WeWork was once one of the world's leading unicorns, an seemingly invincible creation backed by Silicon Valley's brightest minds and a truckload of venture capitalists. It took the concept of boring, shared office space and added kombucha on tap, reaching a valuation of $47 billion at its zenith, four times the GDP of the Bahamas. The driving force behind the project, the ever-eccentric Adam Neumann, dreamed of joining the billionaires' club hand in hand with his no less controversial wife, Rebekah Paltrow, cousin of Hollywood actress Gwyneth. However, their bubble soon burst, tanking their reputation as a couple accustomed to mixing with the upper echelons of New York society.
It took just six weeks for WeWork to collapse like a house of cards. Neumann, a 44-year-old former Israeli army veteran, filed for the company's IPO petition with the Securities and Exchange Commission in August 2019 and immediately opened a Pandora's box. What was supposed to be his crowning achievement became his entrepreneurial burial ground. Dubious financial practices, colossal company debts, and a considerable list of eccentricities all came to light. His lavish lifestyle became a thorn in the side for WeWork's extensive list of investors.
Neumann and his wife squandered millions of dollars during their decade-long rise. Money poured in, fueled by the confidence bestowed by firms like Microsoft, Volkswagen, Pinterest, and Google. SoftBank alone, the Japanese investment holding firm, injected $4.4 billion, enough for the couple to afford two mansions in the Hamptons, a $35 million Manhattan apartment, and a San Francisco house boasting all sorts of extravagant features: a guitar-shaped living room, a three-story slide leading to the pool, and even a spa.
Their grandiose delusions inspired the Apple TV+ series WeCrashed, which depicted Neumann as an egomaniac relishing life like a French king at Versailles. In one scene, he's awakened by a servant not just opening the curtains of his luxurious bedroom but also presenting his first dose of marijuana of the day on a silver platter. That wasn't his sole indulgence; Neumann also revels in expensive bottles of tequila, sports cars, and private jets.
He met his wife through a mutual friend, and on their first date, she seemed to discern what others took years to realize. "It took her five minutes to look me in the eyes and say, 'You, my friend, are full of shit. Every word that comes out of your mouth is a lie.'" The couple married in 2008 and have six children.
It was actually Rebekah who was the mastermind behind the idea for WeWork and who put up the money to rent the first space, and was later responsible for the lavish parties the company organized for its employees and its educational branch, WeGrow, which never quite took off.
Despite the debacle, Neumann has weathered the demise of his dream and the bankruptcy that followed quite well. He remains immensely wealthy, with a fortune estimated around $1.7 billion, according to Bloomberg, attributed in large part to his ability to squeeze the most out of his company while it still appeared a viable venture.
The Israeli received $245m in compensation when he was replaced by Artie Minson as the company's CEO in 2019, plus an additional multi-million payout as part of an agreement with the board to avoid competition and subsequent lawsuits: $185m on one side, $106m on another, plus $578m for a stock package sold by Neumann.
In a statement, he lamented the fall from grace of his brainchild launched in 2008 alongside Miguel McKelvey, amid the looming clouds of the global economic crisis. They began renting office space to anyone in need of a workplace. More than a mere rental service, their idea was to create a community to collaborate and escape the feeling of loneliness. The idea took off, and between 2010 and 2019, they grew from 450 to over half a million customers. They opened branches across the USA, Canada, and in another 37 countries, catching the attention of investment bigwigs, and Neumann believed his fleeting legend would endure.
"It has been a challenge for me to watch since 2019 how WeWork has failed to capitalize on a product that is more relevant today than ever," he stated in a release.
The possibility of a reunion between Neumann and his creation hangs in the balance. Bloomberg suggests that with the company declaring bankruptcy, this option might resurface. The entrepreneur has already been approached to help revive the brand once the agreement prohibiting competition has expired.
Read the original article in Spanish here.