As WeWork implodes, a hippie school for the hyper-rich run by one of the company’s co-founders shows signs of an uncertain future as well.
WeGrow, the brainchild of Rebekah Paltrow Neumann, is a WeWork spinoff that aims to educate the children of New York’s well-heeled and woo-woo. The private school enrolls kids ages 2 through 11, charging from $26,000 up to $48,000—a pricetag on par with the annual tuition at an elite university.
One of the three WeWork co-founders, Neumann is a woman who wears many hats. Beyond being the wife of WeWork’s much-maligned ex-CEO Adam Neumann, she is—or was—co-founder and “chief brand and impact officer” at WeWork’s parent company. Neumann left the company this week amidst her husband’s investor-mounted corporate ouster, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Adam Neumann faced scrutiny over a number of eyebrow-raising moves, including leasing properties he owned to the company for millions and cashing out a conspicuous $700 million in advance of the company’s now ill-fated IPO.
WeWork, valued at $47 billion earlier this year, could now be worth as little as $10 billion—a remarkably swift fall from grace for a company that was on top of the world.
Neumann is also the first-cousin of Goop empress Gwyneth Paltrow, who personally interviewed Neumann in a video Q&A for Goop, promoting WeGrow as an educational refuge for “families that are in an open state of being.”
Depending on how the cards fall, that open state of being could have a limited tenure.
WeGrow’s parent company is reportedly mulling laying off a third of the company’s workforce or shuttering WeWork’s side businesses to cut costs. WeWork, which picked up around 20 companies since 2016, is already reportedly putting three recent acquisitions up for sale.
With its yogic founder and CEO out, either option could leave WeGrow in the crosshairs as the company tightens its belt ahead of a now-delayed public offering. A spokesperson for the Neumanns declined to comment.
WeGrow’s chaos hasn’t gone unnoticed in New York’s hypercompetitive schooling environment, which grooms kids for success from a tender age.
“I wouldn’t recommend a school like this because I’m not sure it’ll be open next year,” said Amanda Uhry, founder and CEO of Manhattan Private School Advisors, which consults with New York parents on where to send their children to school. “None of our clients are applying now. They don’t know if the school will be open tomorrow.”
“Be wary of sending your kid to a school run by a company that’s in financial trouble. Did Lehman Brothers ever have a school? Enron?” Uhry asked.
New schools rarely stay open long in New York City, according to Uhry. It’s hard to compete with the likes of Fieldston, Dalton, Collegiate, and other private schools that have operated for a century or more. According to Uhry, kids are the “collateral” when a for-profit school fails to create a sustainable business.
She’s not alone in expressing concerns over WeGrow.
“I wouldn’t recommend a family go to unproven schools unless they are committed to the educational vision, a few of the founding teachers, and at least eight families willing to stay as a cohort so they’re sure it’s sustainable. The bar is high,” said Sharon Thompson, CEO of the school consultancy Dream Workshop, which helps parents steer their children through New York’s “education maze.”
Max Mets, a partner at New York Private School Consultants, added that his company would not recommend families send their children to WeGrow, noting that the school’s track record is far from proven.
“We recommend they apply to places with a demonstrated history of placement at top New York schools,” Mets said. “WeGrow doesn’t have that.”
A COSMIC EDUCATION
WeWork’s high-minded experiment in private schooling is nestled next to the company’s Manhattan headquarters in Chelsea. On its website, the company shows off its designer space, a mix of smooth “super-elliptic” wooden play pods, “acoustic clouds” (large, mitochondrial lighting fixtures), and other zen-like modern touches, but the school appears to be in disarray.
The school welcomed its first class in 2018, though it’s unclear how many students are currently enrolled. The part of the website dedicated to conveying information to parents was full of placeholder text and blank images Wednesday afternoon. No one answered WeGrow’s front-desk line Wednesday, and the company’s voicemail was full.
WeGrow’s curriculum is Montessori mixed with New Age: a yoga routine called WePractice; “mentorship” by WeWork employees and members; music circles; vegetarian meals; farming (at an estate the Neumanns own), and “six pillars of growth”—mind, body, soul, conscious creators, arts, nature. One description of classes declares, “This is a cosmic education!”
Prior to opening its doors last year, WeWork picked up a startup called MissionU that billed itself as a one-year alternative to a traditional college education. Under the terms of the deal, MissionU founder Adam Braun joined WeGrow as the company’s chief operating officer. Braun is still listed as WeGrow COO on the company’s website, though WeGrow’s plan for leadership post-Neumann remains unclear.
Beyond WeGrow, the We Company owns other We-branded side businesses: a gym named Rise by We, and a dormitory-style housing unit dubbed WeLive. The company has previously made similar multimillion-dollar investments on the whims of its CEO, including a wave-pool maker and a food company owned by a surfer Adam Neumann met on vacation.
Trainers for Rise by We did not respond to requests for comment, and a WeWork spokesperson declined to comment on the fate of any of the company’s ventures.
For Uhry, WeGrow’s fate is far from certain.
“Do I think WeGrow’s going to last? No. Do I think any of them are, the new 21st-century schools like AltSchool and Avenues will last? No,” Uhry said. “I’ve heard parents love [WeGrow], though. The kids are learning Hebrew! They’re learning to garden! Isn’t that great? It’s only great if the school stays open.”