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#HotDocs21 Review: WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn

May 3, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2021 Hot Docs Festival is running virtually from April 29th to May 9th, all films are available to stream for audiences across Canada

Adam Neumann, the founder and former CEO of WeWork, essentially got rich off of selling office space to millennials. But it was more the idea behind the company that convinced so many to buy in, with his business model built around the concept of turning “me into we” through creating shared work environments. Neumann is the main subject in director Jed Rothstein’s informative and entertaining documentary WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn, which looks at the rise and fall of the company.

Neumann, who grew up in a kibbutz in Israel, wanted to bring a capitalistic approach to the principles of a commune. From here, the idea for WeWork was born, a working collective providing office space to entrepreneurs. Neumann started buying up properties in New York and renting out desk space, in what many argued was essentially a real estate business masquerading as a tech startup in order to avoid stricter regulations.

Rothstein’s film is largely centred around Neumann himself, a natural salesman whose charismatic personality caused many to buy what he was selling. His tall, slim frame and long hair made him a magnetic figure, and he is described as having a Jesus complex by one of the subjects. The corporate culture at WeWork was also a big draw, with shiny, open concept offices and an annual adult summer camp that employees were required to attend, an event that footage shows was somewhere between a rowdy corporate retreat, self-help seminar and boozy music festival.

But, as Neumann kept expanding his reach, including opening WeLive, an apartment building that served as more of a social experiment in communal living and could have easily been the subject of its own documentary, his grandiosity became apparent and cracks started to appear in the company’s financial foundation. The story of Neumann’s rise and fall is told through interviews with former employees, co-workers and journalists who explain where it all went wrong.

Rothstein gets into the complex finances behind the company, charting how it started to come apart as Neumann went after international funding and tried to take it public, causing its $47 billion valuation to drop suddenly. But the director also ensures that this well-edited financial documentary is kept both accessible and entertaining, thanks to its fast pace and slick graphics.

WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn is available to watch from April 29th until May 9th. It includes a Q&A. Digital tickets and more information can be found right here.

The film is part of Scotia Wealth Management’s Big Ideas series, and there will be a live Q&A on May 4th at 7:00 PM with director Jed Rothstein and other guests.

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