My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble
Author: Dan Lyons (https://twitter.com/realdanlyons)
An entertaining tale, by a former journalist, of his time working for a startup. Read it for amusing anecdotes of a millennial-friendly, yet highly-dysfunctional, work-environment — much of which may sound familiar to those of us in corporate life.
Dan Lyons, who is also a writer for the HBO (HBO PR) “Silicon Valley” comedy, does clearly have an axe to grind against his former employer and this unfortunately takes over the last few chapters to its detriment. But the majority of this book provides a funny Dilbert-esque description of a year in the life of Hubspot (HubSpot) — an unprofitable, but wildly popular, marketing services company. It will probably be enjoyed more by corporate “veterans” than less experienced, less cynical employees.
Who is it for
Anyone who has worked in an office(!), but especially if you want to go beyond the Linkedin articles about “Greatest Work Environments” and are wondering about all the theories on engaging millennials. It’s not intended to be a deeply intellectual business book, but it is an interesting read, and gives a different perspective on office and organizational design.
Who isn’t it for
If you’re working in a high-energy sales-focused startup, and love the environment, this book probably won’t resonate with you.
From the jacket
For twenty-five years Dan Lyons was a magazine writer — until one Friday morning when he received a phone call: Poof. His job no longer existed. Fifty years old and with a wife and two young kids, Dan was, in a word, screwed. Then an idea hit. He had long reported on the tech bonanza. Why not join it? HubSpot, flush with $100 million in venture capital, offered Dan a pile of stock options. What could go wrong?
With a cast of characters that includes fad-chasing venture capitalists, “content farm” bloggers and sales bros, social climbers and sociopaths, Disrupted is “an eye-opening and gut-busting account of the maddening world of startup excess, hubris and groupthink” (Mashable) and “you couldn’t have written a tastier ending, even for HBO” (Dwight Garner, New York Times).
Mixed in with Lyons’ “hilarious and terrifying” (Los Angeles Times) tale 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 on lavish perks, where workers become disposable widgets, and ageism and other bias runs rampant.
About the author
Dan Lyons is a novelist, journalist, screenwriter, and public speaker. He was a staff writer forthe first two seasons of the Emmy-winning HBO series Silicon Valley. Previously, Lyons was technology editor at Newsweek and the creator of the groundbreaking viral blog “The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs” (AKA “Fake Steve Jobs”). Lyons has written for the New York Times Magazine, GQ, Vanity Fair (VANITY FAIR), and WIRED (WIRED).
Top 3 pull-quotes
“At Newsweek I worked for Jon Meacham, who won a Pulitzer Prize….Here I work for a guy who brings a teddy bear to work and considers it a management innovation.” (Page 65)
“The culture code…instructs that when someone quits or gets fired, the event will be referred to as ‘graduation.’…People just go up in smoke, like Spinal Tap drummers.” (Page 53)
“One thing I noticed during the day at Google was that none of our hosts — a bunch of executives from Google’s mobile division — wore Google Glass. That’s when I knew the gizmo was doomed.” (Page 185)
In 140 characters of less
— #DisruptedBook — An entertaining look at the #startup culture #4Stars
— #Startup Culture or #MillennialsGoneWild? #DisruptedBook by @DanLyons #4Stars
Disrupted is an entertaining look inside a high-energy, high-growth, poorly managed start-up company. It recounts the experiences of a 50+ journalist who finds himself in an entry-level marketing position surrounded by twenty-somethings telling him what to do.
Much of the book is filled with anecdotes of the strange culture, the unusual meetings he attends, and the ridiculous internal politics and infighting.
Lyons paints a clear and amusing picture of an environment that “dares to be different” despite being staffed with a group of cookie-cutter millennials; and a company that is desperately trying to keep it’s underpaid employees energized with free candy, orange clothing, and enforced fun activities.
For anyone who has worked in a cubicle farm, there will be much that sounds familiar, but it’s hard to believe that all of this can be occurring in one company. Echoes of “The Office” sitcom and Dilbert cartoons resonate throughout the book. If the author wasn’t planning on writing this book, it’s hard to believe he would have stayed at the job beyond his first week — but to survive, he imagines himself as an anthropologist studying a strange tribe.
The first 70% of the book is a very entertaining story — how a cynical “old-timer” coexists in a building full of young believers — weaved together with insights into how IPOs and start-ups really work behind the scenes. Unfortunately, the last few chapters of the book lose this upbeat theme, and focus on his falling out with the management team. It becomes very negative and inward looking, and devolves into a back-and-forth of how he was wronged by the company. The author would have done better to tell the overall “anthropology” story, highlight the craziness and weakness of the company — and saved his personal critique for an epilogue.
My advice: Read it and chuckle. Read it and cringe.
And when you get to chapter 21, skim through the remainder quickly. Don’t let the author’s negativity at the end take the sheen off a very entertaining and well written book.
A quick editorial comment:
Hubspot is a marketing company that sells software to companies to help them get more customers. I’ve been on the receiving end of their marketing attempts, which makes much of Lyons’ commentary believable. As he describes the “boiler room” sales atmosphere, it reminds me of an argument I had with one of their sales “professionals” a few years ago. After peppering me with questions about my business plan, which I wasn’t willing to divulge in detail, he announced that I “obviously wasn’t ready to use a complex solution like Hubspot.”
Needless to say, I’ve never taken a call from them since! I have a feeling the author isn’t being too hard on his former colleagues.
Ever wondered what it’s like to work in one of these energetic start-ups, with endless snacks, nap-rooms, and no attempt at a formal organization? “Disrupted” gives a hilarious insight to exactly that. Some of these anecdotes could come from any work environment, but the sheer quantity — and quality — of the craziness that the author shares, will keep you engrossed.
The book is entertaining right up until the last 60 pages, when it clearly gets personal for the author. In the final few chapters he details the efforts of the company to push him out, and the writing descends into a “he said/she said” diatribe, which may be cathartic for Lyons but frankly is not entertaining, and doesn’t fit with the rest of the book. Whether true or not, the author would have been better served with a summary of his last few weeks in an epilogue, rather than dragging it out for the last five chapters.
If you only have time to read 3 chapters/sections
Chapter 6 — Our Cult Leader Has a Really Awesome Teddy Bear. The chapter titles are as entertaining as the chapters themselves. This one highlights the eccentricity of the executive team, along with a brief insight into the approach to IPOs.
Chapter 8 — The Bozo Explosion. An examination of Steve Jobs’ observation — “by which a company’s mediocre early hires rise up through the ranks and end up running departments.”
Chapters 10 — Life in the Boiler Room. A look inside the “sales floor,” and some thoughts on the approach to selling software services.
The bottom line
— Rating (on a scale of 1 to 5)
4.0 — This isn’t a “how-to” business book. It’s light relief from the work grind.
About the review writer
Steve Cummins is a B2B Marketer for technology brands/products, with an interest in the latest and greatest business ideas, and how to apply them in real life. He reads and writes for #RLA because he says it encourages him to read books twice as quickly, retain more, and write much better notes.
His website: stevejcummins.com