In January 2019, WeWork – the company responsible for the flurry of Instagram-friendly shared office spaces across New York, London and hundreds of other cities in more than 30 countries – was valued at $47bn, making it one of the most successful start-ups in the world. But by September that year, as the company delayed its much-anticipated initial public offering, it had become clear it was not worth anything like that much. Amid growing controversy Adam Neumann, the co-founder and CEO, stepped down.
WeCrashed is a fun, sprightly audio dive into a company that now seems emblematic of 21st-century start-up capitalism. Full of disbelieving asides from host David Brown, a theatrical score, cartoonish sound effects, and cutting quotes from former staff, this isn’t a close analysis of WeWork’s financial problems. It’s far sillier. The best moments are pure colour.
Neumann (who, in one of many bizarre power moves, trademarked the word “we” and had his own company buy it off him for $5.9m) is described as “a cross between Jesus Christ and Nacho, the famous polo player”, who would take off his shoes or do tequila shots at work. His charisma is emphasised with the raised eyebrow of hindsight. (As one ex-employee notes dryly, “My dad always liked to remind me that Ted Bundy was charming.”)
Former staff allege that they were underpaid and encouraged to sign draconian contracts. Start of the week meetings, called “Thank God It’s Monday”, took place at 7pm, during which Neumann would shout “WE!” and his staff would respond “WORK!” Listen for more tongue-in-cheek insights into how, for a time, a company became more like “a cult” than a healthy workplace.
This article appears in the 19 Feb 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The age of pandemics