If you work in tech, there’s a good chance you’d heard of HubSpot prior to a couple months ago. They’ve been around for a decade, have hundreds of employees, made some interesting acquisitions, and raised more than $100 million in investment from some big names. Their software handles a variety of inbound marketing functions.

Even if you hadn’t previously heard of them, there’s a pretty good chance you did in April. And damned near every day since, thanks to Dan Lyons.

If you’re not familiar, Dan Lyons is a writer and editor by trade. He’s worked for Newsweek and Forbes, among others, and fairly recently threw in with Hollywood, script-writing for HBO’s Silicon Valley. He gained some of his greatest fame with the Fake Steve Jobs pseudonym and social accounts, prior to the death of the real Jobs.

Ok, so…?

Y’see, Lyons went to work for HubSpot in 2013. Now, if you’ve been in tech a while, you might be wondering what the hell a hip tech marketing company was doing hiring an old white dude journalist type.

Or you might think that said dude was a great hiring move to bring broader cachet to a company that had aged from “startup” into “enterprise” territory.

Trading an established name and proven talent in exchange for a decent salary and stock options – good deal, right? So what if he didn’t actually have a background in, y’know, marketing

Or you might think, after getting laid off from a rapidly shrinking industry in middle age, with a family to support, that there might be gold in them thar tech hills. (You might think that if you were Dan Lyons: it says so right on his website.)

However, that Lyons went to work for HubSpot isn’t actually the interesting part. It’s what came after.

This came after. How Lyons thinks that a decade-old company of the size of HubSpot represents the “Startup Bubble” escapes me. But hey, I don’t have a quarter-century in journalism under my belt.

I confess I decided not to read the book, though I have read excerpts, reviews, and plenty of other coverage. Just didn’t think it would tell me much I didn’t already know.

My reaction to it all was basically: “Yeah, and…?”

I mean, really, who hasn’t heard those refrains, or worked for such a company? Shall we paint by the numbers?

  1. Everyone’s young! So young! Check. (Bonus points for lack of diversity.)
  2. Everyone’s super earnest and enthusiastic! Check.
  3. Even management is young, earnest, and enthusiastic! Check.
  4. People work crazy hours! Check.
  5. Young people don’t get paid much and don’t get great benefits! Check.
  6. There’s candy and Nerf and dogs and beanbags everywhere! Check.
  7. Culture is super-important, frequently defined, and a bit cultish! Check.
  8. New person with no marketing or tech experience has trouble grasping ostensibly nebulous hierarchical structure or mandate! Yeah, never mind, that’s just Lyons’ problem.

I’m not saying these elements – in whole or in part ­– provide an ideal way to run a company. But I am saying that the sky is blue and that water is wet, y’know? Also, news flash: plenty of other industries are guilty.

Let’s remember, too, that this is a guy who notes that he’s been writing about tech companies for 25 years. Guess the view from that crumbly journalistic ivory tower wasn’t in HD?

Then Lyons, who presumably had been happy to cash HubSpot cheques and munch their candy, came to realize… what the company does. (Prepare to clutch those pearls, gentle reader.)

You see, what HubSpot apparently calls “lovable marketing content” with which they’re “changing the world” (who isn’t?) Lyons calls… email spam. (Aaaand… clutch!)

Though as they apparently go to some considerable singing and dancing lengths to explain, it’s not technically spam. From this excerpt in Forbes:

We want to protect people from spam. Spam is what the bad guys send, but we are the good guys. Our spam is not spam. In fact it is the opposite of spam. It’s antispam. It’s a shield against spam – a spam condom.

Let’s sluice away the mental imagery of a spam condom as quickly as possible, shall we?

Then the piece goes on about HubSpot’s culture and his issues with it for… Well, pretty sure Halley’s comet passed by twice before I finished.

So, predictably, the excrement achieved mechanically assisted velocity. Because social media.

And then the reviews happened. And the snarky glee happened. And the hurt feelings and defensiveness happened. And the rebuttals commenced.

Because who does this guy think he is? He’s not one of us, this news guy, this Hollywood guy.

Of course, nowhere among this bloodbath of digital ink spillage did anyone dismantle the book to prove point by point that it wasn’t true. Because, as mentioned: duh, tech.

Handing billions of dollars to future old white dudes who hire their peers and the occasional silver fox for cachet (or babysitting) and are never informed what a bad idea looks like might just turn an industry into a frat party with some “interesting” cultural and business practices. Go figure.

Dharmesh Shah, one of HubSpot’s founders, did post reflections on the book. Oh, and there was that one other little kerfuffle… Not that they were angry, you see. Just disappointed. Oh, dad.

But eventually, it came to me. What the real problem was. Why so many were so upset. I may have snorted aloud.

Because, duh: tech. It’s as obvious and familiar as beanbags and lack of work/life balance.

With Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble, Dan Lyons, some old journalist dude… mansplained tech and the startup world.

And guess who likes being mansplained?


M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached @melle or me@melle.ca.