Sunday, May 22, 2016

The New Economy is Poison: On Dan Lyons's "Disrupted"

I first came across this book as an excerpt somewhere on the on the internet. I forget where, or else I would claim it loudly and give support to the publication, lord knows that they all need the traffic. I ended up reading this quickly, but it wasn’t an easy read. Basically, if you have ever had one of those sorts of jobs where you had anxiety about going in every day then this will give you great memories of that as your read Lyons and his spot-on descriptions of his job. Lyons was hired onto HubSpot, a company that I’m still not sure exactly what they do after reading the book. He was a seasoned reporter but had the unfortunate thing of being a seasoned reporter in a time where deep-learning computers will soon be writing all of our news and until then you can hire an Ivy Grad for next to nothing to create the content you need.

What I did learn about HubSpot was that it was very poorly run and seems like a pyramid scheme. I don’t know how representative it is of the tech scene in a more generalized way, but it does show the folly of this thing we do where we fetishize the young founders and VCs throw money at them before they really have a sense of what it means to be a leader and to manage people and create a good product for consumers. Nevertheless, maybe I’m biased. There are founders who are able to scale up and create lasting businesses. However, my supposition is that for every Jobs, Zuckerberg, or Gates there are infinitely more people like these clowns. I think I remember seeing a stat that like 97% of the startups those venture capitals people invest in don’t end up making money for the investors. I’d bet HubSpot is on the losing end of that. It does seem though that there is a way for the founders to cash out even if the business is horrible - just hold on long enough for the IPO. This process is chronicled here in disrupted.

One funny thing is that the whole book is horrible PR for the company. Very few people come off as sympathetic, and that may just be that the whole experience biased Lyons against the people. What is funnier though is the postscript. After 200 pages of telling how bad this company is, he then tells of what they tried to do during the process of writing the book to avoid all this bad press – to the point of hacking Lyons’s computer and even going through his trash.

Basically, it comes down to this. The new economy is horrible because it is putting out old-line professionals who have age and experience. However, you can’t sell out and work for them because the people inside of them are all horrible people. I hope that it is less black and white than that, but I hope I never have to find out. Unless I’m a founder, and VCs want to throw money at me.