Inside WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn

by Kasey Caminiti | March 31, 2021 11:00 am

In the last year, powerful documentaries like The Social Dilemma and Framing Britney Spears have gripped the world. This spring, another investigative film, WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn, chronicles the coworking company and its polarizing co-founder Adam Neumann. Premiering on Hulu[1] this April and directed by Academy Award–nominated filmmaker Jed Rothstein[2], the film offers a behind-the-scenes look at the eccentricities of WeWork and Neumann. “He’s a classic New York hustler, in both the great and the terrible sense of that term,” says Rothstein of Neumann. “There’s a fine line in American life between faking it till you make it and outright lying.” Rothstein tapped journalists, experts and high-ranking former WeWork employees and members to help chronicle the company’s rise and crash. “The WeWork story is emblematic of the era that just ended: high-flying companies whose numbers don’t make sense but who seem brilliant anyway, charismatic founders and an exterior shell of good values cloaking the rapacious capitalism beneath.”

WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann

WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann

Neumann co-founded the progressive, community-driven coworking venture in 2010 and, in 2019, stepped down as CEO after a controversial attempt at an initial public offering. With stories of staff being treated to tequila shots[3] after discussing mass layoffs and Neumann forbidding staff from expensing meat-based meals, the film’s narrative illustrates the disruptive and at times dangerous culture the entrepreneur encouraged. Conversely, Rothstein admits that Neumann—who operated in an era when founders like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk[4] were thriving—successfully gave commercial real estate some sex appeal before imploding. “Adam Neumann became an unlikeable figure for some people inside the company who felt he lied to them. But for many years, he was the toast of the town and a leader who inspired a lot of people,” Rothstein says. “He got out over his skis, believed too much of his own press, and got greedy. He’d created a universe in which he could never be wrong. That seemed like it could lead to some very bad decision making. But at the outset, he had a compelling idea and he rode it as a rocket ship to the moon until it ran out of fuel (and he made sure he had a very, very nice escape pod).”

"WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn"

“WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn”

With ongoing settlement negotiations[5] and lawsuits involving WeWork stakeholders, Neumann’s future is uncertain, but Rothstein is hopeful that the community-driven spaces Adam Neumann once strived to create, and ultimately betrayed, might still be possible. “We’re in the middle of a revolution. So much has been lost. So much needs to be rebuilt. To put it more succinctly: Greed is not good.”

Endnotes:
  1. Premiering on Hulu: https://press.hulu.com/shows/wework-or-the-making-and-breaking-of-a-47-billion-unicorn/
  2. Jed Rothstein: https://fortune.com/2021/03/15/wework-documentary-director-jed-rothstein-adam-neumann-sxsw-hulu/
  3. tequila shots: https://www.businessinsider.com/wework-ceo-adam-neumann-layoffs-firing-tequila-shots-run-dmc-2019-9#:~:text=Moments%20after%20discussing%20a%20round,Wall%20Street%20Journal
  4. Elon Musk: https://dujour.com/news/tesla-autopilot-video/
  5. ongoing settlement negotiations: https://www.forbes.com/sites/rachelsandler/2021/02/26/wework-founder-adam-neumann-softbank-reach-settlement-in-legal-battle/?sh=6dc02e9a79e7

Source URL: https://dujour.com/culture/inside-wework-or-the-making-and-breaking-of-a-47-billion-unicorn/