If anyone's going to be eager to read a book about what it was like for a tech journalist to work at a tech startup, it would be another tech journalist.
The much-anticipated book by Dan Lyons, "Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Startup Bubble," has already been excerpted, dissected and reviewed by major publications after it was released last month. By the way, Lyons is also semi-famous for being the author of the Fake Steve Jobs blog and writes for the HBO show "Silicon Valley."
This had to be good. I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy.
As Lyons describes in the book, tech journalists often fantasize about life on The Other Side.
All those hip offices with free food and yoga balls for chairs, workout classes, massage therapists and stock options raining down from the sky can look awfully tempting. Lyons thought so too and decided to find out if the grass really was greener.
After getting laid off from Newsweek in 2012, where he was a technology editor, Lyons first landed a job at ReadWrite, which he describes as a "struggling technology news site." This job also meant he spent a lot of time in San Francisco, rather than Boston, where he lives.
Spending all that time around tech workers, Lyons soaked up some of that tech Kool-Aid by osmosis.
He later accepted a job at a Boston-area tech startup called HubSpot, which makes marketing automation software for businesses.
A big driver behind Lyons' decision to work for HubSpot are the stock options. At the time, the company hadn't gone public yet. Most employees are given options at a startup that could be worth a lot of money when the company goes public.
Fantasizing about HubSpot becoming the next Microsoft or Google, Lyons writes that "I might make some serious money, something I've managed to avoid doing over the course of my career as a journalist."
But it's clear from day one that Lyons is not a "culture fit."
First of all, he's 52. The company is filled with young workers and the atmosphere is more akin to a frat house, he writes.
"HubSpot seems to recruit a certain kind of person: young and easily influenced, kids who belonged to sororities and fraternities or played sports in college," Lyons writes. For many, it is their first job out of college, which from Lyons' vantage point makes them easily brainwashed.
Conformity is prized at HubSpot, a trait Lyons struggles with the most as he challenges and questions superiors or colleagues, even mocking his company on Facebook.
Lyons is adept at connecting the dots for the reader about why what he experienced at HubSpot matters on a larger scale, so that it's not just a fish-out-of-water story.
He breaks down why tech startups like to hire so many 20-something employees. It's not just that the tech founders themselves tend to be young and therefore biased toward youth. It's that younger workers are cheaper and more gullible, he says.
For instance, a telling moment comes about midway through the book when Lyons tries to cast some skepticism upon the popular candy wall at HubSpot that is part of their "fun" workplace.
"You guys are the first generation that's willing to work for free candy," Lyons says. "My generation would never have fallen for that. We wanted to get paid in actual money."
The point doesn't sit well with his co-workers, who don't want to hear they are suckers. They rise up in defense of the free candy. Lyons tries to explain that money is a better incentive for performance than candy. But they don't want to hear it. Long live the candy wall!
At times, Lyons does come across as overly sensitive about the young workforce, committing a bit of reverse-ageism.
For instance, on his first day he is unhappy to find out that his boss is in his 20s. He doesn't know anything about him - just that he's young and therefore that must be a bad thing.
Some of the most bruising criticisms about HubSpot center around the flaws of its actual product. HubSpot sells software that helps small-to-medium-sized businesses with their marketing efforts.
But Lyons realizes during training that he's working for a company that essentially sends mountains of spam email and pesters people into using its products. Of course HubSpot doesn't see it this way and proudly touts itself as an "anti-spam" company.
Worse, their actual product isn't very good, Lyons says. "The (software) programs aren't especially good," Lyons writes. Their content management system is "awful." And even HubSpot struggles to use its own software to generate sales, he says.
There are also some truly dark moments in "Disrupted," when Lyons touches on the cruelty of HubSpot as an employer, and of the tech industry at large.
A woman in her 30s with a baby at home who just returned from a one-month medical leave is abruptly fired. Some employees are fired just before their options vest. A woman pregnant with twins was fired after only four months on the job. And Lyons himself was subjected to abuse by a tyrannical boss who wanted to get rid of him.
According to Lyons:
To be sure, there are plenty of shiny, happy people working in tech. But this is also a world where wealth is distributed unevenly and benefits accrue mostly to investors and founders, who have rigged the game in their favor. It's a world where older workers are not wanted, where people get tossed aside when they turn forty. It's a world where employers discriminate on the basis of race and gender, where founders sometimes turn out to be sociopathic monsters, where poorly trained (or completely untrained) managers abuse employees and fire people with impunity, and where workers have little recourse and no job security."
Other articles and books have brought up similar points. But thanks to the proliferation of non-disclosure agreements, it is rare to find one like "Disrupted" that offers an unvarnished insider's view of a tech startup.
That makes the book a must-read for anyone who works at a tech startup or wants to create one, in the same vein that books like "One L" became mandatory reading for soon-to-be law students after its publication in the 1970s.
As you might expect, HubSpot did not react kindly to this book. It would be a spoiler to say exactly what happened, but at least one person was fired at the company in connection with the book's publication.
HubSpot's public response was fairly measured. They responded to the book with a LinkedIn post on April 12. Some of their responses are silly - such as when they claim people like to work there and then post smiling shots of employees as proof. But they get credit for also acknowledging some of the issues Lyons brought up and promising to address them, such as lack of diversity.
As for me, this book was a delightful portal into the world of a tech startup without ever having to leave my newsroom cubicle.
The day after I finished the book I came into the newsroom with a new appreciation for our aging building, nondescript grey cubicles piled high with papers and decidedly not free vending machine food.
(Don't throw me a pity party, we do get the occasional free pizza or lunch out.)
Journalists don't have glamorous offices or stock options. But we do meaningful work - unlike, say, writing spam emails. I can challenge my boss when I disagree with a decision and not be punished for it.
I won't ever get rich - but at least I don't get paid in candy walls.