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The distorted reality of WeWork

April 8, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

I finally got around to watching the Hulu documentary on WeWork, and it was definitely worth the 1 hour and 44 minutes.

A quick refresher before I get into the film: Founded in 2010 by Adam Neumann and Miguel McKelvey, New York-based WeWork set out to create an empowering and “transparent” shared office space for entrepreneurs. The company raised billions from big investors like SoftBank, Benchmark Capital, and JPMorgan Chase & Co., and the company’s rapid growth led to a valuation of $47 billion in 2019.

But after investors became skeptical of the company’s business and realized that it was hemorrhaging money, WeWork’s days of wild joy riding came to an end. In September of 2019, WeWork ousted Neumann and a few days later withdrew its initial public offering. In 2020, WeWork’s valuation was estimated at $2.9 billion. It’s now expected to go public via a merger with a SPAC.

One of the key themes that stood out to me in WeWork: Or The Making and Breaking of a $47 Billion Unicorn was the master manipulation of Neumann. His passionate speeches, grandiose visions, and distortion of the cold hard facts were the tools he used to drive his employees, and ultimately his business, into the ground.

One former employee interviewed in the film described him as intoxicating, and another equated him to a spiritual leader who claimed he could cure the plague with the touch of his palm. But in a gut-wrenching moment in the film, one of the employees tearfully explained how she’s had to work through losing her purpose and sense of value post-WeWork. What’s even sadder is she’s likely not alone.

There’s a telling scene in which the documentary explores the company’s retreats, or excuses for employees to drink from a seemingly endless supply of alcohol and party all night. But employees were required to attend it and workshops and speaker series, and they were tracked by company-issued bracelets during the event.

“They would address the crowd talking about whatever the word of the day was like authenticity,” one former employee says in the documentary. “And as I’m sitting there, I’m thinking you forced me to come to this summer camp and sit in the mud. Nothing about this seems authentic.”

The documentary spends a lot of time on Adam Neumann, who ended up with a $1.7 billion golden parachute. Through various interviews with reporters, customers, and employees, the documentary tries to characterize the man. But my favorite characterization comes from Neumann himself. A montage of clips from public interviews shows Neumann repeatedly telling the same story about what his wife Rebekah once told him: “You have a lot of potential, but you’re full of shit.”

Danielle Abril
@DanielleDigest
danielle.abril@fortune.com

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A.I. is becoming a mainstay in how employers attract applicants and select talent. According to Brookings, 55 percent of U.S. human resource leaders use some kind of predictive algorithms. On today’s Brainstorm podcast, hosts Michal Lev-Ram and Brian O’Keefe examine how A.I. can improve hiring, as well as where it falls dangerously short of its promises. Listen to the podcast here. 

NEWSWORTHY

Bidding for the buzzy new club? Twitter reportedly discussed buying the buzzy audio app Clubhouse for about $4 billion before the potential deal stalled, according to Bloomberg. The discussion led Clubhouse instead to consider raising another round of funding. Twitter has been interested in the social audio space, debuting a test of its own service called Spaces last year. This month, Twitter began expanding the number of users who could host their own chatroom. Still, unlike Clubhouse, Spaces seemingly hasn't yet attracted the likes of Elon Musk or Bill Gates.

Paying the Pinners. Pinterest has debuted a new fund aimed at paying influencers to create content for the service. The Creator Fund is expected to allot $500,000 worth of cash and “educational support” to U.S. content creators. The first cohort reportedly comprises eight creators from underrepresented communities. The company, which is the latest social media company to pay for influencers, said 50% of the Pinners who receive money from the Creator Fund will come from underrepresented groups.

Uber and Lyft drivers wanted … fast. Uber and Lyft are offering new driver incentives to try to combat a shortage of drivers on their services. As cities continue to lift pandemic restrictions, ride-hailing customers are returning to the service faster than drivers causing delays in the services. In response, Uber announced that it would spend $250 million on new incentives for U.S. drivers. Lyft is hoping new bonuses of up to $800 will motivate its drivers to bring former drivers back online. It’s also covering the cost of rental cars for drivers and increasing pay for longer rides.

The Geek Squad is ready to give you unlimited help, but it’ll cost you. Best Buy is testing a new paid membership that will include perks like unlimited tech support, free shipping, exclusive sales, and an extended window for returns. The membership, called Best Buy Beta, will cost $200 a year or $180 with a Best Buy credit card. For reference, Amazon Prime costs $119 a year, $81 less than Best Buy Beta, and includes free shipping, free grocery delivery, streaming music, and Prime Video. Best Buy said it will initially test the membership in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok have popular filters that allow users to enhance their selfies with augmented-reality features like dog ears or flower crowns. But several filters also alter peoples’ images, smoothing out uneven skin, hiding scars, or even enlarging their eyes. And as young girls use the filters, their sense of beauty and the way they view themselves may be warping, according to a story by the MIT Technology Review.

Tate Ryan-Mosley writes that there’s little research to explain how augmented-reality filters are affecting young users. But Claire Pescott, a University at South Wales researcher, suggests the altered images may be impacting girls much more negatively than boys based on feedback she received from focus groups she hosted on the matter.

“All of the boys said, ‘These are really fun. I like to put on these funny ears, I like to share them with my friends and we have a laugh,’” she says. Young girls, however, see AR filters primarily as a tool for beautification: “[The girls] were all saying things like, ‘I put this filter on because I have flawless skin. It takes away my scars and spots.’ And these were children of 10 and 11.”

“I don’t think it’s just filtering your actual image,” she says. “It’s filtering your whole life.”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Everything to know about Facebook’s huge data leak By Jonathan Vanian

T-Mobile is giving away unlimited 5G data to all customers By Aaron Pressman

With pandemic’s end in sight, Google searches for resorts and hotels are highest in nearly a decade By Danielle Abril

Tech stocks could soar another 30% this year, says one analyst By Anne Sraders

Twitch may now ban users for ‘severe misconduct’ that takes place off its service By Danielle Abril

Sweden pushes ahead with a digital currency rollout—just don’t call it a ‘crypto asset’ By Sophie Mellor

Excitement over the ‘Coinbase effect’ is spilling over ahead of its stock market debut By Robert Hackett and David Z. Morris

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)

BEFORE YOU GO

Last week, fans of the Netflix series Bridgerton were rocked by the news that breakout star Regé-Jean Page would not return to the show for season two. But new details paint a picture of how this all went down.

Reports initially suggested that the Duke of Hastings only signed on to one season of the record-breaking show—therefore Page’s exit from the show should come as no surprise. But according to The Hollywood Reporter, the show actually hoped to bring Page back for three to five episodes in the new season, paying him $50,000 a pop. Page declined the offer. Why? Page’s film career has taken off, and he wants to focus on his new projects in which he’s working alongside the likes of Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, Ryan Gosling, and Chris Evans.

 Alas, I shed one last tear for the Duke of Hastings.