Why I was scared to see the documentary about the fall of the founder of WeWork

23, 2021

8 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As the credits progressed at the end of the Hulu documentary WeWork: Or the Making and Destruction of a $ 47 Billion Unicorn, my mind raced. Adam Neumann’s philosophy and discourse on community, collaboration, and breaking down barriers is disturbingly similar to mine and those of colleagues around the world who also identify as builders of entrepreneurship ecosystems.

The terminology to define our work did not exist 15 years ago; As “ecosystem builders” we are many people around the world who dedicate our careers to building communities in which entrepreneurs and agents of change can thrive. In some cases, the process takes some of us down the path of creating physical containers for those communities, so we also become entrepreneurs and founders of coworking spaces (in our case, we co-founded IMPAQTO , the first network of coworking spaces in Ecuador ).

If anything, our collective reaction to the downfall of the coworking giant asks different questions than venture investors: How did Neumann, who so convincingly preached collaboration and community importance, strayed from the values that prompted your ascent? And us: if we had had more funds or speed to scale our business, would we have ended up like WeWork ? What can we do to distance ourselves from the fall of an unsustainable business model and its leader with a cult of his personality, but at the same time rescue the real values that supported his vision in theory?

Ever since WeWork’s story and its downfall gained fame, I feared that ecosystem builders would get a bad rap or that various stakeholders, from community members to investors, would no longer see our work as a worthwhile journey. .

However, after conversations deep with colleagues and reflection, I conclude: building entrepreneurial ecosystem itself worth as a way of life, and coworking spaces are key tools in the process of creating bridges of trust and close gaps in societies in which they are rooted. I see this need every day in Latin America, where we live in a low-trust society that makes it more difficult to collaborate, co-create and generate innovation. It would be a misstep to turn your back on the growing practice of building communities and collaborative spaces just because of the famous downfall of one who didn’t make it.

Here, I share 3 practices that make us hope for the future of entrepreneurial communities and ecosystems:

Growing your community does not necessarily mean losing the essence

In the documentary we see WeWork operate by prioritizing its brand over the collective vision of community as more investment accumulated. It’s tempting to blame this diversion on the coworking giant’s size and growth. But, for many of our colleagues, growing up does not necessarily mean losing essence. Something that has helped us is establishing our guiding principles early on, then prioritizing community and a shared vision of a purpose-driven economy.

This does not mean that we never encounter difficult dichotomies as we grow older; But when we do, we know how to refocus. Like when we consciously rejected platforms or revenue streams that depended on us centralizing or monopolizing connections between community members, or business models that ultimately lead to less diverse and exclusionary communities.

Colleagues and aspiring ecosystem builders who want to make their values tangible may find it helpful to use the Community Canvas and other open tools to solidify values within their communities.

How did Neumann, who so convincingly preached collaboration and the importance of community, departed from the values that drove his rise? / Image: VCG | Getty Images

Control your ego, but also practice self-care

Beyond the complexities of WeWork’s valuation, the venture capital market bubble and its mismanagement, the documentary recounts how one of the roots of the crash was that the ego of its leader began to outweigh the weight of the community: “From WE to ME” / “De NOSOTROS a YO”.

However, my fear for community builders is that in an effort to distance ourselves from Neumann’s model, we will cross over too far to the other extreme, as self-denial can also lead to the downfall of our job. There is an underlying expectation of people who build communities that they should put others before themselves, due in part to a work culture marked by individual self-sacrifice for the common good. The effects of this culture on fellow ecosystem builders and agents of change, reported by The Well-Being Project , include severe health problems, depression, anxiety, and burnout.

In the documentary, we see Neumann taking fancy breaks, fasting retreats, or physical distancing from his problems. However, these are indicators of someone trying to change their external context as a coping mechanism rather than looking inward for a way out.

And looking inward is precisely the solution. Those responsible for maintaining the space where communities grow, the builders of ecosystems, have the responsibility of controlling their egos, but also of nurturing us.

This inside job can always seem less important because time spent raising funds or working with the press is more attractive; But thinking long term, companies implode if the core is not stable. A good place to start may be the wealth of resources documented at The WellBeing Project in a series of articles detailing ways to maintain a healthier balance while simultaneously building emotional well-being and keeping a check on the ego of those facilitating those communities. .

There are lessons to be learned from the stories of those who failed

For ecosystem builders, our main enemy is not investment or growth, it is the comparison game. Personally, it’s easy to compare myself to others who are creating similar spaces and thriving on different levels. I know I did it when I saw references in The Wing and WeWork in their highest moments, looking from the outside. The disappointment was not easy to cure, but it taught us the most important lesson: that these models have not worked only means that the formula is yet to be found, not that it does not yet exist.

The collective battle we now face as community builders is having to prove that we are not just smaller versions of Adam Neumann. We are the ones who remain on the lookout for sustainable and scalable ways to offer change agents a community in which they can thrive, no matter where they are.

While I don’t have a roadmap on how to move forward, I know three things are true: (1) communities stick together when upholding their common values, (2) to maintain a space for communities, ecosystem builders must work on constantly strengthen your own core; and (3) there are lessons to be learned from everyone’s stories.

Neumann’s journey with WeWork does not discredit these truths. I prefer to see this experience as an invitation to develop an open dialogue about the experiences of those of us who dedicate our time and passion to creating communities. He needed, for the sake of both, to underline that WeWork’s downfall does not herald the story of other ecosystem builders, just as its success does not mark a unique path for others.

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