Jen Berrent of WeWork speaks onstage during a panel at Reuters at 2016. Image via Getty.
In November 2017, Jen Berrent, WeWork’s chief operating officer, gushed in a press release that she’d found a place that felt just like home. That place was The Wing, the chic string of women-focused coworking spaces that were just beginning to dot New York City. Berrent wrote that WeWork’s investment in the rival startup represented the start of a “magic” partnership.
“At this moment in time,” Berrent wrote, “I could not be more optimistic about how Jen, Julie and the rest of the WeWork team in partnership with Audrey, Lauren and the rest of The Wing team will create magic together.”
WeWork subsequently led a $32 million Series B funding round for The Wing and took control of a 23% stake in the company, worth an estimated $58.8 million as of June 2019, according to Bloomberg. That gigantic investment corresponded with a boom for The Wing, which now has five locations in New York and one apiece in Seattle, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, D.C., Los Angeles, London, and Toronto.
But the magic moment appears to be quietly coming to an end. In the midst of WeWork’s general chaos, and the ouster of founder Adam Neumann, WeWork told investors in an October presentation that its 90-day plan is to divest from “non-core” businesses, including The Wing. (WeWork did not immediately respond to a request for comment from VICE; a spokesperson for The Wing said only, “We won't be able to comment for this.”)
The news that WeWork was considering selling its stake in The Wing was first reported by Bloomberg in October. In an October presentation, made public at the start of November and first reported by Bloomberg, WeWork told investors that its 90-day plan includes a “reduction in headcount” among certain sectors of the business, and a focus on “core WeWork desk business.” At the same time, they plan to divest from not just The Wing, but also Meetup, SpaceIQ, and Wave Garden, the startup that creates “artificial waves,” into which WeWork invested a very wise $13 million.
Just a few months ago, Audrey Gelman, one of The Wing’s founders, was at pains to clarify that the two organizations didn't share the same ethos, telling Recode’s Kara Swisher,“The fundamentals of the actual business model are very different. We are really building, again, a brand.” When asked whether “all the negative stuff around WeWork” had affected The Wing’s fundraising, she replied, “No.”
The news that WeWork plans to unstick itself from The Wing also comes just after a former WeWork employee sued the company, Neumann and Berrent herself for alleged pregnancy and gender discrimination. The former employee, Medina Bardhi, alleges that Berrent, then WeWork’s chief legal officer, referred to her pregnancy as a “problem” that needed “a solution” and to be “fixed.” The Wing’s founders Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan proclaimed themselves to be “appalled” by the allegations in a statement to Bloomberg.
Do you know anything we should know about WeWork or The Wing? We'd love to hear from you. Using a non-work phone or computer, you can contact Anna Merlan at email@example.com or via Google Voice at (929) 267-4973.
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