Hulu's new documentary on the rise and fall of WeWork focuses on its charismatic, egotistical founder and CEO Adam Neumann, who was ultimately the company's downfall.
In the tale of how the cult-of-personality (rumored to be played by Jared Leto in an upcoming film adaptation) created the coworking empire and subsequently caused its downfall, WeWork: or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn interviews employees of the company who were there from the beginning to pinpoint what went right that led to the inescapability of WeWork a few years ago, and what went so horribly wrong.
WeWork went from being valued at $47 billion to collapsing in a matter of months, largely because of the unchecked whims of Adam Neumann, who expanded without consideration of cost, and because of the the false promises made by the company's mission and its overinflated value.
WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn • Official Trailer - A Hulu Original www.youtube.com
Above all, the documentary exposes the hollowness of value-driven corporations, and exposes how WeWork used its message of community to fuel the ambitions of those at the top. It also reveals how much of the company fell prey to its idealization of the rat race of hustle culture for very little reward.
So much of the documentary was surprising — the extent to which people bought into their brand's message, the internal cultish loyalty to Adam as the leader — and almost all of it seems, from the outside, insane. Startups are notoriously fickle, but WeWork's meteoric rise and fall was so catastrophic that it makes sense that there was more to its implosion than meets the eye.
The common lore of its downfall focuses on the loss of its major investor, SoftBank, alongside its reckless spending combined with its ambitious growth, but The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn shows how much was wrong at the core of WeWork and its culture from the start.
Critics of hustle culture and corporate activism (read: us) are not surprised by this capitalist Wizard of Oz story. Here are some of the wildest, most warped aspects of the WeWork documentary, which make us wonder how the employees on the inside didn't recognize their unicorn as an overinflated bubble waiting to burst.
Major Frat Vibes
Note the fist pump? Sorry Chet Hanks ... Maybe WeWork invented White Boy Summer
Start-ups have become notorious for their strange bro-heavy office cultures — which often means various ping-pong tables and lots of flip flops. As a co-working space, WeWork's frat vibes manifested less in the office and more in every single other aspect of the business.
Having grown up idolizing the parties in American college movies, Adam Neumann made sure to integrate them into his business model. The company had retreats for its employees, called summer camps, which looked more like EDM festivals than team meetings.
The summer camp clips looked like outtakes from Project X or Superbad, the kind of unhinged parties thrown by people who have never actually been to a good party and instead compensate by filling the budget with kegs and doing a lot of fist pumping.
But Also Kind of GOOPy
A strange component that was essential to concocting the overall in-cohesive WeWork vibes was Neumann's wife, Rebekah. A cousin of Gwyneth Paltrow, Rebekah's contribution to the WeWork dynamic was the kind of vacuous wellness-talk that feels very GOOPy, which is no real surprise.
Between ragers at the summer camps, the Neumanns would stand on a giant concert-like stage and talk about their vision for the company. Adam's original conception had always been focused on community, and Rebekah's influence made it increasingly more spiritual and less coherent.
Talk of "raising consciousness" became somehow tied to the mission of the company thanks to Rebekah, who was instrumental in founding the children's school that eventually became an offshoot of WeWork, WeGrow.
The whole concept of WeGrow was unhinged, but The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn exposes just how disconnected and delusional Rebekah and Adam actually were.
Adam's first venture had been for kids — a line of pants that were padded at the knees so young children could crawl comfortably, with the tagline "just because they don't tell you, doesn't mean it doesn't hurt." The company failed, for obvious reasons, but with seemingly limitless streams of money to channel into WeGrow, the children's school didn't meet the same fate despite its glaring conceptual flaws.
WeGrow was essentially an elementary school which claimed to offer a more holistic education, boasting curriculum features such as language immersion, yoga, meditation, music, and weekly farm visits. The school claimed to have community as its focus — but with a price tag ranging from about $36,000 to about $42,000, the community it was fostering was pretty narrow.After the Neumanns were ousted from the company, WeWork closed WeGrow, but Rebekah quickly bought it back — so it's still standing, churning out the minds of tomorrow… God help us.
WeGrow wasn't the only offshoot of the co-working part of the WeWork company. Pretty early on, WeWork launched WeLive, an apartment complex for WeWork members. The living community was mostly full of young, single people who could drop everything to essentially live in a WeWork.
Designed with the same functionality and intentionality as the co-working offices, the living spaces were built to foster work and community. One of the interviewees who lived in a WeLive describes being called by a friend about an opportunity for "the coolest people in New York," if he could break his lease without really knowing the details.
These kinds of hyperbolic sales pitches and high stakes trust that the company demanded were embedded in its culture from the beginning, and effectively enough to fill the WeLive spaces immediately upon opening. Residents describe their social lives shrinking to their relationship with other residents, with their outside friends barely visiting more than once.
At its peak, a person could have worked in a WeWork, lived in a WeLive, and taken their child to WeGrow to have a life ruled by a company posing as a "community."
Overall: Very Cultish
WeWork? or Adam Egofest
If the extensive nature of the "We" company sounds cultish, it's because it kind of was.
In the middle of the documentary, as the tables begin to turn, a former WeWork employee tells an anecdote about trying to explain the company to an outsider, to be met with the question, "brother, are you in a cult?"
From the beginning, the company was inextricable from Adam Neumann and his energy and his vision. More than once in the documentary, Neumann leads chants along the lines of "when I say We, you say Work," and the room erupts in the cacophonous sound of a quasi-cult.
Employees describe being taken in by Neumann's infectious energy and feeling like their work was directly linked to their self worth. Convinced they were changing the world, the work they could do for the company felt like what they could do for the greater good.
So, with the fall of the company and its charismatic CEO came the fall of the ideal, which left employees disillusioned and disjointed.
The Delusion to Disillusionment of Former Employees
What makes WeWork: or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn so compelling was the fact that it is mostly filled with firsthand accounts from former employees who had been working at the company for a long time, and most of whom were very close to Neumann and the C-Suite.
It's easy to imagine a version of the WeWork story in which the delusion persists despite Neumann's departure — after all, WeWork is technically still standing. However, from Neumann's assistant to lawyers at the company, the documentary participants describe that the distance from Adam made them realize just how immersed they had been in the world he created.So much of the classic "toxic workplace" tropes were at play at WeWork, but this was no Devil Wears Prada. The demanding pace was set from the top but it came with a smile, a flick of Neumann's trademark long locks, and a message about community used to cloak the exhaustive grind culture and capitalist hell the company really was.
The Hollowness of the “We”
"I worked for a quasi-cult and all I got was this mug"
What made work at WeWork so fulfilling was the promise of being part of a greater collective — the promises of the "We." But those promises proved fickle when Neumann ordered large-scale layoffs left and right as the company burned money.
Emails were uncovered revealing executives bragging about how many people they had fired in their departments while Adam was buying a $60 million private jet and investing in wave pools.
The Scale of its Profit Losses
Turns out it was all smoke and mirrors
Though it eventually became obvious that WeWork was not making the amount of money it said it was, its valuation made it seem valid enough when they first considered an IPO, and the reality of the company's financials was even more horrifying than anyone assumed.
Neumann, a born salesman, had been spinning rhetoric that the company could "choose when to become profitable" and that its gains were measured on a standard adjusted scale. However, the adjustments WeWork was making to feign profitability were obscene — camouflaging large debt and burning through money with the assumption that their investors would pick up the bill.
Overall, the documentary was an elegy to an "era of easy money and no rules," according to Bloomberg Quicktake. Neumann reaped the benefits of a time when innovative tech startups were hailed as the new frontier, real estate was changing, and co-working was still just an idea.
However, his massive success came with a God complex which was eventually his downfall, all at the expense of the people he had made believe in him.
When people think of gifting, they tend to think of the winter holiday season.
Suddenly, every store offers gift wrapping and the internet is a cornucopia of gift guides. I get super into it, making lists — like Santa himself — of who’s getting gifts r and who’s getting nuffin because they scorned me last time around. Black Friday and the winter sale season have trained me well - I’m now in the groove of saving in advance, prepping my budget, and keeping an eye out for major sales.
But with all that anticipation in winter, there’s almost nothing of the sort in spring. And, after going through my spending last year, I realized why I felt like all my money was going down the drain from April to June: this is a holiday-filled season too!
At first, I blamed it on hot-girl summer — and maybe in part, this was the case. Buying new clothes to refresh my stale pandemic wardrobe, and admittedly getting carried away with my post-vax excitement for going/doing/seeing everything all took hits at my budget.
In the future, I’ll make sure to prep more for summer because every year brings new exciting things to spend money on – especially outside.. Plus, as travel becomes more and more seamless with fewer restrictions, having a “summer buffer” will let me dip into my savings for trips that may come, not into my credit card balance.
I told myself I’d make those financial decisions for the summer, but it wasn’t just the summer. The whole spring was a financial pit and I didn’t completely understand why. After all, isn’t spring for cleaning, decluttering, and even making money by ditching things that aren’t serving you? Why then, did I keep watching my accounts get drained?
The answer is gifts. From Easter in April, Mother’s Day in May, Father’s Day in June, and more, spring is a parade of little holidays that sneak up on you with their obligatory gifting. And it doesn’t even end there for me – I have a ton of friends’ birthdays during these months! With Tauruses being known for their materialism (or maybe that’s just the ones I know), I always splurge on their presents. This leaves me with an empty checking account … kind of by surprise.
In the winter, I prep and save and budget. In the spring, I scramble and overspend. But not this year. This year, I’m very aware that it’s gifting season and I am planning accordingly.
Adele, a Taurus, courtside in all designer. See what I mean? Does she LOOK easy to impress? No, this is why I'm broke
How to Save For Short Term Goals Using Sinking Funds
According to personal finance blogs, one of the keys to saving enough for seasons like this is starting early. Establishing what is known as “sinking funds” is the most efficient way to consistently save for short-term goals. From everything to impending vacations to holiday gifts, sinking funds let you start planning early and reinforce good spending habits. No longer will you be surprised by recurring bills or how much a vacation really costs – the money will be saved, waiting for you to enjoy.
TIME defines sinking funds as a special kind of savings account. “A sinking fund functions similar to a savings account, but with a purpose and approach all its own,” says TIME. “A sinking fund is money you set aside for a specific upcoming expense. Unlike a general savings account or emergency fund, a sinking fund has a clear purpose attached to it — whether it’s to save for a vacation, down payment on a home, or a big-ticket splurge. The financial educator Haley Sacks has a sinking account just for astrologists. If you have a big expense coming up, you might consider creating a sinking fund to take the stress out of saving for it.”
I’m taking notes — and even considering starting my own astrology sinking fund — and I already made one for “Spring Surprises.” For any savings goal, keeping a separate savings account apart from your checking account is the first step to making sure you’re actually contributing to it. Seeing that number get closer to your goal is great motivation. For sinking funds, I make many different savings accounts, all with specific names according to the goal. I even add the goal amount and the month it’s “due” to the account name so I know when each is coming up. This gets me excited to see the fruits of my labor and keep contributing consistently. It also makes it easier to budget for my sinking funds each month with a dedicated amount.
Sinking funds are great cash flow tools that keep you in control of your purchases. According to Clever Girl Finance, a popular personal finance blog for women: “When you don't have a sinking fund, you may be forced to make these purchases through another source of funds, i.e., your emergency fund, your savings account, or your credit card. A sinking fund helps you to plan for large purchases. It also helps you stay on track with your savings goals, keeps your debt low, and allows you to make purchases freely without feeling the pinch.”
This added security lets you spend money on gifts guilt-free. Once it’s in your sinking fund, you can spend it for its allocated purpose without having to worry about other expenses or going into debt. You’ve planned for this. And now you can be generous without the unexpected stress of draining your checking or even your own spending money.
What to Buy This Spring
With all the little holidays that accumulate during the season, it can be easy to be surprised by them. Sinking funds take care of the financials, but an extra step of planning never hurts. Figuring out what you actually want to buy in advance lets you track prices and take advantage of sales, rather than buying whatever marked-up mother’s day bouquet you come across last minute.
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Never spiral out of control when spring comes again. Make a smart purchase decision for you, your lucky giftee, and Ukrainian refugees by choosing Uncommon Goods for all your gifts this season.
Kim K is acting up again — nature is healing.
After Kanye West recently went on an online tear trying to win Kim back by … weaponizing his fans against her and her boyfriend — the logic is flawed, especially since West was simultaneously parading his relationship with Julia Fox — a judge declared Kim Kardashian legally single. Silly me, I thought this would be the end of the whole ordeal. I naively hoped that I would get some peace, quiet, and respite from the Kardashian/Jenner/West/Barker/Fox/Davidson/whoever-else brood for at least a little while.
Once again, I was wrong.
Kim Kardashian recently made it Instagram-official with Pete Davidson in a very on-trend photo dump. And — predictably — this went viral. This is … whatever. Good for them. However, at the same time, a video of Kim’s advice to business owners also went viral.
In an interview for Variety, the magazine asked Kim for her "best advice for women in business." In response, Kim said — in all seriousness and without a hint of sarcasm or self-awareness — “Get your f—ing ass up and work.” She continued: “It seems like nobody wants to work these days. You have to surround yourself with people that want to work. No toxic work environments and show up and do the work. Have a good work environment where everyone loves what they do because you have one life.”
If this sounds like bad advice, it’s because it is. In fact, none of it really means anything substantial. At best, it’s vacuous and unhelpful. At worst, it's ignorant and completely insensitive.
Emerging from a global pandemic that ravaged the economy with high rates of unemployment and confused work boundaries for those who could work, Kim’s assessment of people “these days” is outrageously out of touch.
In fact, most people are working more. Studies show: “Nearly 70 percent of professionals who transitioned to remote work because of the pandemic say they now work on the weekends. And 45 percent say they regularly work more hours during the week than they did before.”
While the rise of remote work promised more freedom and flexibility, it actually placed increased pressure on employees. They face rising workloads — especially in shrinking departments that laid off some employees due to budget cuts — and less ability to advocate for themselves. So, even if Kim is right and people don’t “want to work,” they’re working anyway. And they’re working more than ever.
According to Paul McDonald, senior executive director at LA-based staffing firm Robert Half, "While remote work affords employees greater flexibility, it also makes disconnecting extremely difficult. Many people feel pressure to keep up with rising workloads and are putting in long hours to support the business and customer needs.”
This pressure, combined with hastily-set-up remote systems means employees have been left in limbo, clocking in at the end of the world. “Simply handing an employee a laptop and downloading Zoom or some other collaborative software is not enough to help employees manage their work and lives through the pandemic and beyond,” says Cali Williams Yost, a nationally recognized expert on workplace flexibility and founder of the Manhattan-based consultancy Flex+Strategy Group.
Due to the prevalence of hustle culture, these boundaries are even more blurred. Unfortunately, the glorification of non-stop hustling was omnipresent during the pandemic. Remember when we first started lockdown and everyone was like, “write a book,” or “get a six-pack.” Somehow, that expectation still stands, and now those who got crypto-rich or exploited people’s pandemic vulnerabilities are looking down on the people who didn’t.
Kim is the latter. Her various business ventures all depend on selling consumer insecurities back to people. The self-image she constructed for her brand is one that promises her fans they can get a piece of her life, her success, her looks if they only spend more and more money.
According to Kim, her job is burdensome. She defended herself, saying: “When you do product shots (or) when you (post) things that are work-related posts, it's still a job and it's still really hard. Success is never easy. If you put in the work, you will see results.” But once again, this is overly simplistic, oblivious, and ignorant.
Not to say that she hasn’t leveraged the privileges she’s been given, but that’s just it. Kim Kardashian was born in proximity to wealth and fame, all of which provided her with the opportunities she has now leveraged for her success. And some of these opportunities have come at the cost of other people — i.e. her whole aesthetic and how it was built on a foundation of anti-blackness. As a fair-skinned woman, Kim was praised and uplifted for embodying aesthetics that Black women have been shamed and degraded for. So her success is not merely a result of her desire to work, her individual actions. Rather, it’s because she had all the prerequisites to success. But not everyone can just reach out and choose a life of access, ease, and abundance.
To be honest, the Variety question was kind of a setup. Kim’s relationship with work is not like most people’s, so no advice she would have given would be relatable. Sure, it didn’t have to be so shallow or perpetuate toxic ideas about work. But the lesson here is clear: don’t take work advice from Kim Kardashian.