I couldn’t wait for Dan Lyon’s book about his year at Hubspot — Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble — so I bought the thing twice, impatiently waiting until 5 am this morning to pull down the Kindle version just so I could start reading on the morning boat from Hingham to Rowes Wharf. I actually committed two honest-to-god “LOLs” during the 30 minute boat ride — but then again Lyons has been making me laugh since we were in high school together in the late 70s, then at the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune covering little towns in southern Massachusetts, then at PC Week, and Forbes ….. and so on and so forth.
And here I am only half-way through the book and jumping the gun and writing half a review, which is better than most of the hacks who have been riffing off the excerpt Fortune published a couple weeks ago. But, having listened to Dan during his time at Hubspot, comparing notes, and knowing a bit about Hubspot’s “culture” I pretty much know how the story turns out.
Dan is a disciple of some classic newsroom curmudgeons (especially the late Jim Michaels who ruled over Forbes with the best bullshit detector in the business) and he nails the zeitgeist of a contemporary tech startup with pitch perfection. Given we’re roughly the same vintage and have followed the same professional career track, there’s a lot in Disrupted that hits painfully close to the truth of my own situation as a 50-something white guy who stopped being a reporter to dive in as a marketer inside of the kind of tech company I used to cover for nearly two decades alongside Dan.
Of the two of us, Dan is by far the funnier and better writer, with much bigger balls. His novel Dog Days is a fictional harbinger of Disrupted and the shit he stirred up at Forbes under his own byline was always fun to read; but it was his Secret Diary of Steve Jobs that gave birth to one of the better cat-and-mouse games in the Valley as even Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard started offering a free iPod to whomever would out the first genuinely funny satirist of Valley inanity. That Hubspot would hire him as a “marketing fellow” made sense on the surface. Lots of ex-reporters were taking corporate content gigs, myself included, launching custom publishing operations like Adobe’s CMO.com and Qualcomm’s Spark. Alas, as readers of Disrupted will discover, Dan found himself in the grasp of Lead Gen — aka getting people to share their email or phone number so they can be spammed or called until they either cave in and buy something or vow never again to part with their contact information in exchange for an “e-book” of some tedious “thought leadership” written by a marketing intern captivated by the emerging industry of marketing “gurus” who have managed to repackage the old sins of 2nd class direct mail and telemarketing into something suspiciously full of benign purpose, or as Hubspot dubbed it “Inbound Marketing.As I wrote last week on “ageism” in tech — sure it sucks to be an out of work reporter in one’s 50s forced into PR or content marketing and find after decades of cutting through corporate-speak and marketing bullshit one is suddenly inflicting the same on the world in the service of growth and the brass ring of a possible IPO. Dan made it through to the IPO and then decamped for Mike Judge’s HBO series Silicon Valley where he’s still a writer.
Someone needs to make a movie out of Disrupted — especially since Hubspot gave Dan the parting gift of a sordid scandal in which one exec was canned, another fled the scene, and the CEO got a reprimand for trying to either grab a copy of the manuscript or extort the publisher into killing it. Hubspot will be fine, it’s the world of marketing automation that needs to be afraid — very afraid — as Lyons holds up a mirror and calls it like it is. I’m sure an entire subculture of social media consultants, growth hackers, and funnel optimization and lead nurturers are going to rise up in outrage and claim he didn’t get the point, but watching them turn to LinkedIn, Medium, and even dear old Forbes.com to try to salvage their reason for existing has been a lot of fun to watch and marvel over.