Book review: Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by Dan Lyons

My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble
By Dan Lyons
Published by Hachette
Reviewed by Alan Cairns, senior content marketing manager, Jellyfish


I once heard about an agency that encouraged employees to place a tennis ball into "happy" or "sad" buckets at the end of each working day.

At first I thought this was a clever way to measure workplace happiness, but I ended up realising it was a canny way of getting employees to reflect on their own work satisfaction, prompting them to make positive changes. Those confused by modern millennial-focused workplaces will sympathise with Dan Lyons, a journalist-turned- marketer who struggles to adapt to a role as a "marketing fellow" at marketing software start-up HubSpot.

The former technology editor at Newsweek finds himself unable to create content that converts as well as keyword- generated blog posts, and feels a sense of distance and isolation in a workplace dominated by twenty-somethings and a company culture he can’t understand. Lyons is unable to ingratiate himself at HubSpot, where regular hollow exclamations of "awesome!!!" and "epic!!!" are accompanied by "1+1=3" being used as an adjective and a teddy bear representing clients in internal meetings.

Lyons acknowledges his inability to immerse himself in HubSpot’s company culture, and he puts this down to two things. First off, he’s significantly older than most of his colleagues and secondly he’s from a journalism background where critical thinking, skepticism and dark humour are valued above positivity.

While he questions the lack of ethnic and gender diversity at HubSpot, he also questions whether there is room for someone of his age and personality. But as his understanding of HubSpot grows, a more pressing concern surfaces – how can anyone at HubSpot get rich when the company makes continual losses? Why aren’t senior managers more concerned about the lack of profitability? Lyons’ background has provided him with a solid understanding of tech business, and while his description of the financial smoke and mirrors required to grow and float an $880 million company is astonishing, it’s Lyons’ personal experience that supplies the more engaging parts of this book.

While Lyons was quick to scoff at HubSpot’s company personality assessment, his story is testament to the fact that individuals think, act and behave differently, and the more this can be understood in the workplace the better.

Diversity in the workplace is a good thing, and perhaps employers focused heavily on attracting and retaining millennials could do with considering how this affects more experienced employees. ‘Disrupted’ gives an excellent insight into what it’s like to be an experienced professional working at one of Silicon Valley’s scalable start-ups.

Crib Sheet

If you only have time for this … key points from the book

  • This is the story of journalist and ex-Newsweek technology editor Dan Lyons embarking on a new career at marketing software company HubSpot.

  • Lyons becomes increasingly disillusioned with his new role. The positive workplace culture is foreign to the ex-journalist, with bizarre company mottos and methods of working, including looking for "1+1=3 ideas" and using a teddy bear as a stand-in for clients at meetings.

  • Ignored by his bosses and unable to make significant changes, Lyons is frustrated by being unable to create content that converts.

  • Beyond the difficulties Lyons has fitting into the workplace, the book exposes the growth strategies undertaken by Silicon Valley start-ups, asking how a company making continual losses can be valued at $880 million.

  • Although the process of growing and floating a multi-million dollar company is interesting, it’s Lyons’ perspective on being an older person from a traditional media background in a millennial-focused workplace that supplies more entertaining and thought-provoking material. While Lyons regularly questions ethnic and gender diversity in the workplace, his experiences pose more interesting questions about how different personalities can work together.


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