Movies & TV

Disgraced Startup Founders: These Upcoming Series Retell the Capitalist Horror Stories of the Century

From the downfall of WeWork to the outrageous Theranos scam, here are the Silicon Valley horror shows arriving in 2022. 
IMAGE SHOWTIME, HULU, APPLE TV+
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Startups—they’ve long been considered the epitome of innovation and disruption. Every big name brand started out as a startup, from NASDAQ’s Amazon and Tesla to the Philippines’ own Great Deals and Kumu. Industry titans like budding space billionaire Jeff Bezos and late Steve Jobs have created legacies built on hard work, brilliant business acumen, and technological revolutions. But behind the climb to the top is always a story of struggle and, in the case of tech giants like Facebook, boardroom drama. Facebook was the first startup to get the full Hollywood treatment with Oscar-winning The Social Network unmasking the turmoil that happens behind the scenes. Albeit a dramatized tale of Zuckerberg vs. Saverin vs. the Winklevoss twins, The Social Network bust down the doors of startup storytelling. 

Silicon Valley is home to some of the greatest human success stories, but it’s also a watering hole for the ambitious, shameless, and downright greedy. Not everyone wants to change the world for the sake of the world—there are those who seek glory, and have the guts to see it through. This brings us to the three of the most controversial and shocking stories to come out of the American startup industry: the fall of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, the unmasking of Theranos’ fraud, and the limitless narcissism of WeWork’s founders. 

All three are getting series adaptations in 2022, and we are promised a roller-coaster ride of the boardroom drama. Here’s everything you need to know about Super Pumped, The Dropout, and WeCrashed. 

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Super Pumped

Unlike Theranos and WeWork, Uber survived when its founder and CEO fell. But years later, the downfall of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick is still a cautionary tale for aspiring entrepreneurs. So much so that a Showtime series has been created to cover a dramatized version of Kalanick’s eventual exit from Uber. Based on the nonfiction book Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, the first season of the show will cover the tumultuous early years of Uber and Kalanick’s reign as CEO. In the 2010s, Uber faced issues such as disregarding regulations, price-fixing, poor safety practices, internal corporate prejudice, short-changing of drivers, labor disputes, and—the axe that booted him from his post—sexual harassment allegations and the poor response of management. At Uber, reality is stranger than fiction. 

Super Pumped was created by Brian Koppelmen (Ocean’s Thirteen) and David Levien (Billions). Joseph Gordon-Levitt will be playing Kalanick. The show premieres on February 27 on Showtime. 

The Dropout 

The story of Theranos still boggles the mind four years after its dissolution. Founded in 2003 by the then 19-year-old Elizabeth Holmes, Theranos seemed to be ready to change the world. Holmes claimed that the startup had created literal life-changing technology—miraculous blood tests that only needed drops of blood and a handful of minutes to be processed. It’s still up in the air whether Theranos started out as a fraud or if Holmes really believed in her unproven technology. Regardless of the initial intention, in 2015, investors, journalists, and even patients eventually realized that something was not quite right with Theranos. The medical academe also caught on and noticed the lack of peer-reviewed research from Theranos. It all came crashing down soonn after. By 2018, Theranos had dissolved, and by January 2022, Holmes was sued by the state and found guilty on four counts of fraud. 

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What a mess. 

The Dropout will premiere on March 3 on Hulu with Amanda Seyfried playing Elizabeth Holmes. 

WeCrashed

There is eccentric, and then there is inappropriate—according to public consensus, WeWork co-founder Adam Neumann fell under the latter. In the early 2010s when startups were attracting hype, Neumann co-founded a co-working space called WeWork that, by all accounts, was doing quite well in its early years. It was in 2018 that Neumann’s eccentricity took a new turn. A report from the Wall Street Journal exposed the former CEO’s penchant for smoking weed on chartered planes, and in the same year, WeWork was slapped with a lawsuit from a former employee who accused Neumann of pressuring her to drink tequila shots during her job interview. Then, in 2019, as WeWork was preparing to file for an initial public offering, financial analysts and journalists poured over WeWork’s public paperwork and discovered shocking revelations about the startup’s dismal financial performance and near impossible outlook for profitability. 

The company’s audacity and Neumann’s narcissism will be the focus of an upcoming Apple TV+ series aptly named WeCrashed, to be released on March 18. Jared Leto will be starring as Neumann with Anne Hathaway playing his wife, Rebekah Neumann. 

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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