Sunday 7 November 2021

Streaming on Prime Video - Rod Bishop recommends WEWORK: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Dollar Unicorn (Jed Rothstein, USA, 2021)

It takes a while to accept what you are watching is actually true. 

Adam Neumann - an Israeli, whose only qualifications appear to be a kibbutz education, a stint in a business school in New York and starting a children’s clothing company - becomes the co-founder and the public face of WeWork. It’s euphemistically described as a “commercial real estate company” but in reality, it’s just an “office-spacestart-up

Neumann’s ‘schtick’ is to lease real estate, trick it up with paint and furniture, divvy the space up into smaller lots, then re-lease it to idealistic millennials who want to change the world with their tech startups. He provides them with a love-in environment, including communal living spaces called WeLive that come fully equipped with ready-made friends and the carrot of likely romantic relationships. 

Adam Neumann, WeWork

He also holds his own annual Woodstock-like ‘Summer Camp’ for his We followers – seminars until 4pm, then as much alcohol as they can drink followed by rave parties and music concerts.

After ten years of operation, WeWork was valued at a staggering $47 billion and issued an IPO (initial public offering). It was a catastrophic failure and by the time the IPO was withdrawn, the valuation had crashed to $10 billion. 

Neumann was forced out as CEO, given a $1.7 billion payout, a $185 million consultancy fee and whatever else he could extract from WeCompany before his resignation.

Only in America, as my mother would have said. 

One of the great omissions in this doco is how Neumann managed to raise such investment. The gullible millennials – and it’s painful to hear some of them talk of their gullibility – are one thing, but the biggest venture capital investor in the world, SoftBank from Japan? They chucked in $13 billion. For an office-space leasing company? That operates on bonhomie, booze, communal living and all-night parties? 

The only real explanation given is FOMO or ‘fear of missing out’ on the next big tech success like an Amazon, Uber or Facebook. 

Earlier this year Apple TV+ announced a forthcoming program on the rise and fall of WeWork to be called WeCrashed.

Venture capitalists call start-ups valued at over $1 billion “unicorns”. Luckily, Neumann’s WeCompany only managed WeWork and WeLive. WeGrow (kindergarten education) almost took off as did RiseByWe (wellness, now permanently closed). On the books he had plans for WeSleep (the mind boggles), WeSail (boggles again) and WeBank (unimaginable). Oh, dear.



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