Tag Archives: WeWork

Adam Neumann Was Their Biggest Investor — Now He’s Their Biggest Competitor

It didn’t take long for Adam Neumann to find controversy. Before starting his new residential real estate startup Flow, Neumann made a big investment in a company that’s suspiciously similar.


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From an excellent report out yesterday in Forbes:

When staff at real estate startup Alfred arrived at work last Monday morning, they were surprised to discover that their largest investor, former WeWork CEO Adam Neumann, appeared to have started a rival company — and raised $350 million to compete against them.

Flow, Neumann’s splashy but mysterious new real estate venture, was aiming to build “the future of living,” influential venture capitalist Marc Andreessen wrote in a blog post announcing the investment. Alfred’s motto — “welcome to the future of living” — sounded uncomfortably similar.

Neumann is still a major investor, though he has stepped back from the board.

Neumann had wanted to acquire Alfred, but the terms of a new funding round blocked it. He appears to have set up Flow as a response.

Investors in startups are not supposed to back competing companies.

An investor is privy to tons of confidential information about a startup. Were that information disclosed to a competitor, even accidentally, it could cause serious damage.

Starting a competing company rarely comes up, but should be out of bounds for the same reasons.

Flow already appears to be cannibalizing Alfred’s business:

Alfred may have already started seeing the effects of Neumann’s influence. One of the Norwalk, Connecticut, apartments where Alfred participated in the experiment with Greystar had been featured on Alfred’s site as an example of how it works with landlords. But when a Forbes reporter stopped by to speak to residents, one told them that the app the building offered for use was Carson, the Neumann-owned competitor. The Norwalk apartments have since disappeared from Alfred’s site.

With a serious competitor that just raised $350 million, Alfred will find it hard to raise more money. Do investors want to back Alfred’s team against a more experienced and better funded rival?

This controversy shows the danger of doing business with unscrupulous people. Neumann’s money was tempting, but the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze.

Normally, a founder who created a multibillion dollar public company would be a great business partner — even if he’d made some mistakes. Mistakes help people learn.

But we must distinguish between strategic errors and plain lack of ethics. You can learn strategy, but you can’t learn scruples.

What do you think of Neumann’s return? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech:

Will Adam Neumann Change Housing Forever?

John Doerr’s Biggest Mistake

Talking Startup Fundraising with Travis King of Launch Point Labs

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Photo: WeWork and Flow founder Adam Neumann

Will Adam Neumann Change Housing Forever?

He’s baaaack! Adam Neumann, the controversial WeWork founder, has a new startup called Flow.

This time, Neumann plans to transform the home rather than the workplace. Details are scant, but Flow appears to be a sort of WeWork for apartments.


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Today, venture firm Andreessen Horowitz announced a $350 million investment in the startup. The deal values Flow at over $1 billion before it has even launched and is Andreessen’s largest check ever.

Neumann has bought over 3,000 apartments in Miami, Nashville and other Sun Belt cities. His plan may be to turn them into homes for digital nomads.

Imagine buying a Flow membership, just like WeWork. In return, you get access to a hip apartment in any city you want, for as long as you want.

No more taking chances on random Airbnb hosts and managing bookings. Who wouldn’t prefer a seamless, consistent experience?

Shoot, I might even move in myself!

Neumann’s strategy of buying up reasonably priced housing in the Sun Belt has succeeded before. Fundrise, through which I invest in real estate, has similar strategy and has made substantial returns.

Americans are flocking to the Sun Belt, providing a strong tailwind of demand. Cities like Miami are cheaper and warmer than places like New York.

So Neumann’s strategy seems sound — but is he the best person to execute it?

Neumann has a history of erratic and unscrupulous behavior. He trademarked the word “We” and sold it back to his own company for millions of dollars.

He also routinely bought buildings and leased them to WeWork, a huge conflict of interest. He even invested $13 million of company money into a wave pool startup.

Neumann was too aggressive and unfocused at WeWork — which is fine. All founders learn with time.

But I can’t excuse him for putting himself before his company, his employees and his investors. Unlike business strategy, ethics aren’t something you can learn.

You either have them or you don’t.

I wouldn’t invest in Flow given Neumann’s past. What’s more, a startup valued at over $1 billion before it launches is a major red flag.

Historically, most such companies implode.

However, Neumann has charisma and vision. He just might be the best salesman of his generation.

Andreessen Horowitz may just prove me wrong and make a killing here. One way or another, I can guarantee it won’t be boring.

What do you think of Neumann’s new startup? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech:

Behind the Scenes of WeCrashed

The True Story Behind WeCrashed

What Can The Dropout Teach Investors?

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Photo: WeWork and Flow founder Adam Neumann

Behind the Scenes of WeCrashed

We walked through the bowels of a large warehouse shrouded in darkness. I rounded a corner and shoved open a heavy door with no idea what was on the other side.

Suddenly, we were in the world headquarters of WeWork.

The famous startup led by Adam Neumann seemed to take over the world before it crashed just as quickly. And now, it had become a TV miniseries called WeCrashed.

At Goldman Sachs headquarters
Close-up

I had the joy of being a background actor (also known as an extra) on episode 7 of this fascinating show! I played a Goldman Sachs investment banker, hard at work on winning WeWork’s business for its IPO.

Light poured in from above on the set of WeWork’s headquarters, which nailed the company’s funky aesthetic. Concrete columns framed long sofas in bright colors.

I even got to see the famous WeWork gong! Unfortunately, I was not allowed to ring it.

We filmed a scene where a senior Goldman banker tried to impress Neumann by quoting Bob Marley. I had to look like the serious banker, but it was all I could do not to burst out laughing.

Then, Jared Leto made his entrance.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be him; everyone staring at you, knowing who you are, without you knowing anything about them. I gushed to my fellow extras about what a great actor Leto is, and he nodded to us politely as he passed.

What came next is the best acting I’ve ever seen in person.

Leto was rejecting a proposal from a venerable Wall Street bank, and went through his scene again and again. He delivered the same lines with every possible combination of intonation and inflection, one right after the other, until he determined which was right.

Far away, I quietly remarked to one of the other extras that Leto’s accent sounded a bit heavy. Just minutes later, I noticed he had corrected it.

In between takes, he went into a small room with an assistant to prepare for his next scene. I felt a little sorry for him…we could laugh, joke, and make new friends when we weren’t busy, but he could not.

The crew’s attention to detail amazed me.

At one point, they gave us iPads as props. On the screen was a copy of WeWork’s actual S-1.

In other scenes, we had to use our imagination.

At the Goldman offices watching Neumann announce the IPO, we were actually looking at a green screen. The TV broadcast was added later in post-production.

Filming WeCrashed was a wonderful time! I got to be a small part of a story that fascinates me and see one of my favorite actors at his best!

If you haven’t seen the show, I encourage you to check it out! Leto plays the charismatic, out of control Neumann with uncanny accuracy.

And if I may say so, my big bald head adds a little something too! 🙂

More on entertainment:

What It’s Like to Be on Law & Order: SVU

Filming a TV Show in NYC in a Pandemic

At the Sopranos Convention!

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The True Story Behind WeCrashed

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This weekend, I burrowed into the couch and turned on WeCrashed, the fascinating new series on WeWork’s rise and fall. I’m actually in an upcoming episode as an extra; more on that in another post. 🙂

Jared Leto’s energy and Anne Hathaway’s icy poise make for great television. But what about the real Adam Neumann?

I recently finished the book The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion. This entertaining and incisive volume gives a great inside view of the startup’s rise and fall.

Neumann conjured WeWork out of almost nothing. He convinced the landlord of his baby clothes business to sublease him a floor in a building the landlord owned, a clever strategy to start a company with little capital.

It took off immediately, filling with young creatives. Not satisfied with his early success, Neumann’s dissembling started early.

Tours of the offices with investors were faked. If a WeWork floor was empty, employees were told to move there and make it look busy.

Neumann’s erratic behavior also quickly surfaced. He offered shots of tequila to prospective investors and landlords, even in the morning.

Still, by 2011, WeWork was growing fast and close to profitability. That year, it raised a series A from Benchmark, one of the world’s best venture capital firms.

As the company’s success grew, so did Neumann’s avarice. He used some of Benchmark’s money to pay rent in buildings he owned personally, a highly suspect move.

Neumann also put himself ahead of his employees. He sold shares at better prices than they could. And after he banned meat in the company cafeteria, he was frequently seen eating it.

By 2017, many of the rents WeWork was paying had doubled as the real estate market strengthened. Losses ballooned, but Neumann kept expanding.

Two years later, WeWork reached the end of its rope. A huge financing with Softbank fell apart, leaving the company forced to go public just to raise enough capital to avoid bankruptcy.

But the public markets weren’t buying it, turned off by big losses and an erratic CEO. The IPO fell apart.

As WeWork faced bankruptcy, Softbank agreed to save the company. Its price: a valuation of just $8 billion, down from $47 billion in the last financing round.

The board forced Neumann out soon after and he and his family left for Israel.

In a final humiliation, they flew coach.

So what did I learn from this, as an angel investor? Here are a few of my takeaways:

1) Avoid self-dealing founders
2) Beware FOMO. Both Neumann and Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos were experts at leveraging it.
3) Focus on unit economics. You can’t “lose money on every one, but make it up in volume.”
4) Don’t value an old economy business like a software business.

Neumann may be plotting his return. He has acquired more than $1 billion worth of apartments in recent years.

I don’t know what his angle is, but I’m pretty sure he has one.

More on tech:

FOMO: Investors’ Worst Enemy

How Startups Can Dominate the Elevator Pitch

The Top 3 Startup Pitch Mistakes

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Photo: “TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2017 – Day 1” by TechCrunch is marked with CC BY 2.0.

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