estate business. It was a pitch that charmed well-known investors, such as Benchmark Capital, Fidelity and SoftBank, and convinced them to invest at valuations more akin to high-growth technology companies than real estate ones.
At its peak, WeWork was valued at $47 billion in early 2019, before it sought to go public. But Mr. Neumann’s ambitions came hurtling to the ground as WeWork’s losses mounted. The company failed to convince investors to buy into its planned initial public offering, forcing it to cancel those plans.
In September 2019, Mr. Neumann gave up the chief executive role. SoftBank spent billions of dollars to rescue the company — which was in danger of running out of cash before the end of that year — and buy out shareholders, including Mr. Neumann. The deal to save WeWork came with massive layoffs.
Things only worsened in 2020 when the pandemic shuttered offices and forced employees to work from home and away from WeWork’s Instagram-ready rental spaces. The company’s customers abandoned their memberships in droves.
At the time, WeWork said going public would provide new capital to grow the company while it cut costs by renegotiating its leases. It finally went public in October 2021, one of the many companies that did so by merging with a special purpose acquisition company.
But the company’s value has continued to decline as it burns through cash. At the end of last year, WeWork had $287 million of cash, down from $924 million at the end of 2021. In the fourth quarter, WeWork said it lost $568 million as it juggled pricey leases while selling customers on new products, such as office management software. It ended 2022 with $15.6 billion of lease obligations and over $3 billion of borrowings weighing down its balance sheet.
The company’s stock price shows just how nervous investors have been about its fate and its debt coming due over the next few years, most of which is owed to SoftBank. WeWork’s shares have hovered around $1, down roughly 90 percent from its stock price when the company went public.
In the meantime, Mr. Neumann walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars. He is now running a new real estate start-up called Flow with backing from Andreessen Horowitz, the prominent venture firm.
Mr. Neumann remains a shareholder of WeWork, but he is far removed from the company. As part of a 2021 deal with SoftBank, when they bought more of his shares, he was not allowed to participate in board meetings, one of the people with knowledge of the situation said. The next year, he was allowed to ask SoftBank whether he or a designee could return to the board as an observer. He hasn’t asked to return.
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