In April 2016 WeWork, a $16 billion company that leases office space and then rents it out to startups, launched its most radical experiment yet. It unveiled WeLive, residential properties in New York and DC that house young professionals in pampered, if cramped, apartments with Silicon Valley-style amenities like free yoga classes, daily housekeeping services, and unlimited beer.
The best-known chain among China’s startup community, if not the largest, is You+. After co-founders Liu Yang and Liu Xin opened the first branch in Guangzhou in 2012, they sought venture capital and quickly established a nationwide chain of residences with the help of Su Di, one of the architects behind Beijing’s Innoway startup hub. You+ currently claims to house over 10,000 people across its 16 branches and has received over $20 million in venture capital funding from prominent Chinese investors including Xiaomi founder Lei Jun.
You+’s residences have a warehouse-chic look not uncommon for co-working spaces, but with a few local twists. In the Guangzhou branch along Baogang Avenue, Chinese pop blasts from the speakers as residents peck at their laptops or play pool. Washing machines take QR codes for payments using WeChat. Cigarette smoking—which would get one exiled in Silicon Valley—is permitted. Ashtrays are on almost every table in the common area.
Most bedrooms are between 20 to 50 square meters, and cost 2,000 yuan ($303) per month to rent. Bathrooms are private. The minimum duration of a stay is six months. Many You+ residents are startup founders or employees. Guangzhou isn’t the startup center that Beijing is, but its large population and proximity to manufacturing hubs like Shenzhen and Dongguan keep its tech industry relatively vibrant. They don’t necessarily choose to live in You+ to save money on rent—2000 yuan per month in Tianhe, on of Guangzhou’s main business districts, will get one a complete apartment of equal size, and prices go lower in more remote parts of the city. But You+ lets young Chinese live in an environment that’s more social than the average apartment complex.