WeWork’s Eugen Miropolski is very, very on brand. Walking into the co-working-space-come-tech company’s new European headquarters in Hammersmith (they move a lot), the managing director for Europe is decked out in a WeWork branded ‘do what you love’ T-shirt.
Having lived in 20 different countries it's pretty safe to say that the Estonian born entrepreneur and investor has become something of an expert at getting to know new markets. After a stint as Groupon’s Russian COO, he then spearheaded Airbnb’s expansion across Europe as its MD for international operations between 2011-2014, staying in over 150 Airbnb apartments in the process.
In 2015 Miropolski was tasked with expanding the US founded WeWork into Europe. Having started with its first international site in London, the company now serves 225,000 ‘members’ from 230 locations, in 72 cities and 21 countries around the globe.
What is the most important thing to consider when expanding abroad?
I think the most important aspect about growing internationally - as well as growing fast - is to really focus on the people and focus on the culture.
The best way to scale is through people because even if you build the best internal processes in the world, at the end of the day we are a people driven organisation, so in order to build a strong global community, you have grow that community inside first.
One person cannot set the structure, processes and determine what we do alone. I think it was Steve Jobs who always used to say 'we don't find the best people to tell them what to do, we find the best people so that they can tell us what we need to know' - I think that is the only way you can scale fast.
Do you have a set strategy when expanding internationally?
First we start with big megacities before expanding into different areas. I think at the beginning of the process there is always a search for the right type of neighbourhood for the right type of experience we want to deliver. Finding that location takes some time. But very quickly once you find that location and you design it and build it, the community comes together quite fast.
More interesting from an international perspective is the localisation aspect - to really try and find out what is different in a market and how you should change the product to meet this. You do a lot of research upfront, but you also learn day to day on the job.
An interesting example is in Amsterdam. Our first WeWork location felt great and we had a great community, but we started getting feedback very fast. For example we found out that all of our community members loved to have lunch together and we did not have enough tables in the communal area. So we went back and purchased more tables and fridges for the common area.
Did you use a similar strategy growing Airbnb?
I've learnt a lot along the way by observing different companies and watching how different companies grow globally in different ways.
Over the last 10 years the world has become much more global, much more mobile, so companies generally tend to grow faster nowadays. In the past being a global company might not have been the top priority, because it was more difficult to enter other markets and people were more focused on domestic business. If companies were grown globally often they would just acquire an international business and have that as a subsidiary.
But nowadays, if you want to grow fast - while acquisitions can be a solution - they are not always the answer. You really want to make sure you bring the right set of values and the right culture. You want to find people that are really passionate about the mission that you have as a company and you basically grow it organically.
What did you do within your first 100 days as MD?
In the beginning it was all about learning. While I have experience working globally, I did not know the WeWork business.
So in my first weeks I joined the community team in the New York head office, and was working at the front desk just to really understand from the ground up how the business is run and the value we create.
I was shadowing different departments, but also preparing a plan about how we could expand. After that I moved to London and this is where we started all of the European expansion.
Main image credits: WeWork