At the end of April, Neumann announced that the company had filed paperwork to begin the process of an IPO. Inside the company employees and executives describe an environment that can be marked by the chaos, churn, and misbehavior that have come to characterize hypergrowth start-up life, not to mention questions about its business: WeWork lost $1.9 billion last year.
At last year’s event, according to a report in Property Week, a British real-estate publication, Neumann sat onstage next to his wife and McKelvey as the crowd sang “Olé, Olé, Olé.” A WeWork employee from India started chanting, “Let’s go, WeWork, let’s go!” while another from California screamed, “You’re changing the world, Adam! We love you.” Augusto Contreras, a WeWork employee from Mexico City, proposed to his girlfriend next to a dodgeball tournament.
Son met Neumann at WeWork headquarters and told him he had precisely 12 minutes for a tour, after which he invited Neumann to join him in his car, where Son sketched out a deal on his iPad to invest $4.4 billion in WeWork.
Son told Neumann to make WeWork “Ten times bigger than your original plan” and to recognize that, in a fight, being crazy is better than being smart – and that WeWork wasn’t being “Crazy enough.” Son said he thought WeWork could be worth “a few hundred billion dollars.”
In a 2017 lawsuit against UrWork, the company said it did not claim “Exclusive rights to the ordinary word ‘Work,’â€…” but objected to “The combination of a two-letter pronoun followed immediately by the word ‘Work.’â€…” Neumann and McKelvey have cited their communal upbringings as formative to WeWork’s conception, but Neumann has also described the kibbutz as “a failed social experiment,” flawed because “Everyone made the same amount of money.” WeWork, he says, is a “Capitalist kibbutz,” where weakness won’t be accommodated.
More than 40 percent of WeWork’s business is now with companies of more than 500 employees, some of which have entire spaces all to themselves: There are ten WeWork floors in a single Greenwich Village building that are occupied entirely by IBM. Companies can choose to let WeWork outfit their offices in the same general aesthetic as a standard WeWork location or pay more for a bespoke offering called Powered by We. Thrive had chosen the former; its office had several of WeWork’s signature phone booths and a lighter, brighter look, which WeWork introduced under the direction of Adam Kimmel, a former fashion designer who is now WeWork’s chief creative officer.
A former WeWorker who now runs a company told me, “I spend a lot of my time on culture and HR, and it fucking slows you down worrying about how people feel.” But one employee told me his WeWork experience had made him think about what he would do differently if he were ever to run his own start-up.