Why Did WeWork Buy SEO Firm Conductor & Why Should You Care?

Last week WeWork acquired digital marketing firm Conductor. After it happened I got a number of informal messages like: WeWork + conductor, make sense? Many people were surprised by the move, and from a distance it’s initially confusing potentially.

WeWork rents office space; Conductor manages digital marketing and SEO for enterprises. These two functions seem relatively distant from one another. But here’s what WeWork said in announcing the acquisition:

[W]e want to help our members do what they love and ensure they have the tools to compete in the 21st-century economy. Often, we look to the things that have helped make our own business thrive when we make new offerings available to our members. If a new approach, platform, or service has helped our fast-growing global business flourish, we want to share those learnings with our members and beyond.

It is in that spirit that we announce that WeWork is acquiring Conductor, a technology leader whose mission is to “transform marketing into a force for improving people’s lives.” Conductor serves over 1,000 brands around the world, improving the online presence of major corporations including Citibank, Salesforce, CVS, and more.

WeWork doesn’t see itself as a company providing temporary office space; it sees itself as a company that helps its “members” manage their real-world presence and culture. That’s according to Conductor CEO Seth Besmertnik, whom I spoke with shortly after the acquisition.

He told me that Conductor, which primarily serves big brands and enterprises, will complement what WeWork does by helping members “manage their digital presence.” In that context, it makes a lot of sense. (Execution is something different.)

The Conductor deal comes after the company acquired Meetup and the Flatiron School, which teaches coding among other things. WeWork is now a company that provides both space and services.

However, WeWork got its start providing space to startups and smaller businesses. It has moved up market and says the enterprise segment is now about 25% of its business and the fastest growing part. But let me get to the main reason I wrote this post.

Conductor serves mid-market and larger companies. There’s a parallel need for WeWork “legacy customers”: smaller businesses, which are still 75% of its members. Expect WeWork to make an acquisition like Conductor to serve that segment or to develop an offering using Conductor’s tools and capabilities. Regardless, WeWork is now a marketing company and, I would guess, one that will be offering marketing services to SMBs before too long.

This acquisition goes to the heart of the thesis behind LSA’s new TAI program: non-traditional competitors are moving into SMB marketing services as boundaries blur and new challengers emerge. We’ll be exploring this at LSA18 in a session called: “The New Market for SMB Services.” There will also be a separate, special session (not currently on the agenda) on Tuesday afternoon, featuring Zoho President Raj Sabhlok and a special panel of local business owners. 

Also be sure to check out the new Tech Adoption Blog, which is specifically tracking the evolution of the SMB Cloud/SaaS marketplace.

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