We fundraised. We incorporated. We fundraised. We leased. We sublet. We fundraised. We made some weird decisions. We scheduled an IPO—and then We collapsed.
That, in short, is the story of the spectacular rise and fall of the We Company, née WeWork, whose founder and CEO Adam Neumann chose to “step back” on Tuesday. He will continue to serve as nonexecutive chairman of the board, but his empire is in ruins: WeWork’s IPO has been delayed indefinitely, and its valuation has collapsed from $47 billion to as low as $10 billion.
What is the lesson of WeWork? (Other than that it is a bad idea to self-deal to the almost comical extent that Neumann did.) One conclusion is that venture capital investors are not nearly as smart as they think they are. For years, WeWork’s valuation has been way out of step with that of peer companies that sublet office space. Back in 2017, the Wall Street Journal’s Eliot Brown—the preeminent chronicler of WeWork’s absurd business culture—noted that WeWork’s valuation-per-desk was more than 20 times higher than its rival, IWG. Per square foot, WeWork was 40 times more valuable. Still, the money kept pouring in: $700 million in bond sales last year and $2 billion earlier this year from the Japanese telecom Softbank, which raised $100 billion for tech investments from sources like Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund.