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Why the Wing, a once buzzy women’s coworking startup, shut down

October 14, 2022, 12:16 PM UTC
An office of The Wing
One of the Wing’s coworking spaces, in the Flatiron district of Manhattan.
Robyn Twomey—Redux

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! COO Vanessa Pappas explains TikTok’s popularity; the Muse makes an acquisition; and a new story charts the rise and fall of the Wing. Have a relaxing weekend.

How it happened. A mere 18 months after the Wing embarked on an ambitious relaunch, the once popular women’s coworking company shuttered its doors for good.

In a recent feature for Fortune, I spoke to former employees, members, and investors to chart the meteoric rise and tumultuous fall of the Wing, which its founders once billed as a “women’s utopia.”

Cofounded by Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan in 2016, the Wing blossomed from its original idea as a pit stop for on-the-go women to a full-fledged coworking startup with a mission to empower women through community. By late 2018, it had raised a whopping $117 million from investors like NEA, Kleiner Perkins, SoulCycle’s cofounders, and WeWork. The company was valued at about $365 million that same year.

The Wing brought in visits from household names like Hillary Clinton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Jennifer Lopez. At its peak, the coworking company had 11 locations globally, 12,000 members, and a 35,000-person wait list.

But tensions were bubbling under the surface. One former executive told me there “wasn’t a lot of transparency around what the strategy was at all,” and an early investor said Gelman, the company’s CEO, seemed reluctant to ask for help. A 2019 lawsuit forced the Wing to drop its ban on membership for men, who were previously only allowed to visit as guests. That same year, criticism emerged over its handling of an incident in Los Angeles, where a white guest harassed a Black member and her guest.

Soon after, hourly employees, most of whom were Black or brown women, went public with reports of mistreatment that contradicted the Wing’s uplifting, empowerment brand.

Gelman resigned as CEO in June 2020, kicking off a round of CEO musical chairs.

In February 2021, flexible-office-space pioneer IWG bought a majority stake in the startup. Under new ownership, the Wing staged an ambitious reopening of six locations in 2021 that lasted just months. Problems with members returned as well. While 80% of members were pleasant, former employees told me, the remaining 20% either “treated you like you were the help” or “said things that were not appropriate.”

In August, the Wing permanently closed its doors. The company couldn’t shake off past scandals and suffered from a combination of poor business management and a troubled, post-pandemic coworking industry. As one former member told me when describing its often vacant San Francisco space: “I was thinking, ‘How is this going to stay around?’”

You can read my full feature about the Wing’s demise here.

Paige McGlauflin
paige.mcglauflin@fortune.com
@paidion

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PARTING WORDS

“There wasn’t an aha moment. There were thousands of them.”

—Peloton star Robin Arzón on how she decided to quit her job as a lawyer and pursue a career in fitness

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