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. Lyons talks about what brought him to work with HubSpot and highlights mainly that he was drawn to it because of the flashiness of its outer appearances. If I learned anything from this book it is that appearances are deceiving and the more flashy a company, the more you should be weary of it. A flashy outer appearance is often meant to blind one from the structural realities of the company. Being a millennial myself, I could also understand why the young people would work there. We often say that we care more about the work environment in a company than a high salary, and that is not wrong, but it makes us very easy to exploit for our work. In theory, tech companies just have to give us somewhere comfortable to sit, and make us feel like we are special and they can do anything they want to us, including fire us for no good reason at all. Tech moves quickly, and this is reflected in the world of work in “Silicon Valley”; jobs become available just as quickly as people get fired from them (which is a lot), making it difficult for a solid foundation to truly be developed in a company except between the few head executives who can then more easily use their power and become corrupt by being allowed to do whatever the hell they want. Albeit from a biased perspective, Lyons makes an interesting point when he implies 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 kindergarten. 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. Lyons points out that investors will often randomly invest in a bunch of companies because there is no telling which ones will be successful. The profitability of a company no longer determines the value of a company. The value of a company is in how much the executives get investors to invest in it, and which investors do the investing (some are higher profile and thus attract more investors). This is because tech is moving so fast that companies often don’t care if they ultimately crash and burn, they care if they can pull off a big IPO because that is what will get the executives and investors rich. It doesn’t matter if all the millennials that work in the tech startup lose their jobs when the unstable company goes under, because the purpose of these companies is ultimately not to create stable jobs or even a stable business, but all too often simply to make the head executives and investors rich.
As you can see, execs only have to be competitive with other companies doing the same thing in order to get investors to invest in them (which is the ultimate goal). And these execs often need to cut corners (and break laws) in order to do this. This culture of quick growth for the purpose of financial investment 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 certain 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 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: he was perceived as someone contrastingly different from the rest of the HubSpot team. He is somewhat sour about this (which is understandable) but it led him to perceive the rest of the HubSpot employees as homogenous. To him, each one of them didn’t seem to to be very different from the next. I respect Lyons Anthropological approach to the HubSpot culture but he did not seem to get a clear enough idea of the people that he worked with to understand each of their individual aspirations or knowledge about the company. He clumped them together without questioning why each of them were drawn to work at HubSpot. For all he knew, they could be somewhat aware of what when on under the sheets at HubSpot and just not care or ignore it because ignorance can often be bliss. If you have read it, I would be very interested to know your take on the book as well. I know it can be interpreted many different ways.