Neumann spun an origin fantasy about rising up on a kibbutz in Israel, the place he appreciated the neighborhood however bristled at how everybody was rewarded the identical no matter how a lot work they put in. He envisioned WeWork, he mentioned, as a “capitalist kibbutz”—a “neighborhood,” however the form the place “you eat what you kill.”
Wiedeman (with whom I overlapped whereas working at The New Yorker) presents a extra nuanced portrait of the founder as a younger man. Neumann was born in 1979 in Beersheba, Israel, to doctor mother and father who shuttled Neumann and his sister round desert cities earlier than shifting to the suburbs of Tel Aviv. When he was within the second grade, his grandmother realized that he couldn’t learn the menu at a restaurant; he was dyslexic. “He had grow to be expert at fooling his lecturers and coaxing others to do what he wanted,” Wiedeman writes. After his mother and father divorced when he was 9, his mom moved, with him and his sister, to Indianapolis, the place he struggled emotionally at first. Solely later did the household reside on a kibbutz, after they’d returned to Israel. Neumann went on to serve within the Israeli navy, after which moved to New York, the place he enrolled at Baruch Faculty, earlier than launching a sequence of companies—making collapsible excessive heels, then child garments with kneepads—and dropping out. In 2010, he and a buddy, Miguel McKelvey, unveiled WeWork.
On the time, co-working areas have been already widespread. The enterprise mannequin was easy: Entrepreneurs “leased house, reduce it up, and rented out every slice with an upcharge for hip design, flexibility, and common completely satisfied hours,” Wiedeman writes. However these in cost sometimes ran no various areas apiece, partially as a result of working a number of areas required spending some huge cash, up entrance, on leases. What distinguished Neumann, alongside along with his ambition, was “his connection to capital,” Wiedeman writes. Neumann had married Rebekah Paltrow, a rich cousin of Gwyneth Paltrow and a kabbalah devotee. She invested a part of a $1 million nest egg in WeWork and launched her husband to Manhattan’s Kabbalah Centre, the place he met different well-off backers. By January 2012, he had raised virtually $7 million.
Neumann’s strategy to fundraising appears rooted in a easy tenet: Discover out what buyers need—then say no matter is required to persuade them that their needs are yours. Closely reliant on assist from the kabbalists, Neumann informed a real-estate publication that WeWork had the truth is been impressed by kabbalah: “I seen that within the Kabbalah neighborhood, individuals have been actually serving to one another. I needed to translate that to enterprise.” His chameleonic tendencies as a baby and younger man, it turned out, had been good coaching.
Later, as he started courting Silicon Valley’s venture-capital companies—which are inclined to spend money on fast-growing tech corporations—Neumann described WeWork as a “bodily social community,” and promptly raised $16.5 million from Benchmark. Buyers absolutely additionally appreciated his message about his firm’s place within the Silicon Valley ecosystem: Work had come to really feel alienating; WeWork would make it social again, whereas on the identical time empowering independent-minded entrepreneurs to meet their particular person desires. As venture-capital funding poured in—seven extra rounds adopted—Neumann employed engineers to work on techie-sounding tasks, reminiscent of constructing an unique social-networking platform for WeWork members. Extra vital, with buyers encouraging quick progress, he leased a whole bunch of latest areas all over the world, splurging on perks reminiscent of free beer and a bacchanalian retreat called Summer Camp, in order to fill them. On the identical time, within the title of effectivity—which Silicon Valley buyers respect virtually as a lot as progress—he saved sure prices down. Neumann used nonunion laborers for building, and plenty of of WeWork’s workers put in lengthy, poorly compensated hours. “I can rent a bunch of younger individuals and pay them nothing,” he as soon as mentioned. Attendance at a “Thank God It’s Monday” pep rally, held after hours, was required.