Oct 1, 2019

Episode 26

Josh Wyatt, CEO, NeueHouse


Josh Wyatt’s career has had many iterations, with hospitality being his backbone since he founded Generator Hostels in 2007. The gamechanging brand led to many other opportunities, including at Neuehouse, where he’s marrying the best of both worlds in a members’ club that celebrates great design in urban settings. He credits his success to surrounding himself with good people who know where the car is going. If you trust them and just get in, he says, good things will happen.

This episode is brought to you by Global Allies. For more information, go to globalallies.com.


Stacy Shoemaker Rauen: Hi, I’m here with Josh Wyatt of NeueHouse. Josh, thanks so much for joining us today.

Josh Wyatt: It’s great to be here.

SSR: I’m really excited because we’re in the podcast room of NeueHouse, here in New York. So let’s start at the beginning. Where did you grow up?

JW: I grew up in Marin County, California, back in the halcyon days of the ’70s. It was a lovely time to grow up in that part of the world.

SSR:  And were there any early memories of design or hospitality?

JW: Well, something that’s actually quite amazing about Marin County is that Frank Lloyd Wright was the architect for the Marin County courthouse. So for people who have seen that courthouse, it’s quite an iconic structure. And my father actually worked in that courthouse as an accountant. So as a 5 or 6 year old, I got to go and visit my father in this incredible iconic design building by Frank Lloyd Wright, which at the time we just thought that was normal. You’d walk into this building that looks almost like an upside down spaceship, with this incredible streak of modernism in it. And looking back on it today, I have to say I was very, very lucky child.

SSR: And you went to school for international relations and then you got an MBA. What drew you to hospitality? How did you end up in the hospitality field?

JW: I’ve always traveled extensively in my life, so I’ve been to 48 out of 50 states and 80 countries and all seven continents. And in doing so, along the way, I was inspired by these amazing hotels or amazing restaurants. And it really became a case study in how to lead one’s life, which is at some point in my 20s, I looked at myself in the mirror and I said, ‘I want and need to make a pivot in my life from straight up business into something that is more creatively inspiring and much more important.’ And so, when I went back to get an MBA, from the day that I went into Harvard, I said to myself, ‘I will come out of Harvard and one day I will own a hotel.’ That was the only thing that drove me there. And it allowed me to really focus on what was important. And I think as a result of that, looking back on my career, I’ve been in hospitality now for about 12, 13 years. The ability to have done all these different projects around the world, I think was a result of that singular focus.

SSR: And sometimes when you put it out there, then it actually happens.

JW: Absolutely.

SSR: So first, before we go forward, go back a little bit. Travel, was that something that your parents instilled in you? Was that something you were able to do because of school? How did you get to travel that much?

JW: Growing up in California, oftentimes, especially back in the ’70s and ’80s, there were a lot of people, or a lot of families, who literally would say, ‘Why do you need to leave California?’ You actually have everything there. You have mountains, you have culture in San Francisco, you have entertainment in LA, you have the beaches. My mother specifically had a very strong international background despite the fact she certainly was American. But she always had pushed us to think about traveling and researching what was happening around the world. So, from a young child, I was exposed to thinking about the world. We didn’t have the money to travel though. So it really was until I was probably about 18 or 19 where I decided that this was the time now to do it.

And the important moment in my life was when I was a freshman in college and my parents actually passed away, when I was a freshman in college. And at that moment, I had a lot of opportunity to explore myself and grieve through travel. And that sense of grief also led to a deep exploration of who I am and it really developed the man that I am today, through travel and through all these crazy, incredible experiences around the world.

SSR: Did you backpack?

JW: I did. I backpacked. When my parents passed away, we were poor. I inherited $8,000, and then I had no family and $8,000 to my name, and being a freshman in college at that moment with really no support system was very, very scary in some respects, but in a way, it was very freeing because it was either success or failure. It was a very binary moment. So starting from the time I was a sophomore, I worked two jobs. The university that I went to, American University, was very kind in terms of financial aid, and it allowed me to study abroad and travel abroad. And because of the fact that I didn’t have a lot of money, it was all about backpacking. And that’s what led to some of the later inspirations that I had in my hospitality career.

SSR: That’s where I was getting at because you were behind Generator Hostels at a time when hostels weren’t really considered a design-focused entity, if you will. But you made that a priority in them and made them true experiences. Can you talk about how Generator came about and what you wanted to do?

JW: I think anytime in life where you see an opportunity to improve or enhance or to change the perspective of things or of people is a wonderful place to be. I always give this advice to anyone in just starting out in their career to say, ‘Look, it doesn’t always matter what you’re doing initially. What matters is flow and what matters is momentum and change. And if you can get yourself into that situation, beautiful things can happen.’ Generator was really the genesis of that moment, which is I was looking at the travel industry when I was just starting out. It was 2005, 2006, and it was just a very, very crowded market with a lot of focus on luxury, and a lot of focus on big corporate hotels being built. And I looked around the industry and said, ‘Where is the area of the industry that actually doesn’t have a lot of focus?’ And that was hostels.

And I looked at my experience backpacking around where I had some of the most amazing personal experience of my life, from a social perspective, or an intellectual perspective, in some of these hostels in places like Peru or Chile or Easter Island or Kenya or India, some of these crazy places that really drove me to think about how could I bring that magic to a design-driven moment. And that’s how a Generator was really born. Generator was really the first of its kind at scale. There would always been boutique hostels that had incredible design, but there had never been a company that had married design programming and experience together in the budget space.

SSR: Were there a lot of challenges at first? In terms of spreading the word and getting people to adapt to it? Or did it immediately take off as a great concept?

JW: The biggest initial challenge, and when I say initial, it was the first five years, because I do think to build a high-performance company or a high-performance brand, it takes about 10 years to really get through a full cycle from start to finish. But it took us five years to really educate the markets on what it was. People had this concept, people meaning customers, investors, press. They had this concept that hostels were for either destitute people or uneducated or poor or whatever it may be. I’ll never forget the moment where I met with the mayor of Paris, when we were contemplating doing a generator in Paris, and he said, ‘Look, I don’t want more drug users and homeless people staying in a hostel in Paris.’ And I said, ‘Okay, give us a chance. Let us show you what we can do. Let us show you our dedication to architecture to design to art to music to food, and I guarantee you that at the end of it, you be pleasantly surprised.’

That story is a microcosm of Generator in its entirety. So when we opened Generator Paris in 2015, it took about three years to build, the Mayor was the first person at the opening party giving the speech and taking credit for the whole (like some politicians do), taking credit for the visionary impact of Generator on Paris, and the step change of what an auberge de jeunesse is and that really symbolized five years. Because when we are dealing with press, or dealing with investors, it was constantly trying to educate them on what our vision was and how we would really bring all of these incredible design elements down to a wider Millennial market.

SSR: And in terms of the design, you partnered with several design firms, but mainly DesignAgency for many of them. How did you go about finding that right partner and what did you look for in a collaborator to create something brand new and a brand that, as you said, went to scale?

JW: When you’re creating something new, one of the most important parts of that creation process is to have a partner or partners that allow you to create jazz music together. You have to riff, you have to change, the tempo changes, the circumstances change. And first and foremost, in terms of creating a platform for success, you have to surround yourself with people that want to play in that band and know that things are going to move and shift, and they won’t be upset or they won’t step away from the project when things move and shift. So that was the first thing that I looked for in a design partner. Because if you think about design, design is a constant flux. There are always challenges, there are always changes, there are different influences that come into play.

The designers that have the ability to work well with their clients, and help their clients achieve the vision are the ones that I like to work with. And DesignAgency, I’ve worked with them now for about 12 years, and we worked on other projects other than Generator, but they’ve always had a sense of being able to come up with new and interesting ideas, but also listen to the client, to change and morph the perspective of what’s actually happening. And again, any collaborator that we worked with, whether it was other interior design firms, or I would argue equal, if not more importantly, the local purveyors of art and of furniture and of different moments of FF&E coming into the property, those local purveyors that understood and were willing to work with us were the ones that always had great success with us. Because we could inject a sense of newness, a sense of flexibility into the process, and that is definitely something that I have always tried to recreate in any place that I work.

SSR: Was there one Generator property, I know it’s always hard to pick your favorite, but was there one that you think really did what you wanted Generate or to do or was it a really great example of what of budget-focused creative, cool property could be?

JW: The mission of Generator, and I would say really the mission of any design-driven hospitality product, should be to surprise and delight and provoke and inspire the customer. And you want your customer or your member to walk in and have butterflies in their stomach, and just to not expect what is laid out in front of them. And so for me, my favorite Generator, both professionally and personally was Generator Venice in Italy, because we found this old 1800s grain warehouse that we transformed into this extremely emotional and warm and sensuous place. We called it the jewel box of the portfolio because Venice is a market that is very challenging to enter. It’s very expensive to develop in, the hotels there are probably I think on the value equation graph is probably the least amount of value in the world, in terms of what you’re paying and versus what you get. So we were pretty thrilled to be able to deliver an average of about 30 euros a night, to be able to stay 150 meters away from Cipriani, for example, so Generator was on the Island of Giudecca, which is where Cipriani is. So we always tickled that people were spending 2,000 euros a night at Cipriani and sometimes walking down to the Generator bar to have an Aperol Spritz.

SSR: Since you come from the business side, what was it like trying to maneuver some of these deals to make it work, especially I mean, you started in 2005, 2006 and went through the wonderful recession on 2008? So what was it like growing a business that was affordable, yet creative and inspiring? What was that process like, and how did you have to teach investors or partner with investors to make it a reality?

JW: Well, look, Generator is similar to any lifestyle hospitality platform, in the sense that it’s hard to scale. It’s hard to scale and still keep the same vision and the same ethos and the same special quality of the product. And, I would liken Generator and now NeueHouse is a similar example to a beautiful, lovely boutique product that certainly, absolutely deserves to have the world’s eyes on it. But to get those world’s eyes on it, it’s a multi-year, square the shoulders, look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘We’re in it and it’s going to take a long time to get there. But once we get there, it’s going to be an iconic product.’ So I liken it to, in a way, running a marathon.

You run a marathon, you train. It can be fun, but it can also be challenging and you actually start the race 26 miles, the first six miles it’s exciting, right? Your friends are there to support you at the starting line, everyone’s on a high, you then hit your first couple of bumps where you start to realize that you still have to run another 20 miles, or another 15 miles, and then, three quarters of the way through the race, you start to really question your sanity. Like, ‘Why am I doing this? My legs hurt, my back hurts, I’m chafing,’ whatever else is happening, and then toward the last four or five miles, you say to yourself, ‘Wow, I get it. I know why I did all this, and I did all this because I wanted to actually start and finish something, and either create a memory or create a physical space that will stand the test of time.’

So for those of you who’ve ever ran a marathon, you know you’ll never forget that, right? You’ll be 89 years old talking to your children or grandchildren saying, ‘Hey, when I ran the Paris marathon, I remember that experience.’ The same thing with a boutique hotel or a boutique hospitality project. These are not cookie-cutter projects. These take an incredible amount of focus and time. It takes real grit real, real knuckling down and making sure that you get to the finish line because there are many times when you can quit, many times where you start to lose hope and/or question your sanity as to why you’re doing it.

Oftentimes, and investors won’t always love hearing this, but the variability of the outcome of a lifestyle hotel or a lifestyle hospitality project is far wider than building a down-the-fairway corporate hotel, big box glass and steel tower, or building. But it’s worth the fight. We all have this one wonderful and mysterious life out there, and you have to really ask yourself, what are you going to do with it? So the fight that I want to fight is fighting in the space of design and beauty and architecture. And well, leave the mid-market stuff to other guys.

SSR: But it must be cool to look back and see how a Generator possibly had a hand in sparking some others to come into that same space and how the mid-market category has found its own voice in some regards.

JW: Look, if you can inspire either the competition or customers to think differently then you’re ahead of the game. I would say Generator has inspired, and there’s probably not less than 10 platforms that have been launched in the last couple of years that are a direct inspiration or clone of Generator. That’s interesting, in a way it’s fulfilling to see that. What’s more fulfilling though is the fact that I got to believe at some point, and we talked about this a lot, that of the 3 million Millennial customers that were flowing through Generator at his peak, probably a handful of those walked in and had never seen interior design like that. They had never been to a programming event like we did at Generator, had never been to a rooftop bar before, because they’re 20 years old, they just don’t have the exposure.

Not everyone lives in New York City, or London, or Paris, or whatever it may be. So I hope that there is someone listening to this podcast today or five years from now and they were a 20-year-old student walking through Generator for the first time, and it inspired them to become an interior designer or a musician or an artist or a hotelier, because that’s what happened to me. As I mentioned earlier, I traveled so much when I was younger, I do remember a couple of hotels, that really just shocked me in a good way, and really said, ‘Wow.’ You feel the butterflies in your stomach and I have a debt of gratitude to those hoteliers that influenced me when I was 22, 23, 24 years old.

SSR: Which hotels were they?

JW: I know it’s a cliché, but it’s absolutely 100 percent true. It was 1998, I walked into the lobby of the Delano, I had no clue who Philippe Starck was, again, I was a young kid. I walked into the lobby of the Delano in South Beach, seeing those huge flowing white curtains and the huge columns, and the Rose Bar and the pool, the way it flowed out onto the beach, and it was just something that I’d never forgot. And again, everyone now has been inspired or copied Ian [Schrager], but that was just one of the most, for me, inspirational moments and say, ‘Wow, I just didn’t know stuff like this existed.’ You know?

And then from the service level, the first time, probably a year later after I got totally hooked on boutique hotels, it was probably 1999 I stayed at the Mercer, and the service that André [Balazs] and his team, and again I was 25, 26 years old, but even if you were not educated in the hospitality game or a total neophyte, you could feel it, you know? And that good service is a very emotional thing. It’s not about a spreadsheet, it’s not about ticking a bunch of boxes, you just feel it. And it’s something that has always inspired me, and I always strive to try to create teams or concepts that has that same ethos of really wanting to inspire their customers and anyone that touches the brand.

SSR: Yeah. I remember the first time I had brunch at the John Georges restaurant and we were downstairs in the Mercer. And I will never forget that experience because it was just something so memorable.

JW: Absolutely.

SSR: Generator you scale it, it gets super successful. Why was it time to move on?

JW: It’s one thing that I’ve learned now, and I’m 45 years old, so it takes time, but success of a brand or of a company or of a team has many different inputs into it, right? And longterm success and being able to really hold onto a concept or a company, oftentimes, has very little to do with how good that company or concept or team is. Oftentimes, it’s driven by the capital behind it. In this case, Generator was owned by a private equity firm, which I was working for, as well. And as in any private equity firm, they have hold periods. Those hold periods literally say five years, seven years, 10 years. And there are legal restrictions that force funds to sell. So, anyone at Patron Capital, which is the fund that owned Generator and the fund that I worked for, anyone would tell you that if they had their choice, they would hold Generator forever. It’s a fantastic concept. But at the end of the day, these structural matters dictate when to exit. So, we decided to sell, and at that point when we decided to sell and the bankers were hired, I knew that, that was my time to try something new.

SSR: So where did you go next?

JW: So I went to Equinox. Harvey Spevak was building a new Equinox hotels platform. And I wanted the challenge of going from the budget space into what was really a significantly different challenge in the luxury space. And I also wanted to surround myself with world-class leadership and the opportunity to work for and work with Harvey was a great opportunity. I would’ve stayed there longer, but Generator was going through its sale process as well. And when Generator sold, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take some time off and continue to build my family. So I went from one child to three children very quickly, and then my wife said, ‘You really need to go create something new again.’

SSR: Not another life.

JW: So, that’s what led to NeueHouse. So, I was out looking for capital to start another hotel concept, and I was fortunate enough to meet the owners of NeueHouse, and we sat down together and what initially was an interview, quickly turned into more of a partnership discussion, really looking at how can we partner together to take this great concept, and really bring its original vision and DNA from the founders who are incredible visionaries and incredible people, how can we take that and actually supercharge that and really bring some energy and momentum into the business.

SSR: So two questions for those that are listening, that might not know NeueHouse, since it’s only in New York and LA currently, can you tell us a little bit about what NeueHouse is, and then on top of that, what drew you to it?

JW: So, NeueHouse is a private members’ club with shared workspace and an incredible community of creatives really focused on art, entertainment, media, literature, and other pursuits that drive a creative system. The differentiation of NeueHouse versus a number of other concepts is that this community that’s been formed here, which is really based upon building new ideas and creating new concepts and creating new areas of thought in the creative fields, that differentiation is a very, very special and nuanced position in the marketplace. I always say, NeueHouse is something that deserves to exist because we need it. We need these types of companies to shine a light on ideas that matter. To shine a light on design that matters. And as long as I’m aligned with a brand and a team like that, then I’m a very, very proud CEO and partner to my employees and to my investors. We’re based in New York and LA right now. So, we’re sitting here today on 25th Street and Park Avenue and Madison Square, and we have a second flagship in Hollywood, which is the original CBS Broadcast Studios from the 1930s, and we’re looking to expand. So, we’re slowly but surely, again similar to the Generator story, doing one step at a time and really looking for iconic interesting buildings with significant architectural moments.

SSR: You’ve been here nine months, so still learning. What have been some of the challenges and also opportunities about going into the coworking and an adjacent space to hospitality, informed somewhat from hospitality and changing your perspective. Are you bringing things that you also learn from your time and hospitality into NeueHouse?

JW: So, NeueHouse, the reason why it really attracted me is that it has a multi-platform position in terms of what it offers to its members. So there is workspace here. We also happen to have a deep sense of hospitality philosophy behind what we do. So we do have food and beverage outlets, similar to how lifestyle and boutique hotels are designed and operated. And, importantly, and I think a huge differentiator for us, is that we have these incredible programming and event spaces that really blend the world of hospitality, media, and entertainment. So there are very few hotels out there, for example, that have full production capability to shoot movies or TV or small vignettes. There are very few hotels out there that have the ability to produce 1,000-person party then also incorporates elements of media, broadcast, food, and entertainment. So bringing together the concept of a shared workspace with a great sense of food and beverage and hospitality, and then plugging in the programming side and the events side of the business is the raison d’etre of NeueHouse, right?

And then you wrap all that with the community, with the heart and soul of the people that inhabit these spaces. That is what is going to allow this company to really thrive in what is quite frankly a crowded market, right? The word coworking is used really by everyone now, right? And the way that I think about NeueHouse is, look, people work everywhere, right? Just like in the hotel business, there’s a hotel on every corner. Just like in the gym business. When you look at what a Harvey accomplished at Equinox; people told Harvey and Equinox back when he got involved in the company, surely they told him, ‘Look, there’s a gym on every corner. There’s a football field in every city. You can play football, you can go to yoga, you can go spinning, you can do all this stuff. Why would you ever get into the gym business?’

He had a vision to program incredible design with a great sense of hospitality, and a great sense of community into Equinox. And that’s why it is the most successful high-performance fitness business out there today. Our goal here at NeueHouse is the same thing. This high-performance creative environment. We have a very special community with absolute world-class design, with fantastic deep sense of hospitality, which brings real warmth to people and a real sense of belonging. And then wrapping that all in a programming concept that creates, inspires, and provokes.

SSR: And so you would see yourself more as a competitor with say a Soho House versus maybe a WeWork or where do you see yourself living in that?

JW: Yeah, it’s a question that comes up a lot. It’s a question that investors ask us. It’s a question that members ask us and my response is, and I say this with a sense of humility but also confidence, I do believe we are a category of one. I really do. We want to own the creative process, and the creative moments, where we can inspire those moments to happen inside of our four walls. And I do not think that there’s any other company out there that is really actually doing all of that. There are certainly elements of a WeWork or elements of a Soho House, but it goes way beyond that.

It’s funny, we’re debating right now, how we’re positioning a new product that we’re launching soon. And my vision, and my mantra for the team is we want to own the mind. We’re less concerned about everything else that’s happening. If we can own the mind and really provide a place where our members’ headspace can come into a work environment or a social environment and feel totally on point, feel completely relaxed, but at the same time with a certain sense of inspiration, then we are doing something definitely special and going in the right direction.

SSR: All especially with how important wellness is and working well and just being good to yourself across all verticals. I think that makes a lot of sense.

JW: Look, the concept of wellness today is an overused buzz term where everyone’s saying you have to wellness, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Okay, great. I would actually argue now having three kids, and not having the time to really devote wellness to my own body as much. If you actually really study wellness, wellness starts and ends with the mind. If you have an ability to be calm, if you sleep eight hours a night and you have an ability to have a less stressful day, I guarantee you that we’ll be working out five days a week, it will be eating gluten free, it will be all those other things. Because the mental, and if you think about it, if you talk to any high-performance athlete, by the way, I’m a big tennis fan. If you look at the difference between Roger Federer and the rest of the players, despite the fact he’s, you know, 20 years older in some cases or at least five, six years older than the other two players who are chasing him right now, he will attribute his success to his mind. And if we can foster that type of support here, I think our members will be very pleased.

SSR: You mentioned that there’s world-class design here. Rockwell Group did both locations. Moving forward, I know you have one launching in Venice, California, not Italy, and others. Are you looking for that same collaborator that you had with Generator? Are you looking to use different firms? What’s the thought process on the design?

JW:  So, we look at what Rockwell created here, in Madison Square and in Hollywood, and we are deeply grateful to the design ethos that he and his team created. The original concept of NeueHouse, it’s going back to what I was just talking about, about having a clear mind and a calm mind. The original ethos of NeueHouse was to bring, and this was created by David and his team at Rockwell, was to bring in a sense of a residential, warm, very relaxed, and comfortable feeling into an industry, i.e. the work industry, that had not previously seen that. And so David was extremely visionary. He and the founders at NeueHouse were visionary in bringing that in. We absolutely have every intent to continue to follow that path. So in terms of what the future holds for us, I will be collaborating again with DesignAgency on two of our projects, Bradbury in Downtown Los Angeles and Venice, which we will soon be announcing.

And, we are looking at working with people like David and Rockwell Group and other large designers on some of these larger projects that are coming into play. So, I really view it as the key initial growth of NeueHouse when I came in nine months ago was to focus on getting a number of projects up and running that we could really move quickly and flexibly. So to my earlier point about having a collaborator that I trust and that I can really bounce ideas off of with DesignAgency, and then looking as we scale even further beyond our core projects that we’ve announced is looking at working with studios like Rockwell and other large names to potentially take on huge, large projects.

SSR: And one thing that I’ve been seeing I guess on LinkedIn and other places, you’re also building out a pretty incredible advisory board. Can you speak a little bit about what collaborators you’re trying to bring in to help lead the company, or not lead, but to be a sounding board or collaborator through this process?

JW: So, let’s go back to wellness a moment. So if you think about sports again, right? The studies that started to come out about 10, 15 years ago, and really gained steam was the emphasis on shocking the body to do different things, to keep it healthy and to keep it flexible and pliable. So if you’re a runner, instead of running a 100 miles a week doing the same thing, stop, maybe run 50 miles a week and go swimming, do yoga, whatever. Maybe, if you’re a football player like Tom Brady and how he manages his performance, it’s doing different things and pivoting and keeping the muscles and the mind limber and flexible and dynamic. That’s how we view advisory relationships. So we recently brought on board Stephanie Horton, who’s the chief strategic officer of Alexander Wang. She has a deep sense of fashion background and importantly has understood how to build a business in the creative environment.

That brings a totally different perspective to our board meetings and to our discussions about what corporate strategy looks like. So, if I can bring that type of new idea, again, we’re in NeueHouse, home of the new, new ideas, new people, perspectives that really force us and push us to think differently, to think more expansively, then we will definitely do that all day. As I mentioned earlier, we’re launching a new membership product later this year, and part of it will be driven by bringing people into NeueHouse who have a very interesting point of view in industries that we don’t always think about.

So there were a lot of people out there in New York, LA, Miami, London, wherever it maybe, that are very focused on the worlds of fashion and the world of entertainment. These are the big moments they garner the most amount of attention on media or social media. All that’s good. We have a lot of exposure, we have a lot of great members from those industries, and we definitely want to keep a large portion of our membership base and our focus in those areas. However, that said, let’s talk about science for a moment, right? Let’s talk about policy. Let’s talk about ideas that are actually shaping the world in terms of what’s happening in the environment, what’s happening with sustainability.

Those are a form of creativity. And I don’t think that there’s any other private members group that’s really focused on that at least certainly in North America. So bringing in those world-class minds and having them sit at the table and be a member and provide programming to our members to say, ‘Hey, there is something that’s happening in these spaces that everyday interaction you don’t get that type of exposure.’ So we’re excited about that and looking at those types of people coming in. Again, building that advisory function, building that membership function is a core strategic initiative for the business.

SSR: And I love how too just on social media, looking at before coming here, how you celebrate your members and talk about what they’re doing and who they are. As a members’ club, you really love and admire and respect, and appreciate your membership, which is really refreshing to see.

JW: One of the things I think about with my team is how to inspire, empower, and protect them, right? So I try to provide the platform for them to really go after some of their ideas, and I just sit back and say, ‘Go do your thing.’ Let me, create the framing for you to succeed. So looking at our team that focuses on not only social media but the programming that drives all of the social media, Jon Goss, our chief brand officer; Brian Zabka, VP of marketing; Holly Murphy on marketing, Mariella [Everett] on membership, Meredith Rogers on programming, Julie on programming. We have these incredible team members that every day are thinking about how to bring in really interesting people and then how to amplify their stories.

And I will say, look, there is an editorial tone to it. We do take a view, although we’re not a political company per se, we do take a view on what we think is important for people to see and what messages are interesting and thought-provoking, and what needs to be discussed. It doesn’t always mean that we agree with it, but we do put ideas and people out there that are part of our membership base or if not our membership base, part of our programming strategy that provoke, and hopefully inspire, and certainly caused a debate.

SSR: I love that you do take that editorial eye that it’s almost curated and really has a point of view.

JW: I think you have to have a point of view. Look, the world is a crowded place today and without getting too political on this podcast, I would say that our commander-in-chief uses a bullhorn to make a point, right? And, therefore, if you want to amplify your message, you have to understand or have to have a sense of broadcast. And look, the company is based in the CBS broadcast studios, right? It was the original radio and TV company back in the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. So that history of broadcast and that DNA, physically inspires us every day when we walk into Hollywood.

SSR: Can you tell us a little bit about the new property in Downtown Los Angeles?

JW: So we are extremely excited, and honored to be able to open in the Bradbury Building in Downtown LA. The Bradbury Building was designed by Sumner Hunt in the late 1800s. It is the location and moment of some of the most interesting cinematic tableau’s in recent history. So Blade Runner was filmed there, the last of 20 minutes of Blade Runner in the 1980s. There had been a number of other TV shows and music videos that have been filmed there. And what is so interesting about that building, and for those listeners out there who don’t know what it is, it is probably one of the most iconic internal atrium moments of architecture in the United States, I would argue. It’s this incredible six stories, internal atrium with hand-operated elevators that still exist today, all wrapped around almost an Escher-like stair system that’s moving up and down the property.

So you have this incredible masculine cast iron feel with almost this widget-like feel where things are moving up and down in the building in real time, and then wrapped around the building on the exterior corridor are all the offices. So, we’re lucky. To be honest, we’re lucky to be able to go in there. We’re very grateful to the owner of the building to allow us to bring NeueHouse into what we believe is probably going to be one of the most exciting buildings to open in recent years.

SSR: In all the programming that you do, there are little bumps in the road. There was an incident recently at the screening of R. Kelly documentary. What happened and how did you react to it?

JW: This was in December 2018. It was my first or second week on the job. NeueHouse was the first-ever group to screen the movie Survivng R. Kelly. This was before the huge media storm, which subsequently hit. We had partnered with Lifetime TV, which was the distributor of the movie and the producers to screen it here in our screening room in the basement here in NeueHouse. We do things like that all the time. We try to provide a platform for new voices and thought.

Little did we know that an hour later, R. Kelly, apparently himself, called in a gun threat to shut the screening down, which led to a full evacuation of NeueHouse, and an immediate global focal point on the movie, including in The Hollywood Reporter, Page Six, Vanity Fair, and a number of other press outlets. It was certainly baptism by fire moment for me as CEO. I took a step back despite some of the advice and guidance we were being given. In that moment, it was late at night, it was 9 or 10 o’clock at night, on a Tuesday night. I took a step back and said, ‘You know, we should not be silent about this. We should actually double down on our commitment to our members, and our commitment to the artistic and creative community to say that we do give a voice to people who deserve to have a voice.’ These particular female producers had gone through very, very significant hurdles to get their movie made and to get it shown. Instead of shying away from controversy, or shying away from the spotlight, I saw it as a double-down moment, not only for me as a leader and CEO, but a double-down moment for NeueHouse as a brand. I’m extremely pleased for how it all worked out. We developed trust and credibility with our members and with the community, and we’ve gone from strength to strength since then.

SSR: I know you said there will be a slow growth there, but what is your vision for the company in the next five years?

JW: Look, I think slow growth is not a bad thing, and you look at again, this concept of growth at all costs, you’ve got to grow, you’ve got to grow. I think that’s a very American, recent private equity capitalists phenomena. If you’re a student of history and a student of business, and you look at how the Mittelstand companies were created in Germany, or you look at the Japanese system of creating companies that are just maniacally focused on quality and really getting the quality and the product right first, and then scaling. Even looking at the hotel business, you look at some of the iconic hoteliers Andre Balasz, Brad Wilson, Alex Calderwood, when he was first rolling out Ace and now today Brad Wilson rolling out Ace, these brands and these platforms and these products can all coexist with these larger growth moments of the bigger flags.

So in our space, for example, we’re a shared workspace with a social element with the food and beverage and the programming. There are other, I would call them indirect competitors. We don’t believe that WeWork as a direct competitor. We don’t believe that Convene is a direct competitor. These groups led by very charismatic CEOs are putting capital first and growth first versus I would argue product and experience and membership, and that is coming second. It’s not a criticism. I think Adam Newman, for example, is the single most successful charismatic salesman in the history of real estate. His ability to raise that type of capital is astounding, and I respect that. But what we’re focused on is worrying about the member journey, the promise to our members, the promise to our customers to say, ‘Look, we wake up every morning religiously and maniacally focused on their happiness and making sure that we deliver on what we’re promising.

If we can do that, then doing one or two Neuehouses a year for the rest of our lives, we’re pretty happy. So we wake up, it would be similar to Generator. I did 14 Generators in 10 countries in about seven, eight years. If we wake up seven years from now, and we have 20 Neuehouses in three or four countries, we’d be very, very happy. In the immediate future, in the next three to four years, we’re really focusing on North America and maybe putting a little toe-hold into Europe I think is important. But it will be growth with responsibility and growth with a deep sense of thoughtfulness, as opposed to growth at all costs.

SSR: I love that word, thoughtful. It’s a great way to make sure that you continue to give the value that you’re looking to do. So I’m excited to see what you do. Coming over here, has there been a great lesson learned or something you didn’t realize that you had to realize in those nine months?

JW: Look, I came from the hotel industry, where I think the customer experience in a hotel or a restaurant is very different from the customer experience in a shared workspace and a members’ club. Because if you check into a hotel and you don’t like your experience, you do one of two things. You go down to the front desk and you say, ‘Can I have a different room?’ And more often than not, your problem is solved. And then if you can’t get a different room, then you check out and you leave, and you never come back. Right? Here, people have to come back every day. So if there’s a design flaw, for example or a service flaw, they see it every day. Now of course, ultimately, yes, if they really truly were unhappy, they would leave at the end of their membership term, or we have different membership structures, but, that decision to leave doesn’t happen in the immediate moment.

It’s even faster at a restaurant. If you really don’t like a meal, you literally could leave within five minutes, versus a hotel maybe you leaving the next day. Here, the decision to leave, or the decision to be unhappy with service or with design takes time to iron out. So, I’ve had to shift my perspective from the hotel industry to really looking at how members interact with the space and how the space is designed. That for me has been probably the most humbling new learning moment.

I think everyone brings in preconceived notions of things and they leverage their background or experience in their new job. I definitely, in the first six months, I put the brakes on making any comments and I just tried to listen to what was happening, and as a result, now we’re refining some areas of the product. We’re re-furbing some areas, we’re obviously creating new properties and that learning has really informed our design direction.

SSR: And over your entire 15, so years in hospitality, what has been your greatest piece of advice that was given to you or something that you’ve taken even from the earlier days to now, that you try to carry with you?

JW: Well, specific to hospitality, I’m going to answer this question in really two ways. From the key strategic area, if you absolutely can be honest with yourself about what your vision is for your product, whether it’s a one-off restaurant or a hotel or a members space or coworking or shared workspace, whatever it is, a lot of people aren’t honest with their own vision. They’re almost scared to say, ‘Hey, this is what I really want to accomplish.’ And they don’t put it down on paper and they just talk, but they don’t actually do. And I think putting down your vision on paper and saying, ‘okay, here’s what my vision is. Here’s why this vision matters or why is worthy of investment or worthy of a team working for you or working with you,’ that’s incredibly important and most people don’t do it. So, I’ve learned to be a better communicator and a better documentarian of what the vision is.

My second response to the question, and I give this advice again to people who want to get into hospitality, or want to get into design within the hospitality space, is surround yourself with people and moments that have that momentum and flow, where good things are going to happen. You don’t know what good things are going to happen. All you know and I’ll use a car analogy, is you want to get in a car that is going from point A to point B in a very, very fun, and meaningful, and exciting way. You don’t know if by the end of that car journey, maybe the leather seats have been changed to sheepskin covered seats, maybe the burled walnut interior has changed to leather, who knows? But the car gets there, right? And so any advice that I give to people who are entering the space or raising money to just start a new concept, whatever it is, you got to know what the flow is, and where that car is going and get in the car and good things will happen.

SSR: Well, that’s a perfect place to end our conversation. Thank you so much for joining us today, Josh. It’s been such a pleasure.

JW: Well, thank you so much, Stacy. It’s been a real honor.