Reputation of WeWork Founder Neumann Gets a Second Chance

Adam Neumann, former CEO of WeWork, secured millions in funding for new startup called Flow.

WeWork never went away, but its co-founder Adam Neumann did. And during the past 18 months other people told his story.

First, there was the Hulu documentary “WeWork: or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn.” Next was AppleTV+’s docudrama “WeCrashed,” starring Anne Hathaway and Jared Leto. 

Neumann stepped down as CEO in 2019 in the wake of bad business decisions and an inability to take WeWork public. 

The TV versions of his story feature a young leader who starts his career with no lack of hustle, but ends it with a penchant for overspending and embellishment. There also are unconventional ideas when it comes to the world of work.

Regardless, there’s no denying that Neumann helped catalyze and transform coworking. 

But entrepreneurs like Neumann rarely stay quiet for long.

Monday (Aug. 15) news spread that Andreessen Horowitz, the notable Silicon Valley venture capital firm, is investing about $350 million in Flow, Neumann’s newest creation.

Not much is known about Flow, but it's supposed to upend the real estate rental market. The NY Times says Andreessen Horowitz values the startup "at more than $1 billion, before it even officially opens its doors.”

Reports say Neumann purchased more than 3,000 apartment units in Atlanta, Ft. Lauderdale, Miami and Nashville for the company. Apparently Neumann's concept is creating ideal housing communities for remote workers.

Reputation and Business

It may be surprising that Andreessen Horowitz is trusting Neumann with so much money.  Why would anyone give the 43-year-old another chance after such a public failure? 

“Adam Neumann has been maligned as the 'fall guy' for the spectacular crash of WeWork. But let’s not forget, he was the visionary leader who created the commercial real estate behemoth to a $47 billion valuation,” says Michael Grimm, VP, Reputation Partners.

Venture capital giants like Andreessen Horowitz, Grimm adds, love betting on a comeback story, complete with disruptive, market-shifting visions. 

“The portrayals of Neumann in “WeCrashed,” and across news headlines, paint him as a reckless bridge burner,” Grimm says. “But, he is young, has a track record of executing disruptive, revolutionizing visions and now he has a new one for the U.S. housing crisis."

Grimm says Neumann "doesn’t need to worry too much right now about" his reputation. After all, it was good enough to convince one "of the biggest players in venture capital" to back him with $350 million.

Reputation and Consumers

Regardless of how investors feel about him, another stakeholder inevitably is the consumer. Numerous studies show that people are paying more attention to, and buying from, purpose-driven brands. The public will do its homework on Flow and Neumann. They'll decide if spending their increasingly-stretched paychecks on Flow and Neumann makes sense.

In the short term, says Grimm, more will depend on Flow than Neumann.

“Will the public turn the page and give Neumann another shot? All that matters is if Flow…provides innovation and a service that millions of people need.” 

Neumann’s PR Role

Grimm believes Neumann should remain “heads down” and avoid distractions during Flow's launch. In addition, Neumann should focus on executing his vision and succeeding. 

“Most media engagements or high-profile speaking opportunities will be met with cynicism and risk and create new narratives that will distract from Flow's purpose.”

The best shot for Neumann’s reputation recovery is introducing and operating a successful business, with minimal churn and controversy. Grimm says until he is able to demonstrate that Flow is a success, skeptics will continue

“If he revolutionizes the housing industry, and Flow disrupts and brings needed solutions...he will be welcomed back." In addition, his reputation will recover, Grimm adds.

Neumann's rewards "for solving an emerging housing crisis that will positively impact millions" will include media, consumers and "perhaps even a new HBO miniseries." 

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal