Adam Neumann is back.
The founder of WeWork, whose spectacular rise and fall has been chronicled in books, documentaries and a TV series script, has a new venture — and a surprising backer.
Mr. Neumann has launched a new company called Flow focused on the residential real estate market, the DealBook newsletter reports. Notably, it has the financial backing of Andreessen Horowitz, the famous Silicon Valley venture capital firm that was an early investor in everything from Facebook to Airbnb.
Andreessen Horowitz is considered royalty among early-stage investors, so its backing is a powerful sign of support and perhaps a rebuke to Mr. Neumann’s critics, who have described his leadership of WeWork as a cautionary tale of corporate hubris.
The firm’s investment in Flow is about $350 million, according to three people briefed on the deal, valuing the company at more than $1 billion before it even opens its doors. The investment is the largest individual check Andreessen Horowitz has ever written in a company financing round.
Flow is expected to launch in 2023, and the venture capital giant’s co-founder Marc Andreessen will join its board, these people said. Mr. Neumann plans to make a significant personal investment in the company in the form of cash and real estate.
“Often underestimated is the fact that only one person has fundamentally redesigned the office experience and led a paradigm-shifting global company in the process: Adam Neumann,” Mr. Andreessen wrote in a note posted on his firm’s website on Monday, explaining his rationale for investing in the company.
At its height, WeWork was valued at around $47 billion.After a failed IPO and talk of mismanagement, it collapsed spectacularly. Mr. Neumann was fired from WeWork in 2019, but walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars. Today, WeWork has a market value of about $4 billion.
Mr. Andreessen wrote that “we like to see repeat founders build on past successes by growing from lessons learned.” For Mr. Neumann, he added, “the successes and the lessons are many.”
Mr. Neumann, who has purchased more than 3,000 residential units in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta and Nashville, aims to redefine the rental market by creating a branded product with consistent service and community characteristics. Flow will manage the properties purchased by Mr. Neumann and will also offer its services to new projects and other third parties. The exact details of the business plan could not be learned. (Flow is unrelated to crypto company Flowcarbon, which was also co-founded by Mr. Neumann and raised $70 million in May in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz.)
Mr. Neumann’s business appears to follow a very different model than WeWork, which involves renting office space on a long-term basis and then re-renting it to clients at higher rates for shorter terms. That created its own risks if WeWork couldn’t find tenants.
In Flow’s case, the business is actually a service that landlords can team up with for their properties, somewhat similar to how a hotel owner might contract with a branded hotel chain to manage the property.
The investment case for Flow appears to reflect economic and social trends that are driving more people to rent rather than buy at a time when housing is in short supply. One-third of Americans rent their homes, and more than half of Americans living in urban settings are renters.
Mr. Neumann made a brief foray into the residential real estate market during his time at WeWork. The company created a division called WeLive that offered short-term rentals and experiences. The business was derided as a social experiment that floundered and quickly shut down, one of the few divisions — like WeGrow and Rise by We — that took WeWork away from its core focus. Mr. Neumann said the company had expanded into too many areas too quickly.
The investment in Flow, while large by venture capital standards, is still far less than the $9 billion that Masayoshi Son, the founder of SoftBank, invested in WeWork with Mr. Neumann’s mandate to grow the company as quickly as possible . When WeWork nearly collapsed, Mr. Son invested another $9 billion in the company to shore up its finances, leading to Mr. Neumann’s ouster.
Mr. Andreessen said in the note that he was particularly interested in Flow because he believed that real estate rentals were ripe for disruption, especially now that more people are working from home and “will experience much less, if any, office work social connections and friendships enjoyed by local workers.’
He also hinted that the company could be trying to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing tenants: “You can pay rent for decades and still have zero equity – nothing.” He added: “In a world where limited access to home ownership continues to be a driving force behind inequality and anxiety, giving tenants a sense of security, community and genuine ownership have a transformative power for our society.”
It’s unclear whether Flow will offer a rental program or some other mechanism for tenants to build equity. Mr. Andreessen and other tech moguls recently opposed a plan for multifamily homes near their properties in the town of Atherton, California.
Mr. Neumann declined to comment. In an interview at the DealBook Summit last year, he said of his rise and fall at WeWork that “I had a lot of time to think and there were a lot of lessons and a lot of regrets.”