WeWork takes SPAC route to go public in $9 billion deal

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(Reuters) - WeWork has agreed to go public through a merger with blank-check firm BowX Acquisition Corp, in a deal that values it at $9 billion, the office-sharing startup said on Friday.

The deal marks a steep drop from the $47 billion the loss-making company was worth in 2019 ahead of its botched initial public offering that imploded due to investor concerns over its business model and its founder Adam Neumann's management style.

Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp, which first made public its investment in WeWork in 2017, will retain a majority stake as the company looks to steer itself out of the pandemic-induced slowdown.

"We believe that WeWork is going to be the opportunity stock for the recovery," Vivek Ranadivé, founder of Bow Capital Management, which is backing the SPAC, told CNBC in an interview. Bow Capital also counts NBA star Shaquille O’Neal as an adviser.

The SPAC's shares rose about 5% in early trading on the Nasdaq. WeWork is the latest in a slew of high-profile companies that have used the SPAC route to the market. SPACs are shell firms that use proceeds from a public listing to buy a private firm.

WeWork Chief Executive Officer Sandeep Mathrani told CNBC that the company was approached by BowX and other SPACS in December. "We thought it was a good time to raise additional liquidity to make sure that we have a path to profitability," Mathrani said.

Watch: What are SPACs?

Just before WeWork scrapped its IPO plans, Goldman Sachs bankers had said the startup's valuation could be as much as $65 billion. That plummeted to roughly $8 billion after SoftBank was forced to extend a life-saving financing lifeline to WeWork.

SoftBank and other investors have agreed to a one-year lock-up on their shares, according to a person familiar with the matter. It was not immediately clear whether the lock-up agreements contain provisions or financial targets that would allow for shares to be sold early.

Current shareholders will own about 83% of the combined company, WeWork said.

Excluding ChinaCo, its joint venture in China, WeWork said it expects to be adjusted EBITDA positive in 2022 and revenue to more than double by 2024.

WeWork will fetch $1.3 billion in cash from the deal, including $800 million in private investment from Insight Partners, funds managed by Starwood Capital Group, Fidelity Management and others, the company said.

After the transaction closes by the third quarter of 2021, SoftBank and its Vision Fund will have a minority representation on the board, WeWork said.

BowX Acquisition raised $420 million in its IPO in August last year.

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(Reporting by Niket Nishant and Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru and Joshua Franklin in Boston; Editing by Ramakrishnan M. and Arun Koyyur and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)