The Rise and Fall of WeWork: A Cautionary Tale of Too Much Money, Too Soon
I’ve been a member of WeWork since 2016. When I first became a member I was in love with the place. Being there felt festive yet sheik. Plus, being a member gave you instant access to their network of other members who you could tap into for collaboration and partnership. It was really wonderful being a part of a community of driven successful people. I had just quit my 9-5 but I was not wanting to sit in my house and work from home by myself. I wanted community and that’s what WeWork offered. It was in the name after all “WE” work.
At WeWork in Austin, Texas for the St. Patrick’s Day Party sponsored by Guinness. As a beer geek, knowing that there was an endless supply of rotating beers on draft that I could enjoy whenever I wanted was a huge selling point for me in signing up. Happy hour in DC can easily run you $50-$80 a night and people in DC go to a happy hour often. I like knowing that I could say to my friends, “Hey meet me at WeWork and let’s grab a beer and catch up.” That way I could skip the happy hour bill and not kill my social life. I factored that saving into my justification for the rather pricey membership cost.
When I noticed that things were headed south with WeWork, I kept wondering how it could be possible. In The SXSW viewing of “WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn,” I was finally able to get that question answered.
My takeaway from this documentary, too much money was thrown at a concept that has a great deal of promise but became ever increasingly predicated on the hero-worship of one man. That man was Adam Neumann, the co-founder of WeWork and de facto face of the company. His cultish following of him became more important than focusing on providing real value to the company’s customers. Investors were paying attention to the wrong metrics.
Once the hype of being one of the cool kids and free beer wore off what was WeWork really offering besides glorified workspaces? Truthfully, WeWork is a real estate investment company, and no matter how often Neumann tries to push it’s all about the community Kool-aid that fact is very clear. You can’t be part of a special collective of enlightened coworkers breaking the mold when there is a WeWork popping up on every block. The pace of the growth completely undermined its novelty. It only took me a few months to figure out that $300+ was too much for a desk and I’m quite certain there are many others who figured that out pretty quickly as well.
I had a Global Access membership and I visited offices in DC, NYC, Austin, LA, and San Diego. I have never been to a WeWork that was fully occupied. Most had more than half of their spaces vacant at any given time. This documentary makes it very clear that although Adam Neumann might have fit right in with the early 2010s era of tech gurus who people were enamored by and threw money at, his business model really doesn’t fit with the more financially conscious entrepreneur of 2021. I don’t see WeWork ever rebounding to where it once was and I think future generations watching this documentary will get a good laugh out of how ridiculous the whole era of We was.