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The Cult of We summary

Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell

WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion

4.2 (125 ratings)
20 mins

Brief summary

"The Cult of We" by Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell is an investigative book that uncovers the deceitful and unethical practices of the co-founders of WeWork, Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey, as well as the corporate culture they propagated.

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    The Cult of We
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    With nothing more than a pitch, Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey created a company worth $45 million.

    Architect Miguel McKelvey met Adam Neumann at a rooftop party in New York City in 2006. Shirtless, loud, and speaking in an Israeli accent, Neumann stood out from the crowd, to say the least.

    The two men struck up a friendship – and a few months later, Neumann sought McKelvey’s advice on finding an affordable space for his baby-clothes business. McKelvey suggested the building he worked in, 68 Jay Street.

    Once Neumann had moved in, it became clear that he wasn’t really interested in children’s clothing. His real mission, above all, was to get rich. Before long, he’d roped McKelvey into his quest.

    The key message here is: With nothing more than a pitch, Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey created a company worth $45 million.

    McKelvey was often a sounding board for Neumann’s business ideas. One of these, while not totally original, had the potential to be very profitable: Neumann wanted to rent ready-to-use office space to technology companies. The kicker was that tenants would pay more for fully equipped, flexible offices than they would for standard office space, and Neumann would pack the offices tightly together to maximize profit. McKelvey was sold – and together, the two men pitched the idea to their landlords at 68 Jay Street.

    It wasn’t difficult to convince them. Brooklyn was full of entrepreneurs and small companies looking for flexible office solutions, and the Great Recession of 2008 meant that even big companies like banks were looking to downsize when it came to office space. The landlords joined the scheme as partners, offering Neumann and McKelvey a floor in one of their buildings, a former pipe factory. McKelvey worked on the floor plan, business plan, and website – and in 2008, GreenDesk was born.

    Yet Neumann was already looking to the future. In 2009, he and McKelvey sold their stakes in GreenDesk to the landlords for $500,000 each. They then got to work expanding their concept, searching for space they could rent and slice up to create small offices. Before they’d even finished securing the funds for their first building, they were already on the hunt for new investors for further spaces.

    This led them to real estate developer Joel Schreiber. Although they didn’t yet have a single customer, Neumann and McKelvey told Schreiber that WeWork was worth $45 million. Incredibly, Schreiber not only decided to invest in the company – he didn’t even bother to negotiate! He agreed to invest $15 million in exchange for a one-third stake in the company. 

    It was more money than the two entrepreneurs had ever seen.

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    What is The Cult of We about?

    The Cult of We (2021) tells the story of how the office-space company WeWork became the world’s most valued startup – only to come crashing down a few years later. Written by the reporters who broke the story of WeWork’s disastrous downfall in 2019, it explores WeWork's trajectory through a journalistic and financial lens, demonstrating how the most prominent investors in the world were blinded to the company’s risks for nearly a decade.

    Who should read The Cult of We?

    • People interested in economics
    • Startup and entrepreneurship enthusiasts
    • Anyone curious about startup financing

    About the Author

    Eliot Brown joined the Wall Street Journal in 2010 to cover commercial real estate in the wake of the financial crisis. Today he reports on startups and venture capital. He previously covered economic development and local politics at the New York Observer

    Maureen Farrell has been a reporter at the Wall Street Journal since 2013. She previously covered deals, bankruptcy, and startups at Forbes, Debtwire, and Mergermarket. She’s a recipient of the Newswomen's Club of New York's Nellie Bly Award.

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