Adam Neumann presided over one of the most spectacular business collapses in recent history. A New Age-spouting, barefoot business messiah, he managed to build and burn his last startup, the office-sharing company WeWork, in such spectacular fashion that even Hollywood paid attention.
And now he is back – on a quest to become America’s biggest landlord.
Neumann, it was reported this week, is at the helm of a new company looking to reinvent apartment living. Details are sketchy but the company, called Flow, aims to address the world’s housing crisis with “community-driven” rentals – so basically WeWork for renters.
Flow is off to a flying start after receiving one of the most sought-after blessings a new venture could get from Silicon Valley: an $350m investment from venture capital giant Andreessen Horowitz, known as A16Z.
The announcement of the firm’s investment in Flow, which values the “pre-seed” company – meaning it has not yet launched – at $1bn rocked the startup world. Not only is it A16Z’s biggest single investment in a venture yet, but it is also a sizable endorsement of Neumann, who has become an entrepreneurial antihero. The news immediately lent itself to numerous jokes on Twitter, and a lot of anger.
After promising to reshape the office world, and successfully becoming the largest office landlord in many cities, including London and New York, WeWork came to a jarring crash in 2019 when the company was revealed to be worth much less than investors had thought.
The company was planning to join the stock market at a $47bn valuation, but when investors started scrutinizing the company’s business model and corporate governance structure, its value collapsed and it called off its plans. WeWork laid off 2,400 employees and Neumann was given $445m to leave the company.
While the co-working company is by no means a failure, and is slowly finding its footing post-Neumann, it was a textbook example of startup boom and bust and an avatar of trouble ahead.
Investors started to realise that, pumped with venture capital cash, many “unicorn” companies – those valued over $1bn – had heavily inflated values and were often subsidizing the price of services and products to kill off competitors.
In the last few years, WeWork’s story has been told over and over again in numerous books, documentaries and a movie, many…