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Disrupted: My Misadventures in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons

November 26, 2016


When Dan Lyons joined the Boston Internet startup HubSpot, he was about as much an outsider as one could be.

Work culture is easily lampooned. Dilbert, The Office, and Office Space all make us laugh because those of us who work in an office recognize the absurdity. We see ourselves (or at least our co-workers) in the characters. But these kinds of portrayals require more than just an idiosyncratic culture—they also need a narrator with a keen eye and a sharp wit. Lyons has both. And when he joined Hubspot, an Internet startup in Boston, he had the added benefit of being a complete outsider. A former editor for Forbes and journalist at Newsweek, he was old-school media, now asked to create content for social media. He was in his fifties, joining a startup tech culture where most of the employees seemed barely old enough to drive.

In short, Lyons was the perfect person to drop into the insular tech culture and capture how weird it can be. Disrupted is that account. And there was apparently no shortage of material—after Disrupted, Lyons would go on to write for Silicon Valley. 

This book is funny—laugh-out-loud funny at times. But there is a darker edge to it. Lyons is unabashedly resentful of how he was treated by the young fools around him. He’s cynical and skeptical of the whole enterprise—the smoke and mirrors at the foundation of the Hubspot edifice, designed to convince young, idealistic workers that they are working on something meaningful, world-changing, when in fact they’re burning their candles at both ends to make a handful of people billions in an eventual IPO.

More insidious is the creepy culture that pervaded Hubspot (and other startups and now household name tech companies). To call it “cult-like” is more accurate than it is hyperbole, with the blind belief in the hype, the deification of the company leaders, the strange rituals and the exclusive language. The main asset of the company, for both investors and employees, seems to be how much everyone believes in the company.

Although the more serious criticisms are tinged with Lyons’s personal bitterness, they’re valid. That said, this book is more successful as a comedic send-up of startup culture. Readers who have worked in startups will find themselves nodding along, laughing often.

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