Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons
Publication Date: 2016
From the publisher:
For twenty-five years Dan Lyons was a magazine writer at the top of his profession–until one Friday morning when he received a phone call: Poof. His job no longer existed. “I think they just want to hire younger people,” his boss at Newsweek told him. Fifty years old and with a wife and two young kids, Dan was, in a word, screwed. Then an idea hit. Dan had long reported on Silicon Valley and the tech explosion. Why not join it? HubSpot, a Boston start-up, was flush with $100 million in venture capital. They offered Dan a pile of stock options for the vague role of “marketing fellow.” What could go wrong?
HubSpotters were true believers: They were making the world a better place … by selling email spam. The office vibe was frat house meets cult compound: The party began at four thirty on Friday and lasted well into the night; “shower pods” became hook-up dens; a push-up club met at noon in the lobby, while nearby, in the “content factory,” Nerf gun fights raged. Groups went on “walking meetings,” and Dan’s absentee boss sent cryptic emails about employees who had “graduated” (read: been fired). In the middle of all this was Dan, exactly twice the age of the average HubSpot employee, and literally old enough to be the father of most of his co-workers, sitting at his desk on his bouncy-ball “chair.”
Mixed in with Lyons’s uproarious tale of his rise and fall at Hubspot is a trenchant analysis of the start-up world, a de facto conspiracy between those who start companies and those who fund them, a world where bad ideas are rewarded with hefty investments, where companies blow money lavishing perks on their post-collegiate workforces, and where everybody is trying to hang on just long enough to reach an IPO and cash out.
With a cast of characters that includes devilish angel investors, fad-chasing venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and “wantrapreneurs,” bloggers and brogrammers, social climbers and sociopaths, Disrupted is a gripping and definitive account of life in the (second) tech bubble.
I happened to see a link to a review of this book on Twitter and decided it souded fun. When I saw that the author is a writer on the TV show Silicon Valley I figured it was going to be an amusing skewering of the culture of tech start-ups. I was right.
By the way, if you’re not watching Silicon Valley, you should be. It’s hilarious.
Yes this book is hilarious in places but at the same time it’s horrifying. Lyons tells his story of what it’s like to be a displaced worker who finds himself in an organization that caters to an employement pool of people half his age.
Arriving here feels like landing on some remote island where a bunch of people have been living for years, in isolation, making up their own rules and rituals and religion and language—even, to some extent, inventing their own reality. This happens at all organizations, but for some reason tech startups seem to be especially prone to groupthink.
While the story if his experience is amusing and sometimes laugh out loud funny, Lyons is clearly telling the story from only his viewpoint. He’s pretty harsh with regards to some people and I’m not sure I would want him on my team at work. Nevertheless, he does make me laugh.
Dharmesh’s culture code incorporates elements of HubSpeak. For example, it instructs that when someone quits or gets fired, the event will be referred to as “graduation.” This really happens, over and over again. In my first month at HubSpot I’ve witnessed several graduations, just in the marketing department. We’ll get an email from Cranium saying, “Team, just letting you know that Derek has graduated from HubSpot, and we’re excited to see how he uses his superpowers in his next big adventure!” Only then do you notice that Derek is gone, that his desk has been cleared out. Somehow Derek’s boss will have arranged his disappearance without anyone knowing about it. People just go up in smoke, like Spinal Tap drummers.
When Lyons moves beyond his own personal experiences and looks at the broader picture of the the tech startup world is when things get a bit horrifying. The practices of investors and founders that reap ridiculous payoffs from companies that are more marketing than substance while losing billions. I was fascinated and appalled at the information about how some business are developed, funded and fail.