A Conversation with Miguel McKelvey, Co-Founder of WeWork

The very essence of what a business looks like is changing.  Our hyper-connected world means more entrepreneurs are starting more businesses, which scale faster, across more geographies than ever before.  Many startups begin life with employees across the world, and many others are leaving traditional companies to create lucrative careers as freelancers in a range of industries.

With this new way of working, the very nature of the workplace is changing.  The office is becoming a platform; much more than just a desk – and transforming into a community where individuals collide, collaborate and create.

Leading this revolution are WeWork, a platform for creators, providing over 100,000 members around the world with space, community, and services through both physical and virtual offerings. WeWork currently has more than 135 physical locations in over 44 cities and 14 countries around the world.

I caught up with Miguel McKelvey, WeWork Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, to learn more about the work revolution.

Q: Who are the creators in our society?

[Miguel McKelvey] At WeWork, we believe creators are anyone that’s pursuing their passions and contributing to a mission. You may be an artist who is working on an innovative new project, a freelance software engineer providing client services or a director of HR at a Fortune 500 company that’s trying to build a dynamic work environment for employees – regardless of your company size, title or function, you are working towards creating meaning, intention and purpose within your life. That’s what being part of the WeWork community is all about and we’re proud to have creators within our community all around the world.

Q: What does success mean to you?

[Miguel McKelvey] Success is different for everyone, but for me success has always been about finding meaning and personal fulfillment. While that may have meant different things at different times in my life, learning, making meaningful connections with people and helping others achieve this same level of satisfaction has been a sign of success for me. If I can wake up every day, feel engaged in my work and know that I tried my best to help others feel the same as me, then I feel successful.

Q: Why does community matter to creators?

[Miguel McKelvey] When you are singularly focused on bringing your work or project to life, like most of our creators are, it can be an isolating experience. You spend a lot of time on your own, you cancel plans with friends and family to continue working on your project, you think about what else you can do to further your objective. But if you have a community of people who are operating with the same work ethic and ethos, you can share those experiences and build connections with likeminded people. When the going gets tough, you can draw inspiration from fellow creators who have persisted and they can encourage you to push ahead. These like-minded people can inspire you on a daily basis and help you think in ways you had not before. At WeWork, we believe we are all better together and this support network that we’ve created around the world cannot be underestimated.

Q: How do you best enable creators?

[Miguel McKelvey] Adam and I deliberately founded WeWork to help the creators of the world – to connect them, support them, inspire them and help them grow together. Enabling creators is in the lifeblood and DNA of the WeWork community. Our product is a platform and community for creators of all kinds.

We’ve also spent a lot of time considering additional ways to better empower creators, that’s why we unveiled the Creator Awards this year. The Creator Awards is a year-long initiative that includes over $20M of available awards for individuals, organizations—WeWork members and others—and will be brought to life as a multi-faceted series of events taking place in cities around the world. We kicked off the Creator Awards in DC at the end of March and we’re already seeing how our winner’s work and lives have been changed by the program.

WeWork is the only company company out there championing individual impact at this scale and we will continue to do so well into the future.

Q: How can you accelerate creators?

[Miguel McKelvey] Our mission is to help people create a life, not just a living. Our product provides the space, community and services that creators need so they can focus on their work. By freeing them from thinking about the tasks related to space – finding, building, designing and maintaining space – they can dedicate more of their time and energy on their work and passions. Each incremental minute or hour that WeWork saves creators helps those people accelerate their projects.

In addition, WeWork is a vibrant community of people who are similarly impassioned and driven to pursue their life’s work. We are connecting them so that they are supported and inspired by one another. We see examples of this day in and day out – where entrepreneurs, freelancers, small businesses or even large corporations are able to work together and learn from each other’s successes and failures. This knowledge share helps all of us get better and stronger.

WeWork provides the physical space, the intra-personal support network around the globe, and the services that help to accelerate creators in their missions on a daily basis.

And knowing that accelerating success is not always free, WeWork has also started the Creator Awards, which is providing the monetary support that creators need to launch, scale and grow their projects.

Q: Why does workspace matter?

[Miguel McKelvey] For most of us, workplace is where we spend the majority of our waking hours outside of our homes. That is a lot of time in our lives and the workplace should invigorate and inspire us. It should be a place we want to be and are happy to spend our time. We believe that design, aesthetics and physical environment significantly contribute to the overall experience, so we create spaces that facilitate comfort, productivity and happiness.

Q: What are the differences you see in creators between cities and nations?

[Miguel McKelvey] Since we’ve expanded globally over the last several years, we’ve been more impressed by the similarities amongst our creators than the differences. While each region may have varying cultural norms or preferences – like Amsterdam having longer common area tables for group lunches or China having offices where desks sit face-to-face versus back-to-back – the passion and inspiration is the same. Community is a powerful catalyst for humans, so all of the cities where we have opened WeWork, we’ve seen people embrace the power of community and personal interconnectivity. What we’re seeing is a global shift towards meaning and WeWork is helping achieve that on a global scale.

Q: What are your views on startup culture around the world?

[Miguel McKelvey] Every startup is unique, so it’s hard to consider this culture as a whole. What I do feel all startups share is a scrappiness and speed that big companies can lose over their growth and evolution. As a startup, every dollar and moment counts. You move fast and you learn fast. I think there are real benefits of this dynamic that can help companies on the whole. That’s why we’ve rolled out a product for Enterprises – so they can be close to that speed of innovation and operations that is typical of startups. I think it’s important that big companies have the opportunity to feel like small companies so that they can find a renewed energy and pace. We’ve created that option for companies of all sizes at WeWork.

Q: What are the characteristics of the really exceptional creators?

[Miguel McKelvey] I think what makes creators of all kinds remarkable is their uniqueness. Every creator is different and is pursuing projects that are singular to their personal desires and interests. What binds exceptional creators together is their relentless effort. Regardless of the challenges or roadblocks along the way, these people are determined to keep trying in order to achieve their mission.

Q: What have been your greatest learnings in your journey with WeWork?

[Miguel McKelvey] The most important lesson I’ve learned is that my energy level and outlook have an impact on the people around me and it’s my responsibility to approach every day with positivity and excitement. We say that we are responsible for treating others the way we want to be treated, and at the most basic level, all of us can treat each other well by giving positive energy to those around us.

[bios]Miguel McKelvey is the Co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of WeWork, where he directs all architecture, design, and construction activities. Miguel is a multi-disciplinary designer and entrepreneur with diverse experience in architectural design, construction management, and web development. Prior to WeWork, Miguel created the design framework and led the national retail roll-out for American Apparel (170 stores), and was involved in the early-stage development of several companies, including Green Desk, Barre3, Versation, and English, Miguel earned his BA (Architecture) from the University of Oregon.[/bios]

Thought Economics

About the Author

Vikas Shah MBE DL is an entrepreneur, investor & philanthropist. He is CEO of Swiscot Group alongside being a venture-investor in a number of businesses internationally. He is a Non-Executive Board Member of the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and a Non-Executive Director of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Vikas was awarded an MBE for Services to Business and the Economy in Her Majesty the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List and in 2021 became a Deputy Lieutenant of the Greater Manchester Lieutenancy. He is an Honorary Professor of Business at The Alliance Business School, University of Manchester and Visiting Professors at the MIT Sloan Lisbon MBA.