When the CEO of a company valued at $16B speaks with the passion of a college-aged aspiring entrepreneur, it’s a rare thing to witness -- and it makes people listen. WeWork’s energy, soul and vibe are what has made it such a unique business concept, and when you hear Founder and CEO Adam Neumann talk about it, you can see why. That was what my colleague Hyeri and I got to experience at Fast Company’s recent “Inside the Issue” cocktails and conversation event, moderated by deputy editor David Lidsky and reporter Sarah Kessler.
As WeWork members ourselves (shout out to Cutline NYC!), we were excited to hear what Adam had to say about his highly buzzed-about coworking business that we get to experience day in and day out at WeWork Bryant Park. Earlier this month we got an in-depth look at the history and growth of WeWork from Sarah’s feature read in Fast Company; Adam touched on some of this during the event, and highlighted insightful learnings that had the packed audience’s full attention from start to finish.
Source: Hyeri Kim
Don't kill people’s dreams. When Adam first presented the concept of WeWork during his time at Baruch College -- what he called “concept living” -- he didn’t even make it to round two of a business plan competition. When he spoke about it to the dean, he was told, “There’s no 23-year-old, or any inexperienced real estate person, who will ever be able to raise enough money to do anything like ‘concept living.’" Adam stated: “You never know what someone is capable of.”
Ask people for advice -- don’t tell them. If you’re trying to grow your business, e.g. to gain a new client or expand to a new location, you have to adapt your model to theirs, because it’s their expertise that will allow yours to flourish. “Let the world, let your customers give you feedback. Listen to the sounds of the environment coming back to you,” Adam said. He spoke about their current expansion to India, and why it was important to ask what the people there are in need of, instead of the other way around; in this case, it’s helping to counter the country’s poverty, which is why WeWork is hiring all local employees. Part of Adam’s mission is to figure out how WeWork can help others. He noted, “Everyone wants to be part of something greater than themselves.”
“CEOs need to be agents of change.” When speaking to WeWork’s many acquisitions over the last few years, Adam emphasized how important it is to feel a sense of community on all ends. Do you like their moral standards? Will their company raise your own culture? If you say yes to these, that’s about half the battle.
Ask, “why?” Adam said, “Millennials will give up so much to be where things are happening.” There’s a shift happening in consumption, especially with millennials who are emotionally tied to products and experiences. So if you’re running a business, you have to ask yourself, “Why are you making his product or offering this service?” If the goal is to make money, that’s not enough.