Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber
The founder and driving force behind Uber is Travis Kalanick. Travis never outgrew the frat-boy phase but starts a company nonetheless. He ensures to be at the helm whatever happens. This fear is a legacy from the company before Uber, where he was successfully screwed over and ousted by a Hollywood investor. The inspiration behind the Uber service is 100% on-character. A frat-boy service for limo taxis. According to Travis everything should be "Baller", which is problematic. But Travis also hires his manager in his own image: this is an outright recipe for disaster. Beautifully told by Mike Isaac, Uber picks fights wherever they do business, being very aggressive towards competitors and local governments.
Since the company was frat-boy founded the company culture stinks of misogynistic behaviour. Many of the incidents are not addressed. Perpetrators are not punished by Uber management because they are ‘high performers’. All of this was before #metoo (2017) was even a movement! What follows is the fear of a slow motion train crash. If the culture its practices and CEO were not addressed there would be a 60 Billion dollars train wreck as possible result. The book is captivating read and has (sort of) a happy ending. Super Pumped: The battle for Uber can be ordered here.
Disrupted: Ludicrous Misadventures in the Tech Start-up Bubble
In “Disrupted” Journalist Dan Lyons describes his misfortunes in the Start-up scene. Dan works for Newsweek but is laid off when the magazine needs to downsize. Being an unemployed Journalist, in his fifties, is challenging in the age of social media. At Newsweek Dan wrote about about Silicon Valley companies, why not join one of them? Dan joins the Boston based HubSpot (close to home) and is confronted with a frat culture (again?). HubSpot embodies everything that’s ridiculous about the culture of start-ups. HubSpotters were true believers: They were making the world a better place... by selling email spam.
The office vibe was frat house meets cult compound: The party began at four thirty on Friday and lasted well into the night; Dan's absentee boss sent cryptic emails about employees who had "graduated" (read: been fired). In the middle of all this was Dan, exactly twice the age of the average HubSpot employee, and literally old enough to be the father of most of his co-workers, sitting at his desk on his bouncy-ball "chair." Disrupted can be bought here.
Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley
In “Chaos Monkeys” New York based Goldman Sachs trader Antonio Martinez heads West to get in on the ‘Silicon Valley action'. He tells in detail about his new real-time ads startup, his friendships and lovers. He shares interesting details about the wheeling & dealing of start-ups in Silicon Valley. The stories entrepreneurs usually tell scrubbed and white-washed tales of high-minded ideals and clarity of will triumphing over the evil corporate opponents. Chaos Monkeys is perhaps one of the only books that admits the simple fact that most of what goes on in Silicon Valley (and maybe everywhere else too) is driven by self-interest and greed.
After selling his startup through an acqui-hire sell he joins Facebook where he is right on time for the pending IPO. Facebook, in 2012, is completely not interested in making money through ads yet and leaves after the IP. Chaos Monkeys is a breath of fresh air in a world populated by people writing their own press releases. Buy “Chaos Monkeys” here.
An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination
In “An Ugly Truth” authors Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang try to pin most of what they think is wrong with ‘the other side’ in American politics on the Facebook leadership team. By doing so it suffers from self overestimation like Chris Wylie’s confession ‘MindF*ck’ (where Chris Wylie states he is personally (partly) responsible for both Trump and the Brexit. I think this is self-flagellation, there is no need for that). Sheryl Sandberg, depicted on the back of the book (interesting, why?) is a critical leader for Facebook and together with Mark Zuckerberg they run the company like the ‘Mommy and Daddy of facebook’.
An Ugly Truth does not have the inside dirt like ‘Super Pumped’ has and does not deliver a smoking gun for election manipulation leading to the Trump presidency. What is very interesting is the description of the culture inside Facebook. Facebook tried for a while to promote posts that ‘did good for the world'. However: every single time these actions negatively impacted customer’s time on the platform it chose, by decision of Zuckerberg, to roll back these initiatives. The book reads as a cautionary tale about economies of scale in relation to the ‘public opiniosphere'. We (as a global society) shouldn’t have allowed a startup to grow to a near monopoly for ‘eyeball time’ and not regulate its destructive addictiveness (check out the Netflix documentary ‘Social Dilemma’ for a harrowing insight). Or the fact that many of the big tech platforms now happily go censoring left and right (mostly right). Not all parts of the book are equally interesting but the rise and rise of Sheryl Sandberg is a very interesting read. Buy ‘An ugly Truth’ here.