Was WeWork’s Business a Copy/Paste Job?
Cheni Yerushalmi of Sunshine Suites says Adam Neumann copied his business. Here’s what their story says about the gap between ideas — and execution.
Over the last decade, as Adam Neumann built the co-working startup WeWork into a global office space juggernaut — and, for one heady interval, the most valuable venture-backed entity on the planet — the wispy, longhaired co-founder and CEO has cited a number of inspirations for the company’s enlightened approach to commercial real estate.
In one interview, he credited the idea to the sense of community he experienced at the Kabbalah Centre, a spiritual self-help organization based on Jewish mysticism that has counted celebrities like Madonna and Ashton Kutcher among its devotees. “I wanted to translate that into business,” he told the reporter.
To Charlie Rose, he said he’d been inspired by his upbringing on an Israeli kibbutz, adding that he’d refined the idea years later by making a point of speaking to everyone he met in the elevator in his Manhattan apartment building. “Within a month, the whole energy of the building changed,” he said. “Everyone wanted to be part of it.”
And in an interview with the Young Entrepreneur Council, he said he’d come up with the idea for his WeWork precursor, Green Desk, during conversations with his then-landlord in Dumbo. “If we could create an environment where entrepreneurs and small businesses could come and have a space, share services, and maybe help each other to be more successful,” he said he told the building owner, “that would be a great product.”
When the interviewer asked what had made him think he could do better than the other co-working spaces he’d seen, Neumann replied, “You know, the true story behind this is that we never saw other co-working spaces.”
When Marker sent the clip to Cheni Yerushalmi, the founder of Sunshine Suites and one of the entrepreneurs who pioneered modern co-working way back in 2001, who met Neumann before Green Desk launched, and who says he offered Neumann advice along the way, his response was prompt and succinct.