I’m captivated by Jed Rothstein’s documentary for many, many reasons. WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn is the story of the office sharing business, its charismatic CEO, and, dare I say, a cult.
I’ve stepped into a WeWork at a friend’s invitation, and it came across as an upscale office sharing program…and one that was way out of my budget. I’ve used similar services, like Regus, and at its core, the two businesses were pretty much the same. So, how exactly does a business, which is pretty much a copy of another unremarkable business, find itself valued at $47 billion?
What Rothstein’s documentary shows was WeWorks severely inflated valuation came from its CEO, Adam Neumann. Neumann was a showman and had an inspirational message of global connectedness in the business world that was attractive to people who wanted to transcend above the corporate greed culture. He presented a new way to approach doing business, and along with his wife Rebekah Paltrow Neumann, they developed a philosophy they called WeLive.
WeWork was to transform how business is run as we know it. Neumann put on camps and conferences where members would network and reflect. It’s also a camp where the booze flowed free, and the parties went on forever…like an organized Fyre festival. Neumann’s popularity grew, and his visions and promises grew with it. Neumann’s mere words inspired even the savviest investors to bank on WeWork, and thus the $47 Billion Unicorn was fed.
“…how exactly does a business, which is pretty much a copy of another unremarkable business, find itself valued at $47 billion?”
I was drawn to every minute of WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn. I was a new, born-again Evangelical in the 80s and bought into much of the hype…not God, but religion. Year after year, I saw one televangelist after the other making promises of prosperity in exchange for donations, healing in exchange for donations. God was being used as the centerpiece of this scam. Leaders become rich, living in mansions and flying on jets…like Neumann. Charlatans used television, camps, and retreats, and the internet to become rich…like Neumann. Members needed to be shielded from reality, so they moved to compounds and all drank the Koolaid…just like cults…and just like Neumann.
Was Neumann a con-man? After watching Rothstein’s doc, I’m not sure. I got the sense that Neumann started from a good place. He dreamed of a better way to improve the world, and along with others, started to believe his own B.S. Then again, when he was ultimately removed from WeWork, he got a pretty hefty severance package.
I’m drawn to stories about people, and WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn is a fantastic story of one man’s fast rise to stardom and riches and his fast fall along with those who were caught in his wake.
The documentary was pieced together and organized beautifully by Jed Rothstein. It mainly works because the story feels complete without missing bits of important information. What equally remarkable is the vast amount of footage Rothstein had of Adam and Rebekah Neumann. Adam must be in at least 80% of the documentary, and it’s enough to get a good sense of who he was and understand how he got to power. It’s a story of very flawed people who followed the pied piper to a new world that doesn’t exist.
WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn screened at the 2021 SXSW Film Festival.