【英语财经】戳破科技初创企业泡沫 Satire pierces the quirks of the tech start-up bubble

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2016-4-25 21:32

小艾摘要: Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble Dan Lyons Hachette $28A 52-year-old journalist who has covered the tech industry for decades is laid off. He joins a start-up where the average employ ...
Satire pierces the quirks of the tech start-up bubble
Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble Dan Lyons Hachette $28

A 52-year-old journalist who has covered the tech industry for decades is laid off. He joins a start-up where the average employee is aged 29 and tends to wear clothing bedecked with the company logo and colour.

Coming from the author of a cutting satire of Steve Jobs, who now writes for the HBO comedy Silicon Valley, the tale could be mistaken for a film pitch or parodic dystopian novel. But Dan Lyons is serious. After being “dumped” as Newsweek’s technology editor in 2012, Lyons decides to ride Silicon Valley’s second great bubble. Lyons finds the right company, if only for the raw material that he, a seasoned satirist, spins into gold.

When Lyons joins Boston-based HubSpot as a “marketing fellow” in 2013, it is gearing up to go public. Reeling from culture shock, Lyons catalogues daily life in the company and its unselfconsciously ridiculous vocabulary.

Its software helps businesses assail customers with messages it says are not spam but “loveable marketing content”. Employees are not sacked, they are “graduated”. A co-founder totes a teddy bear to meetings to represent the customer. There are yoga ball chairs, free candy, taps dispensing beer, and a replica of a red British telephone box. The funny, if repetitive, descriptions paint a workplace that is “a cross between a kindergarten and a frat house”.

But the book is not just a chronicle of the tech bubble’s silly quirks. As Lyons gets to know HubSpot, questions arise about the business model of a company that does not appear to trust its product. At one point his desk is moved to a “boiler room” of telemarketers selling HubSpot software, which claims to replace such dated practices. The company says it evaluates its employees on “HEART” — an anodyne acronym for “humble, effective, adaptable, remarkable and transparent” — but holds its sales reps to strict quotas.

Lyons uses the lens of his growing disillusionment to focus a broader critique of Silicon Valley. “The people at the top are profiting from this game, which they have rigged in their favour,” he writes, by turning money-losing start-ups into financial vehicles for the benefit of a handful of investors. Tech workers, meanwhile, “are told the needs of the company are more important than their own”.

The darkest turn comes, after Lyons has thoroughly fallen out with HubSpot (but profited from its IPO), returned to journalism and written this book. HubSpot’s chief marketing officer is sacked for unethical conduct after trying to obtain Lyons’s manuscript, another executive resigns before he too can be fired and the chief executive is sanctioned for his role in the affair. The Federal Bureau of Investigation probes the incident.

But it is HubSpot’s response to the book that suggests it is as clueless as Lyons portrays it. The co-founders write a LinkedIn post that strikes the wounded tone of a jilted ex.

“We were upset when we first read the book,” they write. “But negative emotions have a relatively short half-life with us. Our emotions have been dissipating quickly and we think they’ll asymptotically trend towards zero over time. Besides, life is too short to hold grudges.”

The reviewer is a reporter at the Financial Times

《颠覆:我在初创企业泡沫中的奇异遭遇》(Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble),作者丹?莱昂斯(Dan Lyons),Hachette出版集团出版,售价28美元

这位报道科技行业几十年的记者52岁时被解雇了。然后他加入了一家初创企业,这里员工的平均年龄为29岁,经常身穿带有公司标识和形象色的服装。

莱昂斯曾撰写过有关史蒂夫?乔布斯(Steve Jobs)的措辞尖刻的讽刺作品,现在担任美国家庭电影频道(HBO)喜剧《硅谷》(Silicon Valley)的编剧,因此这本书中的故事可能会被误以为是一部电影宣传片或一本恶搞性质的反乌托邦小说。但莱昂斯是认真的。在2012年作为《新闻周刊》(Newsweek)的科技编辑被“炒鱿鱼”后,他决定利用硅谷第二次大泡沫的机会。他找对了公司,哪怕这只是让这位老道的讽刺作家找到了妙笔生花所需的素材。

2013年,莱昂斯加入总部位于波士顿的HubSpot,担任“营销员”,当时该公司正准备上市。文化冲击让莱昂斯晕头转向,他把公司的日常生活及其可笑而不自知的用语分类记录了下来。

该公司的软件帮助企业向客户进行信息轰炸,称这些不是垃圾信息,而是“可爱的营销内容”。在这家公司,员工不是被解雇,而是“毕业”。一位联合创始人会带着一个泰迪熊开会,用它代表客户。那里有瑜伽球椅、免费糖果、出啤酒的水龙头以及一个仿制的英国红色电话亭。书中戏谑(尽管有些重复)的描述描绘出一个“介于幼儿园和联谊会之间”的办公场所。

但本书不仅仅记录了科技泡沫中的奇人怪事。随着莱昂斯对HubSpot的逐渐了解,他开始质疑这家似乎不相信自身产品的公司的商业模式。他的办公桌曾一度搬到“电话推销室”,电话推销员在这里推销HubSpot软件,而该软件恰恰声称要取代电话推销这种过时的做法。该公司表示是根据“HEART”标准(即谦逊、高效、应变、卓越和透明)衡量员工表现,却给销售代表规定了严格的任务额。

莱昂斯从一种越来越清醒的视角聚焦于对硅谷的更广泛批判。“处于顶层的人们正从游戏中获利,他们操纵游戏使之有利于自己,”他写道,他们把亏损的初创企业变成了让少数投资者受益的金融工具。与此同时,科技从业者“被告知公司的需要比他们自己的更重要”。

在莱昂斯与HubSpot彻底交恶(但从该公司的首次公开发行(IPO)中获益)、重返记者工作并撰写这本书后,最黑暗的转折来临了。HubSpot首席营销官在试图获得莱昂斯的手稿后因不道德行为被解雇,另一位高管在也可能被解雇之前辞职,首席执行官因在此事中的角色接受处罚。美国联邦调查局(FBI)对此事进行了调查。

但真正表明HubSpot就像莱昂斯描写的那样愚蠢的,是该公司对这本书的回应。该公司的几位联合创始人在LinkedIn上发帖,受伤的语气仿佛被抛弃的前任。

“当我们第一次读这本书时,我们感到伤心,”他们写道,“但负面情绪对我们的影响相对短暂。我们的负面情绪正迅速消散,我们相信,随着时间的流逝,它们会消失殆尽。另外,人生苦短,无须心存怨恨。”

本书评作者是英国《金融时报》记者

译者/梁艳裳

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