Knotel is a flexible workspace provider based in New York City that Edward Shendorvich and Amol Sarva founded in 2015.
Unlike traditional coworking operators that offer shared desks for freelancers and pack several start-ups in the same office block, Knotel targets mid-sized and enterprise companies with private office spaces with their own branding that are managed by Knotel and have more flexible leases. The company made headlines early in its life when it parked a bus emblazoned with a sign reading “graduate from coworking” outside of WeWork’s headquarters.
Knotel expanded aggressively after its 2015 founding, signing not only straight leases but also partnership agreements with landlords, and had a portfolio of 5 million square feet in more than 10 countries by the end of 2019. It was crowned a unicorn in 2019 after it closed on a $400 million funding round. (Disclosure: Observer Capital, led by Observer Media Chairman Joseph Meyer, is a Knotel investor.)
Despite pitching itself as a more stable alternative to WeWork, cracks began to form toward the end of 2019 with reports that nearly one-third of Knotel’s New York City portfolio was vacant. Its leasing activity plummeted, and Knotel laid off 24 staffers at the start of 2020.
Sarva still kicked off 2020 on a positive note, saying Knotel had “profitability very much in sight” and its contractor revenue was up by nearly $250 million compared to 2019. However, the coronavirus pandemic put further strain on the company as its locations emptied.
It cut half of its staff and announced plans to walk away from about 1 million square feet of space in the spring of 2020. By October, it had laid off even more staffers. Knotel soon announced plans to get out of more leases as it shifted its focus outside of the United States to the European and Japanese markets.
While getting out of its deals, the company has been hit with dozens of lawsuits from property owners over millions of dollars in apparently unpaid rent.