A playful, fascinating glimpse into the rise and fall of an overvalued company
Like Theranos before it, WeWork is yet another company with a charismatic front-person that convinced investors it was a good thing and turned out to be too good to be true (or in this case, to be profitable). WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn, the new Hulu documentary which screened as part of SXSW Online 2021, offers a closer look at how the company’s founders were able to convince folks that it was a tech company out to change the world — instead of just a real-estate business that leased floors in buildings as co-working spaces.
Former employees, economics experts and journalists, even WeWork customers (including a man who participated in the WeLive experiment) are among the voices we hear speaking to co-founder Adam Neumann’s friendliness and powers of manipulation. He’s presented as a sort of cult-like figure; an NYU professor explains, “If you tell a thirty-something male he is Jesus Christ, he’s inclined to believe you.”
The editing is such as to keep a sense of lightness to the documentary, reinforcing the ridiculousness of the story and the billions of dollars the company ran through. A digital counter glimmers amongst cityscapes updating the billions at which the company was overvalued.
Given the topic and the financial media’s past coverage of the company, director Jed Rothstein already had strong material to start with, but there’s a certain flair and humor in this documentary that make the story more compelling. True, the film begins to lose a bit of momentum once SoftBank becomes involved, but it never lost my rapt attention.
WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn ends on a wistful note, yearning for the sense of community promised by Neumann with WeWork’s initial concept. Even after hearing about the man’s earnestness from his co-workers, the documentary leaves one wondering if that concept was much more than a get rich quick scheme, enabled by the market.
WeWork: or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn premieres April 2 on Hulu.