Brief Book Review: Chaos Monkeys

By Antonio Garcia Martinez

In one quote:

What was an improbable bonanza at the hands of the flailing half-blind becomes the inevitable coup of the assured visionary. The world crowns you a genius, and you start acting like one […] At some point, you don’t find the crisis-solving winner, the dealer sweeps up your remaining chips, and you’re busted. The company fails and your logo is recycled as a reminder of corporate mortality. Then everyone wonders how such a confirmed genius could have possibly failed, and ruminates on the transience of talent.

Chaos Moneys slices through the exalted mystique and starry-eyed glamour that shrouds Silicon Valley and its iconic personalities. It’s refreshing to see these larger-than-life characters reduced to their naked pure form, and exposed as human beings.

Antonio Martinez’s story on the surface seems like an unadulterated success. After starting his own ad company AdGrok in San Francisco, he defies the odds and lands a place at the revered startup incubator Y-Combinator (they helped establish Airbnb, Reddit, Dropbox and many more). Using his YC influence, Martinez and his tiny team deftly pluck the ears of Silicon Valley’s investor elite, raising enough capital to keep them afloat until Facebook and Twitter fasten their gaze. Martinez goes on to sell AdGrok to Twitter at an incredible value, while landing a Project Manager position in Facebook’s ad team. All this in the space of two years.

Atonio’s story is the American dream condensed into one career trajectory. Yet it is convenient summaries like these that Chaos Monkeys seeks to challenge. It’s time to take off the rose tinted glasses and smell the whole-bean, single origin, French-pressed coffee. Because the expanded narrative isn’t just more complicated, but in a way, far less interesting.

While it’s important to take everything Martinez writes with a grain of salt, Chaos Monkeys doesn’t read like a bitter monologue from an ex-employee looking to cash in on company brand. As with any first-hand account, there are elements of bias with every word, but Antonio Martinez doesn’t go out of his way to prove the idealised Silicon Valley life a misguided fallacy. Some readers may walk away inspired, not discouraged, and use Martinez’s experiences as a guide to navigate the complex labyrinth of startup-land. For me, this was not the case.

I most appreciated Chaos Monkeys’ accounts from inside the Valley’s biggest brands: Facebook, Twitter and Google, who seem to spend as much time cultivating their employer brand as their consumer one. No matter how many free lunches or wall-hanging mottos, I’ve realised I just don’t care about ad exchanges, user acquisition models and compensatory stock options.

I’m glad to have realised this from a book, not from joining the increasing flock of impassioned young people seeking startup stardom. For you, it may differ, and so I recommend giving Chaos Monkey a read.

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