Fortune has a wonderful excerpt from Dan Lyon’s upcoming book, Disrupted: My Adventure in the Startup Bubble, where he talks about his uncomfortable stint in the startup world. As he tells it, it’s hard to tell where the startup ends, and where the cult begins. And in that sense, it’s remarkably, scarily, similar to Dave Egger’s 2013 novel, The Circle, which describes an equally open, millenial-friendly startup that veers into Stepford Wives-esque groupthink, bad platitudes, and work-life reversal.
For your benefit, I’ve contrasted some particularly salient parts. Lyons’s account is in italics, and Eggers’s fiction in bold.
Every neighborhood has little kitchens, with automatic espresso machines, and lounge areas with couches and chalkboard walls where people have written things like “HubSpot = cool” alongside inspirational messages like “There is a reason we have two ears and one mouth. So that we listen twice as much as we speak.”
The walkway wound around lemon and orange trees, and its quiet red cobblestones were replaced, occasionally, by tiles with imploring messages of inspiration. “Dream,” one said, the word laser-cut into the stone. “Participate,” said another. There were dozens: “Find Community.” “Innovate.” “Imagine.” She just missed stepping on the hand of a young man in a gray jumpsuit; he was installing a new stone that said, “Breathe.”
“We’re not just selling a product here,” Dave tells us. “HubSpot is leading a revolution. A movement. HubSpot is changing the world. This software doesn’t just help companies sell products. This product changes people’s lives. We are changing people’s lives.”
I’m a believer in the perfectibility of human beings. I think we can be better. I think we can be perfect or near to it. And when we become our best selves, the possibilities are endless. We can solve any problem. We can cure any disease, end hunger, everything, because we won’t be dragged down by all our weaknesses, our petty secrets, our hoarding of information and knowledge. We will finally realize our potential.
The code’s creator is HubSpot’s co-founder. Inside the company he is always referred to simply by his first name, Dharmesh, and some people seem to view him as a kind of spiritual leader.
Eamon Bailey, one of the company’s three C.E.O.’s, the most social and personable of the Three Wise Men, was a tall man of about 45, round in the gut but not unhealthy, wearing jeans and blue V-neck sweater. There was no discernible microphone, but when he began speaking, his voice was amplified and clear.
The code depicts a kind of corporate utopia where the needs of the individual become secondary to the needs of the group—“team > individual,” one slide says—and where people don’t worry about work-life balance because their work is their life.
“No, no, no,” Denise said. “There wasn’t, you know, mandatory work here on the weekend. That’s not to say that there weren’t thousands of people here Saturday and Sunday, enjoying the campus, participating in a hundred different activities.”
Dharmesh’s culture code incorporates elements of HubSpeak. For example, it instructs that when someone quits or gets fired, the event will be referred to as “graduation.”
At the end of every Circle workweek was Dream Friday, when Circlers gathered and were inspired — by products in development or a milestone the company had reached…The words appeared on the screen: ALL THAT HAPPENS MUST BE KNOWN.