At a WeWork executive offsite meeting last year, Adam Neumann tried to fire up his lieutenants by invoking the company’s largest benefactor, SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son. Neumann pointed to Son’s audacious goal for WeWork: a $1 trillion valuation. WeWork could get there, Neumann said, by thinking bigger.
The eye-popping target was typical for both Neumann and Son, who shared a belief in raising the stakes and zealous salesmanship. Their symbiotic relationship helped fuel WeWork’s meteoric growth into one of the world’s most richly valued startups. But Son’s own fervor also fed some of Neumann’s worst impulses, including a rush to open new co-working locations without regard to the company’s bottom line. SoftBank also funded areas that distracted the company from its core business, such as expansion in China.