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WeWork Employees Caught Spying on Competition (nypost.com) 112

An anonymous reader shares a report: The battle in the red-hot co-working space business is heating up. WeWork, the No. 1 player in the sector, allegedly sent two spies to infiltrate rival Knotel -- to steal info and some customers, Knotel claimed. The spies showed up at seven Knotel properties in Manhattan last month in a "systematic attempt to pilfer Knotel's proprietary information and trade secrets," according to a cease-and-desist letter the smaller company sent to WeWork. The Post has obtained a copy of the letter. The corporate espionage rookies may have pulled off the caper except, in a totally random happening, a Knotel employee recognized one of them as a friend of a friend, according to sources close to Knotel. While the pair used fake names to gain entry, according to the letter, a call to the Knotel worker's pal got the spy's real name -- and a couple of social media inquiries turned up the fact that he worked for rival WeWork, sources said. The letter to WeWork asks for a reply by Oct. 13 -- but so far Knotel hasn't heard a peep from its rival, according to CEO Amol Sarva. While inside the Knotel offices, visited Sept. 12-14, the luckless spies posed "as the founders of a fast-growing startup" and said they needed space for their six-person company, according to the letter.
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WeWork Employees Caught Spying on Competition

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  • forty spots (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @09:47AM (#55423669) Homepage Journal

    Have they actually done anything wrong? I'd be very surprised if hotel chains, airlines etc. didn't send people to try out the opposition from time to time.

    • Re:forty spots (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Software ( 179033 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @09:52AM (#55423683) Homepage Journal
      Of course hotels do this. You can even call a hotel, say that you're from a competitor, and ask for a tour, and they'll probably give it to you. They know that customer service can't be hidden.

      The hotel may not be willing to hand over the source code to its billing system, or their customer list, but information like, "how spacious are their rooms" is easily acquired.
    • Have they actually done anything wrong?

      If they signed a contract using a false identity then probably. Beyond that I don't know. If NewYorkCountryLawyer [slashdot.org] were here perhaps he would.

    • Have they actually done anything wrong?

      You mean like lying and saying that you're a company looking for space when you aren't?

      • by PCM2 ( 4486 )

        And if I say I've had a long, busy day at the office and I have a real big appetite -- but I'm actually the restaurant reviewer for The New York Times -- what's my level of "wrongness"? If a company offers tours of their facilities to prospective customers, there's no way of keeping that information secret. What if the people taking the tour didn't lie? What if they really DID work for AcmeCorp ... only their sole purpose in being there was to go back to their friends at WeWork with a complete report of wha

        • To assume your competitors aren't going to/aren't allowed to research you seems naive at best.

          True -- but I never said or assumed that.

      • There is a huge difference between "doing wrong" in a moral sense and a legal sense.

        That said, secretly shopping at your competitors' shop is standard practice. I'd hesitate to judge them, as I suspect both sides are doing it.

        • There is a huge difference between "doing wrong" in a moral sense and a legal sense.

          True. I'm speaking about ethics, not legalities.

          I'd hesitate to judge them, as I suspect both sides are doing it.

          Not me. How common the practice is has nothing to do with how ethical it is. I feel fine judging all sides for this.

    • Have they actually done anything wrong? I'd be very surprised if hotel chains, airlines etc. didn't send people to try out the opposition from time to time.

      Trying to steal their customers while entering the building under false pretenses is wrong; scouting the premises, not so much, but doesn't that seem like a grey area? Otherwise, why conceal their identities?

    • Have they actually done anything wrong?

      They gave false names and lied about their intentions in order to gain access to otherwise restricted and secure systems.

      I'd call that pretty wrong, from a moral standpoint.

      From a legal standpoint - trespassing, misrepresentation, fraud, and I'm sure a handful of related charges would apply.

    • A lot of regulatory compliance with food is companies testing competitors products and tattling to the government if they're lying about vitamin content and so on.
    • It's not as common in the last couple of years because so many prices are now available online, but I've talked to people going through the aisles of stores checking prices and availability of items that were working for a competitor. I've also seen jobs posted for doing it.

      In a competitive leasing business like this that doesn't rely on some patent or otherwise protected product, you can either compete heads up with all of your "secrets" plainly written in your fliers, likely because you've made better dea

    • No, they haven't done anything wrong.

      The letter to WeWork asks for a reply by Oct. 13 -- but so far Knotel hasn't heard a peep from its rival, according to CEO Amol Sarva.

      And that's why, they don't need to reply to this stupid letter either.

      If Knotel could sue them for criminal trespass, they would have. Or if Knotel had seen them going through some of their private filing cabinets, Knotel would have said so by now.

      While inside the Knotel offices, visited Sept. 12-14, the luckless spies posed "as the founders of a fast-growing startup" and said they needed space for their six-person company, according to the letter.

      I'm not sure why the summary would consider them "luckless".

      They visited 7 out of their 8 Knotel New York locations. And either they were found out before they could get to the 8th location, or maybe they didn't care about the

  • by Andreas . ( 2995185 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @09:50AM (#55423673)

    Someone please explain in a few words, what kind of "sector" that is supposed to be.

    • by barbariccow ( 1476631 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @10:11AM (#55423785)
      I think they are in the business of finding space to cram a bunch of temp-workers in for an overnight call center, which will go out of business before it is time to pay taxes and then it will lease that same space to a small start-up which believes strongly that work can't be done remote, and requires space-holders to sit in cubes to function. Basically short-term landlords targeting business.
    • I think it's like Starbucks but instead of selling you overpriced coffee they charge you rent. And then sell you overpriced coffee.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ArhcAngel ( 247594 )
      It's Maker Space for would be entrepreneurs
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @10:22AM (#55423871)

      If you have a small business that's just getting started and will hopefully be expanding quickly, there are two ways to get a place to work:

      1) Rent an office, and then when you hire more people you have to move to a bigger office so you're always either paying for more space than you need today or spending time moving; arrange people for all the things that are required for a usable office like cleaning, setting up a network, etc...

      2) You call WeWork and say "I want offices for two people in your Boston building". You get the offices, and there are shared conference rooms that you can reserve as you need them. WeWork takes care of cleaning, the network, a cafeteria, etc (which you are paying for as part of your rent, but at least you don't have to worry about setting it up). When you expand, you tell WeWork you now need a third room, and they give you more space, so your existing people don't need to move (or only move around in the same building), and you don't need to waste your time dealing with the real estate market.

      Number two is significantly more expensive in dollars, but number one is significantly more expensive in your time investment; if you are a well funded startup, you don't mind spending a lot of money, but you'd rather spend your time working on your business rather than worrying about office space. If you are a poorly funded company, or a large enough company that you are using large blocks of space and can afford to hire someone to deal with the details, #1 is the better choice, which is why the classic real estate market is in no danger of vanishing.

      • by be951 ( 772934 )

        Number two is significantly more expensive in dollars

        Not necessarily. It depends on what you need. Private offices for dozens of workers might be more costly, but in that case you are paying for a turnkey, all inclusive(ish) solution and flexibility (co-working spaces are typically rented monthly or shorter terms vs. annual or multi-year leases for traditional space).

        But if you only have a few people, or just need desks (vs. private offices), you may come out cheaper in a co-working space. At the bottom end, for businesses that need little space, a co-work

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @11:10AM (#55424205) Journal

      Someone please explain in a few words, what kind of "sector" that is supposed to be.

      It's a synergized working environment to achieve advanced cyber results while optimizing office space to achieve maximum just-in-time productivity curves and dynamic staff allocation that adjusts to holistically fit customer-adaptable technology with cutting edge business needs. The future is in human clouds and your staff can be cloud-ready today!

      • by q_e_t ( 5104099 )
        Do you have a newsletter to which I can subscribe?
      • Wow. You filled every square in my Buzzword Bingo sheet, except the center one ("AI").

      • Whoa, that's a Bingo!
    • Didn't the original Bob Newhart Show take place (mostly) in a shared office environment? Bob was a psychologist, I know there was a dentist. Maybe a lawyer too? I can't remember.

      I'm not sure you could call it 'synergy' in the workplace. But there was lots of funny scenes, I bet that would be marketable in today's shared office environment.

  • by DogDude ( 805747 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @09:58AM (#55423707)
    So, this company, whose service is providing chairs and tables and coffee, just bought a $850 million building [nytimes.com]? What. The. Fuck??
    • by Anonymous Coward

      We are reaping the rewards of years of very low interest rates and the Fed printing money.

      With all that super cheap money floating around, people are gambling in the hopes of hitting it big real quick.

      The folks who sold that building made a nice sum of money off of this current popularity in tech. These companies are being stupid with their capital because it's so easy to get. There are plenty of people who'll throw money at things.

      This morning, I watched how the CFO of GM argued how GM is a tech company.

      • This morning, I watched how the CFO of GM argued how GM is a tech company.

        You may now view GM as a tech company, but the development and production of something as complicated as a modern day car is a pretty damn technical. Sure, there are still a lot of components that aren't electronically controlled, but cars have for decades been full of parts that qualify as "tech industry" parts.

    • So, this company, whose service is providing chairs and tables and coffee, just bought a $850 million building [nytimes.com]? What. The. Fuck??

      From what I can find with a quick search online, commercial leases in New York are around $75/month/sqft. If they can rent out a quarter of that building (the article says it's 650k+ square feet), they'll make back the $850 million in under 10 years.

      WeWork isn't some cool new startup business, they're just a commercial landlord.

  • "and a couple of social media inquiries turned up the fact that he worked for rival WeWork,"

    Face -> palm.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's normal for businesses to shop at rivals and compare. What exactly did they do other than go to get an idea of costs, facilities and atmosphere of a competitor? This seems like a big no story and an attempt to make one company look bad for no reason.

  • Co-working space business, WeWork, Knotel...

    Never heard of that or either companies before today.

    How is that news for nerds? Oh, right. That's not even Slashdot's motto anymore.

    • by berj ( 754323 )

      When did you get impression that "news" only describes things you've already heard of before?

      What a strange way to define news.

      Or is it the "for nerds" part that threw you off because you think that if you're not interested in it then no other so-called "nerd" might be?

      Also where did you get the idea that it's not their motto anymore? "Slashdot: News for nerds, stuff that matters" shows up quite prominently in the tab of my browser.

    • You hearing about companies is not criteria for "news for nerds". Hate to break it to you, snowflake, but no one gives a shit who you've heard of before or not.
  • The rental agreement should prohibit poaching tenants, other than that enjoy WeWorks rent payments since obviously they had available capacity. What may get tricky is rate setting. I had fun with a serviced office where rates would fluctuate depending on market or attempt to sign longer term agreements. Obviously the office surveyed market though donâ(TM)t know how, and this might help WeWork assess their pricing and popularity.
  • Trade Secrets? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lionchild ( 581331 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @10:59AM (#55424143) Journal

    I'm struggling to figure out just what "trade secrets" there might be in a co-working setup. The billing system? The facilities? The sort of coffee they have? The network setup? The way they control print costs?

    It's hard for me to imagine just what a co-working group has to really hide that's so proprietary.

    • by msauve ( 701917 )
      Whether or not there was anything secret to discover, WeWork wouldn't have sent people there under false pretenses unless they thought there was. And, if WeWork thought there were secrets to discover from the competition, then they themselves probably have secrets.
    • I'm struggling to figure out just what "trade secrets" there might be in a co-working setup.

      I imagine it would be a list of their customers along with what they are being charged. Then they'll target those people with special deals, possibly at a loss, to cut their competition's income.

      • Well, I could get their fee schedule and amenitines, as well as probably the decore from their website. And if I sat outside the building with a cup of coffee, I could see who comes and goes. Now, actually trying to hack their systems from inside...well, that's another matter. But, there's no discussion of that here.

        I could stand outside handing out fliers and telling them to come by for a visit and a special offer, details during the tour if they come by. Then just pilfer them that way by offering them

  • by twasserman ( 878174 ) on Tuesday October 24, 2017 @11:04AM (#55424171)
    In case you thought apartment rents were high, WeWork charges about $400/month for a "hot desk" with coffee. Contrast: Planet Fitness charges $10/month for a "hot treadmill" with showers. Maybe you don't spend 30-40 hours/week at the gym, but still....
  • I visit their websites and see what's going on and to see what prices they charge and I discount my prices to be blow theirs. I sometimes visit their stores and buy a product and see what discounts they give in store.

    I know others competitors spy on what I do as I've had complaints from wholesaler that I'm too cheap blah blah. So I made this post on my FB page https://www.facebook.com/aquat... [facebook.com]

    If you're not paying attention to your competition, then you're not running your business properly.

  • getting the reports from marketing after they had paid a contractor to go take a competitors training class. If the corporate crown jewels can be stolen by taking a tour, yikes how far tech has fallen.

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