My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble
At the age of 50, Dan Lyons went to work for a start-up flush with venture capital. What he found there—think frat-house meets primary school meets cult—forms the basis of his hilarious book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble. In his talks, Lyons demystifies life in the second tech bubble—explaining what, exactly, makes this cultural and economic phenomenon tick.
Dan Lyons is a writer and co-producer of HBO’s hit show Silicon Valley and the author of the book Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble: a hilarious story of self-reinvention and a definitive account of life in the tech bubble. He previously served as Technology Editor of Newsweek, a technology columnist at Forbes, and Editor-in-Chief of ReadWrite, one of the world’s top tech news sites. He is currently at work on his next book, Lab Rats, which will look at “how libertarian-leaning tech CEOs and their employment policies are squeezing the rank and file among us” (The Boston Globe).
“An exacting, excoriating takedown of the current start-up ‘bubble’ and the juvenile corporate culture it engenders.”— Kirkus Reviews on Disrupted
He is an expert on consumer tech (Apple, Google, social media, mobile computing) as well as esoteric topics like fusion energy and supercomputers. He is fascinated by artificial intelligence, robotics and the Singularity movement. He was featured in recent Discovery Channel documentary about the Singularity, and has appeared as a guest on CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, BBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox Business News and National Public Radio.
In addition to his work as a journalist, Lyons has published three works of fiction and works in screenwriting for television. His book Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs, a sharp send-up of Silicon Valley, was published in 2007 to critical acclaim. His previous books are Dog Days (a novel) and The Last Good Man (short stories). As a fiction writer, Lyons has been the recipient of both a prestigious National Endowment for the Arts Literary Fellowship and the somewhat notorious Playboy College Fiction Prize. He also was named one of the “Fabulous 52″ in the 1996 Best Young American Novelists competition sponsored by Granta. His writings have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, GQ, Vanity Fair, and Wired.
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Across every industry, from retail to media to finance, incumbent market leaders face the threat of disruption and are racing to reinvent themselves. Many are looking to Silicon Valley startups for inspiration. In this talk, Dan Lyons shares the perspective of a tech industry veteran who spent two years working inside a fast-growing startup “unicorn” as a kind of “corporate anthropologist,” and explains the key things that make these new organizations nimble, flexible and able to achieve rapid growth.
How do startups foster innovation? What is a “conversational culture”? How do startups use social media, externally and internally? How can an established company change its culture without wrecking the things that made it successful in the first place? Which perks really matter? What do Millennials really want? How do we manage a multi-generational workforce? Do we really have to get a foosball table? Really?
Lyons’s talk draws on case studies as well as his own experience. He blends self-deprecating humor with insight about how the workplace is changing and how the right culture creates a healthy, agile, competitive, and sustainable organization.
How do you keep from screwing up your company’s culture? Journalist Dan Lyons spent two years working at a startup and came away with a harrowing tale of corporate culture run amok. HubSpot, the company where he worked, created a “Culture Code” and employed a “culture tsar.” It was a parody of a hip, new-economy company: dogs in the office, free beer, a nap room, standing desks, walking meetings. Employees were constantly surveyed about their happiness. Yet HubSpot had a higher-than-average workforce turnover, a dismal record on diversity, and was run by under-trained or untrained managers. It may be the case study in what not to do. HubSpot, Lyons observed, had made a common mistake: it paid too much attention to superficial trappings of “culture” while failing to do the deeper, more difficult work of building a healthy, sustainable culture. In this talk, Lyons blends his personal (and often painfully hilarious) experience with big picture research in organizational behavior and social psychology from academics at Wharton, Harvard, Stanford, and other top institutions. Why is culture important in the first place? he asks. And how do you do it right?
In 2013 there were 39 Silicon Valley start-ups valued at more than $1 billion, and they were dubbed “unicorns,” because they were rare. By January 2016 there were 229 unicorns—and, suddenly, experts were warning of imminent disaster for our economy. Journalist Dan Lyons recently spent two years inside a “unicorn” that exploited the bubble and went public, enriching its founders and investors despite never turning a profit. Lyons emerged with an insider’s view. In this talk, he warns that a second dotcom bubble could take shape even as the rest of the country is still digging out from the first. This crash is potentially much bigger, more dangerous. Who could get hurt? Pension funds, college endowments, mutual funds, mom-and-pop investors—all are at risk. Lyons explains how a new breed of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs—with a mantra of “grow fast, lose money, go public”—co-opted the U.S. government as an unwitting accomplice. The companies fade out after the insiders have scooted away with the loot, and the bubble swells even as a few sane voices are warning of imminent disaster. Just as with the housing crisis of the 2000s, nobody can tell how much money is at risk or how much damage could be left behind when the whole thing blows up. Lyons's talk, delivered with his trademark humour, is a much-needed reassessment of where our economy is headed.