The True Story Behind WeCrashed

11 minute read

If Adam Neumann was the face of WeWork, the coworking space startup he co-founded in 2010, his wife Rebekah Neumann (née Paltrow) was its soul. The AppleTV+ docuseries WeCrashed, based on the Wondery podcast of the same name, tells the story of WeWork’s rise and fall by focusing on the eccentric couple (played by Jared Leto and Anne Hathaway) at the center of it all.

As the eight-episode series, premiering March 18, makes clear, Adam—an Israeli serial entrepreneur-turned-WeWork’s messianic former CEO—didn’t invent the concept of shared workspaces; he was just the first person to turn it into a lifestyle. WeWork’s mission wasn’t only to provide affordable office space, but to build a generation of workers who wanted “to elevate the world’s consciousness.” That was a concept Rebekah, who was the company’s chief branding officer and her husband’s “strategic thought partner,” spearheaded. “My intention was never to find a way to make the most money,” she told the School of Greatness podcast in 2018. “My intention when I met [Adam] was just, ‘How do we expand this good vibration to the planet?’”

In less than a decade, Adam, with his wife’s help, grew WeWork from a single outpost in Manhattan to a worldwide brand with coworking spaces in 111 cities across 29 counties. “WeWork is working to create a world where people make a life and not just a living,” Adam told TIME in 2017. The couple claimed they were building “the world’s first physical social network” and planned to expand the brand to include gyms, apartments, and schools. “We are here in order to change the world,” Neumann said in 2017. “Nothing less than that interests me.” In 2018, TIME named WeWork one of the year’s genius companies because of how it was redefining the office.

As a former WeWork executive told Vanity Fair in 2019, “Adam was probably the best salesman of all time”—but he also “went through money like water.” His reckless spending, hard-partying lifestyle, and questionable business decisions ultimately led to his downfall. In September 2019, at the urging of his board of directors, he resigned from his position as WeWork’s CEO,

Keep reading to see what WeCrashed gets right and (kind of) wrong about WeWork’s flameout:

Was WeWork’s concept inspired by the kibbutz Adam Neumann grew up in?

In the WeCrashed premiere, Rebekah tells a floundering Adam that if he wants to become a successful businessman, he must care about what he’s selling. That’s when he realizes he was happiest when he was growing up in southern Israel on a kibbutz, a communal settlement not far from the Gaza Strip. From there, the idea for a shared workspace was born.

Neumann did indeed spend several years living on a kibbutz, as news publications often reported. (In 2016, Vanity Fair titled an article “The $16 Billion Brand that Came From a Kibbutz.”) As WeWork grew, Neumann continued to wax poetic about the power of a shared community like the one he grew up in, going as far to say WeWork would improve on the concept to become a “kibbutz 2.0” or a “capitalist kibbutz,” where weakness would not be tolerated. “On the one hand, community,” he told New York Magazine in 2019 when asked about his vision for WeWork. “On the other hand, you eat what you kill.”

Last year, the Jewish Review of Books argued that Neumann wasn’t all that committed to the “what’s mine is yours” ethos of a kibbutz. He just wanted to use “a certain Israeli mystique” to sell his personal brand and make excuses for his questionable behavior. In 2019, a photo of a frazzled Neumann walking barefoot on the streets of New York City went viral, raising questions about his mental state. His publicist simply explained, “He is a kibbutznik.”

Is Rebekah Neumann related to Gwyneth Paltrow?

On Rebekah’s first date with Adam, she informs him she’s a “serious vegan” who “writes a column for her cousin Gwyneth’s wellness blog.” That cousin would be Academy Award-winning actress and Goop founder Gwyneth Paltrow, who Rebekah makes clear is “just a person.”

WeCrashed contends that Rebekah Neumann—whose father is Bob Paltrow, the brother of Gwyneth’s dad, Bruce Paltrow—was jealous of her famous cousin. At one point, Hathaway’s Rebekah Googles herself and discovers high search interest in whether she’s related to Gwyneth. In reality, Gwyneth’s fame did seem to loom over Neumann, who (rather unsuccessfully) tried her hand at acting in the mid-aughts under the name “Rebekah Keith.”

Last year, Vanity Fair reported that, in WeWork’s early years, Neumann set up a Google alert for news about her famous cousin and asked consultants if she should continue using her surname. In 2017, she reportedly sent an internal memo letting staff know she would be henceforth known as Rebekah Neumann, not Rebekah Paltrow-Neumann.

Still, she didn’t totally cut herself off from the family. In 2018, Neumann sat down with Gwyneth to discuss WeGrow, a new experimental school that offered a holistic approach to education. At the time, Gwyneth appeared to be a fan of WeGrow’s decision to consciously uncouple from the public school system, calling it a refuge for “families that are in an open state of being.” The same could be said of WeGrow, which closed its doors in 2020 after Adam Neumann left the company. While a portion of Gwyneth’s interview with Rebekah is still available on WeWork’s Facebook page, the full story has since been removed from Goop’s website.

Was Katy Perry’s “Roar” Adam Neumann’s unofficial theme song?

On WeCrashed, Adam is obsessed with Katy Perry’s 2013 banger, playing it loud and proud when he needs a boost. Often, his assistant is seen scrambling to make sure the empowerment anthem is playing whenever Adam enters the building. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the real Neumann made “Roar” his signature tune. However, the 2021 book The Cult of We: WeWork, Adam Neumann, and the Great Startup Delusion claimed that Neumann requested that Notorious B.I.G’s “Juicy” play anytime he was giving investors a tour of the office.

Neumann also had a reputation for blasting music at all hours of the workday. “Our paying customers would be complaining about how loud the music was,” one former employee told Business Insider in 2019. “But if we turned it down, we’d get screamed and yelled at by Adam and his team.”

Does Adam Neumann not know the difference between a cappuccino and a latte?

In episode 7, during a tense moment, Adam brings Rebekah a latte, which she informs him is actually a cappuccino. “My assistants call them lattes,” he tells her. “Because you call them lattes and no one wants to tell you that you’re wrong,” she responds angrily. The funny throwaway moment is based on a hilariously infuriating anecdote shared in the 2021 Hulu documentary WeWork: Or the Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn.

Forbes senior editor Alex Konrad recalls meeting Neumann for a coffee at WeWork headquarters in 2015. Konrad ordered a cappuccino, while Neumann ordered a latte, but when the journalist’s coffee arrived, the then-WeWork CEO grabbed it. “I was like, ‘Hold on, I got the cappuccino. That’s a cappuccino.’ Adam looked really confused and upset,” Konrad recalled. “One of the staff was like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, we actually call those lattes and those cappuccinos here,’ pointing at the opposite one.” Instead of correcting their boss, the WeWork employees had decided to change the meaning of the word, which Konrad said was “a strange, gratuitous reality distortion moment” that showed how shockingly powerful Neumann was.

Did Rebekah Neumann fire WeWork employees for having “bad energy”?

One of the more shocking moments in WeCrashed is when Rebekah starts firing WeWork employees who rub her the wrong way. At one point, she tells HR that she wants to let someone go because they have “bad energy.” Turns out, this is based on a true story.

The real Rebekah notoriously fired a mechanic for WeWork’s Gulfstream jet within minutes of meeting him because she didn’t like his energy, according to Vanity Fair.

This wasn’t unusual: When her husband needed to thin out the ranks, Rebekah would allegedly walk through the WeWork offices looking for anyone giving off bad energy. “I got the sense that she was guiding the company through her astrological intuition,” a person who met with her for a contract role told Vanity Fair, admitting they mostly discussed his birth sign rather than the position. He didn’t get the job and assumed it was because their energies weren’t compatible.

Did Adam Neumann vote himself out of his own company?

The first episode of WeCrashed offers a look at the beginning of the end of Adam’s reign at WeWork. The show starts with Adam getting pushed out of his own company by WeWork’s board of directors, who have lost confidence in their eccentric CEO following a failed attempt to take the company public. Adam fights to keep his post but, in the end, casts a vote to remove himself as the head of his company, realizing he has become his own worst enemy.

This is a case of art imitating life. In September 2019, WeWork’s directors voted to remove Neumann as chief executive after the company was forced to postpone its plans to take the company public due to investor concerns over Neumann’s leadership style. In a stunning move, Neumann cast a vote against himself, giving up his CEO position, as well as a majority control of the company he co-founded. Neumann cited “investor concerns” as his reason for ousting himself. “While our business has never been stronger, in recent weeks, the scrutiny directed toward me has become a significant distraction, and I have decided that it is in the best interest of the company to step down as chief executive,” he said in a statement following his departure.

Neumann may have lost his company, but he didn’t leave empty-handed. He walked away with what many called a “golden parachute,” a package that was valued at nearly $2 billion. “Adam Neumann will essentially get a king’s ransom for grossly mismanaging the company on his way out,” Amy Borrus, deputy director of the Council of Institutional Investors, told the Washington Post. The New York Times called Neumann’s deal one of the greatest examples of someone failing upwards.

Not everyone believes Neumann is to blame for WeWork’s fall from grace. “They’re trying to make this about Adam being a lunatic,” a real-estate executive said in the 2020 book Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise and Spectacular Fall of Adam Neumann and WeWork. “These people [on the board] invested, they knew the terms, they knew about the governance issues, and they told this guy, ‘Be you, but be ten times you.’ What did they expect?”

In October 2021, Neumann celebrated WeWork’s first day of trading on Wall Street by throwing a party—not affiliated with the company—for more than 100 of his earliest employees. “It’s such a special day,” he reportedly said. “A brand without a past does not have a future.” Neumann is allegedly working on a new business venture that will “transform apartment living.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at