The True Story Behind ‘WeCrashed’
Youf Adam Neumann was the face of WeWork, the coworking space startup he co-founded in 2010, his wife Rebekah Neumann (née Paltrow) was its soul. AppleTV+ Docuseries WeCrashed, based on the Wondery podcast of the same name, tells the story of WeWork’s rise and fall by focusing on the eccentric couple (played by Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway) at the center of it all.
As the eight-episode series, premiering March 18, makes clear, Adam—an Israeli serial entrepreneur-turned-WeWork’s messianic former CEO—didn’t invent the concept of shared workspaces; he was just the first person to turn it into a lifestyle. WeWork’s mission wasn’t only to provide affordable office space, but to build a generation of workers who wanted “to elevate the world’s consciousness.” That was a concept Rebekah, who was the company’s chief branding officer and her husband’s “strategic thought partner,” spearheaded. “My intention was never to find a way to make the most money,” she told the The School of Greatness podcast in 2018. “My intention when I met [Adam] was just, ‘How do we expand this good vibration to the planet?’”
In less than a decade, Adam, with his wife’s help, grew WeWork from a single outpost in Manhattan to a worldwide brand with coworking spaces in 111 cities across 29 counties. “WeWork is working to create a world where people make a life and not just a living,” Adam told TIME in 2017. The couple claimed they were building “the world’s first physical social network” and planned to expand the brand to include gyms, apartments, and schools. “We are here in order to change the world,” Neumann said in 2017. “Nothing less than that interests me.” In 2018, TIME named WeWork one of the year’s genius companies because of how it was redefining the office.
An ex-WeWork executive said this to me Vanity Fair in 2019, “Adam was probably the best salesman of all time”—but he also “went through money like water.” His reckless spending, hard-partying lifestyle, and questionable business decisions ultimately led to his downfall. In September 2019, at the urging of his board of directors, he resigned from his position as WeWork’s CEO,
Read on to discover more WeCrashed gets right and (kind of) wrong about WeWork’s flameout:
Was WeWork’s concept inspired by the kibbutz Adam Neumann was born in?
You can find the WeCrashed premiere, Rebekah tells a floundering Adam that if he wants to become a successful businessman, he must care about what he’s selling. That’s when he realizes he was happiest when he was growing up in southern Israel on a kibbutz,Unweit of the Gaza Strip, a community settlement. This was the beginning of the concept for a shared workspace.
As news outlets often report, Neumann actually lived on a Kibbutz for several years. (In 2016, Vanity Fair titled an article “The $16 Billion Brand that Came From a Kibbutz.”) As WeWork grew, Neumann continued to wax poetic about the power of a shared community like the one he grew up in, going as far to say WeWork would improve on the concept to become a “kibbutz 2.0” or a “capitalist kibbutz,” where weakness would not be tolerated. “On the one hand, community,” he told New York MagazineWhen he was asked his 2019 vision for WeWork, he replied: “On the other hand, you eat what you kill.”
In the last year, Jewish Review of Books argued that Neumann wasn’t all that committed to the “what’s mine is yours” ethos of a kibbutz. He just wanted to use “a certain Israeli mystique” to sell his personal brand and make excuses for his questionable behavior. 2019 saw a picture of Neumann looking frail walking barefoot in New York City. It went viral and raised concerns about Neumann’s mental condition. His publicist simply explained, “He is a kibbutznik.”
Are Rebekah and Gwyneth Paltrow related?
On Rebekah’s first date with Adam, she informs him she’s a “serious vegan” who “writes a column for her cousin Gwyneth’s wellness blog.” That cousin would be Academy Award-winning actress and Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow, who Rebekah makes clear is “just a person.”
WeCrashed contends that Rebekah Neumann—whose father is Bob Paltrow, the brother of Gwyneth’s dad, Bruce Paltrow—was jealous of her famous cousin. At one point, Hathaway’s Rebekah Googles herself and discovers high search interest in whether she’s related to Gwyneth. In reality, Gwyneth’s fame did seem to loom over Neumann, who (rather unsuccessfully) tried her hand at acting in the mid-aughts under the name “Rebekah Keith.”
The last year was Vanity Fair reported that, in WeWork’s early years, Neumann set up a Google alert for news about her famous cousin and asked consultants if she should continue using her surname. She reportedly wrote an internal memo to staff in 2017, letting them know she was going to be known as Rebekah Neumann instead of Rebekah Patrow-Neumann.
Still, she didn’t totally cut herself off from the family. Gwyneth and Neumann met in 2018 to talk about WeGrow, an experimental school offering a holistic approach for education. At the time, Gwyneth appeared to be a fan of WeGrow’s decision to consciously uncouple from the public school system, calling it a refuge for “families that are in an open state of being.” The same could be said of WeGrow, which closed its doors in 2020 after Adam Neumann left the company. While a portion of Gwyneth’s interview with Rebekah is still available on WeWork’s Facebook page, the full story has since been removed from Goop’s website.
Was Katy Perry’s “Roar” Adam Neumann’s unofficial theme song?
You can find more information here WeCrashed, Adam is obsessed with Katy Perry’s 2013 banger, playing it loud and proud when he needs a boost. His assistant often sees him scrambling to ensure that the empowerment song is on whenever Adam enters the building. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the real Neumann made “Roar” his signature tune. The 2021 book is however, Cult of WeWeWork, Adam Neumann and The Great Startup Delusion claimed that Neumann requested that Notorious B.I.G’s “Juicy” play anytime he was giving investors a tour of the office.
Neumann had also a reputation of blasting music all day, every hour. “Our paying customers would be complaining about how loud the music was,” one former employee told Business Insider in 2019. “But if we turned it down, we’d get screamed and yelled at by Adam and his team.”
Adam Neumann does not understand the differences between a cappuccino vs a latatte.
Episode 7: Adam offers Rebekah an espresso, but she tells him it’s a cappuccino. “My assistants call them lattes,” he tells her. “Because you call them lattes and no one wants to tell you that you’re wrong,” she responds angrily. Funny throwaway scene based on an infuriating story shared in 2021 Hulu document WeWorkThis is the story of how a $47 billion Unicorn was created..
ForbesAlex Konrad (senior editor) recalls meeting Neumann at WeWork’s headquarters in 2015. Konrad ordered a cappuccino, while Neumann ordered a latte, but when the journalist’s coffee arrived, the then-WeWork CEO grabbed it. “I was like, ‘Hold on, I got the cappuccino. That’s a cappuccino.’ Adam looked really confused and upset,” Konrad recalled. “One of the staff was like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, we actually call those lattes and those cappuccinos here,’ pointing at the opposite one.” Instead of correcting their boss, the WeWork employees had decided to change the meaning of the word, which Konrad said was “a strange, gratuitous reality distortion moment” that showed how shockingly powerful Neumann was.
Did Rebekah Neumann fire WeWork employees for having “bad energy”?
Undoubtedly, one of the most shocking events in WeCrashed Rebekah then starts to fire WeWork employees who are causing her problems. At one point, she tells HR that she wants to let someone go because they have “bad energy.” Turns out, this is based on a true story.
The real Rebekah notoriously fired a mechanic for WeWork’s Gulfstream jet within minutes of meeting him because she didn’t like his energy, according to Vanity Fair.
This wasn’t unusual: When her husband needed to thin out the ranks, Rebekah would allegedly walk through the WeWork offices looking for anyone giving off bad energy. “I got the sense that she was guiding the company through her astrological intuition,” a person who met with her for a contract role told Vanity FairThey discussed mostly his birth sign and not the job. He didn’t get the job and assumed it was because their energies weren’t compatible.
Has Adam Neumann been able to elect himself from his company?
Episode 1 of WeCrashed offers a look at the beginning of the end of Adam’s reign at WeWork. The show starts with Adam getting pushed out of his own company by WeWork’s board of directors, who have lost confidence in their eccentric CEO following a failed attempt to take the company public. Adam fights hard to retain his job, but the board votes for Adam to be removed as CEO of his company. This is when he realizes he’s his worst enemy.
Here is art imitating reality. In September 2019, WeWork’s directors voted to remove Neumann as chief executive after the company was forced to postpone its plans to take the company public due to investor concerns over Neumann’s leadership style. Neumann cast an astonishing vote against himself and gave up his position as CEO as well as the majority of control over the company that he founded. Neumann cited “investor concerns” as his reason for ousting himself. “While our business has never been stronger, in recent weeks, the scrutiny directed toward me has become a significant distraction, and I have decided that it is in the best interest of the company to step down as chief executive,” he said in a statement following his departure.
Neumann may have lost his company, but he didn’t leave empty-handed. He walked away with what many called a “golden parachute,” a package that was valued at nearly $2 billion. “Adam Neumann will essentially get a king’s ransom for grossly mismanaging the company on his way out,” Amy Borrus, deputy director of the Council of Institutional Investors, told the Washington Post. The New York Times called Neumann’s deal one of the greatest examples of someone failing upwards.
Not everyone believes Neumann is to blame for WeWork’s fall from grace. “They’re trying to make this about Adam being a lunatic,” a real-estate executive said in the 2020 book Billion Dollar Loser: WeWork and Adam Neumann’s Epic Rise to and Spectacular Fall. “These people [on the board] invested, they knew the terms, they knew about the governance issues, and they told this guy, ‘Be you, but be ten times you.’ What did they expect?”
In October 2021, Neumann celebrated WeWork’s first day of trading on Wall Street by throwing a party—not affiliated with the company—for more than 100 of his earliest employees. “It’s such a special day,” he reportedly said. “A brand without a past does not have a future.” Neumann is allegedly working on a new business venture that will “transform apartment living.”
Here are more must-read stories from TIME