Adam Neumann no longer helms WeWork, the company he co-founded and ran until his high-profile ouster in 2019. But he isn’t done with startups. Neumann has invested in 49 companies to date through his family fund, which employs more than 50 people, according to an interview with the Financial Times. He says his experience running WeWork helps him navigate his new role as venture capitalist.
Neumann is following a well-worn path: Founders often become angel investors or VCs because they have the cash, connections, and cachet that startups need. Neumann, who received a $445 million exit package in cash and WeWork stock, certainly brings the first two. And he’s hardly the first controversial ex-CEO to turn to investing—Travis Kalanick announced a new fund less than a year after he was forced out of his job as CEO of Uber.
Neumann resigned as WeWork CEO following a failed attempt to take the company public and amid concerns of self-dealing. He recently became eligible to return to WeWork’s board after a year’s hiatus, according to Bloomberg. He currently owns about 10% of the company he co-founded.
In the Financial Times interview, Neumann is reflective though not contrite. And he says he’s trying to keep other founders from making some of the mistakes that he did:
On a video call about a year ago, he says, he was advising a founder to take a new strategic direction, but the entrepreneur wouldn’t hear it. The call got heated, “and suddenly . . . I see myself and I slow down, I breathe. And I say to the entrepreneur, ‘Thank you’. Because now I see how it feels to be on the investor side. And I say to him, ‘You know what? I think many times I made the right decisions, but there were times where I could have listened better. And the reason I’m giving you this advice is because I think it’s best for you . . . not because of any personal need for myself. So if you could take a second and hear what I’m saying and learn from my lesson. I should have listened more; this is an opportunity for you to listen.’”
Some of the founders taking Neumann’s money no doubt hope he will opt for a hands-off approach. But as he gets to see things from the other side of the table, perhaps his perspective on founder oversight will change, too. Entrepreneurs don’t like to hear it, but the job of an investor is not just to advise the founder but occasionally to restrain them. The biggest problem at WeWork was arguably that the board did too little on this front. The question for Neumann as he focuses on investing is whether he’s truly learned from their mistake.