Dan Lyons is a technology industry journalist who, for the last decade, has written a blog, a novel and a TV show (HBO comedy series, Silicon Valley). The novel is based on just two years of his life post 50. He never made a large amount of money being a journalist while he was reporting on CEOs of software technology companies who became incredibly rich so when he was made redundant he decided that perhaps it was his time to join a pre-IPO company and enjoy the ride. He joined HubSpot on the 15th April 2013. HubSpot was a company aiming for an IPO in the next few years based near Boston where he lived. The story is amazing and revealing.
Some of the things that he revealed include:
- For the first five years HubSpot’s own marketing department couldn’t depend upon their own product (that they were selling and marketing) and used the marketing software of a rival.
- "Graduate" is the euphemism for when someone leaves HubSpot. Dan relates stories of many people who unexpectedly graduated. Amazingly one employee was fired after four and a half years because her job no longer existed at the very same time her department is actively hiring!
- Amazing perks: You can have vacation whenever you want. Did we mention you better hit your targets? And having no allocated vacation means that none accrues over time. So if you “graduate” (by choice or because you are fired) then you will have no accrued vacation pay to help you survive. In fact, when you are fired, your last day of pay is could be that very day! So in reality giving workers the “perk” of vacation when they want saves the company lots of money and dramatically reduces job security.
- Awesome Teddy Bears are important in meetings according to the founder and CTO, Dharmesh who brings Molly into meetings to remind people that everyone should be thinking about “solving for the customer”. He wrote about it on LinkedIn and the post is still available for reading: "Your Customers Are Not Ignorant, Selfish Control Freaks".
- Part of the culture was to have "fear conquering days" called “Fearless Fridays” where everyone would break into teams and do something fearless. For example, some employees spent the day painting cardboard posters of the HubSpot logo and others write thank you notes to customers.
Dan’s book is all about the culture of the startup where young employees work incredibly hard in a cult-like environment for the management and get rewarded with sweets and dubious other “perks”. The family is out and the team is in…
In Dan’s epilogue, he relates the story about what happened after the executive discovered that a book was being written about HubSpot. On 29-Jul-15 CMO Mike Volpe was terminated for cause by the board of directors because he had “violated the Company’s Code of Business Conduct and Ethics” in his “attempts to procure” a manuscript of a book involving HubSpot. The “appropriate legal authorities” were notified and the FBI eventually ceased their investigation with no action taken. The CEO was “appropriately sanctioned”.
This book is a well written, compelling read which gives insights into the reality of what really happens behind the closed doors of a minority of today’s big companies. Is it something we really want to aspire to? It doesn’t make pretty reading… and is the antithesis of “Conscious Capitalism”.
I’ll end this review with a summary by Dan: “Hubspot’s leaders were not heroes, but rather a pack of sales and marketing charlatans who spun a good story about magical transformational technology and got rich by selling shares in a company that still has never turned a profit.”