My extended family celebrates Thanksgiving on the second Saturday of November, a tradition that started in the 1990s after too many family members had to spend Thanksgiving every other year ‘with the other side.’

Weirdly, we call that day Hanukkah, regardless of when Hanukkah actually is on the calendar, and about 65 of us spend the day eating a Thanksgivukkah mashup of turkey, brisket, mashed potatoes, latkes, pumpkin pie, and jelly doughnuts. 

It’s an amazing time, except for the years when I know every single person is going to ask me the same question. In 11th grade it was, “So what are you thinking about college?” In my early 30s, it was, “So are you and Eytan thinking about having kids?” And this year it’ll be, “So, WeWork?” I feel like I’m getting more introverted by the month as I get older, but this year, I’m actually excited to answer the question.

Here’s what I think I’ll say.

Cousin-friendly flex workplace cliff notes

This has been coming for a long time, and no, we weren’t surprised. No, this doesn’t mean coworking is a goner. The sector is having a banner year. The Industrious business model is based almost entirely on landlord partnerships, which is totally different from WeWork’s model and is designed to de-risk our business for the long haul. To put it into perspective, WeWork’s fixed expenses as a percent of revenue are still about 75% even after reducing their debt. Ours are about 35%.

Yes, in general this is good for Industrious, since it likely means we’ll be able to pick up WeWork locations if we want to, and we expect an increase in demand. No, WeWork isn’t evil. They’ve had amazing people doing incredible work over the years. No, WeWork isn’t dissolving. They’ll probably emerge from bankruptcy ready to fight another day. Yes, Uncle Lou, you can come visit me anytime at work to see what all the fuss is about. 

As for how I’m feeling about all of this? I feel like I’ve experienced a career’s worth of business milestones in just 7 ½ years at Industrious. I find it intellectually fascinating, deeply gratifying, a little tiring, and incredibly energizing for the next chapter.

8 Business School-y Things That Happened at Industrious 

1. Navigating the baby startup phase 

Complete with running member checks to the bank, fixing leaky roofs, hacking together early Facebook ads, anxiously waiting for our Series B to close and the existential questions that come with that slog, and sorting through ridiculous customer situations. My favorite was a company that was interested in working at Industrious and included the following in their application: “We are a child baton-tossing training company looking for space. No batons will leave the children’s hands.” Perfect for our glass-walled offices.

Industrious Co-Founder and President Justin Stewart working his way through a long queue of new lease agreements in our rapid growth phase.

2. Driving the rapid growth phase 

We grew at more than 100% year-over-year from our founding until the pandemic. My brain must have intentionally muffled some of the low lows of this time, because mostly I remember the high highs. Exploring new cities to find the perfect locations for our expansion, hiring tons of exceptionally talented people who remain close friends to this day, and figuring out how to market, sell, and operate at scale when everything you build in one year is antiquated by the next.

3. Competing against the epitome of the 2010s in Silicon Valley, WeWork

Chad le Clos and Michael Phelps at the Rio Olympics

A year after I joined Industrious, WeWork raised the famous, pitch-Masa-in-the-black-car $3B round from Softbank. That began a 3-year run during which they raised billions more and pumped their valuation. WeWork was adding locations at a pace we couldn’t match, with financial backing we couldn’t and didn’t really want to pursue, and with a zeitgeist-y environment that always seemed to put wind in their sails as they (impressively and admirably) became the category-defining company in our industry. I remember multiple Industrious All-Hands calls from those years where we’d show the image of South African swimmer Chad le Clos looking over the lane line at Michael Phelps as Phelps looked straight ahead and went on to win the gold medal at the Rio Olympics. The message was to keep our heads down, control what we can control, and it’ll all be okay. 

4. Pivoting our business model 

We started out signing leases like the rest of the industry, but by early 2017, we made the decision to change course. High-performing leases produced a ton of EBITDA, but they didn’t feel sustainable given the risk involved, heaven forbid there was a recession (or worse, as it turns out), and the massive amounts of capital required to fund growth. So we stopped signing leases cold turkey and told ourselves we wouldn’t sign any new locations until we convinced landlords to partner on new kinds of deal structures. That took many months, and it was scary to stop growing for a time. In what I think will go down as one of the smartest, most inventive moves we’ve made, our co-founders Jamie Hodari and Justin Stewart pioneered hotel-style management contracts in commercial real estate. To this day, 90% of our portfolio is liability light, asset light.

5. Experiencing one of the biggest crashes of the grow-grow-grow era 

Just days after my son Kai was born, WeWork released their S-1.

I was on parental leave the day WeWork’s S-1 came out. My son, Kai, was 9 days old, and somehow the prospect of reading the 427-page document was more appealing than any of the activities that came along with the miracle, misery, and dislocation of being a first-time parent. I struggled to figure out if and how to be involved in our response from the sidelines of my couch. The criticism came quickly. I felt sad for the close friends I had at WeWork, because I knew they were brilliant and hard-working and had created something magical, and for the thousands of teammates whose efforts and financial futures weren’t rewarded. Almost overnight, Goliath had weakened.

6. Surviving a global pandemic

I don’t need to describe just how physically and emotionally draining this period was, since it was for everyone. Running a physical, in-person business during this time was a lesson in making 49/51 judgment calls under extreme ambiguity, absorbing the valid but overwhelming concerns and needs of our team and customers, changing our operations 180 degrees overnight, and thinking about sheer survival above all. I’m eternally grateful for our epidemiological advisor, Dr. Reingold, who offered practical, patient advice throughout. Who would’ve thought Industrious would need an epidemiologist.

7. Acquiring six companies 

Hard hats laid out for a tour of our then-unopened Downtown Seattle offices.

Over the years, we’ve brought on a number of companies, some in complementary coworking businesses and some in proptech. Acquisitions have enabled us to grow internationally to our current scale of over 200 locations across 10 countries. They brought us our technology team, which I believe is the best in our sector. They also humbled us, like the time we tried to create Kayak for coworking, too early as it turns out.

8. Working at the center of the future of work 

It’s been clear to me since the beginning that our sector had something meaningful to offer hundreds of thousands of customers, but the pandemic accelerated every secular trend we could have hoped for. Our product went from a great solution for SMBs and progressive enterprise companies to part of the default conversation for most companies globally. 2023 has been our best year of all time, and I know that’s true for the rest of the sector as well, aside from WeWork. But more than just growth, working through this phase has opened up countless opportunities for trying new things and makes the future for Industrious feel brighter than ever.

If I were reading this from the outside, I would probably conclude that the past several years have been hard. In a sense they have. More than that, though, they’ve been fun. Despite being in the middle of this maelstrom, we’ve found a way to take the high speed winds and ever-changing trajectory of the industry and make the most of it. These harsh conditions pushed us to push ourselves and stay moving to move forward, like a shark. We’ve doubled down on the foundations we believe in, like our business model and our values and our service experience. We’ve also had joyful successes and painful failures. What could have been a terrifying journey has instead been a thrilling one.

My sappy conclusion

Writing out this list of milestones also makes me realize how lucky I am. The part of my brain that is insatiably curious loves the breadth of this experience. Seeing new things, good or bad, creates moments and memories that each have a place on my mental bookshelf. 

The part of me that loves building things with people I care about is fulfilled too. I joined Industrious with a background in organic chemistry, years working in public health in Sub-Saharan Africa, and a couple of entrepreneurial founder experiences, but with zero real estate or hospitality expertise. I loved how kind, sharp, low ego, and goofy the team was, and we remain that way today. It’s a privilege to build a great company with people I adore through so many trials and tribulations. 

The part of me that loves to sleep is a little tired. But that’s okay. The part of me that relishes new challenges is just about as psyched for the next chapter as I can imagine being for anything, except maybe watching Survivor with my husband on a Wednesday night. Season 45, check it out.

I spend all day, every day in what feels like the weeds. When I pick my head up, it’s typically only to peek-above-the-grass level, not to bird-soaring-in-the-sky level. But I have a sense that 40 years from now, I’ll look back on this period of time as historic. I’ve been Googling for analogues, for other industries that emerged and had so many twists and turns in such a short period of time. I’m sure there are examples and would love to hear about them, but so far, I haven’t stumbled across anything that seems to fit the bill.

An old McKinsey colleague of mine used to say that we had “a front row seat to the craziest show on Earth.” Now I know what that really means, and it’s the absolute best seat I could ever hope for.