Miguel McKelvey - Another co-working concept behind WeWork

Global phenomenon WeWork’s co-founder Miguel McKelvey discuss his company’s concepts and why it is preferred by millennial entrepreneurs

Miguel McKelvey feels that serendipity is overrated. Instead, he believes in relationships that are forged over time, through repeated, meaningful encounters. “It’s Psych 101—if you keep seeing the same person and you have topics in common, you are bound to build up familiarity,” says the co-founder of WeWork, in town for the official launch of its second Hong Kong work space in Tower 535.

McKelvey’s philosophy is also the philosophy behind WeWork, and he scoffs at the generalisation that it is just another co-working concept. With more than 120 locations in over 30 cities across 10 countries, WeWork is based on the synergy generated by different creatives working under one roof. In just seven years, McKelvey and partner Adam Neumann have grown WeWork into a more than US$10 billion business, according to Forbes. McKelvey’s personal net worth is estimated to be US$1.6 billion. Not bad for a 42 year old boy from Oregon raised in a single mom collective.

“I went to school thinking I was going to work in a Manhattan bank,” recalls McKelvey with a wry smile. “I hated my first economics class. One of my art professors advised that sculpture is very architectural. So I transferred to architecture.” Prior to setting up WeWork, he worked with a small New York architecture firm and led the roll out for 170 American Apparel stores. “I got a super fast education in commercial real estate,” he comments.

In 2008, McKelvey set up Green Desk, which eventually became the precursor to WeWork. “There were co-working spaces popular with tech start ups where people were all in a big room with a shared kitchen space,” remembers McKelvey. “But no one was applying design and service to these work spaces. Cool work places can be competitive advantages for companies that want to attract good people. We took the concept behind boutique hotels and applied them to WeWork. Our locations have places for people to hang out—interesting lobbies and bars. We facilitate collaboration, informally helping our members. When we started in 2010, we immediately had a broad audience, from fashion to lawyers.”

The components to WeWork are the same for each location. Companies join by becoming members and can take spaces ranging from a single desk to a series of work spaces in a demarcated area. There is also an open area for ad hoc drop-ins to use a non-assigned desk for a few hours. All of the work spaces are surrounded by glass walls to foster a sense of casual openness. For private meetings or phone conversations, there are meeting rooms of varying sizes that people can book using credits and micro enclosures nicknamed telephone booths. Tables and booths in a café setting are situated in a common area adjacent to the lifts. A multipurpose space for conferences, demonstrations and events allows companies to introduce their products and services to the WeWork community. As WeWork’s chief creative officer, McKelvey oversees the look and feel of each location, ensuring consistency while adding local flavour and feel. For Tower 535, he worked with Nelson Chow Design & Architecture to achieve that balance.

“We have a boiler plate for each space, and we do a three dimension scan of every building to develop them according to different sites,” McKelvey explains. “While we have standards such as glass throughout, we don’t have design standards or colour schemes.” In Tower 535, custom artwork by Hong Kong photographers Vivien Liu and Queenie Law, lighting artist Adrian Wong and illustrators Kristopher Ho, Bao Ho, Caratoes and Alana Tsui can be seen in communal spaces. “We allow artists a free hand to interpret the space,” McKelvey notes. Tile patterns on walls reiterate those found in daipaidongs, while on the 20th floor, ferry tickets on walls reflect a nautical themed bar modeled after the Star Ferry.

“WeWork is the best use of my particular skill set,” McKelvey states with a grin. “I would be doing this even if I wasn’t being paid.”

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