Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble (by Dan Lyons)

I got sucked into this one on the basis of this excerpt.  I lived in San Francisco during the first dot-com bubble, I have worked in "creative" environments at various ad agencies, and now I (and many of my friends) are working in tech and trying to live in the Bay Area in this current, even more insane tech bubble. So this all hits very close to home.

In this memoir, Lyons recounts his stint working at a "fun" startup named Hubspot. He's fiftysomething, pretty much everyone he works with is in their 20s and many of them are fresh out of college. They have a candy wall and rooms furnished exclusively with beanbags. It's such an extreme environment that it reads as satire, even if everything is true. And it provided fodder, no doubt, for Lyons' stint as a writer on Silicon Valley.  (I watch and really enjoy that show, but I would like to see at least one normal, geeky, tech-oriented woman on there.)

I have to say it's not actually that close to my current experience -- I work at a big, established company that sells actual products, on a team with a lot of women on it, where there is only one millennial. But I go to tech conferences, I am steeped in the culture, and everything is familiar anyway. Some of the jargon that he mocks is jargon that I read (and even use) every day. It's a funny book -- but also convincingly argues that there is a ton of money flowing in the Valley to companies who don't actually make anything, not even a profit. The bubble is going to burst. I completely agree.

So it's entertaining, familiar, and smart. Also well-written and a fast read. But Dan Lyons also comes across at various points like kind of an asshole -- his colleagues do art projects at one point and Lyons flat out says he "pretends to like them," takes pictures of them, and then mocks them in the book (and at home with his children).  He gets a paycheck for a long time after he has seemingly ceased to work -- the company even gives him a leave of absence to go write for HBO while he waits to cash in on his vested stock. And he is incredibly dismissive of everyone in their 20s -- there are a lot of snap judgments and a lot of "I am better than this" while at the same time he's drawing a (presumably) generous paycheck and hanging on for an IPO that ultimately nets him tens of thousands of dollars.  My Silicon Valley pet peeve may have something to do with this, but I also noticed that while Lyons does address issues of gender and racial diversity, he perhaps does not acknowledge his own privilege as directly as one would hope. I came away liking him, but feeling slightly guilty about it.

That said, if you're interested in startup culture or the insanity and inanity of the tech bubble, you should definitely read this. Or at least read that excerpt!

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