WeWork, a company that provides businesses and individuals shared and collaborative work environments, has acquired Case Inc., a building information and technology consultancy. Both companies are based in New York. Founded in 2010, WeWork currently has more than 30,000 members who share workspaces in more than 40 sites worldwide. With 63 employees, Case, founded in 2008 by partners David Fano, Federico Negro, and Steve Sanderson, has often been cited as a leader in the building profession for bringing together architecture and technology. In its relatively short life, the firm has helped many firms and building owners develop and manage BIM projects from design conception to building operation and develop custom software and apps for project management and energy benchmarking. (Daniel Davis, formerly senior researcher at Case and now lead researcher at WeWork, writes a monthly column for ARCHITECT.)
ARCHITECT spoke with Fano, now WeWork’s chief technology officer and chief development officer, about the acquisition.
ARCHITECT: Case held its
inaugural Buildings=Data event on May 28. When did talks of the acquisition
Fano: We’ve been doing consulting work with these guys for three years, and it came up a long time ago, early in the days of WeWork. But Case wanted to plot our own course for a while. As we got to know each other, we eventually said, “This feels like the right thing.” Then it happened super fast. Within a month, the deal was done, and we were all WeWork employees. We had a handshake deal about two weeks before the May 28 event. We closed the transaction on June 6.
high-end collaborative and co-working spaces to people around the world.
Describe how CASE’s talents fit into this picture.
The space is high end, but it's super approachable in terms of cost model. WeWork’s basic idea was that it is hard for small companies to get office space. You're signing five-year leases, paying huge security deposits—that process just sucks. Small architecture and engineering firms chronically deal with this. It’s hard to start a practice—just getting an office to work on your own. Now the company aspires to give you a whole infrastructure, as it relates to space. On the commercial side, it's the full office with back-of-the-house stuff. From a physical perspective, it's conference rooms and great amenities.
With Case, when we first started, it was just the three us, with no one to talk to but ourselves. Here, when you join, there are 10 to 15, to 50 other companies, so the community aspect is super compelling. It goes back to some of the stuff that we originally tried to do with Case; we started a Web startup that tried to connect businesses that needed services with each other.
What also makes this exciting for us is that our
responsibilities [at WeWork] include overseeing their digital department, which is similar
to the software development department that we had at Case, and their AEC
department. They said, “We want you to come on board and we want you to blend
the digital and physical, and start to make this a holistic experience.” The
person who makes the app for booking conference room space doesn't often talk to the person who designs the conference room. What can we do that blends
technology into the physical experience to make it better? Can we connect social
networks and physical networks and curate what companies are near each other? Our
ability to have impact becomes way greater than what we had Case. It is about
how we can make space an enabler of amazing things rather than just a place
where you might do amazing things.
Before we were advising and hoping people would take our advice—we were consultants. Now we are on the owner side. We are hiring the architects, the contractors. We can push them rather than pushing owners to push architects and to push contractors. We can tell contractors we want this done this way—we want quantity takeoffs right from our models, we want to invest in prefabrication.
Where will you be located?
New York City is our Cupertino. All the design happens here. One of the cofounders of the company was trained as an architect, Miguel McKelvey. He designed and built a lot of the original WeWorks with his bare hands. He's still involved in the product development process. Federico will be working closely with him to make sure we're executing his vision.
How did Case’s staff
Every single employee was offered a position. Some people chose that it wasn’t for them and that's totally cool. We'll probably collaborate in some other way. Case left a little void in [the building] industry by not taking on new clients, and we're super happy to see some of [our former staff] start their own businesses and take on that work. The Case message and mission continues on in WeWork, even more directly because we're going to build it ourselves. We got about 90 percent of Case folks to come onboard.
How is Case ending its current projects and how did its clients react?
We’re finishing all our existing contracts. We're not signing any new contracts with anybody. Everything will be done by the end of this year. [Our clients] were disappointed because they lost a vendor that they had built a relationship with. But everyone was excited for us and said it makes perfect sense—for WeWork to bring you in-house and to sink into one meaty thing.
I was struggling to cut myself into a lot of pieces and to
help every single client with all of their needs. It was fun. We could have
grown Case into 200 to 300 people. Then we’re in the services race. Being able
to be part of a company that's stable, has an amazing business model, and in a
really good place was appealing. For me, in particular, I can go back to what I
like, which is making things, designing, and being involved in the process.
What terms of the agreement can you disclose? For example, Case’s name and working relationships?
WeWork gave us the full ability to pursue client work if we wanted to. They left that up to us. We thought since we're taking on this new effort here, we should focus on it. WeWork didn’t need Case’s revenue. I think what we’re going to do is keep Case as a brand and make it our R&D brand. Case will still put on the Buildings=Data event, and continue to do research and publish. But Case doesn't exist as a legal entity any more. We're committed to this. Everything that Case set out to do, we're still fully intending to do.
Can the expertise
that Case has in building modeling and software development still make a
difference in the building industry if you’re working as in-house specialists?
I think more. As a consultancy, we were trying to convince people to do things. Say we want to convince an architecture firm to employ a new contract structure; we had zero impact on that. It was hard for us to push that. We needed a client to come to us with that problem. Now, as the owner, we can set precedence. We can choose to invest in things that better the industry. And we have customers. In the design process, you design buildings and then you leave them. You don't check on them. Every building we open, since space is our product, we can talk to our members. We can close the loop and continue to make our spaces better and put that feedback into new spaces.
WeWork is technically younger than Case. Are you confident that it's going to be sustainable for everyone at Case?
Yes, I really think so. WeWork is going to continue to build, all over the world. They were already a big client; about half of our staff had worked on WeWork projects already. There are things that are coming that are beyond office space. It is becoming a powerful community. Once you’re a WeWork member, you can go to any of the 40 buildings so you have a global footprint. There is more than enough work to keep everyone busy and, at least for myself, it's the kind of work that keeps me excited.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Update Aug. 6, 2015: Here is Case's official announcement about the merger from its blog.