Perspective

Last weekend, Forbes treated us to an excerpt from Dan Lyons’ upcoming book entitled “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble,” which paints a not-so-glowing portrait of his time at marketing automation startup Hubspot.

Lyons isn’t the first journalist to chronicle his time at a fast-growing tech company. The canonical example is probably Michael Wolff’s “Burn Rate,” which detailed the author’s attempt at running a startup and raising venture capital during the dotcom boom, but there have been others over the years.

And I doubt Lyons will be the last — no doubt we’ll get other inside accounts of companies gone bust appearing on digital bookshelves if winter ever comes and the financial markets start to get really ugly.

Lyons’ account of Hubspot is funny at points, but the thing that stood out to me was how earnestly surprised he seemed to be about Hubspot’s attempts at building a sustainable culture, and well, how cynical he was about the whole thing. And for someone who supposedly had covered the tech industry for more than a decade, it appears to me that Lyons was pretty ill-informed about what startups look like on the inside.

But maybe that shouldn’t be so surprising.

A few weeks ago I gave a presentation in which I talked about some of the things I wish I had known about investing before joining 500 Startups. The heading for one of the slides was simply “Startups Are Fucked Up,” something I’ve learned very quickly over the past several months.

If you already work at a startup, you probably already know this. But for someone on the outside, the extent to which things are broken at startups most of the time might be cause for alarm.

That’s probably true for many who cover the industry, but it’s not necessarily their fault. In a world in which most writers only hear about what’s going well at startups — the most recent fundraise, the big new customer or partner, the huge number of users they’ve accumulated — there’s little perspective into how much of an unmitigated disaster most young companies are.

The whole thing was pretty well illustrated in a tweet shared by one of my colleagues a few weeks ago:

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My guess is that if you put any reporter in ANY startup for a year, he or she would be able to write a tell-all book. That doesn’t mean those companies are bad… Just that their problems are the ones people would actually be aware of.

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