Some people write negative reviews on Glassdoor when they leave a job they hate. This guy wrote a novel. Literally.
It's hilarious. I recommend it.
Dan Lyons spends most of his career as a news reporter - an accomplished career at that. He ultimately gets laid off at his job at Newsweek as a casualty of the traditional publishing industry: cutting costs with declining revenue. After an exhaustive job search and severance time running out, he takes a role at Hubspot to supposedly lead their content group.
Disclaimer: I'm currently a Hubspot client in my current role. So there's that.
Anyway, things don't go well for him. A 52 year old in the startup life is quite an adjustment. He is hands-down the oldest one there (no surprise to anyone who has familiarity with that world). The culture sounds very millennial, for lack of a better term. There are a lot of very cool perks of being there and most of the people overall sound really nice. Several things about their work culture are things worth emulating other places! However, there's a lot of orange Hubspot Kool-Aid and everyone appears to be overdosing on it.
The culture, while fun, sounds borderline Orwellian. Nobody questions anything at Hubspot. Everything anyone does is awesome. If someone is fired, it is spun that that person has had their "Hubspot Graduation day". When Lyons questions a few things or tries to get ideas off the ground, he's looked down upon for not being a team player and not being supportive of everyone's ideas.
Cynical but Necessary
Lyons view of the startup world has a much more cynical bent than anything I normally read in that space. He used to write about those companies during his reporter days. In the book, he's embedded in the culture. There's definitely a bias involved but that doesn't discredit anything he writes.
Hearing Lyon's views about Hubspot and the new startup bubble in general is necessary to listen to. The world in Dan's book (and in real life) is full of too many "yes men." While his writing describes technology investing the same way The Big Short described investment banking, it does show that not everything may be as it appears on the surface.
As a reporter, Lyon is trained to question everything. His view of the startup world is definitely unique compared to what we normally see. I think there are some over-generalizations in a couple of spots (I know of several startups that do truly try and be a profitable company and do provide a lot of value) but he does make you think differently about what we read in TechCrunch and Fast Company.
His POV of a large tech conference he went to was hilarious...and sadly accurate in retrospect (one I attended very early in my career). I've been to tech conferences that were amazing and provided me a ton of value and inspiration. I've also been to some where I felt like Mugatu in Zoolander asking if he's taking crazy pills since nobody seems to acknowledge the asburdity around them.
Reading his book inspired me to write this post about how it's important to listen to a contrarian point of view. It also taught me three quick lessons.
Lesson #1: Never Stop Learning
Dan Lyons had a comfortable situation. He was an accomplished journalist at a major publication and even he lost his job. It could happen to any of us. It showed me that I'm never safe. That I have to keep learning and consistently push out of my comfort zone. I'll expand on that in a later post this week.
Lesson #2: Good Guys Don't Always Win
In a perfect world, you think that only the good guys make it to the top and the jerks always get what's coming to them. While I know far more successful people that are genuinely good and kind people, more than a few jerks do rise to the top. I've been very fortunate to having not worked for anyone like that in my life (seriously) but know from friends that bad bosses are out there and somehow keep moving up. It's a helpless feeling for those underneath them but it's a harsh reality of life. Sometimes terrible people end up in charge. It happens.
Lesson #3: It's Okay to Question Things
I learned this from watching The Big Short and reading this book. There are many times when being a team player and falling in line is the best move for morale. Actually, more often than not that's the case. Putting the team before yourself is an act of servant leadership and helps keep things moving and productive.
There is a danger to blindly following something, whether that something is a person, ideal or company culture deck. Being contrarian for the sake of being contrarian isn't what I'm suggesting because, well, that would get obnoxious quickly. However, it is just okay to ask "why?" from time to time.
Overall a Great Book - Highly Recommend
My endorsement of this book shouldn't be an indictment of what I think of startup culture - or even Hubspot for that matter. I've been a Hubspot customer and have driven a lot of value from their product. For as much BS that stems from elements of startup culture, there's also a lot of good. A lot of what has come out of Silicon Valley has added value to millions of lives...and given me more job opportunities as a marketer as a result. Some of the success stories out of the valley (heck...out of Atlanta) really make you believe that anything is possible.
I also don't totally agree with Lyons every decision or action he took while at Hubspot. In reading through the whole book, there are things he admits he would do differently if he could.
His book is a great read. It's entertaining, humorous and makes you look at the tech industry through a different lens. If we're to make the tech world a lot of us work in better, it's important to hear what guys like Dan Lyons have to say. It's hard to improve if we only listen to people we agree with.
Have you read the book? Thoughts?