In 2001, Adam Neumann arrived in New York after five years as a conscript in the Israeli navy. Just over fifteen years later, he had transformed himself into the charismatic CEO of a company worth $47 billion. With his long hair and feel-good mantras, the six-foot-five Neumann looked the part of a messianic Silicon Valley entrepreneur. The vision he offered was mesmerizing: a radical reimagining of workspace for a new generation. He called it WeWork.
As billions of funding dollars poured in, Neumann’s ambitions grew limitless. WeWork wasn’t just an office space provider; it would build schools, create cities, even colonize Mars. In pursuit of its founder’s vision, the company spent money faster than it could bring it in. From his private jet, sometimes clouded with marijuana smoke, the CEO scoured the globe for more capital but in late 2019, just weeks before WeWork’s highly publicized IPO, everything fell apart. Neumann was ousted from his company, but still was poised to walk away a billionaire.
In this interview, I speak to Wall Street Journal reporter Eliot Brown on The Cult of We: WeWork and the Great Start-Up Delusion. We discuss WeWork’s extraordinary rise and staggering implosion, why some of the biggest names in banking and venture capital bought the hype and what the future holds for Silicon Valley ‘unicorns.’

Thought Economics

In 2009, a St. Louis glassblowing artist and recovering computer scientist named Jim McKelvey lost a sale because he couldn’t accept American Express cards. Frustrated by the high costs and difficulty of accepting credit card payments, McKelvey joined his friend Jack Dorsey (the cofounder of Twitter) to launch Square, a start-up that would enable small merchants to accept credit card payments on their mobile phones. With no expertise or experience in the world of payments, they approached the problem of credit cards with a new perspective, questioning the industry’s assumptions, experimenting and innovating their way through early challenges, and achieving widespread adoption from merchants small and large. But just as Square was taking off, Amazon launched a similar product, marketed it aggressively, and undercut Square on price. For most ordinary start-ups, this would have spelled the end. Instead, less than a year later, Amazon was in retreat and soon discontinued its service. How did Square beat the most dangerous company on the planet? Was it just luck? These questions motivated McKelvey to study what Square had done differently from all the other companies Amazon had killed. He eventually found the key: a strategy he calls the Innovation Stack. In this interview I speak to Jim McKelvey, Co-Founder of Square and author of The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time. We talk about how to build a pattern of ground-breaking, competition-proof entrepreneurship that is rare but repeatable. And how we can find the entrepreneur within ourselves and identify and fix unsolved problems–one crazy idea at a time.

Thought Economics

The San Francisco Bay Area (more commonly known as Silicon Valley) has a GDP of $840 billion, to put it another way – if this region was a country, it would be the 18th largest global economy, larger than the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland, and only a little smaller than Turkey and Indonesia.  It is perhaps with eyes on this prize that so many leaders therefore divert civic investment and incentivisation into the growth of technology companies. To learn more about the reality of Silicon Valley, I spoke to three world experts. Kara Swisher (Co-Founder of Recode & NYT columnist), Nicholas Thompson (Editor in Chief of WIRED), John Carreyrou (Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist & Author of Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup) and Cary Mcclelland (award-winning writer, filmmaker and human rights lawyer who is the author of Silicon City: San Francisco in the Long Shadow of the Valley).

Thought Economics

In this exclusive interview series, we speak to some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs: Sir Richard Branson (Founder of Virgin Group), Robin Li (Founder of Baidu), Sir James Dyson (Founder of Dyson), Professor Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Founder of Grameen Bank), Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw (Founder of Biocon), N. R. Narayana Murthy (Founder of Infosys) Tim Draper (Founding Partner, Draper Associates and DFJ), Jamal Edwards MBE (Founder, SBTV), Nathan Myhrvold (Founder & CEO, Intellectual Ventures), Wendy Kopp (CEO & Co-Founder, Teach For All), Tory Burch (Chairman & CEO, Tory Burch), Steve Case (Co-Founder,  America Online – AOL &  Revolution), Jerry Yang (Co-Founder, Yahoo!), Tony O. Elumelu (Chairman of Heirs Holdings, the United Bank for Africa, Transcorp and founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation), Dave McClure (Founder, 500 Startups), David Cohen (Co-Founder, Techstars), Ricardo Salinas (Founder & Chairman, Grupo Salinas),Vladimir Potanin (Founder & President, Interros), Gary Vaynerchuk (Founder, VaynerMedia), Troy Carter (Founder & CEO, Atom Factory), Dr. Michael Otto (Chairman, Otto Group), Jack Welch (Former CEO of GE and Executive Chairman of the Jack Welch Management Institute), Naveen Jain (Founder of InfoSpace, Intelius, Moon Express and Blue dot), Weili Dai (Co-Founder, Marvell Technology Group), Steve Ballmer (Co-Chair of Ballmer Group & Owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA Basketball Team), will.i.am  (Entrepreneur, Entertainer and Innovator), Donna Karan (Founder of DKNY and Urban Zen)Laurence Graff OBE (Founder & Chairman, Graff Diamonds), John Caudwell (Entrepreneur & Philanthropist), Dr. Frederik Paulsen, JR (Chairman, Ferring Pharmaceuticals), Thor Björgólfsson (Founding Chairman, Novator), Kanya King MBE (Founder, MOBO Organisation), Dennis Crowley (Co-Founder, Foursquare), Kevin O’Leary (Shark Tank), John Sculley (CEO of Apple from 1983-1993), Alfred Lin (Partner, Sequoia Capital & Former Chairman, Zappos) and Stewart Butterfield (Co-Founder, SLACK). We look at the characteristics of great entrepreneurs, how some of the world’s most successful companies have succeeded, and discuss wealth, philanthropy and the realities of business in a global economy.

Thought Economics

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