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a16z says “WeBack” to WeWork’s Neumann with its biggest check ever

Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) seems determined to keep the capital flowing to controversial WeWork founder Adam Neumann. The storied venture firm wrote its largest individual check ever, at $350 million, to Flow, Neumann's new residential real estate company focused on rentals, the New York Times reported today.

The funding round values Flow at over $1 billion, making it a unicorn before it even commences operations, which it plans to do in 2023, according to the Times. The startup is set to operate over 3,000 apartment units Neumann has purchased in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta and Nashville as part of its vision to bring community-oriented features to the rental market, the Times added.

In a blog post on a16z's website today, Marc Andreessen described Neumann as a “visionary leader” and credits him with “revolutionizing” real estate. Andreessen's post did not address any of the financial terms of the investment.

The investment marks a16z's second show of support for a Neumann-founded company this year: in May, the firm put $70 million into the entrepreneur's blockchain-based carbon credit platform, Flowcarbon, which appears to have no relation to Flow besides its shared co-founder. Curiously, Andreessen's blog post today calls Flow Neumann's “first venture since WeWork,” although he is listed as a cofounder of Flowcarbon in a16z's earlier post about that investment.

“We understand how difficult it is to build something like this and we love seeing repeat-founders build on past successes by growing from lessons learned,” Andreessen wrote in today's blog post, implicitly referring to Neumann's time at WeWork.

WeWork's attempt at an IPO under Neumann (remember community-adjusted EBITDA?) was so calamitous that its Silicon Valley and Wall Street investors ended up paying Neumann an enormous exit package, worth ~$1 billion, just to leave the company.

Neumann managed to get that handsome payout despite that under his reign, the company tanked in value from ~$47 billion to ~$8 billion and gained a reputation for mismanagement and poor treatment of employees.

Throughout Neumann's tenure, missteps abounded. He famously trademarked the word “We” and sold it back to his own company for nearly $6 million, though he ended up returning the money to the company after this arrangement was revealed during the company's IPO attempt and subsequently lambasted by investors and the public.

After Neumann burned investors' cash on copious amounts of booze for the office, a school for his wife's vanity project, and a wave pool, it's somewhat surprising to see Silicon Valley coming back for seconds. a16z's deal with Flowcarbon may well have been negotiated before the rout in the equity markets but its deal with Flow announced today likely was not, meaning today's deal is an even bigger sign of the investor's confidence in Neumann's leadership amid broadly difficult market conditions.

To be sure, WeWork's approach to co-working spaces was prescient in a pre-pandemic world, regardless of the company's other controversies. As remote work rises in popularity, there may well be a tremendous opportunity in building community among renters — an idea Neumann has been keen to pursue for years. He took a pass at this concept before with WeLive, a set of residential communities he planned to build under the WeWork brand that fizzled out after opening just two locations.

In his blog post today, Andreessen mused at length about how Flow is poised to solve the nation's housing crisis, writing that “limited access to home ownership continues to be a driving force behind inequality and anxiety,” though details in the post about exactly how Flow will set out to achieve this were scant.

Today's investment in Flow comes just after reports surfaced that Andreessen fought against a proposal to build new affordable housing units in his ultra-wealthy hometown of Atherton, CA.

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