Hulu's new WeWork documentary takes you inside the cult-like coworking company. But here are 6 key details it missed.
- “WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn” premiered Friday, April 2 on Hulu.
- The documentary takes viewers inside the rise and fall of Adam Neumann and his coworking startup.
- But the film omits some key details to know ahead of WeWork’s attempt to go public. (Yes, again.)
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Lavish parties, free-flowing tequila, and crying employees: Hulu‘s new documentary captures WeWork’s wild ride. The startup’s roller-coaster journey started in a Brooklyn office and nearly ended in bankruptcy.
“WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn,” directed by Jed Rothstein, charts founder Adam Neumann’s attempts to make his startup more than a company that subleased beautifully decorated desks and office space. Neumann, now 41, sold investors like SoftBank and Benchmark Capital on his ambitions to “elevate the world’s consciousness” before being ousted by the same group after one of Wall Street’s biggest initial public offering (IPO) meltdowns in history.
The film, which is available to stream on Hulu from April 2, resurfaces raw footage from WeWork’s humble beginnings in 2010 and heady early days. It takes viewers inside hallmark WeWork spaces and events like Summer Camp, where Neumann is captured on camera preaching to adoring crowds that grew bigger each year. Through interviews with former employees, members, associates, and journalists, the film traces WeWork’s years-long ascent and then rapid unraveling in the fall of 2019.
And though the film condenses the post-Neumann story of SoftBank’s takeover and subsequent resurrection from near ashes, its premiere comes at a time when it’s once again relevant how much WeWork is worth.
The coworking company is planning to go public again, albeit with a much more modest valuation, via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company. The SPAC route allows WeWork to omit many of the same disclosures that made it the laughingstock of Wall Street. And in the last 18 months, real estate veterans have worked to shed the vestiges of Neumann, from his erstwhile lieutenants to extraneous side businesses.
Neumann himself declined to participate in the documentary.
More glimpses inside WeWork are on the way. This summer, Wall Street Journal reporters who broke news about the company will release a book with more behind-the-scenes tidbits, and there are multiple TV shows in the works.
While Hulu’s documentary, which runs about an hour and 45 minutes, covers a lot of ground along WeWork’s arc, it omits some key points. Here are six of them:
1. The negotiations to oust Neumann from the CEO spot were much more tense and complex.
The documentary focused at length on Neumann’s previously-reported issues filming the standard video that accompanies the IPO roadshow, which became a snapshot of his leadership and a bad omen for the company’s public markets ambitions. But filmmakers didn’t spend much time on the tense backroom negotiations that led to Neumann’s September 2019 departure.
On camera, the Journal’s Maureen Farrell alluded to what would trigger Neumann’s exit: “Everything behind the scenes was beginning to happen to start to oust him.” She explains that her colleague Eliot Brown’s bombshell story about Neumann’s marijuana use on a company plane helped make Neumann “untouchable” — and unpalatable — to investors.
But the documentary didn’t trace the shifting alliances and decisions being hammered out among WeWork’s board and external advisers as Neumann’s fate hung in the air.
2. SoftBank wasn’t the obvious savior after WeWork’s collapse.
Once Neumann was out but before the IPO was officially called off, WeWork needed a lifeline, and it was far from inevitable that SoftBank would become the rescuer.
JPMorgan and SoftBank both offered competing rescue plans in October 2019, both of which valued WeWork in the single-billion digits.
3. Banks and lawyers were also at fault for WeWork’s unrealistic IPO ambitions.
Filmmakers laid the blame for WeWork’s implosion at Neumann and SoftBank’s feet. The top-tier banks and lawyers that advised WeWork, including on its S-1 — a document filed with the SEC that became the laughingstock of Wall Street for its grandiose claims, flowery prose, and myriad conflicts of interest — escaped unmentioned.
When banks wooed Neumann and WeWork leadership, they pitched valuations of nearly $100 billion. Months later, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon still defended his firm’s approach.
4. Investors besides SoftBank also played a role.
Benchmark Capital partner Bruce Dunlevie makes a brief appearance on the documentary, but otherwise, SoftBank is the star of the show compared with other investors. SoftBank had the most control, to be sure, and the documentary underscores how Masa Son pushed Neumann to think bolder and bigger after SoftBank’s first investment in 2017. But it wasn’t the only source of money propelling WeWork — the company had earlier raised funds from top-tier investors including JPMorgan, Harvard’s endowment, Benchmark, and billionaire real estate titan Mort Zuckerman.