I feel a great deal of empathy with the author Dan Lyons.
He’s just brought out his latest tomb, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble, and was speaking on Radio Four’s Today programme the other morning
He describes what it’s like working in a modern-day start-up and having to endure the ‘thrusting’ culture of a business which is staffed by youngsters who are steadfastly faithful to their cause. There is no room for failure whereas, of course, we know that many of these companies have kicked the bucket and a lot will do so in the future. But to think of such things is not allowed.
Lyons described himself as being too cynical for his time at a start-up. And that’s the key problem – starts-ups don’t like cynics for obvious reasons. It’s the same way that religions don’t like unbelievers; they make everyone else uneasy!
I know what he means. I’ve written material for a number of start-ups.
I remember going to one office where the average age was mid-20s. Bear in mind that I hit my half century some years ago – in start-up terms, I’m a fossil from the Neolithic period. I was introduced around the staff and I could almost hear the CEO say listen kids, this is what you end up like when you don’t believe: an over-the-hill relic with no hair and no executive jet. They don’t say it to your face of course; they are all maddeningly polite and have an air of confidence and authority that would outshine even Donald Trump.
It’s an uncomfortable sensation for us oldies. It’s the same feeling when you visit your kids school and have to talk to the teacher on those small seats. It’s unnerving.
I swear there was a sign of relief when I left that start-up office. Like some old duffer had wandered in, looking a little bemused and was trying to find his way back to reality. And that’s the main worry for us cynics, the sense of reality is often missing. How can many of these companies be valued so highly when they don’t seemingly do anything? Nowadays it’s not about turnover and sales, but showing investors that your blue-sky thinking is better than the previous start-up.
I try and avoid such office visits nowadays. I don’t want the kids to worry what might be facing them a few years hence when the CEO is carried away in a padded jacket and the computer equipment is sold to the next optimistic start-up.
So, I’m with Lyons, I know exactly what he means and will be reading his book with interest.
And I don’t mean to be too cynical – lots of start-ups work and they morph into great companies. So, here’s to everyone who’s out there in start-up land trying to make their way in the world. Keep going and remember, never circle the horses.