Show an ad over header. AMP

I am the FIRST

WeWork book paints picture of the $10 trillion mirage

This single slide — marked up in the yellow scrawl of SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son — captures this era's euphoria over the hyper-scaling of tech startups, combusting with extremely low interest rates:

The big picture: Cash gushers chase indefensible valuations on delusional growth prospects and paths to profitability, with little regard for the reality of the underlying business and market structure.

The slide was uncovered by Wall Street Journal reporters Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell as they wrote the delicious new book "The Cult of We," chronicling the wiles and humiliation of Adam Neumann, WeWork's day-drinking co-founder, former CEO, and chief snake-oil salesman.

"As he pondered a bigger investment in WeWork," the authors write, "Son pushed WeWork's already ambitious financial projections into territory unprecedented in business history. During a meeting with Neumann, he scribbled out a vision for a company worth $10 trillion."

Graphic from "The Cult of We," by kind permission of the authors, Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell

SoftBank made Goldman Sachs look downright restrained in a pitch deck, also obtained by the authors, to take WeWork public.

  • Goldman bankers included the bar chart shown above ("Your Path to $1 Trillion"), which "played to both Neumann's hunger for a giant valuation and his affinity for simple visuals."

On the book's cover, business journalist Charles Duhigg calls it a portrait "of how grifters came to be called visionaries."

  • The wild-haired Neumann — a yeller who combined a televangelist's frenzy with tequila and weed, plus quirks that included strolling Manhattan barefoot — eventually drove his baby off a financial cliff:
The rise and fall of WeWork was enabled by a collision of forces: a man characterized by charisma, unbridled optimism, and astute salesmanship met an entire financial system primed to fall under his spell.

"Had a frothy venture capital sector not been so obsessed with the search for eccentric and visionary founders," the authors continue, "WeWork might still occupy only a smattering of buildings in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan."

Cover: Crown

The authors told me that COVID shutdown had sunk their reporting travel plans. But it turned out to be easier to talk to key players in the drama when they were stuck at home, rather than trying to meet them and gain their trust in a coffee shop. Maureen Farrell, who's on The Journal's Deals team, told me it's scary how much capital was destroyed during the We Work saga:

  • "In this era of so much money chasing the next great idea, it makes people willing to not have the checks and balances."

Eliot Brown, who covered venture capital and now writes about the SPAC frenzy, said Neumann got "smart people to do dumb things":

  • "Theranos was a charismatic entrepreneur making up numbers to trick investors. This was a charismatic entrepreneur using real numbers — but getting them to delude themselves."

Read a free excerpt, "Chapter 1: The Hustler."

Why the startup world needs to ditch "unicorns" for "dragons"

When Aileen Lee originally coined the term "unicorn" in late 2013, she was describing the 39 "U.S.-based software companies started since 2003 and valued at over $1 billion by public or private market investors."

Flashback: It got redefined in early 2015 by yours truly and Erin Griffith, in a cover story for Fortune, as any privately-held startup valued at $1 billion or more. At the time, we counted 80 of them.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Facebook's new moves to lower News Feed's political volume

Facebook plans to announce that it will de-emphasize political posts and current events content in the News Feed based on negative user feedback, Axios has learned. It also plans to expand tests to limit the amount of political content that people see in their News Feeds to more countries outside of the U.S.

Why it matters: The changes could reduce traffic to some news publishers, particularly companies that post a lot of political content.

Keep reading... Show less

Scoop: Amazon quietly getting into live audio business

Amazon is investing heavily in a new live audio feature that's similar to other live audio offerings like Clubhouse, Twitter Spaces and Spotify's new live audio platform, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: As with Amazon's efforts in podcasting and music subscriptions, the company sees live audio as a way to bolster the types of content it can offer through its voice assistant, Alexa, and its smart speaker products.

Keep reading... Show less

Hurricane Ida exposes America's precarious energy infrastructure

The powerful hurricane that plunged New Orleans into darkness for what could be weeks is the latest sign that U.S. power systems are not ready for a warmer, more volatile world.

The big picture: “Our current infrastructure is not adequate when it comes to these kinds of weather extremes,” Joshua Rhodes, a University of Texas energy expert, tells Axios.

Keep reading... Show less

"We must go further": 70% of adults in European Union are fully vaccinated

About 70% of adults in the European Union are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said Tuesday.

Why it matters: The milestone makes the E.U. one of the world's leaders in inoculations, after an initially lagging vaccine campaign, the New York Times notes.

Keep reading... Show less

What Elizabeth Holmes jurors will be asked ahead of fraud trial

Jury selection begins today in USA v. Elizabeth Holmes, with the actual jury trial to get underway on Sept. 8.

Why it matters: Theranos was the biggest fraud in Silicon Valley history, putting both hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of patients' health at risk.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories