HOT DOCS FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! 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’m captivated by Jed Rothstein’s documentary for many, many reasons.
I’ve stepped into a WeWork at a friend’s invitation, and it came across as an upscale office sharing program, 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 company, which is pretty much a copy of another unremarkable business, find itself valued at $47 billion?
The movie shows how WeWork’s 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 called WeLive.
WeWork was to transform how business as we know it. Neumann put on camps and conferences where members would network and reflect. It also had free-flowing booze, and the parties went on forever… like an organized Fyre festival. The entrepreneur’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 Unicorn was fed $47 Billion.
“…how exactly does a company, 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 because it resonated with me, and I could relate to some of the stories shared. I was a new, born-again Evangelical in the 1980s and bought into much of the hype. 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, just like Neumann. Charlatans used television, camps, retreats, and the internet to become rich, just like Neumann. Members needed to be shielded from reality, so they moved to compounds, and all drank the Koolaid, literally cult behavior… just like Neumann.
Was Neumann a con-man? After watching Rothstein’s film, 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, began to believe his own B.S. Then again, when he was ultimately removed from WeWork, he received a pretty hefty severance package.
WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn was pieced together and organized beautifully by Jed Rothstein. It mainly works because the narrative feels complete; all the critical bits of information are brought up at some point. What’s equally remarkable is the vast amount of footage Rothstein had of the central husband and wife duo. Adam Neumann must be in at least 80% of the documentary, and viewers get a good sense of who he was and understand how he rose to power. It’s a story of very flawed people who followed the pied piper to a new world that doesn’t exist.
"…pieced together and organized beautifully..."