Photo: Caitlin Ochs/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Late last month, WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann stepped down from his position as CEO. He’d had a tumultuous two weeks. WeWork (officially called the We Company) had delayed its IPO and reportedly saw its valuation cut by at least $32 billion. While Neumann’s resignation is far from the end of WeWork, reports that the new co-CEO’s plan to cut the company’s extraneous businesses, like WeGrow and WeLive, means it is surely the end of Neumann’s dream of creating “a new way of living, day to day, week to week, month to month, year to year.”
Now, I decided, was my last chance to experience Neumann’s WeWorld, or at least get as close to it as we may ever see. By spending an entire day hopping from one WeWork property to another, perhaps I’d see the company as Neumann saw it, an ecosystem in which the “WeGeneration” could thrive. Beyond the core business of office space, he imagined the company becoming the hub of key aspects of our lives: landlord, personal trainer, social curator, educator to our children. Neumann created WeWork, WeGrow, Rise by We (essentially WeGym), and WeLive, and he had at least mentioned ideas for a WeWork airline, WeBank, WeSail, and WeMars.
So recently, I tried to spend a whole day in WeWorld to savor it before the new CEOs begin hacking away at non-core operations to lower the company’s furious cash burn rate. Only by experiencing the company at such a granular level was I able to wrap my mind around just how ambitious — and disjointed — Neumann’s vision was.
8:32 a.m.: My day starts on a Chelsea sidewalk outside WeGrow, which is WeWork’s school for kids ages 2 through 12. It’s the creation of Rebekah Paltrow Neumann, Adam’s wife and, until recently, WeWork’s “chief brand and impact officer.” Her vision for WeGrow was “a new conscious, entrepreneurial school committed to unleashing every child’s superpowers.” Or, as Rebekah’s cousin, Gwyneth Paltrow, once put it, a school geared toward “families that are in an open state of being.” Tuition runs from $36,000 to $42,000.
I do not have a child, but I imagine the day when I might; I visualize dropping the bright-eyed tot off for another day of unleashing her superpowers. In reality, I try to play it cool and not look like a creep standing across the street. A very muscular man in a tight black T-shirt stands outside the door like a bouncer greeting teachers, parents, and children. I watch a few fashionable moms and dads drop their kids off and head to work.
It turns out I was witnessing one of the last normal days at WeGrow: On October 11, the company announced it would be shuttering the schools after this academic year.
9:23 a.m.: Just a few blocks away is WeWork Now, the company’s combination coffee shop and co-working space. It’s WeWork’s only “on demand” co-working space, where, for $12 an hour (or 20 cents a minute), anyone — WeWork member or not — can enjoy a sleek, comfortable co-working space attached to a Bluestone Lane coffee shop.
I buy a coffee and a scone and sit down. To my right is a giant wall of merchandise. Retro “Made by We” patches, “We” hoodies, “We Love” T-shirts, a shirt that says “Human,” and a bucket hat that says “Worker.” I want the bucket hat but don’t think I’ll be able to expense it.
Photo: David ‘Dee’ Delgado/Bloomberg via Getty Images
At the opposite end of the merch wall is a checkpoint, patrolled by two WeWork employees, where people can check in to the paid co-working space. I approach and ask an employee what she thinks about the Neumann shake-up. She says she isn’t worried. She also tells me I can book a seat in advance next time. Looking over her shoulder, I see only five or six people in a space space built for about 100.
10:02 a.m.: Curious to check out the scene at the place where it all began, I head to 154 Grand Street, where the company’s first co-working space opened in 2010. Standing outside the original location, I can see another WeWork a block away, and there are still four others within a six-block radius.
Inside the small lobby, I pull out my credit card and ask to purchase a day pass. The woman behind the desk sighs. “Oh no, we don’t do day passes,” she says sympathetically. “Have you heard of WeWork Now?”
Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images
10:06 a.m.: I buy a seltzer at a Starbucks across the street and do some work for an hour.
12:06 p.m.: I was surprised to learn that anyone can tour Dock 72, WeWork’s latest project in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, so I scheduled an appointment. Outside I meet a WeWork rep, a cool 20-something with bleached hair and a tie-dyed shirt, and she hands me a hard hat before we begin walking through the massive building, passing workers hustling to put the final touches on before it opens on October 1.
In the elevator, I ask my tour guide if she likes working for WeWork.
“I love it,” she says. “I mean, it’s one of the coolest companies in the world.”
The WeWork offices in Dock 72 are grand and modern with massive windows offering views of Manhattan up and down the East River. The rep tells me that all members will have access to Rise by We, WeWork’s “vision for the complete wellness experience” — a.k.a. a gym — which will be on-site. I picture myself working while reclining in one of the Scandinavian-style pieces of furniture, roomy booths, and cozy couches. I see myself sunning on the large terrace. I’m not exactly sure what my job is, but I like this version of me.
After we look around for a while, she lays out my options: $475 a month for a “hot desk,” which would allow me to work in the open spaces, or $930 for the very last available single-occupancy private office. And that’s the end of my Dock 72 personal-office fantasy.
1:59 p.m.: I check into WeLive, WeWork’s co-living space in a nondescript office building on Wall Street. WeLive offers furnished apartments that can be rented on a nightly or monthly basis. The combination of common areas, apartments, restaurants, and a bar in one single office building makes WeLive the closest thing to embodying Neumann’s grand vision. According to Neumann, WeLive’s mission was to create “environments where no one ever feels alone.” I’d also heard WeLive is a bit of a party scene.
I’m in a studio apartment on the 26th floor. It isn’t cheap ($392.50 for the night, after taxes), so I am expecting it to be something like a four-star hotel. Instead, I find a tiny room that reeks of bleach with two overhead lights and a Murphy bed. This studio costs $3,100 to $4,100 to rent monthly, a price range that, even in Manhattan, would get you a nice one-bedroom apartment.
A WeLive room (not mine).
Photo: Caitlin Ochs/Bloomberg via Getty Images
I cruise the common areas to see if the perks justify the hefty price tag. The laundry room has ping-pong, a pool table, and a couple of arcade games. A large communal kitchen offers free coffee all day. I see two college-age guys wandering around in sweatpants and slippers, but most of the people I see during my stay seem to be families on vacation. On my way out, an electronic bulletin board by the elevator delivers devastating news: I’ve missed a White Claw happy hour by two days.
2:59 p.m.: I make the five-minute walk from WeLive to Rise by We. Rise offers fitness and yoga classes as well as spa treatments in a luxury environment (read: pretty solid bathroom amenities) at a premium. I wasn’t keen on boxing or cardio classes (I’d already exercised once this week). Instead, I’d made a 3 p.m. “power nap” reservation and signed up for a “guided sauna session” at 5:35 p.m.
I sheepishly check in for my power nap at the front desk and am directed down a series of hallways adorned with quotes like “Mmmhmm, that’s right” in cursive pink neon lights. I have absolutely no idea if the slogan is encouraging me or judging me. When I arrive at “Insight,” the studio where I am to report for my power nap, the woman from the front desk catches up to me. She tells me she has made a mistake — I’d registered for a “private nap,” not an “open nap,” which means I will not be taking my nap on a mat in Insight but in one of two beds in a small massage room in the spa.
The spa is spacious, with seating, tables, and loungers. I see only three people, two of whom are employees. The third person is giving someone a tour on FaceTime. “I know, it’s so nice,” she says. “I come every day because no one is ever here.”
I find the nap room and slowly open the door. It’s dark inside; the only light comes from an emergency-exit sign and a pulsing aroma diffuser. The two beds are separated by a curtain. I peek behind the curtain at the first bed and see a figure beneath the sheets. The second bed looks as if someone has already used it for a nap, but that doesn’t really bother me so I climb in fully clothed. I didn’t expect the act of trying to fall asleep next to someone I’ve never met or seen to feel so intimate, but I listen closely to the person’s breathing and hear them adjusting in bed. I wonder if they know, or care, that I’m in the room. On the second question, I soon have my answer: The person starts snoring.
As I close my eyes and try to fall asleep, I begin to connect the day’s dots, forming a portrait of a truly bizarre company. The people running an extremely expensive primary school are hawking “Worker” bucket hats, building out a massive co-working development in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, hosting a White Claw happy hour at an apartment–hotel–co-living space on Wall Street, and now facilitating my nap in a spa at a boutique fitness center. What, if anything, do these businesses have to do with one another?
Stumped by that question and unable to sleep, I step outside the private room and grab a seat by the door, hoping at least to catch a glimpse of the snorer when they finish their nap. After about a half-hour of waiting, I have to give up. I’m late for the next item on my WeWorld tour.
3:14 p.m.: While I’m in the nap room, S&P Global downgrades WeWork’s credit rating to a B-.
4:05 p.m.: I read a Business Insider story reporting that WeWork is selling Neumann’s $60 million private jet and that Neumann reportedly voted, along with other board members, to oust himself as CEO.
Genius at WeWork.
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4:19 p.m.: I tell the receptionist behind the desk at The Wing in Dumbo that I’m here to see a friend. I expect her to tell me to get lost, The Wing is for women only, but she smiles and checks me in. My friend greets me at the front desk and escorts me inside, both of us a little stunned that the receptionist let me in.
In late 2017, WeWork was the lead investor in The Wing’s $42 million Series B investment round, which I thought was a good enough reason to drop by. From the moment I walk in, it feels like a fully formed version of a premium, community-oriented, cutting edge co-working space. It is a beautiful space, the women are mingling, there’s a class or lecture going on in one of the conference rooms. Why does this feel so different from the WeWork properties I’ve been to? Are men the problem?
4:54 p.m.: While walking back to the subway, I text my wife, “Hey, wanna come spend the night at WeLive?”
5:15 p.m.: Back at Rise by We, I change into my swimsuit for my “guided sauna session.” I join about 15 people in the spa and, when the time comes, a slender guy in flip-flops introduces himself as the “sauna master” and herds us into a large sauna.
“I ask you, please, to listen to your bodies,” the sauna master tells us. “This will be a challenge. We will overcome this obstacle because the heat will become very intense and put us under pressure. But we will pull through together.”
The sauna master spends the next 12 minutes or so raising the temperature in the room while adding essential oils to the steam. He periodically helicopters a damp towel over his head, blowing gusts of hot air at us. By the time the sauna master passes out ice cubes and tells us to rub them all over our bodies, I feel like a ziplock bag full of hot spaghetti on a sidewalk in July. Afterward, we form a line to spend a few seconds under a cold shower.
Once I’ve cooled down, I try talking to the sauna master. I ask him if this type of sauna session is offered at other spas in New York.
“Nobody does this,” he says proudly. “We’re the only ones.” When I ask how the program got started here, he points to the fresh fruit. “Please, have some pineapple,” he says and walks away.
We eat pineapple. Barely a word is spoken. I need an employee to open my locker for me.
6:16 p.m.: “Hahahahahaha, that is the least-hot booty call I’ve ever received,” my wife responds to my request to spend the night at WeLive. She agrees to join me, though.
6:50 p.m.: Still eager to get a sense of a standard WeWork space, I attend a panel discussion that is open to the public at a WeWork just north of Penn Station. The event is called “Men & Vulnerability,” and when I walk in, I’m surprised to find about 50 people milling about, drinking free wine and pouring themselves beers from a tap in the communal kitchen.
The event begins ten minutes later, and the moderators introduce themselves as “Coach Jake” and “Coach Nick.” As an icebreaker, they instruct us to turn to the person sitting next to us and share a time when we were vulnerable. I am sitting next to a woman I guess to to be in her late 60s or early 70s. She tells me she has no real interest in sharing; she’s just here to support her co-worker who is sitting on the panel. Relieved, I ask her if this is her first time at a WeWork.
“Yes. What is this place?”
“People come here to do work,” I say. She gives me a blank stare. “They rent desks and offices,” I say. Before I continue to explain, I realize she isn’t confused — she knows what desks and offices are — she’s just utterly unimpressed.
The panel discussion resumes. Insights are mostly limited to parables and personal anecdotes about the panelists’ childhoods. I leave early.
8:02 p.m.: I check my phone and see that a friend has sent me a Reddit post of a picture purporting to show Neumann walking barefoot and talking on the phone near Gramercy Park on the day he resigned. (The picture was, in fact, taken several days earlier.)
On the subway back to WeLive, I suddenly become aware of how tired I am. I expected to feel as if I were living in a bubble, but the experience of bouncing from WeGrow to WeWork to WeLive to Rise by We is so jarring, each location so intrinsically dissimilar from the last, that I just feel drained by it all. Maybe naïvely, I’d thought the WeWorld would have had more social interaction built into it. Instead, my day has been pretty sterile. On the whole, it was less social than my typical day.
8:52 p.m.: Financial Times reports that WeWork is halting the signing of all new leases.
9:23 p.m.: My wife and I meet for drinks in the Mailroom, a stylish bar in WeLive’s basement. It’s a large space, which makes the fact that we are one of only two parties in the entire joint even sadder. We ask the bartender if the bar ever gets busy, and he says, yes, during the twice-weekly WeLive happy hour — a claim that comes under suspicion when he later reveals that today is only his second day on the job. After finishing our beers, we decide to call it quits.
Back in the room, my wife climbs into bed and turns the lights off. I have some work to finish and consider heading to the communal kitchen at the end of the hall. But on second thought, I move the desk chair into the bathroom, set my laptop up on the toilet seat, and get to work.
“In my book, there’s no reason why children in elementary schools can’t be launching their own businesses,” Rebekah said when WeGrow opened.
There are now 66 WeWorks throughout the city. In all, there are 836 locations in 126 cities around the world.
An all-access membership costs $199. I pay $35 for a weeklong trial.
The Wing has loosened its women-only policy, an attempt to be more inclusive of trans and nonbinary people, but this may also have something to do with a $12 million gender-discrimination lawsuit filed against the company in Washington, D.C.
As far as WeWork investments go, The Wing was one of the few that aligns with the company’s core business. Some of WeWork’s other investments under Neumann included a company that makes wave pools for surfers and a company that makes turmeric coffee creamer.
It has been reported that Neumann had a spa and an ice bath attached to his office.
In addition to his work as a life coach for entrepreneurs, Coach Nick hosts a podcast called “Dudes of Disruption.”