Although I'm a little late to the game, I feel compelled to right my own reflection to Dan Lyons’ scathing expose of HubSpot, it’s culture and platform. Serendipitously, I finished the book on the plane on my way to Partner Day at HubSpot HQ. In the interest of full disclosure: my company, Relish Tray Media, is a HubSpot Gold Partner and has been a partner and customer since June of 2012.
For those who have not read the book, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, Mr. Lyons largely focuses on his struggles as a laid-off newsman in his mid-fifties trying to reinvent himself and assimilate into the culture of a tech startup. Unfortunately for HubSpot, that is where he lands and seems to direct all of the ire of his mid life-crisis at the company and its young workforce. His contempt for any and every colleague is apparent in his need to point out the age of every character he describes. Maybe it’s a hangover of an investigative reporting style, but it comes off as bitter and unfair. His assessment seems to be anybody under the age of 30 is a meat head bro or entitled bimbo and they couldn’t possibly know more than him in an industry that they worked in longer. Sure he has more work experience, but each co-worker he eschews has more experience in marketing and a better understanding of the platform and the company purpose.
That said, Mr. Lyons makes some valid points. Similar to Mr. Lyons, albeit a younger age, in my mid-thirties I took a job at “start-up" and can relate to his feeling of ageism when surrounded by empowered 20-somethings. In my case, my core competency - email marketing - was also seen as an antiquated “uncool” channel. The creative and development types were much more interested in the latest social media tools, redesigning the website, and booking bands to play at lunch. This attitude exacerbated my feeling of the not-cool old mom of the group. While every employee was being recruited to model the tee-shirts the company sold, invited to parties, and asked to participate in kickball teams, I was left in a limbo between the well-compensated C-level and hipster workforce.
My point is I get it. It happens and Dan Lyons is right: it can be hard to age in the current culture of tech and marketing. What he does not appear to accept is his own role in perpetuating his curmudgeon persona and completely dismissing the value of people younger than himself. As a matter of fact, he dismisses the value of marketing in general! Anytime one sends an email, it’s “spam” and the internet has been polluted with marketing and advertisement. (I would love for Dan to explain how the internet would have grown to be the place it is without the ad revenue to develop new technologies - but I digress). I can only imagine his disdain for his co-workers and the HubSpot platform seeping through in his daily interactions. Mr. Lyons claims that everyone had to drink the HubSpot kool-aid, but he seems to be throwing it up on their laps.
This brings me to his criticism of the “cult-like” atmosphere. It is certainly not unique to HubSpot or tech startups. Behemoth technology and 100-year-old financial services companies often try to perpetuate the same loyalty to the “firm” as HubSpot seems to be promoting. Of course, it’s not for everyone; it’s not something for which I particularly have patience. However, it’s important to remember that company culture goes a long way in today’s recruiting environment. Much has been written about increased productivity and employee longevity related to a positive relationship with one’s employer.
The venture capital/IPO/stock structure outlined in the book is scary and worth exploring. However, HubSpot is hardly deserving of his scorn by working within the structure already defined and implemented by many. In that case, Mr. Lyons himself is just as guilty in participating in the process to walk away with $60k from vested stock post HubSpot IPO.
Despite some of the buffoonery and unscrupulous actions allegedly taken by members of the management team as told in the book, I would attest that HubSpot is a solid company, with an amazing product that treats its partners heads and shoulders better than its competitors. Is there something wrong with believing what you’re doing is somehow altruistic? Maybe I’m a sucker for thinking that helping a small or independent business succeed in a competitive world by giving them tools, methodology, and training to be successful in their own market is bigger than money alone. I appreciate that HubSpot has given my small company the ability to hire, partner, and grow. I appreciate that they don’t ask me to sell 6-figure software packages to deserve their support and resources.
So maybe I drank a little of the kool-aid. So what?