Neumann spun an origin myth about growing up on a kibbutz in Israel, where he appreciated the community but bristled at how everyone was rewarded the same regardless of how much work they put in. He envisioned WeWork, he said, as a “capitalist kibbutz”—a “community,” but the kind where “you eat what you kill.”
Wiedeman (with whom I overlapped while working at The New Yorker) presents a more nuanced portrait of the founder as a young man. Neumann was born in 1979 in Beersheba, Israel, to physician parents who shuttled Neumann and his sister around desert towns before moving to the suburbs of Tel Aviv. When he was in the second grade, his grandmother realized that he couldn’t read the menu at a restaurant; he was dyslexic. “He had become skilled at fooling his teachers and coaxing others to do what he needed,” Wiedeman writes. After his parents divorced when he was 9, his mother moved, with him and his sister, to Indianapolis, where he struggled emotionally at first. Only later did the family live on a kibbutz, after they’d returned to Israel. Neumann went on to serve in the Israeli navy, and then moved to New York, where he enrolled at Baruch College, before launching a series of businesses—making collapsible high heels, then baby clothes with kneepads—and dropping out. In 2010, he and a friend, Miguel McKelvey, unveiled WeWork.
At the time, co-working spaces were already common. The business model was straightforward: Entrepreneurs “leased space, cut it up, and rented out each slice with an upcharge for hip design, flexibility, and regular happy hours,” Wiedeman writes. But those in charge typically ran no more than a few locations apiece, in part because operating multiple spaces required spending a lot of money, up front, on leases. What distinguished Neumann,