HOME theatre has a history of supporting technology as well as the arts, even though this side of its personality may not be as well publicised as the others. I’ve previously seen Martin Bryant (formerly of The Next Web, now of Tech North) giving his round up of the best new apps and technological developments on the horizon. As well as these regular informal chats, HOME is also host to Thinking Digital Manchester, which is a digitally focused TED-like conference. In another string to HOME’s technological bow, head honcho of Thinking Digital Herb Kim, brought Dan Lyons to HOME for a Q&A.
Dan Lyons was a writer on techie smash hit Silicon Valley (trailer here – there’s some bad language though, so fair warning), where he presumably drew on his not-all-that-positive experience of working in the marketing team at HubSpot. The Q&A was in support of his new book Disrupted: Ludicrous Adventures In The Start Up Bubble.
Dan spoke on the instability and “window dressing” involved in working at a start up, how the flashy and prevalent ‘free beer Fridays’ and office fuseball tables were there to distract employees from their low wages.
Dan stressed how little VCs care about the products and services that start ups provide, and how they are more concerned with growth and growth only, regardless of how it is achieved. The cycle of VC funding and IPO (Initial Public Offering – otherwise known as ‘going public’), doesn’t seem to have products, consumers and least of all employees, best interests at its core.
Dan also spoke about how his age affected his experience at HubSpot and how HubSpot staff specifically spoke about how weird it was that he was literally twice the age of the average employee (26) and how they could use this as a marketing and promotional device. In a recent interview with Forbes, he spoke about hearing people at the company actually say “young people are smarter”, and that they were actively only looking to employ younger people.
One of the most worrying aspects of this for me is the idea of ‘culture fit’. Dan talked about how employees have to fit into the culture of a company, which is understandable to some degree, but he noticed that this was being used as a short hand for employing only people who would perpetuate the ‘bro’ culture. People who would go out and get wasted at staff drinks on a Friday night, or be free to run all night hackathons. Companies that operate this way are then made up of the same kind of people, and that ‘bro’ culture permeates the entire company. He talked about being at one particular meeting and looking out onto a see of youthful, white male faces, and how worried it made him. Companies are made weaker by only employing one ‘type’ of person. Fitting into a culture is one thing, but seeing a product or service from a range of perspectives and angles can only strengthen a company, and choosing to perpetuate this mono-culture is damaging and outright prejudiced. Hear Dan talk about this specific issue in this Fortune interview.
Dan was an engaging and relaxed speaker and his book is funny and horrifying in equal measure. Definitely recommended reading for anyone who is curious about tech start ups.