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Growing Too Fast

The Interbrand 100 is every marketers dream—to build a brand so large and well-known that its recognition spans the entire globe. Corporations spend decades and billions of dollars to build this level of awareness among consumers.

Top brands come from a wide variety of industries, but many of the largest brands are no longer confined to one industry. Apple is no longer a purveyor of niche home PCs, but a major player in the entertainment, publishing, software, and telecommunications industries. Amazon, “the everything store,” truly plays in nearly every retail industry. Conglomerates like General Electric have major footprints in a variety of industries, including aviation, energy, and home appliances.

But massive cross-industry brands aren’t built in a day. They’re built slowly over time and with careful precision. Amazon started with books and built out while Apple spent years in the PC market before moving on to other industries. But what happens if a company unabashedly lays claim to a piece of nearly every consumer industry there is?

Enter WeWork, now called The We Company. You’ve probably heard of WeWork, founded in 2010 focused on buying old corporate offices and turning them into the open-concept dream of millennial startups. Recently, the company filed for an Initial Public Offering only to have to rescind the filing after investors balked at their numbers.

Let’s rewind a little and see how the company got to their public offering meltdown. In 2009 Miguel McKelvey and Adam Neumann formulated the idea for WeWork. Neumann came up with the company’s mission statement—“to elevate the world’s consciousness.” A pretty lofty goal, but along with it came lofty brand ambitions. An initial outline of WeWork’s business model shows the company as an interconnected network supporting consumers’ work, day-to-day services, life essentials, social life, health, travel, and philanthropy. Basically, WeWork wanted to touch every part of an average office worker’s life.

The WeWork idea caught like wildfire. Companies from startups to Fortune 500 started leasing offices all across the globe. But Neumann and McKelvey wouldn’t give up their plan to have a company that encompassed an entire life.

The company launched new ventures to enter every aspect of consumers’ lives. Rise by We, a high-end gym chain; WeGrow, a private school for pre and elementary school; and WeLive, which is basically WeWork for housing. The founders pictured a reality where someone lives in a WeLive apartment, exercises at their Live gym, drops their kid off at a WeGrow school, all before heading into their WeWork office.

But the brand grew faster than the business could. When WeWork filed its IPO its financials were unveiled and scrutinized for the first time publicly. It became apparent that not only did the core business have many issues, but the new ventures meant to capture the non-work hours of people’s lives were hemorrhaging money.

Neumann was forced to step down as CEO and the company’s IPO was withdrawn. Recently, the Wall Street Journal reported the company would “look to sell business outside its core leasing operation.” Investors felt these peripheral businesses were detracting from WeWork’s core business of leasing office space. While WeWork in itself was fine, the company tried to expand beyond its core market too quickly and the projects.

So it seems the We Company, the business poised to take over every waking and non-waking hour of a consumer’s life, will retreat to being an upscale corporate realty company once again.

But this begs marketers to wonder how big can a brand get before it is too big? Building a cross-industry, global brand takes time, skill, and knowledge. Maybe one day an all-encompassing brand like WeWork envisioned will exist. Maybe that company will even be WeWork, but for now, the decades- and centuries-old brands rest safely atop the Interbrand 100.

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