The WeWork Story: Spectacular Rise And Fall Of A Startup Unicorn

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The WeWork Story Spectacular Rise and Fall of a Startup Unicorn

The Rise, Fall, and Attempted Comeback of WeWork’s Adam Neumann

WeWork was once the darling of the startup world, commanding a $47 billion valuation with its vision of transforming office spaces globally. But behind this meteoric growth was the company’s eccentric and questionable leadership under founder Adam Neumann. After spectacularly crashing in a failed IPO attempt, WeWork entered bankruptcy in late 2019. Now, in an unexpected twist, Neumann is seeking to regain control of the company he created. This saga provides key lessons on startup hype, corporate governance, and the resilience of determined founders.

The Rapid Rise of WeWork Under Adam Neumann

WeWork began simply enough in 2008 as a small New York City co-working space founded by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey. The company offered freelancers, startups, and enterprises short-term leases for attractively designed shared workspaces.

Neumann aggressively grew the company for the next decade across hundreds of cities globally. WeWork provided flexibility, community, and cool factors that made it a hit with millennials. At its peak before the IPO debacle, WeWork had over 850 locations and was the biggest office tenant in major hubs like New York and London.

Much of the company’s success was due to the vision and relentless drive of Neumann. The long-haired Israeli native was an eccentric yet effective salesman. He pitched communal working as “elevating global consciousness” and pushed employees to “hustle harder.” Under Neumann, the company expanded so rapidly that by 2019, it had grown to a stunning private valuation of $47 billion.

However, troubling signs of poor management were overlooked amidst the breakneck growth. The company was losing over $1 billion a year as Neumann prioritized expansion over profitability. He enriched himself through questionable ventures with the company and maintained tight control, leading many to consider WeWork less as a promising startup than a personal fiefdom.

Wework : The Botched 2019 IPO and Fall From Grace

The Botched 2019 IPO and Fall From Grace

In 2019, WeWork filed for an IPO intended to raise $3-$4 billion and give the company a valuation of up to $65 billion. This would cement its status as one of America’s most valuable startups.

But as regulators and investors reviewed IPO paperwork, major red flags became apparent:

  • Despite billions in funding, WeWork was losing huge sums and had precarious finances. 2019 losses were on track to exceed $2 billion.
  • Neumann engaged in multiple conflicts of interest such as personally owning buildings that WeWork leased.
  • Neumann’s voting control gave him unchecked power. For example, he charged WeWork $5.9 million for the use of the trademarked word “We.”

As skepticism grew, the potential IPO valuation plunged from $65 billion to below $15 billion. The offering was shelved in September 2019 and seen as a harbinger of “irrational exuberance” in tech startups. Neumann was forced out as CEO but exited with a golden parachute of $200+ million and loans.

WeWork attempted to reset with new leadership and an emphasis on core office offerings. However, the rapid expansion left it with expensive long-term leases just as demand declined. With losses unsustainable, WeWork filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in late 2019.

Neumann's Bid to Regain Control of WeWork

Neumann’s Bid to Regain Control of WeWork

In a remarkable development, the founder that precipitated WeWork’s downfall is now seeking to regain control. Through his new venture capital-backed startup, Flow Global, Neumann has explored buying WeWork or injecting capital into the bankrupt company.

In October 2022, Neumann offered up to $1 billion to aid the floundering WeWork but was reportedly rebuffed. His lawyers claim WeWork has since stonewalled further purchase offers. Despite this, Neumann remains committed to rejoining WeWork in some capacity.

Neumann has allied with major investors to finance a potential WeWork purchase or restructuring. Backers include:

  • Andreessen Horowitz: The VC firm recently gave Flow Global $350 million in funding.
  • Third Point: The hedge fund of billionaire Dan Loeb is reportedly open to financing a WeWork deal.

With access to major capital and his outsized ambition, Neumann should not be underestimated. He has a track record of tenacity, returning after setbacks throughout WeWork’s turbulent history. His vision and skills could be beneficial in navigating WeWork’s ongoing challenges.

However, a Neumann-led comeback also raises risks given past governance breakdowns. Oversight measures would be needed to ensure history does not repeat. WeWork’s bankruptcy creditors may also prefer alternatives giving them greater control.

Neumann Attempts to Engineer WeWork 2.0

Neumann Attempts to Engineer WeWork 2.0

Neumann is reported to still hold a large equity stake in WeWork, though the company’s bankruptcy and restructuring have diluted his ownership. His lawyers argue combining WeWork and Flow could create valuable synergies exceeding WeWork’s standalone value. They criticize WeWork leadership for not adequately considering the proposed deals.

However, the complicated bankruptcy process involves many stakeholders. Leadership must balance obtaining the best deal for shareholders against input from creditors, landlords, and others negatively impacted by WeWork’s meteoric rise and fall.

While rejecting Neumann risks continued deterioration, granting him another chance could enable his vision and drive to be channelled productively. Or history could repeat itself destructively. The We Generation saga continues unfolding in unpredictable ways.

FAQs About WeWork and Adam Neumann

What was the peak valuation of WeWork?

WeWork reached a peak private valuation of $47 billion in January 2019, making it at the time the most valuable startup in the United States. This high valuation set expectations for its planned IPO later that year.

How much was Adam Neumann’s exit compensation package from WeWork?

When Neumann resigned as CEO of WeWork as part of the fallout from its failed IPO in September 2019, his exit compensation package was reported at over $200 million. He also borrowed hundreds of millions from the company that did not have to be repaid.

What is Adam Neumann’s current net worth?

Despite WeWork’s bankruptcy, Neumann is estimated to still have a personal net worth of around $1 billion due to the money he extracted. He has maintained wealth by selling some of his WeWork shares, consulting fees, and other assets.

How many locations did WeWork have at its peak?

At its peak, before retrenchment began in 2019, WeWork had over 850 co-working office locations worldwide across over 120 cities. This made it the dominant flexible office space provider in many major urban markets.

What is Flow Global, Adam Neumann’s new company?

Flow Global is a residential real estate startup Neumann co-founded in 2022 after leaving WeWork. Backed by VC funding, it aims to apply WeWork’s community-driven approach to transforming apartment living. Neumann sees opportunities to partner with or acquire assets from the struggling WeWork.

Could Neumann potentially face any charges related to WeWork’s issues?

While Neumann’s actions have drawn much criticism, he has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing. Potential civil suits around mismanagement remain a possibility. But he is viewed more as emblematic of startup excess than a criminal.

How much did Softbank invest in WeWork overall?

Softbank was the biggest investor in WeWork, ultimately pouring over $13 billion into the company from its Vision Fund starting in 2017. The failed IPO and WeWork’s bankruptcy led to huge losses for Softbank on its investment.


WeWork’s story provides a cautionary tale of the startup world’s excessive hype and poor governance. Driven by an ambitious yet unchecked founder, the company soared then crashed spectacularly. As WeWork struggles to rebuild, its ousted founder plots an improbable comeback attempt. The ending remains uncertain, but the dramatic saga has already solidified WeWork’s status as an emblem of startup hubris and dysfunction. Key lessons have emerged for entrepreneurs seeking sustainable growth driven by mission over ego.

Key Takeaways From WeWork’s Saga

The shifting fortunes of WeWork and Adam Neumann provide important lessons for the startup ecosystem:

  • Revenue over hype: Never overlook real underlying financials and assume massive valuations will be sustained.
  • Governance matters: Independent oversight and voting rights must counterbalance founder control.
  • Scale responsibly: Rapid expansion without solid unit economics limits flexibility in downturns.
  • Mission over ego: A cultish corporate culture centred on an imperial founder enables excess.
  • Resilience counts: Persistent and skilled founders should not be underestimated, for better or worse.

WeWork’s story is still unfolding and the next chapter remains uncertain. Will Adam Neumann pull off an improbable comeback? Or will creditors and investors decide a fresh start without him is preferable? The saga continues, but it has already solidified WeWork’s place as a cautionary tale of startup hubris giving way to harsh realities.

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