WeWork has made its name — and collected billions of dollars from investors — by providing places for people to work. Now, it is buying a social network meant to bring people together in their off time.
WeWork plans to announce on Tuesday that it has bought Meetup, whose 35 million members use the service to find fellow aficionados of some common interest: drone racing, say, or learning Dutch.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
The transaction is the latest effort by WeWork to move beyond its origins as a provider of working spaces for freelancers and consultants to become a phenomenon that, its founders say, can reshape modern life. It is a vision that has attracted a slew of investors, most notably SoftBank, which led a $4.4 billion investment that valued the company at about $17 billion. And it is a pitch whose success has helped the company buy Lord & Taylor’s flagship building as its new global headquarters.
Whether WeWork can fulfill its bold promises remains to be seen, and skeptics say that the company at its core is a richly valued real-estate concern.
But this month, WeWork has taken steps to move its focus beyond work. The company announced plans to start a private kindergarten focused on entrepreneurship. And now it has bought Meetup, a company dedicated to bringing together hobbyists and enthusiasts of all stripes.
“It’s like a magical puzzle that fits together,” said Scott Heiferman, the chief executive and a co-founder of Meetup.
Meetup members organize on average about 15,000 gatherings a day, according to the company.
Over the last few years, Mr. Heiferman said, the event organizing service had at least broken even and had not taken in outside money in years. But the company believed that to grow — and especially to do so abroad — it needed to again bring in investors.
The process of raising money eventually led to conversations about selling Meetup altogether. The company’s general counsel, David Pashman, had a relationship with a senior WeWork executive and suggested the two businesses talk.
In August, Mr. Heiferman met with WeWork’s chief executive, Adam Neumann, and the two quickly came to believe that uniting the two companies made sense. WeWork’s roughly 10 million square feet of leased office space, spread out over more than 170 locations in 16 countries, is used primarily during the day. By contrast, meetups happen primarily outside of working hours.
WeWork could especially help in promoting Meetup abroad, given its growing overseas presence.
Already, roughly 100,000 people have attended a Meetup gathering at a WeWork location, according to the companies.
“You need a proper community space for that,” Mr. Heiferman said. “You can’t have a musty church basement or whatever space people used in the old days.”
But Shiva Rajaraman, WeWork’s chief product officer, said that the deal was done for a bigger reason: to help instill a sense of broader community in the company’s spaces.
“It’s less about utilization and much more about that fundamental mission of connecting people to their purpose,” Mr. Rajaraman said. “This is a great tool to introduce people to their passions.”
Meetup will continue to operate as it has, Mr. Heiferman said. He added that the ideal operating model would be something like how Instagram functions within Facebook, or Zappos within Amazon. (Zappos’s chief executive, Tony Hsieh, is on Meetup’s board.)
“We’re going to be a core part of WeWork,” Mr. Heiferman said. “There’s a really great culture that we’re proud to be a part of.”