Startup Books 2016: A Rage Review

Startup Books 2016: A Rage Review

Overview

Two books materialized this year with similar themes: startups are weird/abusive/infantile and this author is going to expose their secrets to the world.

Both startup books share:

  • authors refused to sign non-disparagement agreements when leaving their prior employer
  • startups are cults with dedicated brainwashing directives, thought police, and hero worship
  • only hire abrasive and caustic straight males please

If you're already "into startups," neither book provides much insight outside of a view into how things are broken in the same ways everywhere.


Disrupted, by Dan Lyons aka Fake Steve Jobs, covers basic startup tenants:

  • startup "indoctrination" practices getting out of control
  • rampant fraud, manipulation of investors, and offloading of failures to public markets
  • scams of startups in general (greater fool theory)
  • cults of personality; insiders always win
  • never-ending paranoia of people in high places with low self esteem

Recommendation: Read it, but there's not much new if you've been at a bubbly brainwashy startup before.


Chaos Monkeys defies summary because it's full of disconnected incoherent rambling. It combines:

  • 50 shades of grey style erotica for straight men
  • historical anecdotes sprinkled everywhere distracting readers more than driving any points home
  • a style switching between "just the facts" and weak flowery language describing mundane life

Though, the author is one of those "any press is good press" people who intentionally causes outrage and controversy to "go viral" — so, maybe, being awful and offensive is just part of the game plan.

Overall, Chaos Monkeys is written in a tone deaf self-promotional format about how the author himself is amazing as a subhuman hero of his own life. The book is 600% too long and would be better off as a four chapter self-published 99 cent ebook.

Recommendation: If you see someone enjoying this book, run away fast because they are morally compromised and can't be rehabilitated back into society.


Excerpt Reviews

What follows are excerpts representing the worst parts of each book. You have been warned.

Disrupted, Dan Lyons

Excerpts From: Lyons, Dan. “Disrupted.” Hachette Books.

“Here, you are allowed to tell dirty jokes and to be a cynical, sarcastic prick. In fact, it’s encouraged. There are ten of us, and it is an intense room.

Dan spends a good part of his book talking about how he feels oppressed because he's the "old guy" at a startup of 20-somethings.

Yet, he complains about oppression because he isn't allowed to make jokes about "huge cocks and dry vaginas." It's just in his personality to be crude and offensive, he says.

He argues by having a common sense of decency, you're oppressing his right to be vile and offensive.


For more than a year I’ve had to bottle up my disgusting sense of humor. I’ve even started to feel ashamed of it. Here, everyone is disgusting. We sit around trading the worst poop-related stories we’ve ever heard, and pitching jokes about enormous cocks. We get paid to do this. It’s bliss.”

Dan eventually moves on to work for HBO's Silicon Valley which, if you've seen it, is full humor so crude you'd think a room full of 12 year old boys wrote every episode. He seemingly wants to live a life where all communication is conveyed by exaggeratedly explicit sexual humor for a "shock the listener" effect, but he blames the corporate startup employer for restricting his creativity at not being allowed to offend on a whim.


“I cannot return to work among those earnest, upbeat kids who spend their days sending Cheers for Peers on TINYpulse—Ashley for president!!!!!—and who would never, ever sit in a meeting and pitch jokes about someone’s enormous horse cock.”

We can all agree empty minded, vapid, pro-startup cheer leading is annoying, but turning it into being ecstatic about anatomical humor seems disturbing.

Is the world actually run by secret cabals of pervy 12 year olds we just don't know about? If your only joy in life is feeling special because you can offended people to the point of revulsion, maybe you need some quality therapy?


“Maybe it’s because I’ve been spending weeks on end sitting in a room with writers who talk about huge cocks and dry vaginas, but really, ...”

Yes, we get it, you love being as crude and offensive as possible.


“Another Zillow employee, Rachel Kremer, sued Zillow complaining of “sexual torture” in an “adult frat house” and said the company had “a pervasive culture of degrading women.”

Kremer says she received harassing text messages, like this: “Call me. Matt is showering. Thinking 333 dinner drinks and your smooth vagina.”

In another exchange, Kremer asks a coworker, “Wanna go join a gym and work out tonight?”

His response: “Wanna blow me and have sex tonight?” No thanks, she tells him.

The lawyer who filed Kremer’s discrimination lawsuit says the harassment was the result of the male employees “being brainwashed by this corporate culture.” That culture, the attorney says, was basically the culture of a frat house. Zillow’s CEO, Spencer Rascoff, is a thirty-something former Goldman Sachs investment banker. The company’s nine-member management team includes seven white men and two white women.

Its board of directors comprises ten white guys. If you think that a frat house serves a good model for how to run a company, consider that Zillow went public in 2011, posted modest profits in 2011 and 2012, then reported losses in 2013, 2014, and the first nine months of 2015.”

Then, when trying to skewer other startups, suddenly Dan is a paragon of propriety and respect? There's some cognitive dissonance where he doesn't quite realize running around telling sex jokes at work feels like direct harassment to some people.


“Separately, he writes an email just to me, telling me I’m being hostile and aggressive, and that I need to cool down. He says my email messages have deeply offended Monica and Eileen. They’ve been working really hard on the conference, and now I’ve started berating them.”

Throughout the book, Dan recounts how almost every woman at the startup is conspiring against him. They move his stuff. They ignore his work. They refuse to review his proposals.

“A few days later, I arrive at the office and find that my desk is empty. The blog girls, smirking, say they don’t know what happened to my stuff. ”

He doesn't directly say "the women are out to get me," but he continually returns to pointing out how women at the office are, to his approximation, unpredictable, unstable, and vindictive.

Constantly returning to themes about "groups of women hate me in calculated, conniving, passive aggressive ways" adds to an odd feeling of persecution throughout the memoir and undermines his other legitimate points about age discrimination, nonsensical startup busy work, and global-scale financial manipulations.


Chaos Monkeys, Some Other Guy

Excerpts From: Antonio Garcia Martinez. “Chaos Monkeys.” HarperCollins.

“As you browse the Web far and wide, from shoe shopping on zappos.com to news reading on nytimes.com, Facebook sees you everywhere, as if it had a closed-circuit TV on all city streets.

Facebook’s terms of service had so far prohibited the use of the resulting data for commercial purposes, but this bold proposal suggested lifting that self-imposed restriction.”

This book starts off on a low note. The author attempts to convince Facebook management it's okay to track the web viewing of every every Internet user across the entire world by abusing embedded Facebook "social" buttons/widgets.

It's essentially the same tracking scheme as "unethical, dangerous—this is wrong" from The Dark Knight.

You despise the author after the first few pages and there's no redemption to be found.


“Most women in the Bay Area are soft and weak, cosseted and naive despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit. They have their self-regarding entitlement feminism, and ceaselessly vaunt their independence, but the reality is, come the epidemic plague or foreign invasion, they’d become precisely the sort of useless baggage you’d trade for a box of shotgun shells or a jerry can of diesel.”

The author wants the reader to be impressed by his keen abilities to judge women both in general (all women) and individually on a per-encounter basis.

Are you impressed yet?


“He was a bit stuffily pretentious, in that way only Indians with British accents can be.”

Excellent job at being racist.


“To a startup, media attention is like sex. There are only two types: good . . . and better. A founder should prefer to be arrested for public homosexual, pedophilic bestiality (baaaaa!) than to have his or her company ignored by the media.”

WHAT??

The author also makes a big deal about his unique form of Paul Graham worship and eventually faking his way into YC without having an actual product.

Gotta love that ineffable "founder quality" YC says it can detect because they "just have a sixth sense about selecting really good people."


“Around nine a.m. Pacific Standard Time I navigated to that venerable if niche corner of the Internet: Hacker News. A Reddit-like message board hosted by Y Combinator itself, it’s a weird mix of supertechnical geeks, hustling YC founders, and that species of simultaneously frustrated and sanctimonious poseur called a “wantrapreneur.”

Pretty sure nobody has used the word "wantrepreneur" since 2008.


I posted the piece, while asking a few friends to upvote the article to give it some initial traction. Within minutes, it was the number one post on Hacker News, seen by every serious (and not serious) young techie in the world. Then Scoble tweeted it, and the shit really hit the fan.”

Oh, look, insiders violating rules other people get killed for. Plus, holy shit, not Scoble!!!! Bring out the money hats!


“This post would be the first in a series of hyperviral blog posts that would put AdGrok on the startup map (if not quite the customer one). Every three to four weeks, another gaseous emanation from the latrine of human thought (a.k.a. me) would appear and rocket us to the top of Hacker”

hyperviral

startup map

rocket us to the top

"hyperviral" posts bragged about were basically bullshit Tim Ferris bro-themed posts with titles of:

  • how I got into Y Combinator and had a child with a woman I barely knew, almost simultaneously
  • Fuck you, Money
  • New York will always be a tech backwater, I don’t care what Chris Dixon or Ron Conway or Paul Graham say
    • includes: "+/- 1 for being Gentile (depends on the cocktail party)."

They say the NYC finance world makes everyone racist eventually. Looks like the pattern holds.


“Thanks to PG’s expulsion of these money changers from the Temple of Demo Day”

The author left an advertising company to start their own advertising startup.

When the original company sued the new startup, the author pulled political connections of investors to economically blackmail the original company into dropping the lawsuit.

This is normal.


“The women analogy breaks down in that, unlike with women, the more investors you seduce into your moresome, the more likely others are to join. This is an expression of the lemming-like nature of tech investors, most of whom scarcely merit the title.”

Yeah, that's a legitimate way to describe investor pathologies.


“There were few women one would call conventionally attractive at Facebook. The few there were rarely if ever dressed for work with their femininity on display in the form of dresses and heels.”

This author is like some poorly conceived characterization of how the rest of the world thinks evil people behave.


“To make an analogy, a capped note is like having to seduce five women one after the other, while an equity round is having to convince five women to do a fivesome with you”

Is your self esteem okay?


“Thus the best deceivers are called articulate, as they make listeners and readers fall in love with the thoughts projected into their heads. It’s the essential step in getting men to write you large checks, women to take off their clothes, and the crowd to read and repeat what you’ve thought. All with mere words: memes of meaning strung together according to grammar and good taste. Astonishing when you think about it.”

Whew, you almost got through a comparison without mentioning naked women. Close one there.


“The other star in the startup café firmament is Coupa Cafe in downtown Palo Alto. That’s where you go to talk up investors, plot with cofounders, and scope out the female scenery in PA (which is dominated by Stanford undergrads, and is impressive by Bay Area standards).”

Not creepy at all to visit near-campus areas to leer at "the female scenery." Keep up the good work.


“One of the few skills that I could bring to the startup game was my ability to detect human weakness”

One positive part about the book: the author fully embraces living the life of an asshole sociopath.


“Thursday nights at Sand Hill are famous for serving as “cougar nights,” where older, lonely women (and younger ones explicitly on the clock) congregate to ensnare Sand Hill’s wealthy denizens.”

Thanks for sharing. You sure are observant.


“The receptionists were jaw-droppingly hot. I’m talking “got lost on the way to New York Fashion Week” hot”

“The [other] receptionists were absolutely not model-esque Sequoia caliber, resembling more what you’d find in a dentist’s office.”

“I didn’t know enough about the VC world to interpret that as a good or bad sign.”

Our world would collapse if the author didn't recount his moment-by-moment judgment of every woman entering his visual field.


“Raising money while having a lawsuit over your head is like walking into a singles bar with a T-shirt announcing, “I’m HIV positive. How about you?” It doesn’t bode well for your prospects.”

Look at this hand-picked YC founder, everybody. Tolerance, acceptance, and a solid model of excellence for others to look up to.


“Zug [a swiss bank location where a funding transfer for them originated] is where African dictators, Latin American narcos, Russian oligarchs, and Lebanese arms dealers go to retire. But who was a Cuban boy raised in eighties Miami kidding? A little red never made money less green. Another log on the fire.”

Money talks. Blood money doesn't talk because you laugh at taking funding from dictators and oligarchs. Who cares as long as you cash out? Kill more people you'll never meet. It doesn't matter as long as you end up buying boats.


“I told the lawyers that we had raised money and were on the fast track to success, and wouldn’t they want to participate by accepting payment in shares? Then I told the investors that they could invest without fear, as the legal costs were minimal, and in any case the lawyers were accepting shares in lieu of cash.”

Lie to your investors, lie to your lawyers, lie to your co-founders, just keep lying until you cash out on your own.


“There are worse ways of monetizing sociopathy than startups. If you know better ways, I’m listening.”

Again, at least the awful author is honest about being awful.

When people say they "hate techies," this jerk author is the bro techie scum giving the rest of the industry a bad name. The question is: does this jerk author represent a significant fraction of tech jerks?


“You’ll have to trust me on this: the story of just about every early-stage startup is peppered with tales such as mine.

Backroom deals negotiated via phone calls to leave no legal trace, behind-the-back betrayals of investors or cofounders, seductive duping of credulous employees so they work for essentially nothing (e.g., Adchemy itself).

this meant no subterfuge, no underhanded blow, would be disallowed. In the startup game, there are no real rules, only laws, and weakly enforced ones at that. In the end, success would forgive any sins, as it did for Gates[…]”

Lie, cheat, steal, beat, kill. As long as you win, nobody can stand in your way.

If you find those tactics offensive or unethical or immoral, you don't "have what it takes" to succeed in startups these days.


“The only way to win was to subtly find Murthy’s balls, and hold a cold, sharp knife up against them until he saw the light of reason.”

Didn't really need such a visual, but the author writes for maximum offensiveness and "edgy" impact.


“Like every thirtysomething Israeli male, he was short, bald, and stocky, with an unemotional face that looked as hard as plywood. As is typical with most sabras, though, he warmed up when I gave every hint of not being a shit-for-brains.”

We covered racism previously. It doesn't stop.


“I took a peek in the waste bin, and noticed several discarded toothbrush wrappers. They actually get used regularly. People coded while they shat and needed to be provided toothbrushes at work. They had my attention.”

The ideal work environment for the author is where employees never go home. They live to work and work to live and don't stop working when sitting in bathroom stalls.


“Managing a combined deal between Facebook and Twitter was like trying to engineer simultaneous orgasm between a premature ejaculator and a frigid woman: nigh impossible, fraught with danger, and requiring a very steady hand.”

I can only imagine the analogies the author made in their YC interview.


“For my entire career at Facebook, I was embroiled in a rolling debate with the Facebook privacy and legal teams about what we could and couldn’t get away with, chiseling away at their legal trepidation, and trying to find some legal rubric that would forgive (or at least defensibly excuse) our next depredation with user data.”

Justify after the fact. Laws are meaningless. Only bro techie sociopath desires matter.


“I got down to the serious business, as some product managers do, of trying to bang my product marketing manager.”

Of course you did.


“Unlike most women at Facebook (or in the Bay Area, really) she knew how to dress; forties-style, form-fitting dresses from neck to knee were her mainstay. Her blond hair was offset by olive skin, and bright blue eyes shone like headlights from her neotenic face.”

Whew. The world almost ended there when you didn't pass judgment on a woman.


“My one-handed bra opening skills were decidedly rusty. It didn’t help that I felt something wrapped around my foot, like an extension cord, or perhaps a cardboard box. She tasted sweet, with a bit of biscuitiness from the happy-hour beer (she was a beer hound too). One . . . more . . . wire . . . loop . . . sticking . . . get . . . off . . . now. Something clattered as I partially lost my balance and took my weight off that foot. Victory was mine! The bra had given way.”

I checked, and the subtitle of your book isn't "my macho erotic journey through the bay area."


“The engine of mutual lust was revving, but I didn’t feel it was quite revved high enough to attempt carnal union.”

Twilight fan fiction called. They want their trashy writing style back.


“I looked across the table. If her look was supposed to disarm me, she needed either more cleavage or more charm.”

Thanks for sharing.

And we wonder why women don't feel safe in tech companies surrounded by a sea of bros.


[returning equipment after being fired]

“Where’s your laptop?”

“Right there,” I said, pointing.

“Where’s your phone?”

“I forgot it at home.”

“Hm, where’s your badge?”

“I also forgot it at home.”

I, of course, hadn’t forgotten anything. The badge would get me discounts at the Apple store forever. And the phone I hadn’t wiped yet.”

Oh, look, more lies, deceit, and unethical behavior for personal gain.

Maybe I've been going about the YC application process all wrong for the past 9 years? Though, when you see the bar is so low people like this author can scam their way in, it doesn't seem like something you'd want to be a part of anymore.


Conclusion

What does it all mean?

We have two books about two startups, one by a late stage employee and one by a "founder" of a new startup.

Both stories involve corruption, rampant unethical behavior, sexism, and the inalienable right of heteromacho asshole self expression to not be infringed upon. Though, in the end, each author ends up better than when they started.

The employee angle has some useful parts about cults of personality, cults in general, and the massive economic manipulations perpetuated by startups.

The "founder" angle is painfully weak. A new startup with a failed product run by a sociopath ended up manipulating acquihire-as-hiring-bonus situations in less than a year. That's not a startup. It's just running a self promotional vehicle by using the startup ecosystem against itself.

The scary part is: most predatory sociopaths don't end up bragging about their manipulations to the world. They're like roaches—for every one you see, there's 1,000 you don't see hiding just outside your peripheral vision.

Can we even separate the startup personality types requiring ambition and "i will own the world" mentality from self-aggrandizing "i own every person i see and it is my right to abuse them for great benefit" mentality? Investors happily accept pervy jerks among their ranks as long as investments grow.

After all, in a world of infinite money, investors can always pay off victims and hide accusations when the sociopaths get too predatory (this happens way more than most people realize). The limit of economic growth is talent and personality, not acceptance or mutual respect or empathy. You can always sequester offended or abused people so they aren't allowed an outlet to tell their stories.

There won't be intrinsic pressure to fix the "anything goes as long as you generate returns" system as long as the system is corrupt assholes all the way from the richest investors down to the poorest scum-of-the-earth founders crawling out of the woodwork. Just lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, accept blood money from anywhere—do it all, just as long as you end up with more money in the end.

-Matt@mattsta☁mattsta