‘WeCrashed’: The love story behind the crash of a $47-billion company
The new miniseries chronicles the rise and fall of coworking giant WeWork and the delusions of grandeur of its founding couple, the Neumanns
A share in the coworking space company WeWork is currently worth around $5. For comparison’s sake, a share in Apple, which has created WeCrashed – the miniseries about the company’s rise and fall – is worth $152. In less than 10 years, business couple Adam and Rebekah Neumann created a bubble that saw the value of WeWork rise to $47 billion. Today’s it’s not exactly making its investors rich.
The Neumanns sold the world on their idea that WeWork would become the most profitable business in history – they faked it, but they didn’t make it. Now their story is being told in the eight-episode TV show WeCrashed, which stars Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway in the lead roles.
The creators of the show, Lee Eisenberg and Drew Crevello told EL PAÍS from Los Angeles, that while the media has mostly focused on Adam Neumann, they couldn’t find a way to tell the story in a “genuine” way without exploring his relationship with his wife.
The Neumanns’ idea for WeWork was simple: to create shared workspaces with all the trappings of an Instagram playground – neon signs with motivational messages, ping-pong tables and an open bar to share ideas with other like-minded entrepreneurs. For years, their proposal was a machine for attracting investors. Not so much for the strength of the idea, but rather the couple’s charisma and delusions of grandeur – two attributes that enhance any business plan.
But the profits never came. By the time WeWork wanted to go public, it faced all the inevitable hiccups of a company that was based on hot air but which never fell into illegality. The bubble exploded, but the Neumanns walked away from their own company with a personal fortune of over $2 billion and a bunch of very unhappy ex-employees.
Much has been made of the Neumanns’ eccentricities in recent years – the parties with celebrity DJs held minutes after firing staff, private jet cockpits clouded by marijuana smoke and losses of $100 million a day. It all comes up in the miniseries, which is inspired by the Wondery podcast of the same name. But it is the love story of its protagonists, the intimate and psychological side of what happened, that explains how such delirium convinced both interns and bankers. And this is reflected in WeCrashed.
Rebekah was born rich. First, she wanted to be an actress like her cousin Gwyneth Paltrow, then she traveled to India and finally, she ended up teaching yoga classes in New York. There she found a purpose guiding the arm of Adam, an ambitious young entrepreneur of Israeli origin without much business acumen. Eisenberg says it was Rebekah who taught him that in order to make a lot of money, he needed to focus on something he cared about.
Flower power and materialism
These elements orient the portrayal of the millennial Neumanns and their employees. Halfway between flower power and materialism, the TV show explores a society that is the child of the mistakes made by the previous generation, that of the yuppies and Wall Street, the drivers of the current financial system. What WeCrashed reminds us is that the foundations on which the stock market are based are as fragile and virtual as those of social networks. Crevello says that while the young workers for today I told: do what you love and you will have success and change the world, “Generation X is looking for the next big deal to get rich.”
Jared Leto, accustomed to playing extreme movie characters, manages to recreate the eccentricities of Adam Neumann without falling into parody. He draws on his rock star side as the leader of the band 30 Seconds to Mars to play the co-founder of WeWork. From his home in Nevada, Leto lists some of the qualities of the entrepreneur. “He’s a dreamer full of passion for life and also for his family, to whom he is loyal,” he says, adding that almost everyone who talked to him about Adam “emphasized that he was a unique guy.”
TV shows about ‘unicorns’
Business start-ups, especially in the tech sector, are defining today’s world. Having become part of the cultural conversation, they are now taking center stage this TV season. Several shows are reviewing the biographies of the virtual gods of our time: the unicorns – companies whose estimated value exceeds $1 billion.
Like WeCrashed, the miniseries The Dropout also looks at the rise and fall of a multimillion-dollar company, in this case, Theranos. This eight-episode story, which is based on the eponymous podcast by Rebecca Jarvis, tells the story of how its founder, Elizabeth Holmes (played by Amanda Seyfried) was able to sell a flawed blood-testing technology as a health revolution. Theranos is the epitome of the latent danger of Silicon Valley, where unscrupulous entrepreneurs receive enormous media and financial support and are able to pull off large-scale scams.
Then there is Super Pumped, a TV show about the fall from grace of Uber’s founder, Travis Kalanick, and the toxic culture that emerges in many of these tech companies. Super Pumped is a series in anthology form, so next season will start from scratch with a new story, focused this time on Facebook. HBO’s Max Doomsday Machine, starring Claire Foy, will also look at the social media network company, with a focus on chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
HBO Max has also released the documentary miniseries Gaming Wall Street, which is about how a group of amateur investors managed to beat the financial system by buying shares of a video game store chain called GameStop.
And there is also more on the WeWork story: director Jed Rothstein has made a documentary about the company called WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn, and Reeves Wiedeman tackles the subject in her book Billion Dollar Loser.