Logo

    HIBT Lab! WeWork: Miguel McKelvey

    enApril 21, 2022

    About this Episode

    When Miguel McKelvey was first featured on How I Built This in 2017, his company was growing at an astounding rate. WeWork was considered the unicorn of unicorns. But after reaching a $47 billion valuation in 2019, WeWork’s tide began to turn. Investors raised concerns about the company’s rapid expansion and unsustainable spending. Miguel’s co-founder Adam Neuman faced accusations of mismanagement and was forced to resign. The company withdrew a long-anticipated IPO filing, and not long after, Miguel left the company he had worked so hard to build.


    Since then, the cautionary tale of WeWork has become a bit of a cultural obsession, retold on podcasts, a Hulu documentary, and even an Apple TV series this year. 


    This week on How I Built This Lab, Miguel McKelvey returns to reflect on his experience at WeWork, the lessons he’s learned, and what he’s working on now. 


    Listen to Miguel’s original How I Built This episode: https://wondery.com/shows/how-i-built-this/episode/10386-wework-miguel-mckelvey/ 

    Listen to the WeCrashed podcast from Wondery: https://wondery.com/shows/we-crashed/

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • The Delta Sky Miles Platinum Business Amex Card prioritizes travel experiences, Amica focuses on personalized insurance, opportunities in tech innovation offer fulfilling careers, and WeWork teaches resilience in entrepreneurship.
    • External funding can lead a company to expand rapidly, potentially causing distractions and difficulties in integrating new acquisitions.
    • Underestimating financial limitations and overestimating ability to secure continuous capital can lead to a company's downfall. Sustainable growth and strong company culture are essential for long-term success.
    • The public's perception of a company's financial instability and leadership can significantly impact its success, even if some criticism is unfair.
    • Despite differences in leadership styles, effective partnerships can lead to extraordinary work cultures and successful companies
    • Successful partnerships require self-awareness and understanding of individual needs, while technology can aid in personal health management and clear communication in the workplace.
    • Co-founder Miguel McElvey discusses WeWork's pandemic struggles, downsizing, and mission to support small businesses, while sharing his personal coping methods during difficult times.
    • The speaker found renewed inspiration in seeing her experiences and creations depicted on screen, despite initial reservations, and is now exploring new projects to help historically excluded entrepreneurs.
    • Supporting entrepreneurs in their journey, even in ordinary business ideas, can lead to positive outcomes. Integrating and moving towards restorative justice can foster personal growth and a more compassionate society.
    • Viator offers 300,000 travel experiences, free cancellation, and 24-7 customer support for worry-free travel. Listen to 'Life is Short with Justin Long' for thoughtful conversations on life and meaning.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    Balancing work and leisure for productivity and well-being

    Having a balance between work and leisure, even during business travels, can significantly enhance productivity and overall well-being. This concept is exemplified by the Delta Sky Miles Platinum Business American Express Card, which prioritizes travel experiences alongside business commitments. Additionally, companies like Amica aim to make insurance more personal and empathetic, ensuring their customers feel valued and understood. Furthermore, opportunities to contribute to groundbreaking technology and innovation, such as those offered by the National Security Agency, can lead to rewarding and fulfilling careers. Lastly, the story of WeWork serves as a reminder of the importance of resilience and adaptability in entrepreneurship, even in the face of challenges and setbacks.

    The impact of external funding on a company's focus

    The injection of large amounts of external funding can lead a company to shift its focus away from profitability and towards rapid expansion, potentially resulting in distractions and difficulties in integrating new acquisitions. During the interview, the guest spoke about their experience with WeWork, where a $4 billion investment from SoftBank in 2017 opened up new ways of thinking about building the company. This shift towards capturing as much market share as possible led to an expansion beyond co-working spaces, with the addition of housing communities, schools, and technology acquisitions. While some of these experiments held potential, others, such as the technology acquisitions, proved to be more challenging to integrate and may have served as distractions. The guest expressed that they believed in the potential of these diversifications, but the execution proved to be more complex than anticipated.

    WeWork's downfall was due to an overestimation of its ability to secure continuous capital for growth.

    While WeWork's expansion was successful in terms of execution, the company's downfall was due to an overestimation of its ability to secure continuous capital for growth. This is a crucial distinction, as the two are different aspects of business operations. Successful companies, like Atlassian, understand the importance of sustainable growth and the role of technology, such as AI, in enhancing teamwork and productivity. Building a strong company culture is also essential for attracting and retaining top talent. McElvie's experience at WeWork serves as a reminder that while execution is important, securing the necessary capital for growth is equally critical. Companies must be mindful of their financial limitations and plan accordingly to avoid hitting a wall.

    WeWork's Inflated Valuation and Founder's Persona Faced Intense Scrutiny

    The inflated valuation of WeWork before its IPO led to increased skepticism and scrutiny from the public, which was amplified by market shifts and negative media coverage. The co-founder Adam Neumann's charisma played a role in attracting talent and investment, but when the company faced significant losses, his decisions and persona became a subject of intense criticism. Despite the backlash, Neumann's actions were aimed at saving the company, and his departure led the speaker to prioritize supporting the team through the transition process. While some criticism towards Neumann and the speaker was unfair, the public's perception of the company's financial instability and leadership ultimately affected its success.

    The value of a startup goes beyond stock ownership

    The value of a company, particularly a startup, can be more complex than just the numbers reflected in stock ownership. Founders may keep their shares even after leaving the company, leading to a potential disconnect between perceived and actual wealth. Additionally, leadership styles can be subjective and effective in building successful companies, even if they create a cult of personality. The speaker, who was a co-founder of a company led by Adam, acknowledged their differences in personality and how their partnership led to an extraordinary work culture, despite criticisms of Adam's leadership style. Ultimately, building a multi-billion dollar company is a challenging endeavor that requires unique individuals, and evaluating leadership styles should consider the context of the company's success.

    Understanding the Complexities of Business and Personal Relationships

    Personal and professional relationships can be complex and multifaceted. Miguel McElvie, the founder of Cygnos, discussed his relationship with his business partner Adam, whom he considers more of a business partner than a friend. He shared that although they have a successful business partnership, they don't socialize outside of work and he doesn't see himself starting another business with him due to their different growth mindsets. Another key takeaway from the discussion was the importance of understanding one's own needs and growth in relationships. Miguel mentioned that he put himself in a secondary position in their partnership due to insecurities and the desire to learn, but he realized that it wasn't the best fit for his own growth. Furthermore, the conversation touched on the importance of technology in improving personal health. Miguel shared his experience with Cygnos, a company that helps individuals monitor their blood sugar levels and adjust their diet accordingly. This technology has helped Miguel manage his prediabetes and improve his overall health. Lastly, the importance of clear communication in the workplace was emphasized through the mention of Grammarly, an AI writing partner that helps teams communicate effectively and efficiently. By avoiding miscommunications and wasted time, teams can focus on their goals and be more productive.

    WeWork's pandemic challenges and McElvey's personal approach

    The pandemic significantly impacted WeWork, a company known for its social community, causing immense challenges for its team members and business operations. Miguel McElvey, a co-founder of WeWork, shared his experience during the podcast, detailing the painful downsizing process and the company's unique position to support small businesses while facing the need to remain open. McElvey emphasized the difficulty of balancing the world's instructions to shut down with their mission to empower entrepreneurs. He also shared his personal approach to dealing with the events, focusing on self-reflection and therapy rather than participating in external projects or dramatizations of his life.

    Discovering new purpose through on-screen portrayals

    The speaker found a renewed sense of purpose and discovery in seeing her own creations and experiences portrayed on screen, despite initial reservations due to inaccuracies. She has since evolved in her role and is now exploring new projects, including NONE, a financial platform supporting businesses and entrepreneurs of color, where she can utilize her entrepreneurial experience to coach and provide awareness. Additionally, she is building her own company, Nia Studio, to directly help historically excluded entrepreneurs. Through these experiences, she continues to explore her abilities and offerings in the design world.

    Partnering with entrepreneurs and sharing lessons learned

    Partnerships and supporting entrepreneurs through their journey, even in seemingly ordinary business ideas, can lead to positive outcomes for the entrepreneur, team, and local community. Miguel McElvie, co-founder of WeWork, shared his experience of partnering with Fred Jones to open a basketball training facility and the transformative impact it had on Jones' life. McElvie also emphasized the importance of integration and moving towards restorative justice, rather than punishment, in dealing with people's mistakes and shadows. He encouraged sharing lessons learned to help others, and the importance of bringing awareness to one's own shadows rather than othering and punishing them. This essential process of integration can lead to personal growth and a more compassionate society.

    Discover new travel experiences with Viator

    There's a new tool for travelers called Viator, which makes it easier to plan and book travel experiences once you've arrived at your destination. With over 300,000 travel experiences to choose from, Viator offers free cancellation and 24-7 customer support for worry-free travel. If you're curious about the thoughts and experiences of various actors, musicians, authors, and thinkers, consider listening to the podcast "Life is Short with Justin Long." In each episode, Justin explores what makes his guests tick and how they find meaning in life. Whether you're interested in lighter topics like favorite emojis or heavier ones like existential questions, "Life is Short" is a great listen. And if you want to enjoy these podcasts ad-free, consider subscribing to Wondery Plus or using Amazon Music with a Prime membership.

    Recent Episodes from How I Built This with Guy Raz

    CrunchLabs: Mark Rober

    CrunchLabs: Mark Rober

    As one of the most successful creators on YouTube, Mark Rober doesn’t see what he does as a business. Instead, it’s a way to celebrate science in the most joyful way possible. While working as an engineer at NASA, he made his YouTube debut with a tutorial on how to make a gory Halloween costume with two iPads and a lot of duct tape. Over time, his videos became more elaborate, including a belly flop into a pool full of Jello, and a demo of a glitter-fart bomb to get revenge on porch pirates. Within a few years, Mark was teaching online science classes and selling subscription boxes for kids. Today, his YouTube channel has 5.5 billion views, 48 million subscribers…and–astonishingly, given that audience–less than 150 videos.


    This episode was produced by J.C. Howard, with music by Ramtin Arablouei

    Edited by Neva Grant, with research help from Sam Paulson.


    You can follow HIBT on Twitter & Instagram, and email us at hibt@id.wondery.com.

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    AI is smarter than you think with Shane Legg of Google DeepMind

    AI is smarter than you think with Shane Legg of Google DeepMind

    For decades, Shane Legg has anticipated the arrival of “artificial general intelligence” or AGI. 

    In other words: an artificial agent that can do all the kinds of cognitive tasks that people can typically do, and possibly more...

    Now as the Chief AGI Scientist and a co-founder of Google DeepMind, he stands by that prediction and is calling on the world to prepare. 

    This week on How I Built This Lab, Shane’s path to becoming an early AI expert and the work he and his team are doing to prepare for the technological revolution ahead. 


    This episode was produced by Sam Paulson with music composed by Ramtin Arablouei. It was edited by John Isabella with research help from Carla Esteves. Our audio engineer was Cena Loffredo.

    You can follow HIBT on X & Instagram, and email us at hibt@id.wondery.com.

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    Mythical: Rhett and Link

    Mythical: Rhett and Link

    Best friends Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal started out as “comedians for Christ,” and grew their partnership into one of the most successful YouTube platforms in existence. During college they created silly videos and songs for Christian events, and later built a following on YouTube before most people knew what it was. After struggling to find stardom in Hollywood, they continued to build a presence on YouTube: sampling punishingly hot peppers, writing ear-wormy songs about random things, showing off glasses that turned the world upside down. Nowadays, their entertainment company, Mythical, reports over 75 million subscribers and 25 billion lifetime views.

    This episode was produced and researched by Katherine Sypher with music composed by Ramtin Arablouei.

    It was edited by Neva Grant.

    You can follow HIBT on Twitter & Instagram, and email us at hibt@id.wondery.com.

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    Listen Now: Business Movers

    Listen Now: Business Movers

    Behind every successful business is a story. It starts with a vision and a leap of faith. Along the way, leaders make bold decisions, ride booms and busts, and sometimes, they reach new heights. From Wondery, Business Movers brings you the true stories of the brilliant but all-too-human businesspeople who risked it all. From Walt Disney’s creation of a theme park in Orlando, to the colossal failure of New Coke, Business Movers explores the triumphs, failures and ideas that have transformed our lives.

    Follow Business Movers on the Wondery App or wherever you get your podcasts. You can listen to Business Movers early and ad-free right now on Wondery plus. Wondery.fm/IFD_BM

    For more deep dive and daily business content listen on Wondery– the destination for business podcasts. With shows like How I Built This, Business Wars, The Best One Yet, Business Movers and many more, Wondery Means Business.

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    Less competition, more creation with Renée Mauborgne

    Less competition, more creation with Renée Mauborgne

    Best-selling author and economics professor Renée Mauborgne thinks that too many entrepreneurs focus on the wrong things—consumed with making their companies outperform one another as they fight for a greater share of a crowded market space. But what if entrepreneurs focused on creating new markets instead of fighting over old ones?

    This week on How I Built This Lab, Renée shares insights from her Blue Ocean Strategy series to help founders crack open new opportunities. Plus, what is non-disruptive innovation and can it offset job displacement in the age of AI?

    This episode was produced by Kerry Thompson with music by Ramtin Arablouei.

    It was edited by John Isabella with research help from Sam Paulson. Our audio engineer was Neal Rauch.

    You can follow HIBT on X & Instagram, and email us at hibt@id.wondery.com.



    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    Whole30: Melissa Urban

    Whole30: Melissa Urban

    Whole30 began as a dietary experiment: For 30 days, Melissa Urban went without grains, dairy, legumes, alcohol and added sugar. She was trying to address several health problems, and the results were so extraordinary that she decided to share the diet with others. 


    What followed was a blog, a series of seminars, a best-selling book and eventually a wide-ranging wellness brand that’s helped millions of people identify the best diet for their own body. But in 2015, Melissa had to rethink everything—even her own name—when she split up with her husband and business partner, Dallas Hartwig. She retained ownership of the business, and today, the “Whole30 Approved” logo appears on a range of brands, from La Croix water to Chipotle salad bowls. 


    This episode was produced by Chris Maccini with music by Ramtin Arablouei.

    Edited by Neva Grant, with research from Katherine Sypher. Our audio engineers were Patrick Murray, Gilly Moon, and Robert Rodriguez.

    You can follow HIBT on X & Instagram, and email us at hibt@id.wondery.com.

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    “Beaming” people anywhere in the world with David Nussbaum of Proto

    “Beaming” people anywhere in the world with David Nussbaum of Proto

    The popular science fiction idea of beaming someone instantly to another location was part of David Nussbaum’s inspiration to design a “holoportation box.” His company, Proto, invented a device the size of a telephone booth that projects a hologram-type image so realistic it appears someone is standing inside...

    This week on How I Built This Lab, how Proto’s technology is used today to virtually transport professors, doctors, speakers, and celebrities to classrooms, hospitals, and events around the world. But in the future, David believes Proto’s technology will end up in everyone’s living room—and will transform the way we communicate with each other.

    This episode was produced by Casey Herman with music by Ramtin Arablouei.

    It was edited by John Isabella with research help from Sam Paulson. Our audio engineer was Neal Rauch.

    You can follow HIBT on X & Instagram, and email us at hibt@id.wondery.com.

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    MGA Entertainment: Isaac Larian

    MGA Entertainment: Isaac Larian

    Isaac Larian moved from Iran to Los Angeles at age 17 with just a few hundred dollars, and went on to build one of the biggest toy companies in the world. Along the way, he took on Barbie with a wildly successful line of punky dolls called Bratz — a success that touched off an epic legal battle with Mattel. Today, at age 70, Isaac is still the CEO of MGA Entertainment, and says he still has the fighter’s instinct that he learned in the slums of Tehran.


    This episode was produced by Alex Cheng with music composed by Ramtin Arablouei.

    It was edited by Neva Grant with research assistance and fact-checking from Carla Esteves and Zazil Davis-Vazquez.

    Our engineers were Gilly Moon and Robert Rodriguez.


    You can follow HIBT on Twitter & Instagram, and email us at hibt@id.wondery.com.

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    Achieving greater things with Adam Grant

    Achieving greater things with Adam Grant

    “Growth is not about the genius you possess—it’s about the character you develop.” 

    That’s what organizational psychologist and podcast host Adam Grant believes, and he offers a new framework on how we can elevate ourselves and others in his latest book, Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things.

    This week on How I Built This Lab, insights on what great entrepreneurs have in common and the steps anyone can take to develop these skills. Plus, redesigning workplace systems to foster greater collaboration, and cultivating untapped potential in the generations to come. 


    This episode was researched and produced by Carla Esteves, with music by Ramtin Arablouei.

    It was edited by John Isabella. Our audio engineer was Neal Rauch.

    You can follow HIBT on X & Instagram, and email us at hibt@id.wondery.com.

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.

    Weee!: Larry Liu

    Weee!: Larry Liu

    If you told 19-year-old Larry Liu that his hobby re-selling used electronics “for fun” would someday help him build a multi-billion-dollar company, he probably would have laughed. He was an electrical engineering student in Shanghai at the time. His goals were to land a corporate job and go to grad school in the U.S. He did both, starting with a job at Intel. But his passion for e-commerce stayed with him through his MBA and other corporate jobs. And when he moved to Northern California, Larry noticed other Chinese immigrants using WeChat to source what they needed locally - even organizing in groups to buy familiar foods and products. Larry immediately saw this as a business opportunity. And in under ten years, after facing down bankruptcy and re-orienting his business, Larry grew his e-commerce platform Weee! into a company now valued at over $4 billion.

    This episode was produced by Kerry Thompson with music composed by Ramtin Arablouei.

    It was edited by Andrea Bruce with research help from Katherine Sypher.

    Our engineers were Gilly Moon and Josh Newell.

    You can follow HIBT on Twitter & Instagram, and email us at hibt@id.wondery.com.

    See Privacy Policy at https://art19.com/privacy and California Privacy Notice at https://art19.com/privacy#do-not-sell-my-info.