ST. LOUIS — Weeks before WeWork opened its downtown offices, one of the coworking giant’s account executives sent an email blast to the clients of at least one other local shared-office company.
“Just wanted you to know there is another great option in STL,” wrote the executive, Jerod Williams.
One of the emails went to attorney Jase Carter. He is a member at Nebula, which renovated two century-old buildings off the ultra-hip Cherokee Street in south St. Louis and now rents desks to lawyers, artists, filmmakers and others looking for shared, flexible office space.
Carter’s response to WeWork was stern.
“Please do not send me any more emails,” he said. “The St. Louis startup scene is very inviting and encouraging, so the idea of WeWork poaching businesses from existing workspaces shows a remarkable lack of judgment.”
WeWork’s St. Louis launch on Monday has sparked anticipation from the local business community. It’s also caused some early friction.
Some see the company’s expansion here as a sign of the area’s economic health. Others were put off by WeWork’s tactics in entering the market, and have called the company out for marketing to individuals who already belong to a local coworking space.
“I just felt like it was … at the very least, tone-deaf,” said Carter, who runs his business, Carter Law Firm, out of Nebula.
WeWork declined to comment on the email.
That said, Carter — and others — said they think the market can support all of the region’s coworking spaces, including WeWork, as the U.S. workforce grows increasingly mobile.
New York-based WeWork has been in the spotlight in recent months, as it withdrew an initial public offering and removed founder Adam Neumann from his position as chief executive officer. SoftBank, a Japanese technology conglomerate, announced a $9.5 billion bailout last month, including $5 billion in new financing. SoftBank has cut WeWork’s market value to below $8 billion, a fraction of the $47 billion valuation it gave in January.
But the company is still opening locations rapidly; a Reuters analysis showed 622 sites open on Oct. 10, up from 528 on June 30.
In August, the Chicago-based real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle announced that WeWork would lease the entire 22nd and 23rd floors of St. Louis’ tallest high-rise, the One Metropolitan Square building.
WeWork’s new space has expansive rows of offices, along with new mothers’ rooms, wellness rooms, classrooms, printing stations and kitchen areas. It is the only place in the building that allows dogs, according to WeWork.
Danielle Hohmeier, director of marketing for the legal analytics company Juristat, moved into WeWork on Nov. 1, drawn by the flexibility of a coworking space — and the scope of WeWork.
Juristat currently has 22 employees, but only 15 are locally based. Through the company’s memberships, the employees in other cities can use the WeWork offices nearest to them. And when employees travel to meet with clients in other cities, they can base themselves out of WeWork, rather than camping out in a coffee shop or another less convenient location.
Hohmeier also likes that the coworking company takes care of day-to-day management. In a previous building, Juristat’s director of operations often had to make coffee and fill bathroom towel dispensers, she said. Now those issues are all taken care of by WeWork.
WeWork offers private offices, office suites and event space. Clients can also purchase access to a dedicated desk, or choose a “hot desk” option, which means they can take any open seat.
At WeWork’s downtown space, the main areas are smattered with references to St. Louis institutions, like an Anheuser-Busch-inspired piece of neon art, a Forest Park-inspired painting, a chess board (a nod to the World Chess Hall of Fame) and an archway shaped like the monument.
Rebecca Pan, CEO of Covo, another downtown coworking space, said WeWork’s expansion here could help raise awareness of coworking.
Pan said her members at Covo’s San Francisco location received emails from WeWork in the past.
That said, Pan said she still thinks WeWork’s entrance into the St. Louis market will be positive.
“They do increase the credibility of coworking in every city that they’re in,” Pan said.