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WeWork mulls over US$1.9b deal for majority control of India unit


WEWORK is considering a deal to take majority control of its India affiliate, according to people familiar with the matter, a deal that would allow the shared-office startup to consolidate financial results from the fast-growing unit as it prepares for an initial public offering (IPO) this year.

The New York-based company is in talks to buy around 70 per cent of WeWork India at a valuation of about US$2.75 billion, said one of the people, who asked not to be named because the discussions are private.

The deal, worth US$1.9 billion at those terms, would be part cash and part stock, and could close as early as August. The transaction has not been finalised so some of the terms may change or the talks could even break down.

WeWork India is a brand franchisee controlled by Buildcon, which is owned by real estate billionaire Jitu Virwani and his son Karan Virwani.

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The elder Virwani is chairman and managing director of Bangalore-based Indian real estate developer Embassy Group, while his son is WeWork India's chief executive officer. The licence ends in 2021. Adding India to its asset portfolio may benefit WeWork as it prepares for its IPO. It is aiming to avoid the kind of rocky start Uber Technologies endured after it went public in May. Its swooning shares cast a shadow over unicorns like WeWork that are seeking to raise money from public investors for the first time.

WeWork, founded in 2010 and was last valued at US$47 billion, pioneered the concept of shared work spaces, expanding to 425 office locations in 36 countries.

With trendy work areas, colourful phone booth-like conversation areas and lively community hangouts serving beer on tap, the startup has reshaped office practices around the world.

Adam Neumann, the co-founder and chief executive officer, has built the company by cultivating an eccentric office culture, down to its mission statement to "elevate the world's consciousness".

Still, WeWork has yet to prove it can make money, with losses more than doubling last year to US$1.93 billion, while revenue also more than doubled to US$1.82 billion.

Mr Neumann explained plans to improve the company's finances to Bloomberg Businessweek this year, including the creation of an investment fund to buy stakes in buildings where it will be a major tenant.

He has won backing from deep-pocketed investors, including SoftBank Group Corp.

India is one of WeWork's fastest-growing markets, with 35,000 seats in more than 20 shared locations 18 months after launch. It hosts companies such as Microsoft and Amazon in Bangalore, and Spotify Technology and Bumble in Mumbai.

The India unit projects to grow to 90,000 seats by March next year, the end of fiscal 2020.

Co-working startups are proliferating in the country, creating a thriving community for entrepreneurs and small startups.

Co-working shot up to nearly 10 per cent of total office space leasing from January to September 2018, compared with 4 per cent the year before, according to a report by real estate services firm JLL. BLOOMBERG

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