Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
My year in startup hell (fortune.com)
421 points by amirmc on March 27, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 170 comments

Apparently Hubspot did dirty tricks to try to obtain a copy of the manuscript, as well as blocking publication. The CMO and a VP are gone because of it. You can't make this stuff up.


Edit: Here's the worst stuff the article mentioned, I figured it would be good to highlight the relevant quote. These are felonies.

The documents also say there was an effort “to obtain sensitive information on individuals with access to the book’s transcript, or control of the publishing deal. The information found was then used as leverage in an attempt to prevent the book from reaching the market place.”

The report also mentions “tactics such as email hacking and extortion” in the attempt “to railroad the book.”

This should be top comment. Especially because the apologists cropping up here will actively avoid and obfuscate the heart of the matter. [1]

> Chief executive Brian Halligan was fined for failing to promptly alert the company’s board of directors after finding out about the incident. The actions were a result of an investigation by law firm Goodwin Procter on behalf of HubSpot’s board.

> “really aggressive tactics,” but he [the CEO] refused to disclose further details of the unusual incident.[2]

> “It was fishy enough that I definitely should have reported it,” Halligan said in the interview at the company’s offices. “I agree with the message they sent me. I agree that I showed poor judgment.” [2][3]

Bro/frat-iness/childishness aside, if your culture condones criminal acts at the highest levels of power (yes, extortion is illegal) then your culture is screwed up.

These acts do not happen in vacuum. They often-times happen when everyone drinks the kool-aid; when everyone is always right so long as they do everything to protect "us" vs "them" without question.

So far as I can tell, only the bare minimum was done internally to address these felonies, so I'm not positive on Hubspot's future.

[1] "Loyalty over morality", as someone once explained to me.

[2] http://www.betaboston.com/news/2015/07/31/fishiness-led-to-h...

[3] "Fishy", "poor judgement", such nice sounding words.

I'm curious as to why there was no prosecution. Given the heavy hand wielded by the Feds in this region for other cases, you'd think extortion and hacking would be a slam dunk?

Well unfortunately I think part of the answer may be the victims in those cases were more influential.

That seems to go against their "no jerks" policy they're so proud of

Do you have a mirror of the bostonglobe article so the rest of us can read it??

It's all mentioned in the bottom. The company also fired everyone involved. (More than we can say for a lot of companies)

Note: I have no connection to HubSpot, and I hate spam.

I worked at HubSpot for many years. (disclaimer - I do not have a financial interest in the company. But I do still have strong emotional and social connections, and I was there long enough that I feel some sense of ownership for the company culture).

Remember that this article is written in order to entertain and sell books. Everything is hyper exaggerated. There are a few fair points (for instance we were very overcrowded, we could not lease new sections of the building we were in fast enough. And yeah, some of the "change the world through Inbound marketing" messaging was over-the-top and made my eyes roll). But a lot of it is either inaccurate or spun to seem bad when it wasn't (see my other comments https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11370077 or https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11370016).

For the most part, HubSpot was a normal workplace where the vast majority of the time people worked hard and did their thing. People occasionally interrupted work for fun hijinks and we did sometimes have parties after work. By packing in every outrageous story into a few paragraphs, he makes it sound way crazier than it was.

I should also add that overall work-life balance was pretty good, and the company made efforts not to be "ageist". I had both mothers and fathers on my team and they could get out of the office on time to be with their families. As we matured, we planned our fun team-building events in ways to ensure that parents could attend them. There is an implication by the author that he did not fit in because he was old, but I do not think that is a fair critique.

I do not think he was implying that he did not fit because he's old. He implied that he did not fit because he's mature...

I didn't get a total feeling of maturity from his writing. Did you read it? Mostly low-ball shots taken at startup practices that are pretty commonplace now, primarily for their proven effectiveness. Like the fact that he was disturbed to find that Zack, being so young, wasn't an assistant but a manager. It's like the idea of promoting individuals based on results and performance, rather than age and tenure, was foreign to the author. And ironically, he displayed a lot of ageist qualities himself there. I wouldn't exactly characterize that as maturity.

I got the same impression. And I'm close to the same age as the author so it's not like I'm a teenager thinking "You just don't get it!"

This is exactly what I was thinking, I worked at a similar company and there was a lot of promoting of values and having fun but it was like most other work places most of the time. And it would be super easy to exaggerate and mischaracterise it. However I did see one or two people who resented the talk about values and saw it as brainwashing that attempted to hide the fact that we were there basically to help the founders get richer and I got a sense of that from his article.

That in a sense is of course true and you'd always be wary of such narratives and keep your own cool and detached judgements. But I don't think there's anything wrong with the "having fun" bit anyways. Surely at the end of the day only the major shareholders get super rich and you'd have to be well aware of this fact, but the fun and relaxation you had would be something nobody can take away.

Hubspot (disclaimer: I hold a nominal number of shares I bought on IPO day, entirely because I like them) is, contrary to take in this article, a software company which makes a suite of things that are essentially me-in-a-box at a price point that a business with $500k in revenue can tolerate. With specific reference to the spam bit: they neither teach it nor allow it, because (like everyone else in email marketing) if one of their customers spams and they don't address that, Google/Yahoo/Microsoft will end their business.

The basic model on that side of the business is really simple: teach people how to write things that good prospects would find useful. Get them to write those things. Trade a copy for their email address and permission to send more things they will like. Send them more things they like, including recommendations on what you have that they should buy.

I know this sounds like black magic. It's not. Consider an insurance agent who sells to small businesses. They have zero software people in-house and perhaps 1.5 people who do marketing.

You tell those people "Write about the businesses you work with. Write about the kind or risks they have. Write the stuff you know that they don't about E&O policies and bind documents and what own occupation LTD means and how it is superior to any occupation LTD. Get the emails of businesses who could purchase from you. Then, after becoming their trusted advisor in the confusing world of insurance, sell them insurance. They did not do the research on E&O because they were fascinated with the subject intellectually. They did it because they have a legitimate need for it. Do the work upfront on education and you will be the obvious place to buy it from."

This works. Very well.

I can't comment on the company culture. Many startups seem pretty wild to me on that score. At the end of the day, though? It's a bunch of people, with jobs, engaged in honest labor. Insurance agents need marketing software; Hubspot makes it; this leaves the world a bit better off.

Consider an insurance agent who sells to small businesses. They have zero software people in-house and perhaps 1.5 people who do marketing.

You tell those people "Write about the businesses you work with. Write about the kind or risks they have... Do the work upfront on education and you will be the obvious place to buy it from."

This works. Very well.

It works very well, if you can get the insurance agent to follow your instructions. In my experience (I co-founded agentmethods.com, which is roughly "Hubspot for insurance agents"), the best insurance agents often aren't the best writers and frankly don't want to do the work.

In a world where everyone wants the results but nobody wants to do the work, you quickly find snake oil sales people showing up selling the promise of no-work instant results. We've all come across those sleazy SEO firms promising first page rankings for a phrase nobody searches for. I'm not saying that Hubspot is that firm, but it is the world they play in.

> This works. Very well.

Perhaps it does to some extent (especially if your competition is low), but eventually the pool installer from the article figured out that the real money was in selling others on the idea that "inbound marketing" works.

> Trade a copy for their email address and permission to send more things they will like.


> This works. Very well.

And has become annoying. Very annoying.

Recent "annoying web design trends" articles are listing this technique.

I delete about fifty or those things a day.

Why not just click unsubscribe at the bottom? I've found that's a very effective way to stop them being sent.

It's never just one list. As savvy inbound marketers, they added you to the list for their daily newsletter. But they also surreptitiously added you to separate lists for monthly and quarterly news, book releases, and events.

And since you didn't read the fine print, you didn't realize you were being signed up for those five lists at each of the parent company's properties.

But they all have separate unsubscribe links. So just when you think you're done hearing from them, you get an email from another list.

That's what happened to me recently when I signed up for daily "running tips" from a major publisher in the field. I ended up setting up a filter for the publishing company's name straight to spam. Then I hop in my spam box every week or so & unsubscribe.

Edit: today's lists were "You have been unsubscribed from our Men's Health Special Offers email list. Thank you." and "You have been unsubscribed from our Organic Gardening Special Offers email list. Thank you."

Fortunately, I have a folder for them and a Bayesian filter thing that puts most of them there.

If the following works well, then it's by sheer luck:

"Trade a copy for their email address and permission to send more things they will like."

I routinely delete emails about stuff I like, without ever reading it. It's still spam, and I don't want it in my inbox!

It is by definition not spam, because you asked for it. You said "I want that PDF, here is my email, please send me that PDF (or newsletter or course or whatever)."

You are obviously fully within your right to unsubscribe later, including immediately after downloading said PDF, but it's not spam by any real definition.

Only because of a dark pattern that obscured the fact they would continue to email me.

Regardless it's utterly ineffective. It goes straight to the trash.

There is no reason whatsoever to ask for an email other than to continue to email someone. Unless you're signing up for an account (which is a completely different flow), no reasonable person could honestly expect that they're just giving someone an email address so that they can get a PDF link and that that will be the end of it.

Which is precisely what happens. They always ask this question when you sign up for an account.

You don't represent the way a majority of the world thinks. It's important to remember that being someone that creates software for people

Actually, I do. The rate of sales to number of emails sent is minuscule. That's why there is so much spam!

"For example, it instructs that when someone quits or gets fired, the event will be referred to as 'graduation.'"

Well, they're certainly laying on the euphemisms here. I mean, maybe it's just me, but that reminds me an awful lot of 1984 esque newspeak and the Ministry of Love. It's all 'lets make the worst possible stuff sound like a good thing'.

I worked at HubSpot in engineering and I never once heard the term "graduation" in reference to a firing. Usually we just got an email saying, "HubSpot and John have decided to go separate ways" or something to that effect. If someone left by their own choice, usually they would send a "this is my last week" email and we would all go for beers on the last day. The term "graduation" was rarely used in either case. I only remember it being used in the context where an executive would say something like, "John did great work for us, he's now going to be a VP at a new startup, we want to think of this as a graduation."

> "HubSpot and John have decided to go separate ways"

That's not much better. It's very rarely mutual. Either John has been fired, or John has found another job - perhaps at a company where no one lights cleaning equipment on fire - and is quitting.

It was used quite a bit in Customer Success. It was used when I was told to leave a few days into my four-weeks' notice.

Eng was in another world, especially after the move where your team wound up in your own, separately keyed area of the building, complete with your own kitchen.

Using euphemisms, particularly with the goal of making bad events seem good, is indeed grating and lame.

I think the intention here is sound, though. There is so much negative baggage around "fired", "laid off", "quit", etc, when these are really not negative events at all. This is where an employee is liberated from a situation that isn't working (quite possibly at a company that isn't doing well, is poorly managed, or in a shrinking industry), and will generally end up working somewhere better, taking the opportunity to travel or start there own business, and grow.

Trying to remove these associations from the process is a worthwhile goal, but it would be rather more honest to just go for something neutral like "no longer with us" than trying to co-opt "graduation", which obviously means something completely different.

> There is so much negative baggage around "fired", "laid off", "quit", etc, when these are really not negative events at all. This is where an employee is liberated from a situation that isn't working (quite possibly at a company that isn't doing well, is poorly managed, or in a shrinking industry), and will generally end up working somewhere better, taking the opportunity to travel or start there own business, and grow.

Yeah, right. Try to tell this to a single mother of two trying to pay the mortgage.

For a lot of people (I'd say most people), being fired is not a pleasant experience.

True. Words are cheap. However, with sufficient severence and a removal of social stigma it might someday be less of a "your life is a failure" situation.

Being fired or laid off isn't a negative event? In what world? This perception blows my mind. Being "let go" can be devastating. Especially for long time employees.

It's also extremely negative for the company. It's as much a failure on the companies part as it is the employees (with exception of course. Misconduct being an obvious one).

how about you'd already decided to leave and are now actively slacking... its free money for minimum effort until the employer realises it?

They should have put in their X weeks notice or the company should have had the foresight to weed someone like that out before hiring them.

> bad event

That's the thing: I don't think that parting ways with a company is a bad thing anymore. So, if the event stops being bad, why use the word with old emotional baggage to describe it?

What's changed that makes being laid off not "a bad thing anymore"? How is losing your primary source of income without notice not a bad thing?

It's an interesting question as to whether something has changed to make being laid off not a bad thing any more - perhaps increased flexibility and liquidity in the labor market from, say, internet job ads, has made this much less of a problem than it used to be.

Keep in mind that "laid off" != "losing your primary source of income". A person's primary source of income is, let's say, working as a software developer. If you're laid off, you can still work as a software developer, you just need to spend a little time finding somewhere else to do that. In this way, it's quite different from losing your primary source of income due to, say, ill health.

Even if you don't find somewhere else to work, as get all the time that you were previously selling to your employer back to use as you see fit, so in accounting terms it's a wash, rather than a loss.

Or, as in Logan's Run, when an employee turns 30, they "rejuvenate"

Great movie, novel and series. The terms in the movie are either rebirth, the promise of being reborn as a machine raised baby (a belief) or winning renewal when you touch the rainbow unharmed, extra time to your life. Rebirth is an eufemism for being obligatory zapped (or obligatory dying by a pleasurable gas in the novel), can you even win renewal in the deadly carrousel? http://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/22080/what-did-the-...

> Great movie, novel and series.

TIL! I guess once I'm done with the Dune books, I'll have to go through this.

This isn't that bad. A company will never announce internally whether or not someone got fired or is just quitting (a well-run one, at least), with some exceptions (e.g. the executive level). Companies will just say something to the effect of: someone is moving on from the company. There's nothing wrong with using "graduating" in place of "moving on from the company", "leaving," "moving on to a different opportunity," etc.

I guess, though moving on sounds a bit more neutral than graduating. One sounds like 'they didn't quite fit in and hence they're parting ways' and one sounds like 'they're a bit too good for this place, so now they're off to Google/Apple/some other company with a good reputation'.

Neither is accurate. Everyone knows that saying someone is moving on does not imply "they didn't quite fit in." My point is, companies will try to be polite about announcing that people are leaving, so "graduating" is not that bad of a euphemism.

It is absolutely wrong since it absolutely conflicts with the thing called 'reality'. Words do have a meaning.

The flaw in your reasoning is assuming that companies have an obligation (or otherwise should) be completely transparent to employees (to present the complete reality). If you think they should, well, you just about disagree with 99.9% of companies ever (including successful ones).

Having a sibling several years younger and a mother who worked in education for a while, I noticed that the younger generation had graduation ceremonies for just about everything. Considering the startup culture skews younger, perhaps this is an outgrowth?

You're now giving out the image of a bunch of fired employees wearing capes and mortar boards, then throwing them into the air after receiving a pink slip.

Which is quite an amusing image.

But yeah, it could be tied to the average age at the company.

I was once part of a full-department layoff. Sadly they didn't play pomp and circumstance for us as they marched us out the door.

How could we forget how eerily reminiscent "1 + 1 = 3" is of 1984's phrase "2 + 2 = 5"?

It's hard to believe it wasn't intentional, but again, startup founders.

Can we create a thread called "my year in big company corporate IT department hell"?

I'll go first:

I reported to an incompetent business person who having failed at doing anything that required business sense, used his considerable political skills to lead a tech team instead. Management practices included lying to create enemities between team members.

I am also writing a book about it. :)

Would you rather work in a room full of motivated smart people who are building somthing useful, or a rigid heirarchy that lacks transparency and puts its own personal interests over the work they do? Hmmm hard choice.

The support ticket reads:

"I can't upload this lab document to the site!"

I call the person up for details, get the file they were trying to upload, and recreate the issue. I pull up the code for this site, run it on a local copy to get the exception, and find out that someone's string concatenating SQL queries from form inputs. This site was written in 2014. I bring it up in a meeting but we can't allocate time to fix that because it currently works well enough.

Using bind variables?

Would you rather work in a room full of motivated smart people who are building somthing useful, or a rigid heirarchy that lacks transparency and puts its own personal interests over the work they do? Hmmm hard choice.

The former, obviously.

The flaw in your argument is that in no way are startup employees the smart ones, and big corporations the dumb ones. In fact, part of what makes startup culture disconcerting is that everyone thinks they're too smart.

Is there any evidence that HubSpot has higher-than-average numbers of smart people?

Two reactions to this article (and I say this as someone near 50):

1. Dan's obviously not cut out for startup life. When he meets Zack, he assumes Zack must be someone's assistant because he is young. Dan has no concept of the fact that someone might have their position because they are skilled and perform well. In his mind, the only way to have a fancy title is tenure and age.

2. Sure, the language of startups is interesting (graduation as a euphemism for quitting or getting fired), but the clear message is that this is odd, and thus, wrong. As though normal corporate America is the one true way and is just fine. Bullshit. Let's make sure to keep the workplace exactly as it's been for the last 100 years and never evolve.

But this is normal corporate America. Dan apparently isn't familiar with the history of IBM, which was so bonkers it had its own song book attempting to engineer a cult of personality around Thomas Watson.


This was back in the 1930s. Apparently not much has changed.

In the 60s and 70s the DEC people used to talk about "Mother DEC" and "Father Ken (Olsen - CEO)" - and DEC was a vastly more pleasant company to work for, if you didn't mind meetings where people shouted at each other a lot.

Elsewhere, this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RINizGmhrYo

US corporate culture is insane. It has always been insane. The insanity takes different forms, and the web startup version frequently manages to be both insane and infantilising. (See also, startup names that sound like baby talk - more of a thing before DotCom 1, but there are still a few relics today.)

This is not what an adult professional culture looks like. Signifiers of playful childlike wonder and creativity shouldn't come in stick-on corporate office multipacks, especially not if they hide much uglier relationship dynamics in the office space.

It's fascinating to wonder why this has been such a strong trend in the startup space. Obviously it's more likely to appeal straight-from-college CS grads than battle-hardened senior engineers. But my guess is it's also an evolutionary adaptation to trigger paternal (less often maternal) feelings in investors and VCs, who are more likely to feel generously disposed and still part of youth culture if they sponsor a brogrammer creche, and less likely to feel threatened by kids who look nothing like direct competitors.

Social signalling in business is a very interesting thing, and maybe isn't questioned often enough.

Great point on this actually being part of corporate America. I had neglected/forgotten that point, when I'm pretty sure buzzword bingo predated the rise of startups (synergy, touch base, strategic alignment were all part of the lingo when I worked at larger companies).

I wasn't really commenting on the healthiness of the startup culture, just how out of touch and corporate Dan was (apparently so out of touch he doesn't even realize he's out of touch). But you make some really good points about this trend. I'll have to think about that some more.

On point 2:

A lot of this sounds extremely similar to corporate America. BS euphemisms, 1+1=3 (synergy, ya'll!), and a lot of hype about how you are helping the world when you are just doing a job to make money (and often employing skeezy/immoral tactics to accomplish those goals).

My take away from this article is that start-ups are not as "think different" as they like to pretend.

True, but the article implied at startups it was weird and wrong, when (as you correctly point out), it's actually part of corporate America as well. Which defeats his point that startup language is cultish and weird/wrong.

> it's actually part of corporate America as well. Which defeats his point that startup language is cultish and weird/wrong.

Those two points are not at end with each other.

HubSpot is not a startup.

That's a better reply to the OP, or perhaps directly to Dan Lyons. I didn't come up with the title of the book.

"the language of startups is interesting (graduation as a euphemism for quitting or getting fired), but the clear message is that this is odd, and thus, wrong"

What makes it 'wrong' is that 'graduation' is deceptive when employees are being fired or quitting because they hate the company.

Surely, some / many employees are leaving for positive reasons ('graduating' to something bigger / better) but if Lyons is right that that was the general term used for people who left the company, it is not only odd but Orwellian.

As others have pointed out, that's not unique to startup culture and completely demolishes Dan's point. Corporate America gave us "downsized, right sized, offboarding, redundant, outsourcing, reduction in force)". It might not be right, but it's not the fault of startups.

Summary: guy gets hired by company he doesn't like in an industry he doesn't like by someone he doesn't like. Spends a year there doing things he doesn't like. Writes book about what he didn't like about it.

I'm sure HunSpot isn't for everyone. But I'm also sure it's awesome for some people. They make a real product people find useful and helps them run their business.

Don't believe everything you read. Especially when it's to promote something (like a book or a company).

It's awesome for young people. Back when they were a lot smaller I had some friends there and considered joining, but all the parties they invited me to in an effort to recruit me made me feel too old, and I was still under 30 at the time. The book is exaggerated to sell books, sure, but in reading that article I didn't see anything grossly exaggerated based on what I've seen at their parties/events and what friends who work there have told me.

As a 50-something guy as well, I guess I see it much differently than this guy did.

Firstly, IMO, there was nothing "hell"-ish about Hubspot's culture or business model. It seems to me they were just playing the game-as-given, and doing it quite well frankly.

The proof of that is IPO.

Personally, I find it beyond refreshing that management is making a powerful effort to change up the typical gray-flannel corporate work/life thingy.

So old-school didn't get it, or even see beyond his own prejudices at the positive work culture meta-messages.

That's on him, not Hubspot.

ELI5, "positive work culture meta-messages"

To me it means they are showing effort and interest in the workplace environment, and not just making it a drab cubicle farm, and messages something beyond just the actual stuff like dogs and music instruments.

BTW, nothing personal but I hate trying to explain my writing as I am a big fan of metaphor and ambiguity.

I have dogs in my office. They run around and bark all the time. Their presence shows to me that serious engineering work is not important, but the image of being a "startup" is. The idea of a musical instrument being played while I am trying to focus on engineering is horrifying.

There's also a whole world of potential designs besides "drab cubicle farm" and "kindergarten mashed-up with ComicCon". For example, the 37signals[1] office.

If they want to show effort and interest in the workplace environment, they should try providing private offices with doors that close.

[1] https://37signals.com/office

As someone who has never worked in a SV startup I find the whole culture alien (fascinating but alien).

I don't want an adult sized creche, I want somewhere quiet I can think.

Same. I just want a simple office where I can work for eight hours in relative peace without the assumption the workplace is a bar/club/social gathering. I don't want a place where the assumption is that everyone should be friends and hang out with one another and treat the office like a college dorm.

Unfortunately, it seems the average startup environment (not even just in Silicon Valley) is closer to a college fratenity than a workplace. It's like a lot of these people want to live like college students into their thirties and forties...

> I don't want a place where the assumption is that everyone should be friends and hang out with one another

Yeah, those jerks who want to be friends are so annoying. How dare they! I only spend half my time with them, why would I ever want to be friends.

You want Microsoft

MS is drastically far from that.

One of the most difficult things to do in today's young/modern/culture-y office is work.

Y'know, I've been working in one for 6 months now, and, despite some initial trepidation, I haven't found that to be true at all. Sometimes you do have to put on headphones to cut down on the auditory distraction, but otherwise it's been just fine.

Granted, every office has a different culture. I'm guessing the most distracting offices are the ones where everyone is distracted to begin with. For example, if you're at a startup where everyone works 60-80 hour weeks and is so chronically sleep-deprived that their ability to concentrate for any length of time is shot, then yeah, that's going to be a hellhole.

I'm in an open floor plan space with about one hundred desks in it and it's never particularly distracting to me. I barely ever even have to use headphones to concentrate. People simply don't have loud distracting conversations. It'd be different if I were mixed in with salespeople having phone conversations from their desks all day every day, but we're all engineers. I appreciate being able to easily ask my coworkers a question as it occurs to me immediately.

OK, fair point. I did once get rearranged into an open plan office where all the teams were intermixed for I-still-don't-know-what reason. Half the staff was sales, and yeah, it was impossible to concentrate. Fortunately, we had a liberal work from home policy, so I had a means of escape when I had a deadline approaching. But I still only lasted for a few months after that.

Just to reiterate, I don't think the open plan office was really the fundamental problem. It was the attempt to mix oil and water.

They are probably working 60 hours a week as they can't concentrate in the office. So then they work 65.

Wearing headphones every day will permanently damage your hearing. If you really want noise, put on headphones. Respectful quiet should be the default.

It's not quite so absolute - it has to do with what kind of headphones, how loud, and for how long. The problem is that people tend to use crappy earbuds, crank the volume, and listen for hours on end.

If you instead use a good pair of over-the-ear headphones so that you can get the sound you want at a low volume and without the assistance of any active noise cancellation, it's not quite the same story. Probably still shouldn't be doing it all day just to be on the safe side, but from what I've been able to find in the literature it look like it's probably fine.

The biggest factor appears to be the level of sound isolation before you play anything, the better the isolation the lower the volume you can comfortably listen at.

I don't use expensive headphones (mostly in-ears as they are more comfortable) but I went through a few different sets til I found some that worked like ear plugs.

>Sometimes you do have to put on headphones to cut down on the auditory distraction

That's exactly the problem. You are plugging inefficiencies that exist for no reason. Listening to music hampers my work because I focus too much on it. I just want a quiet room.

Funny, I work at a company managed by a very enterprisey guy, and he always drag me into useless meetings taking hours of my time for no real results. My point is that I don't feel like the normal corporate world really works more during the day.

Say no? Ask what the agenda is? Meetings are largely about finding consensus and sometimes about social iq. See if formal meetings can be made more informal 5 min conversations.

I'm in the process of turning around this company culture, I just need time, it's been only 2 months I'm here, and we have a product to build at the same time I have to coach the CEO in efficiency and fast execution. The CEO needs time to adapt, he came here because startup seemed cool in his circles, but he was not really prepared for the storm I bring with me. He's a middle-aged man whose last job was head of a power plant at a utility company. So I have to order my battles, right now it's launching some boxes at the customers and see if it sticks.

But yes, I'm pushing back on more and more of those. And also try to move on quicker during the meetings.

Given that is true (I don't know not worked in that environment) that says interesting things about where the priorities are in a SV style start-up.

If getting work done isn't the absolute focus then what is?.

I'm not sure it's so directly tied to companies not prioritizing work getting done, in theory. I think what we see today is the result of a mash-up of several things going on at once:

- a ridiculous amount of hours expected of employees, so employers pile on beer fridges and ping pong tables to lessen the blow

- an obsession with "culture," which is such a difficult concept to define and control that the easiest ways to materialize it = beer fridges and ping pong tables and pep talks

- a younger workforce that chooses to seek more "meaning" in work

- generally speaking, inexperienced, improperly trained, and fearful people managers who only know "direct observance" as a management philosophy (this includes all those mostly useless meetings)

- a shitty pattern of 10-12+ hour days as the new norm

This is actually an interesting development that you can start to trace earlier - we've all had jobs where a minor part of the job was not to work, but to look busy, to sell an image of yourself to your superiors.

It's stated in OP's text that one of the roles of the young people is not to work, but to project an image to potential investors: that they're young, full of ideas, full of disruption etc., ready to take over the market (doesn't matter that the market is sometimes undefined), all they need is the investors' money.

This ties (somehow) into Graeber's On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs: http://strikemag.org/bullshit-jobs/

P.S.: The guy who wrote OP's post is also the guy who wrote Fake Steve Jobs

I actually don't think it's true at all. It's easy to get work done, but the key part is that it's easier to stay at the office longer - eat lunch in the office, take a break to play ping pong for half an hour, have a beer with your coworkers towards the end of the day... it all results in you spending more and more time in the office, and leaving later in the day. So even if you aren't as efficient as you would be otherwise, the company makes up for it.

I suppose it differs based on your goals at work. As I get older, I seek much less camaraderie/company in the place of work. Ideally, I'd be mostly left to my tasks, complete them in 6-7 hours, then leave so I can pursue my non-work life (the one I value most). Most employers do not want to hear this.

Absolutely this.

Give me somewhere I can be quiet for 7 hours and I'll get everything done I need to and then go do something away from a screen.

In my case my tolerance for dealing with bullshit that isn't work related seems to be proportional to my age.

Likewise, I do most of my work between 7 and 10.. after that, the loud crowd arrives for their 'morning' and start discussing loudly about irrelevant things, and the concentration is gone...

Luckily, I can leave at 3pm!

...then you reach your late 20's....

Kids come along, you become more choosy about the people that you socialise with, free time disappears in an instant.

You still enjoy your job, but you can no longer justify spending more than 9-5 doing it, so what becomes more important then is to actually be productive during the 9-5 This means quiet, efficient "grown-up" offices.

Except a number of things that are associated with lack of productivity in startup culture have actually been shown to increase productivity, like open floor plans.

You are kidding, right?

Citation needed, I was convinced I heard the opposite was the case...

He'd have a hard job, there are no good studies under real world conditions (if I've missed some I'd love to see them).

The studies against open offices are similarly lacking.

open-plan offices are not new.... I've been working in offices for the last 30 years across ~15 different companies (I'm a contractor) and I've never worked in a non-open-plan office.

Retention. I say this only partially kidding.

In the classic AcquiHire situation, sale price is determined by quantity of engineers. Retaining an employee is worth 1M a piece.

I think we have a pretty good intermediate where I work: closed offices of 3-4 people, with open collaborative workspaces available to anyone without needing to book them.

It's gov't though, which tends to be neither an intellectual monoculture, nor a major hub for new creative ideas. It's somewhere between industry and academia, but after 8 years I'm still not sure precisely where it is on that workplace spectrum.

Closed office of 2/3/4 people is indeed what I found the best (after home office). Alone in an office, I waste my time and get nothing done (strangely, it is not the case at home); above 4 people, it is a mess, I cannot concentrate and I labour.

You do realize that HubSpot is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not Silicon Valley?

This isn't SV, HubSpot is in Boston.

Inbound bowel movement.

Learn what promotional videos actually mean.

Business Maverick and humble genius? Does that really not sound completely over the top and ridiculous to you?

it took me a while to clean up the vomit off my keyboard after watching these...

As someone closing in on 40, the depiction of this place does indeed seem like hell.

To all the ex-Hubspot people getting defensive: This article isn't about that specific company. Hubspot was the author's convenient example. It's about the ideas that companies like it exemplify: That work has to be "a cross between a kindergarten and a frat house" (I'd add "a cult"). That work should include partying and nerf guns and dodgeball outings. That you have to always pretend your company is about "leading a revolution" or changing the world. That you have to follow its culture and believe in its mission and values. That your work has to be more than an exchange of your labor for money. That's what this article is about, and that's what all the cynicism about tech startup culture is aimed at--not Hubspot in particular.

Cynicism is fairly easy, defining the alternative is harder. For example based on what you describe the characteristics of what makes the startup culture "like hell", it sounds like you prefer that work should be nothing more than an exchange of your labor for money, you don't interact with your colleagues other than work, company to not have a defined mission and values other than making money. A hired gun to do whatever we're paid to do. That's also definition of hell for many of us. I don't know whether the author has anything constructive in his book but judging what's in the article, looks like it's pure snark.

Actually, cynicism can be fairly painful.

It grows from a lot of moments.

One moment your leader is asking all the employees if they're ready to change the world. Everyone thinks the company is a rocketship. They slave away into the moonlight and beyond. The next moment, the leaders gets everyone together and announces news that don't quite match what was promised before. Sad faces. Stiff upper lips. No worries, we can work past this.

The moment after that: more bad news starts trickling in. Then a flood. Then empty desks. Maybe, you get out first. Maybe, you're the first to discover your key card won't let you in the building anymore.

Throughout these moments, the faces of your comrades-in-arms will stay with you; the way the light in their eyes fades and fades and fades. You were "family", you were together, you were united in purpose...

And now what are you?

Fast forward years later. Your friends from the old startup no longer talk to each other. They all work at big companies. You're interviewing at a fresh up-and-comer. Someone 10 years your junior sits you down and asks if you're ready to change the world.

What do you say?

... Writing aside, I think the best company cultures tend to be filled with people who have been fooled before (the essence of cynicism) yet still manage care about what they're doing and building. These folks also tend to have meaning and identity outside of their work.

Well articulated. Clear description of what pushes us to become more and more cynical. I find it far easier to empathize with you than the author. It did not feel justified (based on the article).

I hope that it does not have to be this way. I hope we can create companies that strive to be better. Culture does not have to mean one has to put the company above everything else. Making the environment that we spent most of our lives better requires more than nerf guns and ping pong tables. Having meaning and identity outside works in essential. I just don't want to give up the working hours. May be I have not been fooled enough times ...

I appreciate the hope you have for the future. I, too, would not like to give up the working hours, though I have yet seen observe a general-purpose, adequate solution that works outside of extremely specific situations[1].

Perhaps "Insufficient data for meaningful answer" as a certain computer would say.

[1]Certainly not "Management Consulting" :) http://paulgraham.com/before.html

Absolutely.... why would you work if you weren't getting paid for it?? I have better things to do with my time than make someone else's company more profitable at my expense.

We're all here to make money... and yes, HubSpot sounds like a true hell to me (yes, I'm over 40).

It's freaking marketing. There is no greater purpose other than to get people to buy shit, often stuff that they don't need.

Don't for one moment there is a great purpose around this HubSpot than that. The fact that they talk about inspirational stuff in training sessions doesn't mean that they do anything significant.

HubSpot could go bust tomorrow, and the world would still pretty much remain the same.

One man's utopia is another man's dystopia.

Sprinkling ping pong tables, nerf guns and turning the workplace into an adult daycare doesn't make company culture or define a mission statement.

Having beer Wednesdays where we stay late and drink or we'll get odd looks doesn't make company culture.

Lying to ourselves about the true value of what we're doing by sprinkling revolutionary and disruptive and ... doesn't make a mission statement.

There's nothing wrong with coming to work to do work and the fulfillment being a job done well to the best of your abilities.

As someone closing in on 30, it sounds horrendous indeed.

At my last start-up the average age of all employees was 39.5. There were still some assholes.

Wait. They hired Fake Steve Jobs and didn't make him sign an NDA? That's.. going to end a lot like this. o_O

I'm pretty sure he signed an NDA when he accepted the offer (part of the employment agreement), but that's different from the nondisparagement/nondisclosure agreement mentioned in the article (normally done when somebody leaves a company).

The latter comes at a price, such as severance pay.

Wow. I did not notice that the author is the Fake Steve Jobs.

> “You don’t get rewarded for creating great technology, not anymore,”

This resonated with me the most, as I learned it the hard way through my own failed startup. I was informed by several investors that tech was a commodity and they only wanted to discuss our go to market plans.

If indeed this is a bubble and we do pop, about the only enjoyable thing to watch will be all these junior associates that autodial on fishing expeditions scrambling around for new work. Never actually started a company but they've analyzed plenty of models.

I don't understand why people dislike working in a startup environment. I work for a tech company that has really outgrown it's startup stages, but still acts like one.

It's brilliant, I'd never want to work for a corporate company! We have regular parties, play table tennis daily, beers on Friday. It just makes work so much more enjoyable.

Admittedly, this is only my second job, and I am only 20, but I can't imagine ever wanting to leave. The only company that may tempt me would be Google.

I think it very well could be your age.

For example, those of us who have families to get home to generally aren't going to be too keen on parties or beers after work on Fridays. Many of us also have noticed that the companies that have these kinds of perks also expect you to spend a lot more than 40h/wk at the office, if only implicitly, if only for "team-building" reasons. It's a precious few people who make it to their 30s and still want their life to be so centered on their job like that.

(Edit: Which isn't to say there's anything wrong with that. Just that people change. At least for my part, things that would have jazzed me 20 years ago I now find to be rather alienating. Companies who want to attract both veterans and fresh talent have a tough row to hoe.)

> I don't understand why people dislike working in a startup environment

Different people appreciate different things. It's totally fine for you to value "regular parties, play table tennis daily, beers on Friday" but you should be able to understand other people value other things.

> Admittedly, this is only my second job, and I am only 20, but I can't imagine ever wanting to leave.

You may feel differently in ten or twenty years. There were probably a lot of things you enjoyed when you were 10 that you don't enjoy now (or don't enjoy as much).

> play table tennis daily

Do you still leave 8 hours after you arrived, or do you add the table-tennis time? If so, do people that do not play table-tennis leave 8 hours after they arrived, and, if so, are they viewed negatively by those that do not (even if the people viewing them negatively spent two hours playing table-tennis)?

How much does your company spend on beer? Would you not rather have that as salary, which you could spend on intoxicating liquids if you wanted, but also spend on travel or things for your apartment if you wanted to do that instead?

Beer is super cheap per employee. I don't think many people would rather have another ~$50/month over having free beer available at work. It's also more convenient than having to buy it and bring it to work yourself.

>It's brilliant, I'd never want to work for a corporate company! We have regular parties, play table tennis daily, beers on Friday. It just makes work so much more enjoyable.

When you leave or a bunch of your friends who used to go to happy hour together leave "for better opportunities," you'll realize that most people who are your work drinking buddies didn't really know you or felt or thought deeply about your personal experiences. (It's not that they're bad people, it's just what happens when people are put in an artificial social environment where people slap high-fives after work rec dogeball and shout out witty one-liners).

Also when you realize after 5 or 6 years of working, and the startup mantra of "changing the world," your other friends whom you laughed at before, toiling away in their fields have started coming on their own. You have only pushed bits for marketing, spam, online shopping, on-demand on-gig economy for people like yourself to get a stick of gum delivered in an hour. You can try to justify how you are promoted from junior all the way to lead to technical product manager, or how you led your team to switch from Rails to Node, SQL to Cassandra, Java to Scala. But you'll begin to see the thin-veneer of how little management cares about tech and how most of it is a pep-rally, a race to the bottom for those at the top of the Ponzi scheme to enrich themselves.

You look at other people in other fields or in other area's of tech. At work cafeteria IKEA lunch table (after a lengthy morning standup where there was yet another pissing match about React vs. Angular), People shoot the breeze about AlphaGo or that Tay twitter bot, and someone else shoot another witty one-liner comeback, everyone laughs, one person groans - in between the silence after the reactions settle in, it dawns slowly on your mind that we've all become spectators in the real information technology revolution.

That what you are toiling away when you go back to your desk after this lunch conversation is just another Twitter stream, another HN comment, Instagram heart, albeit decorated in syntax highlighting to the "AWS/Google Cloud/Azure Twitterverse."

That is just the same as the well-dressed girl or guy sitting in the next row over in the open-office environment, whom you never talk to but to make yourself feel better, secretly put down in your mind because what they do "is so much BS, social media customer engagement"; but they are the same, and you're all the same...

You call your friends up from college and hear their stories at the precarious precipice of 28-30. How many hours they stayed up at the hospital during a rotation, and a critical debate they had with their attending whether to admit a patient; or how many e-mails they had to sent to get their 15 minute film considered at 50 different film festivals; or staying on after getting finally their PhD, to work for free to do the technology transfer to industry the physics research they worked on in their group; and always, the one-liner remark, "tech has it so much better, you guys make so much money!"

Of course, the response begets a begrudging smile or another sequitur to equalize the conversation; but come work Monday, the habit to don on the noise canceling headphones, the cursory checks on social media to keep abreast fantasy football leagues/stock portfolio's, the internal monologue of the recalculation how much your employee stock options are going to be worth/vest, have all become instinctive rituals to not let the existential dread set in.

That's some good writing right there.

This is great, you should expand on it if possible and/or publish it elsewhere

The problem ends up being that the extracurricular activities become mandatory.

> Admittedly, this is only my second job, and I am only 20,

Poe's Law strikes again. I am genuinely curious if this is satire.

I cannot quite tell if this is soul-baring or satirical.

> I am only 20, but I can't imagine ever wanting to leave

i'm having a tough time telling if this post is satire.

Dan Lyons sure gets around. In another life, he was an early and vocal supporter of SCO in their lawsuits against Linux. At least in the end he finally came around and admitted that he'd been "Snowed By SCO"


[edit for typo]

Looks like he worked it out in the end.

Meta: Forbes are convinced that I'm using an ad blocker to the extent that I had to google/cache the article linked above. I actually have no plug-ins at all, just accessing the site thru' and academic connection, suspect proxy may be blocking stuff. First time I've had that one.

I read the entire article trying to figure out what exactly was "hellish" about the experience - but couldn't find anything other than what can only be called a really bad culture fit.

125 pages inspirational memo for starter. I have been working for a number of banks in the past years, but this level of BS is off the chart.

I'm not sure if this is satire. 1 + 1 = 3 ? Orwell will be turning in his grave.

I worked there, it wasn't anything as bad as what he makes it out to be. It was just shorthand for saying, "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts."

Our whole sales pitch was that we were all-in-one software. So instead of running one system for your blog, another system for your home page, another system for email, another system for analytics, another system for your contacts database, etc, etc, you would just run HubSpot, and when all the tools work together you get much better results then when they are separated. To make good on that sales pitch, we had to be constantly thinking of ways of how we could add value by integrating pieces together and making things work well together. Hence we were told to always be thinking about how to make 1 + 1 equal 3.

"In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable – what then?"

The right notation would be:

  f(1) + f(1) = f(3)

More like: f(1) + f(1) < f(1+1)

I've seen a slide where 1 + 1 = 2, then the 2 is crossed off, then there's a 3, then the 3 is crossed off then there's an 11.

So honestly, after I read that, I thought clearly Hubspot didn't go far enough.

That math slide was followed by another slide with "synergistic" on it.

11 is 3 in binary. That's kind of an awesome joke.

Or JavaScript 1 + "1".

Great binary. If you must do things in base 2, then in fact:

01 + 01 = 10

He/she is right, 11 in binary is 3 in decimal. 11 does not mean 1 + 1.

It's corporate doublespeak. Orwell was worried about the State, but he was on the wrong track - it's corporations we should now be concerned about.

> 1 + 1 = 3?

They just haven't graduated yet ;-)

How is it now in the valley - can you get a startup funded if you don't have a higher mission that workers work towards? Can you just say it will be a nice place to work and we will treat our workers with respect and pay them competitive rates? It all feels very 'power of nightmares' in making up bogus mission statements to create a shared sense of purpose, but done completely cynically (at least by the power-brokers).


The absurdity of this article make me laugh more than it should have. I'm still not quite sure if I red a testimony or a scenario from an arrested development/parks and recs

Definitly saving it !

I wonder if the author bought into Newsweek's mission when he worked there, or if he was just as cynical?

The cynic is inclined to ask what Newsweek's mission is exactly these days. That snark aside, Dan Lyons seems to have largely shifted into a writing style that's more entertainment than journalism. And the Jon Stewarts of the world aside (and even there at times), it's a difficult blend to pull off. There's always this tradeoff between what is objectively balanced and accurate--and some would argue that's an impossible goal--and what attempts to convey an entertaining "truthiness" of a thing even is it plays a bit fast with specific facts.

> I’m heading for my first day of work at HubSpot

Having been forced to use Hubspot, I can say their UI is fairly horrific.

It's just a small point, but I like the idea of treating people who leave as "Graduating". Yes it's contrived, but it's better than silence or badmouthing which is a frequent alternative. (I have no connection to the company)

Holy shit - 1+1=3; what is this, the mind of George Orwell transplanted to the tech boom?

While this article somewhat makes fun of the overally idealistic, sugary, positive culture HubSpot built, I'd much rather work there then somewhere where everything is done out of fear.

Everything likely is done out of fear—the kind of fear where you barf of dialectics at the proletarian youth league meeting to avoid having a struggle session in your honor.

Love it. I can relate!

I have nothing but good things to say about HubSpot. I never worked there, but I did work in the same building for about two years, and I managed to sneak in to a few of their parties, as well as snag a few bowls of free cereal. (They play up the candy wall too much. The cereal wall was where it was at.)

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact