Hey – so the other day I read Dan Lyons‘ Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble. I’d heard about it because of the whole kerfuffle, and then a colleague read it and brought it to the office, so I give it a whirl.
Apparently, as a marketing person, I’m supposed to express my opinion and pick a side in the Lyons v. HubSpot battle.
I’m not gonna do that second thing.
But, I will expand upon the tweet that I, um, tweeted upon completion:
OK, so the “entertaining” part is pretty self-explanatory. People are saying lots of things about the book, but I haven’t seen many folks – at least independent folks – say it’s not entertaining.
The book’s funny as hell, which is to be expected from one of the writers of HBO’s fabulously brilliant Silicon Valley.
The writing’s funny, the narrative is entertaining, the references are great (fourth book in a row, for me, that references The Simpsons).
For years, I’ve had an extended “Old Man Yells at Cloud” moment, where I feel like I’m seeing and complaining about things that no one else seems to think are big deals:
- Massive tech bubble, with insane valuations and purely speculative investing, and an approach of, “Grow fast, lose money, go public, get rich.” (p156)
- The echo-chamber in which tech companies and tech communities exist
- The deification of company founders and the focus on whatever personal quirks they have – as if those quirks are in anyway important
- …and I really could go on (just ask my colleagues!), if I really felt like spending an hour doing so
And for goodness sake, I’m only 34, and I’ve worked in tech for 16 years. I’m a part of the machine, and I see it…does everyone else have blinders on?
Disrupted shows me that there’s at least one other person in the world who sees things the way I do: Lyons’ own sentiment is that of Zoolander’s Mugatu: “Doesn’t anybody notice this? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”
He pokes fun at the cultish nature of start-ups, he expresses alarm (see below) and outrage at the state of ‘investing’ in the tech sector, he questions why the media celebrate individuals whose most remarkable ‘achievement’ is being incredibly lucky (that’s fine, but when you try to look back and create a meaningful narrative, it ventures into the absurd – taking naps is not the reason why you’re a billionaire).
Lyons talks about the bozo explosion in general, and uses his experiences at HubSpot to illustrate the points. He also mentions the Dunning-Kruger effect, which fans of this blog will recognize from a handful of other posts. Hey, it’s my favourite effect!
He talks about Google Glass, about companies that are losing money at accelerating rates getting enormous and ever-growing market caps, and so on and so forth.
I once had a convo with a good friend about Google Glass – one of our classmates had been a project lead or major engineer or something on the project. And my friend just matter-of-factly mentioned that Google Glass failed because Google hadn’t marketed it well enough. I laughed incredulously and replied that “It didn’t fail because of marketing – it failed because it had a terrible, unrealistic premise!”
So I read Disrupted and saw that this experienced, funny dude is seeing and talking about the same things I’m seeing and talking about.
So yeah, VALIDATION!
There were two major causes of my alarm:
- Macro: the bubble
- Micro: HubSpot
Honestly, everything that touches on the tech sector in general sounds like the introduction to a Michael Lewis book, or at least an anecdote from inside it (“This time it’s different!”), or maybe an element within an Adam McKay movie. When the market is so irrational and speculative that everyone’s just given up and instead have adopted spray-and-pray strategies…well, we know we’re in trouble.
On a micro-level, HubSpot just sounds ridiculous. That’s a real company? I mean, I work in tech, so I know the truth of it…but holy shit. Most holy shit of all is the perhaps-illegal-but-never-went-to-court behaviour of some of the leadership team.
Anyone who picks HubSpot in this little battle is saying, “I pick the side of the company that engaged in ‘aggressive tactics’ (including allegedly hacking, extortion, and other unsavoury things) and had to fire their entire marketing leadership as a result, because *in a baby voice* they were all upset about a booky-wook that was gonna come out.”
I find myself wondering what they really thought was in that book? Allegations or proof of massive fraud? Things that’d get the SEC involved? If not, then why the crazy behaviour.
For the record, I didn’t find Lyons remotely vindictive or vitriolic in his depiction of HubSpot…just seemed like he was explaining his experience. And yeah, folks, that was just his experience…all the white twenty-somethings seemed to be having a blast.
About four pages in, when Lyons was basically describing my own employer, but in orange rather than green…I was like, “Uh oh.”
But I needn’t have worried, because as he kept going, the differences between HubSpot and Sandvine became a gulf:
- They lose money like crazy, we’re consistently profitable
- They’re homogenous, we’re wonderfully diverse
- They seem to be living a parody, we’re a real business
- Their bozos exploded, we didn’t have any to begin with (for reals, owing to the unique origins of the company)
- They’re complete asshats when it comes to employee terminations, we are not
- They seem quite anarchic, we have effective structure
- …and so on, and so forth
I look around, and I see companies all over the place that solve minor annoyances for tiny markets, yet they’re celebrated as if they’re the second coming of the halcyon days of IBM, and Microsoft, or as if they’re the next Google.
(I had a friend get an offer from a local start-up, and to explain the potential value of the stock options they were offering, they’d projected their own company’s worth out to $500 billion dollars. Um, no.)
Or we deify founders and make a big deal out of how they take baths or naps or long walks or have adopted monochromatic wardrobes – this stuff does not matter!
But the tech media plays into this, so much.
Sometimes, I fear that – as a part of the machine – I have a strong sense of the worth of my own company just because I have blinders on.
So I was tremendously reassured with every comment Lyons made that widened the gulf between my own day-to-day and his insider experience at HubSpot.
Reassurance is a nice feeling =)
A few closing points…
Thanks to Matty Taco for introducing me to the book, and to Dan Lyons for replying to my tweet!
Also, I didn’t do a usual extensive book report, because I basically would’ve just quoted the whole thing.