I’ll admit, I went into Disrupted (written by Dan Lyons) with a knowing familiarity; like him, I entered the startup world ten years ago, having just moved back to Chicago. Like many other reviews, I enjoyed the book’s slightly snarky take on startup culture….
But in light of that recent Google memo and various responses, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons reads less like a satiric jab at technology, marketing, and startup culture and more of a clarion call for greater diversity and inclusion…as well as a rallying cry against ageism and elitism.
Let’s be clear – Disrupted is a very funny book, and Dan Lyons provides some scathing insights into startup culture. After all, having been involved in journalism for over 25 years, Lyons (then in his early 50s) decides to work for Hubspot. From there, he receives a very gradual introduction into the more absurd aspects of Hubspot culture: the unusual language of HubSpeak (which requires a wiki to understand), the emphasis on personal politics over accomplishments….after all, Lyons only wanted a job where he could learn marketing, and then more forward in his career. It wasn’t meant to be anything serious…
But things begin to turn for the worse. Granted, Lyons is unsparing in assessing his own behavior (after all, he’s not a writer for HBO’s Silicon Valley for nothing), but he also notices some strange things. Insisting on buying free candy for employees rather than, say, paying them a higher wage. Noticing a preponderance of young, white dudes (in a particularly damning move, Lyons publishes a group photo and asks the reader to point out people of color. SPOILER ALERT…there aren’t any unless you count co-founder Dharmesh Singh). In short, the story continues on a nice, snarky path, but then….
Things begin deteriorating to the point that by the time you read the last chapter of Disrupted, you would swear that Dan Lyons shifted gears and wrote a paranoid techno-thriller. It’s hard to describe without spoiling, but Disrupted manages to make serious points about the nature of technology/startup/marketing culture – a tendency towards homogeneity and lack of diversity, emphasizing “dudebro”-style culture and self-aggrandizement over accomplishment and status. (As well as address blatant sexism, ageism, and other -isms that you can name).
(One particular damning fact: according to Disrupted, HubSpot has never made a profit. In most corporate cultures, that’s a bad thing, but in many startups, that’s considered healthy).
I don’t want to paint all startups with the same broad brush, but having worked with several in my professional endeavors….I’ve found several that have a sincere lack of self-awareness and a belief that they are doing “wonderful things” without justifying why they’re so wonderful. (Yes, I’ve also worked with startups that focus on results). With recent conversations about women were “genetically unsuited” for tech jobs, and with the increased need for more diverse populations in technology….Disrupted ends up making some serious points through a snarky, sarcastic attitude.
As I was planning to write this review, I would have said, “Read Disrupted by Dan Lyons for a fun, satiric look at tech culture.” Now, in light of recent events, Disrupted by Dan Lyons feels more like a call-to-arms….and either way, it’s a great read.
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