Key Takeaways from “Disrupted” by Dan Lyons

Tl;dr “Disrupted” offers a genuine, hilarious look at startups in the early 2010s, with relevant lessons for anyone working in a tech startup or considering joining one.

Recently, I devoured the book ‘Disrupted’ by Dan Lyons. I spent two full days in a fever of reading, unable to put this little e-book down. “Disrupted” is a memoir of the author’s transition from being laid-off as a journalist with the popular magazine Newsweek, to finding work in the marketing department of an early stage startup in Silicon Valley in the early 2000s. Which startup? To my surprise, a very successful one: HubSpot, a popular marketing automation company, which currently has a net worth of $16.08B.

The section on generating leads by publishing the word ‘dogshit’ over and over killed me.

I‘ve worked in the marketing departments of tech startups for a little over a year. I found some of the experiences of the author relatable, and all of them hilarious. But it bears mentioning that the startup ecosystem has evolved immensely since the early 2000s Adderall-driven, booze-guzzling, tech-debt-accruing mania. Tech startups are more ‘down to business’ and formal now. My guess is the business model of ‘ Product?? No! Generate revenue! Grow huge! Profit!’ is no longer working, and many startups have to actually have a product that works before they are taken seriously by investors. (Although many tech companies still have yet to turn an actual profit.)

Business 101 for Silicon Valley

It could also be that the millennials who fueled the young, naive workforce of the 2000s are older now, and as a result have different priorities. It could have to do with the federal reserve printing less money. It could also do with the fact that most of the startups I’ve worked in are cybersecurity related, and as such, are more formal. ‘Qui sait’ as the French say…who knows.

All that said, here are some key takeaways. I hope you give this hilarious, honest, and occasionally painfully graphic book a read!

  • Agism is a huge problem in this book, and it is my belief that it is still an issue. We don’t talk about it as an industry, but it is still rampant.
  • The way to make serious money in Silicon Valley in the past (and could be argued, in the present) was through equity. However, the biggest beneficiaries of that money are the founders and investors, not workers. I recommend to anyone considering a startup: equity should be seen as a perk, not a salary.
  • Make sure you research a startup’s leadership before you join. Dan did no such thing and paid for it by working under leadership that was inexperienced, directionless, and at times, incredibly cruel.
  • In HubSpot, there was conflict between the people who had been there from the beginning and those that were coming in on the second/third wave of hiring. This is actually quite common. If you’re coming in after the ground floor people have been there a while, its good to build trust before jumping in with ideas and suggestions for improvement.
  • ‘Culture fit’ in “Disrupted” is code for ‘are you the particular flavor of white person we’re looking for?’ To a great extent, this is still what the term means. If a company invites you for a ‘culture fit’ interview, take it with a huge grain of salt.
Behold! Culture Fit!
  • Dan Lyons has a ‘nightmare boss’ experience, going so far as the boss hacking into Dan’s computer to stop the publication of “Disrupted”. (Ironically, the nightmare criminal hacker boss became the CMO of a cybersecurity company shortly thereafter). Document everything if someone is harassing you at work. It may save your butt in a situation like Dan’s.

To conclude, Dan had a crappy experience that he salvaged by turning it into a relatable and funny book. Startups are very different now than they were back then. I still heartily recommend working for one; the work is fast-paced, interesting, and the difference you can make on the ground level is deeply rewarding. Just make sure you work for one that is functional!

Many thanks to the leadership at Bright Security for encouraging and funding my book obsession. Y’all are the best :)

If you want to join a functional startup, with a cross-cultural team, and interesting work in the CyberSecurity field, check out Bright! You can see our job postings here

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