We dedicate this to "the energy of we"

What a difference two years makes. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

I had a lot of fun two years ago this month, when WeWork filed to go public. I sat down to read their SEC prospectus with no idea what I’d find.

The thing was amazing. As an experience, it was right up there with going to see There’s Something About Mary on a date in 1998 and not knowing ahead of time that it was a comedy.

Utterly hilarious, totally unexpected, laughed so hard I cried—both times. Here’s what I wrote in 2019:

Each page of the S-1 filing revealed yet another turn of phrase—another leap—more fascinating than the last.

The prospectus starts with an epigraph, which is something you don't see every day:

"We dedicate this to the energy of we—greater than any of us, but inside each of us."

It only gets better, as the first two sentences of the actual prospectus itself read like a parody:

"We are a community company committed to maximum global impact. Our mission is to elevate the world's consciousness."

On and on, page after page. There was an entire section explaining the myriad deals that co-founder and then-CEO Adam Neumann had with the company he led—including his habit of buying office space and then signing deals to lease the space back to WeWork, sometimes on the exact same day.

Also, he reportedly got a trademark on the word “We” and licensed it to the company for $5.9 million.

And then there was the fact that WeWork apparently managed to lose $5,200 for every customer it brought in. Yet the company’s backers, SoftBank, thought it was worth at least $47 billion.

Oh, I could go on. In fact, a couple of reporters at The Wall Street Journal, Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell, got a book deal on the back of this multibillion-dollar bizarrity.

“Adam has been pretty clearly to us, like, an endlessly fascinating figure,” Brown told me back in 2019, right after I started Understandably. “I literally started keeping a spreadsheet.”

Among the highlights on said spreadsheet:

  • Neumann getting into an argument with Elon Musk over what would be harder: traveling to Mars, or “building community” upon arrival. (Musk "was unimpressed and lectured Neumann about how getting there was, in fact, the hard part," Brown and Farrell wrote.)

  • Neumann allegedly flying with friends on a private jet to Israel while smoking marijuana, and the crew finding "a sizable chunk of the drug stuffed in a cereal box for the return flight." (The jet's owner took the plane back home without Neumann.)

  • The CEO waxing poetically about "becoming leader of the world, living forever, [and] amassing more than $1 trillion in wealth." (Brown: "Many former employees said they didn't always know how seriously to take some of Mr. Neumann's pronouncements.”)

Anyway, it’s funny how things turn out.

In August 2019, WeWork was warning potential investors that one of the big risks it faced was that it didn’t have Neumann, considered an essential element of the WeWork formula, tied to an employment contract. Then, six days after Brown and Farrell wrote an article on his behavior that led to their book deal, Neumann was out as CEO.

And a week after that, WeWork backed off its plans for an IPO.

Here we are, though: 2021, and WeWork is making a second IPO attempt (this time through a SPAC). Plus, Brown and Farrell’s book is out.

But perhaps most markedly, WeWork now strikes me as the perfect metaphor for the lack of awareness any of us had back in 2019 as to what 2020 and 2021 would be like.

I mean, can you imagine trying to start a company today based on convincing people that overpriced, subdivided urban office space where you’d work in close proximity to an ever-changing array of strangers is the entrepreneurial wave of the future?

We often have no idea what’s right around the corner. At the very least, I hope it makes us all laugh.

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