Hello, guys and gals!
I have an epic book review to share with you today and it’s my 100% recommendation that you read it! This is a book based on a true story about Dan Lyon; writer for the popular HBO series “Silicon Valley”.
While I haven’t watched the show myself, the book sounded intriguing because it is based on Dan’s own personal misadventures in the start-up bubble- which he has named; “Disrupted”. It is one of those books that is entertaining, informative, shocking and utterly terrifying all at once and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself unable to put it down.
Where do I even start with this story? Well first, here is how I came across the book: anyone who knows me or reads this blog is aware that I am a fan of start-ups and especially San Francisco start-up culture. It’s a topic I discuss constantly with my friends and that could very well be because I have always wanted to have my own start-up. After complaining to my friends about the lack of start-up opportunities and start-up jobs in Vancouver, one of them took me to task on my idealistic point of view of start-ups in general and actually bought this book for me as a gift (and a challenge). Since I love a challenge, I said I would read the book with an open mind and then we can discuss it later.
Knowing my friend’s intentions and reading the title of the book (Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Start-up Bubble), I knew this wasn’t going to be the greatest story about start-ups but I was prepared. I am not unaware of the fact that 99% of start-ups generally fail and there is always the bad amongst the good in any city and especially a start-up bubble. The bad included hiring kids with little to no experience (for cost-efficiency), cutting corners, breaking the rules, investing unreasonable amounts of money on marketing rather than the actual product, creating false hype for stock purposes and much more. But this story really hit home on a lot of serious issues concerning: marketing as a career, work culture in start-ups, lack of meaningful products sold, overvaluations, racial discrimination and ageism.
In the book Dan, who was let go of his job as a journalist for Newsweek, decides to reinvent himself by pursuing a career in marketing and hopefully hitting it big with a successful start-up that has yet to go public with their IPO’s, so that hopefully when they do go public– Dan can win big on his shares. Since Dan has covered the tech industry as a journalist, he figures this is the next best move and a form of survival since he is the sole breadwinner of his family of four.
After a long job-hunt, Dan who is in his 40’s finally (& against all ageism odds in SF) lands a job at a start-up called HubSpot; an inbound marketing and sales software company. THIS IS ACTUALLY A REAL COMPANY BTW: hubspot.com which is all the more intriguing to read and research online about while reading the book. Even the name of the CEO was accurate; Brian Halligan. And this story suddenly goes from journey to a tell-all book about HubSpot, which by the way I don’t know how they are still in operation. Nonetheless, the story gets dark as more time progresses; Dan becomes the subject of abuse in the company for what seems to be his inability to conform to the “HubSpot Culture”.
The book is wildly entertaining despite it’s rather depressing story line because of Dan’s own commentary on his job, for example when discussing his role in marketing of a product he knows is complete garbage:
I am working for people who fill your email inbox with junk mail, the online equivalent of those pesky telemarketers who call you at dinner time to sell you new windows or a set of solar panels for your roof. I rationalize this by telling myself that while the work might be ignoble, it’s not necessarily evil… We’re not Hitler. We’re just annoying people. Sure, arguably we are making the world a little bit worse—but only a little bit. – Pg.44
But even with its pockets of sarcasm the story really conveys the dark side of having a job, which you don’t really enjoy:
Gradually I slide into depression, swinging between a restless, herky-jerky anxiety and a mind-numbing lethargy. Some nights I lie awake, unable to sleep, my mind racing, until finally I take an Ambien to knock myself out. Other times I do nothing but sleep. I go to bed at eight, sleep until seven, and still have a hard time waking up.- Pg.109
And finally it is in those moments of pure honesty that Dan hits a home run about what some marketing companies have done:
These are the people who took the Internet, one of the most wonderful and profound inventions of all time, and polluted it with advertising and turned it into a way to sell stuff. No wonder these zombies need to take a week off in San Francisco once a year, with some Deepak Chopra and maybe an eight ball of coke and a Canadian hooker to make the whole thing seem worthwhile. Pg.136
That’s the kind of blunt and real language you can expect from Dan and if you are ready for this kind of truth…. READ THE BOOK!
While I still believe that there are a lot of meaningful start-ups whose work I value tremendously, there is undeniable truth about what Dan’s book offers and one to take into serious consideration when examining our current cultures and start-up trends.
Take a look at this interview for more information on Dan and his experience at Hubspot