My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This book got me thinking a lot about the industry that I plan on going into, and it honestly scared me to see the realities of tech startups laid out so plainly. In the book, Dan Lyons talks about what brought him to work with HubSpot, and notes that he was mainly drawn to it because of the flashiness of its outer appearance. If I learned anything from this book, it’s that appearances are deceiving. Generally speaking, this book taught me that the more flashy a company, the more you should be weary of it; a flashy outer appearance is often meant to blind one from its true structural realty. Being a millennial myself, I could understand why we might be attracted like a moth to a flame to work for a flashy tech startup. We often say that we care more about the work environment of a company than a high salary, but sadly this makes it very easy for a company to exploit us for our work. In fact, by prioritizing short-term comfort over long-term stability, we might be unintentionally telling the company that they can do whatever they want with us, as long as they give us somewhere comfortable to sit and make us feel like we’re special.
In Silicon Valley, jobs become available just as quickly as people get fired from them (which is a lot), and this creates almost no job stability. However, it’s necessary for a company to have a solid foundation before it’s able to grow, so why would a company be willing to have so much turnover when it only shakes up the foundation of their business? When it comes down to it, the only people who would be able to grow the company in this situation, or do any real work for it, would be the top executives. This gives them power to do as they please with their company, and in turn leaves more room for internal corruption. Besides, as Lyons points out, they don’t actually need the business to last in the long-term, they just need it to last long enough to attract investors and cash out.
Albeit from a biased perspective, Lyons makes an interesting point when he comments that the kids he works with sold out for a wall of candy. He points out that he would rather have a stable job with bosses that are open to new ideas, than a wall of candy and a work environment resembling a kindergarten classroom. Lyons gets to the root of the problem when he points out that investors are largely to blame for the immense amount of freedom that executives of tech startups allow themselves. Investors look for companies that have a flashy appearance, seem modern, and attract young talent. The book even discloses that investors will often invest in a bunch of companies randomly because there is no telling which ones will be successful. Sadly, this means that the profitability of a company no longer determines the value of it. In actuality, the value of a company is determined by how much money executives get from investors, and which investors do the investing (some are higher profile and thus attract more investors). This is because the tech world is moving so fast that companies often don’t care if they ultimately crash and burn, they only care if they can pull off a big initial public offering (IPO). This is what will get the executives and investors rich, and it doesn’t matter to executives if all the millennial employees lose their jobs when the unstable company goes under. When it comes down to it, these startups aren’t started up to create stable jobs, or even a stable business, but all too often simply to make the executives and investors rich.
As you can see, company execs only have to compete with each other, and they are only competing for the attention of investors. In this dog-eat-dog system, these execs often find themselves cutting corners, breaking laws, and generally cheating in order to beat out the competition. There just aren’t enough preventive measures in place yet to ensure a fair game. This culture of quick growth for the purpose of attracting investors has led to unstable jobs in Silicon Valley, and a whole clandestine structure operating beneath the surface of supposedly innocent and “magical” tech companies. Lyons’ book is an eye opener, and I would recommend that anyone considering going into tech read it to get a better idea of what world you are really going into.
I also want to mention the issue of diversity that Lyons brings up in the book. Investors are looking for a certain kind of company that attracts a certain kind talent of a certain age/gender/race. California is known for drawing primarily white folk who are young, full of energy, and have their whole lives ahead of them to either fail or be successful (there is not much of an in-between). When Lyons worked for HubSpot, he did not fit the typical demographic of a HubSpot employee. Although he is a white male, he was in his early fifties when he worked for the company and, as he points out a number of times throughout his book, this is double the age of the average employee at HubSpot. It was unfair that he was treated the way he was, but I do want to critique Lyons for one thing. Lyons was perceived as someone exceptionally different from the rest of the HubSpot team, and this sadly led him to view the rest of the HubSpot employees as homogenous. To him, each one of them didn’t seem to be very different from the next, but he didn’t question why each of them was drawn to work at HubSpot, what their aspirations were, and how much they knew about tech startups in the first place. For all Lyons knew, they could be somewhat aware of what went on beneath the well-laundered sheets at HubSpot, and just not care enough to question it. After all, most of them were recent graduates that were finding it hard to find a job, and were just happy to be paid for their work.
This book could be an analysis of the many problems in the tech world, or it could be a more general commentary on how the workforce has changed over generations to be less stable, and more controlled by investors and the advancement of technology. Now that I’m out there looking for a job myself, I’m beginning to understand why tech startups are able to attract post-grads who would rather just work there than accept an unpaid internship.
If you have read it, I would be very interested to know your take on the book as well. Please leave a comment below.