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When Reality Becomes Fiction

Scott Galloway@profgalloway

Published on October 25, 2019

4-min read

I can’t wrap my head around what happened at WeWork. It simply makes no sense. There has to be more to the story. Below is one (conspiracy) theory about the story of We. I have no evidence this happened, but also no evidence it didn’t. Regardless, it would make for an awesome Season 8 of Homeland. 

Homeland, Season 8

A Japanese industrialist (Masa Moon) develops a friendship with an economist (Heather) helping his firm (HardBank) identify geographies and sectors ripe for investment. They develop a friendship over their shared interest in Ming Dynasty paintings inspired by the Southern Song painting academy. 

Two years into their partnership, she informs him she works within a division of the CIA tasked with corporate espionage centered on nations that pose a threat to Western democracies. She asks Mr. Moon if he’d provide cover for agents under the auspices of working for his portfolio firms. He refuses, and is visibly shaken that their friendship may have been a sham, and that he was being “groomed.” 

Seven months later, his texts and emails to Heather go unanswered. He emails that he hopes they can maintain their friendship and sends several high-res images of paintings from the Zhejiang School, commenting on the technical virtuosity of the ink-wash style. No response.

Five weeks later he is in DC for a conference on sustainable investing. After his speech, a man approaches him backstage. He sports a Tommy Bahama shirt, Washington Nationals hat, and a large beer belly. 

“Mr. Moon, my name is Alex Rassey. I work at the CIA.” Gazing down at his shirt, he smiles. “Spies never look like spies. I worked with Heather. She was on assignment in Riyadh, where we believe she was abducted and killed. We have little information about the circumstances of her disappearance. A period of time has lapsed since last contact and, per agency guidelines, we are having a ceremony for her. I can take you to the ceremony if you’d like.” 

Numb, Mr. Moon travels with the agent in a nondescript Chevy Cruze to the event. There is a table with pictures and mementos of Heather’s life. Among them is a framed textile of a Qing Dynasty painting. Mr. Moon is overcome with emotion at the prospect that his and Heather’s relationship was, at least partially, real. On the way to the airport, Mr. Moon tells the agent he’d like to honor his friend and support her operation. Over the following months, CIA analysts develop a plan. They brief Mr. Moon. 

The Plan: Project Unicorn

The unicorn economy involves a collision of hubris, capital, and market dynamics that presents an opportunity to wreak havoc among the royal family in Saudi Arabia. This would allow a transfer of massive wealth from the kingdom to Western democracies.

Mr. Moon takes an active role in the refinement of the strategy. HardBank will raise a large fund with investments from the kingdom to funnel into cash-hungry firms in democratic nations, exploiting an unprecedented dynamic — a firm can now become one of the most valuable companies in the world without ever achieving meaningful profitability. The fund will identify dozens of unicorns that could incinerate tens, maybe hundreds, of billions of capital, as top-line growth and charismatic CEOs have replaced profits as the proxy for value creation. 

Over the next 24 months, the fund raises and deploys $50+ billion into firms that, among other things, purchase real estate sight unseen, acquire thousands of budget hotels globally (under the discerning eye of a 25-year-old CEO), transport people from point A to point B for $10 at a cost of $15, and find people to walk their dog. 

The CIA’s cyber-ops group supports the hype around the value-incinerating unicorns with thousands of online bots. They pour fuel on media content supportive of the unicorns’ valuations, while discrediting journalists and academics who question their irrational value. Millennial employees across the nation start to believe that their creativity, plus several months of effort, is commensurate with the value traditional firms took generations to build. 

Two years into the operation, Mr. Moon meets with the agents running the effort. The agents worry that a recent implosion in value of one of the investments is so dramatic, it threatens the operation. The firm’s S-1 has revealed an upcoming incineration of capital no rational investment firm would tolerate. Agents suggest it’s best to let the firm go under, and that this is likely the end of the operation, as the incinerator strategy has become obvious.

Mr. Moon responds that the agents are not thinking big enough — and have underestimated the consensual hallucination between capital and founders. Mr. Moon suggests doubling down and incinerating more capital under cloud cover of rescuing the firm. 

The bailout includes a multibillion-dollar buyback of worthless shares, a $1.7 billion ransom paid to the founder (who is holding controlling shares hostage, a trap Mr. Moon had set so the fund would vaporize billions), and several billion more to fund a quixotic turnaround plan. The CIA agrees and supports the double-down by nudging contacts at US financial institutions to submit nonbinding debt packages buttressing the notion that there’s value to be harvested.

24 Months Later

Mr. Moon attends another confidential ceremony in DC, where he receives the highest honor that can be bestowed on a non–US citizen. Over $90 billion has been transferred from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to Western democracies, and the royal family is rife with dissent, agita, and finger-pointing. The $90 billion transfer is equivalent to four years of oil import revenue from Saudi Arabia to the US. 

On the plane back to Tokyo, Mr. Moon has a copy of The Nikkei and a Financial Times. He pushes both aside for a Ghurka Moleskine notebook. In the notebook are color prints of Ming Dynasty paintings. The notebook was a gift from Heather. The inscription reads: “Mr. Moon, I appreciate your support. Heather.”

On landing back in Tokyo, Mr. Moon is greeted by more operatives, who tell him he is needed for another project. He refuses. The agents urge him to participate, as Project Unicorn appears to have created a contagion. The hope was that the destruction in value would be ring-fenced to private-market unicorns. But the tumult in the private markets appears to be leaking to the public markets and non-tech sectors. The agents worry a crash in values could further erode confidence in the system, weaken the economy, and possibly threaten democracy. Mr. Moon, somber, sits down at a nearby desk, pulls out the Moleskine notebook, and begins flipping through the paintings. 


Life is so rich,

P.S. I’m starting a new project, not quite as crazy as this. Sign up at, and we’ll see — maybe it will be as crazy as this.



  1. DanH says:

    I’ve been shaving with Occam’s Razor, so I’ll go with this.

  2. c1ue says:

    I still see WeWork as a cascaded scam. First scam: WeWork takes millions from NY building owners in order to dramatically reduce vacancy rates, which in turn makes said buildings worth $100s of millions more. Well worth the original $5M to $10M to WeWork. This dramatic fundraising potential attracts Son-san. A vehicle to absorb enormous investment – Abu Dhabi and Saudi wealth funds are the target. $100B is hard to deploy unless you invest it like a drunken sailor. Now – feed in enough cash that Softbank can control the balance sheet hit. The WeWork implosion actually encourages all the other SB portfolio as well as every other startup.

  3. Rui Silva says:

    You are crazy. I like you. 🙂

  4. Matthew Stinar says:

    I think Scott’s correct that we conflate value capture with value creation, but I think he’s mistaken to paint Project Unicorn’s incineration of capital as something unique. You will never hear a kindergarten teacher instructing students on the importance of maximizing selfishness, but you will find professors teaching MBA students this lesson on their way to running the Fortune 500. (This is not the enlightened kind of self interest, but the shortsightedness that sets the neighbor’s house on fire for warmth.) What is unique about Project unicorn is that its deception was detected at all, much less before an IPO. If you examine the publicly traded companies commonly found in retirement accounts—an economic bedrock, if such a thing could be said to exist—you will find that capturing more value than one creates is the norm. Sometimes that excess value which is captured comes out of the customer’s pocket, as in the case of software vendors charging more for licensing than the utilitarian value of their software. Other times that value comes out of the employees’ pockets, as in logistics companies whose employees pee in bottles to meet wildly unreasonable metrics. But my favorite example (because it touches every industry and every person) is real estate, where companies use their monopoly on physical space to extort an order of magnitude more in rent than the utilitarian value of that space, thereby creating an inescapable economic. The excess value is captured from each of us every time we open our wallets because everything has to be somewhere.

  5. Daniel J Wixted says:

    Plausible Deniability is the key. Thanks Scott.

  6. Lenny Pham says:

    I love documentaries!

  7. Kirk Coburn says:

    Thank you for taking the #redpill. I thought maybe the lie was too big to not be true:)

  8. Johny says:

    Thank you for making Fridays better!

  9. ABC says:

    You’re overthinking this one. He’s been listening to the Pivot! And thought, fcuk you Scott. I’m gonna double down on this puppy.

    • Noli SJ says:

      But the double-down will only address the USD1.7B ransom paid to the founder. The beauty of the story is how it’s able to cover all, from start to finish. 🙂

    • Noli SJ says:

      Btw, it seems the timestamp of the comments is fixed to the server’s time zone. My comment a few seconds ago displayed as “13 hours ago”, which is the difference between our time zones.

  10. Edouard Lassalle says:

    Love this (and you) dude!

  11. Enrico Massi says:

    All time! This read is over $90 billion of liquid gold! Love it!

  12. Sharon Royal says:

    WeWork can’t be all bad since it was responsible for bringing the incomparable Professor Galloway to my attention.

  13. Gregg says:

    Terrific creativity and imagination – if only our security services were so imaginative!

  14. Kent Comfort says:

    Looking forward to the next installment of Homeland, Season 8, AKA Shoot the Moon.

  15. Peter says:

    …except Homeland is real.

  16. Alex Mullen says:

    When reality is stranger than fiction, write some fiction. Love it dude.

  17. Ben Ford says:

    Did anyone else google Ghurka Moleskin or just me?

  18. Alex Birch says:

    This is awesome, my nipples are hard. Turns out this is my 50 Shades of Gray

  19. Jamil Ezra says:


  20. George Woods Baker says:


  21. Marcus says:

    You need to write and exec produce the “Silicon Valley” reboot for HBO!

  22. Philip Granof says:

    Edward Snowden revealed all of this on the Joe Rogan Show, too.

  23. Paul says:

    Genius. Get this man a Netflix deal.

  24. Mike says:

    So perfect!

  25. Danilo says:

    Pure geeennniiiuuusss! I smell a muscial/movie/book coming. We need you back in Toronto. Now!

  26. Ted McCaffrey says:

    Been following you for at least 3 years, loved your prediction on Whole Foods, actually told Kara at her Code Conference she needed to have more interviews with you, love the same Delray Beach you live at in Florida, eat up your Pivot podcast as soon as they get into my phone…but dude, you lost me with this parable.

    • Evan W. says:

      Amen, brother. Feels like it’s missing the point of why I signed up for this in the first place.

    • Sai says:

      Someone clearly has not watched the first 7 seasons of Homeland to understand just how brilliant this parable is for a prospective Season 8 of Homeland. Sorry, Ted, you missed out here.

    • Conor Brady says:

      Agreed. Seems that this is becoming more “Hollywood” (see section 4 project for more) top-of-funnel content. I’m hoping that Prof doesn’t smoke his own batch which is about people smoking their own batch. Just smacks that someone, somewhere is using the M-word about hokeystick readership numbers. (M is for “Monetize” BTW). Am I wrong?

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