Dan Lyons found him­self out of place among young, white work­force.

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSI­NESS - Lilly Rock­well Tech Cap­i­tal

The irony of a white male in his late 50s de­liv­er­ing a talk about di­ver­sity and “bro cul­ture” at South by South­west wasn’t lost on Dan Lyons.

“I never ex­pected at my age to be­come some sort of di­ver­sity ad­vo­cate,” Lyons joked when he ar­rived at the podium for his SXSW ses­sion. “I fell into this by ac­ci­dent.”

That “ac­ci­dent” is Lyon’s New York Times-best­selling book “Dis­rupted: My Mis­ad­ven­ture in the Start-Up Bub­ble,” which de­tails his ex­pe­ri­ences work­ing at tech startup called HubSpot.

Lyons spent most of his ca­reer as a tech jour­nal­ist. But af­ter be­ing laid off from Newsweek, he de­cided to work for the type of com­pany he had spent his life writ­ing about: a tech startup.

The book wasn’t ex­actly a love let­ter to HubSpot. The pop­u­lar book de­picts the com­pany as ageist, cruel to em­ploy­ees and more fo­cused on mar­ket­ing it­self than mak­ing money or even build­ing a good prod­uct.

But some of his sharpest barbs in the book were fo­cused on the lack of di­ver­sity at HubSpot.

The work­force was over­whelm­ingly young and white. Lyons stood out as one of only a hand­ful 50-some­things.

Lyons, who also wrote for the TV show “Sil­i­con Val­ley,” kicked off his talk by touch­ing on the re­cent PR dis­as­ters that ride-hail­ing com­pany Uber is fac­ing.

A for­mer engi­neer for the com­pany, Su­san Fowler, wrote a blog post that de­tailed her ex­pe­ri­ences work­ing there, which in­cluded claims of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and sex­ism that wasn’t taken se­ri­ously by Hu­man Re­sources.

Uber launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into this in­ci­dent, but Lyons said he found the Uber story hope­ful.

“The era of peo­ple who are putting up with abuse at work and just shut­ting up about it, I think that’s over,” Lyons said, “This may be the be­gin­ning of the end of bro cul­ture.”

Lyons said he felt equipped to crit­i­cize bro cul­ture be­cause he re­al­ized at HubSpot that he wasn’t a “bro.”

“I was a grandpa,” he said. “It’s pretty hu­mil­i­at­ing when you’re the old guy and they treat you like an idiot.”

There were many mo­ments of laugh­ter, such as when Lyons pro­jected on the screen of­fi­cial def­i­ni­tions of “bro cul­ture” and “bro CEOs,” or when he re­galed the au­di­ence with tales about HubSpot’s cul­ture, which he de­scribed as a mix be­tween a fra­ter­nity and a kinder­garten class­room.

But the best parts of his talk were the sober­ing mo­ments, when he con­nected the dots be­tween a lack of di­ver­sity and “bro cul­ture,” to the em­pha­sis on growth-at-all-costs at tech com­pa­nies.

Lyons said the boom in ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist-backed star­tups that be­gan in the 1990s has led to an em­pha­sis on growth and mar­ket­ing, in­stead of be­com­ing prof­itable or build­ing the best prod­ucts.

The VC-backed busi­ness model tech com­pa­nies fol­low now is “grow fast, lose money, go pub­lic, cash out,” Lyons said, to the detri­ment of em­ploy­ees and reg­u­lar share­hold­ers. And he said it’s fair to blame the peo­ple in charge — mostly white men — for many of the prob­lems tech com­pa­nies are fac­ing.

“The VC in­dus­try has be­come less di­verse and more in­flu­en­tial,” Lyons said. “The VC in­dus­try is a bunch of bros and they in­vest in bros.”

He urged a sim­ple ethos that star­tups should fol­low: “Cre­ate good jobs. Treat em­ploy­ees well. Pay taxes. Be part of the com­mu­nity. Hire with di­ver­sity. Start early.”

But Lyons is an at heart an op­ti­mist. And he ended his talk with this thought: It might be too late to change the Googles and Face­books and Ubers of the world. But it might not be too late for the next big tech startup, whose founder could be at SXSW this year.

“The only way for us to sur­vive is to look out for each other,” Lyons said. “We have to cre­ate com­pa­nies that we want to work for.”

TAMIR KALIFA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Dan Lyons, au­thor of “Dis­rupted: My Mis­ad­ven­ture in the Start-Up Bub­ble,” speaks Fri­day dur­ing a SXSW In­ter­ac­tive ses­sion ti­tled “Dis­rupted: End­ing Bro Cul­ture and Bias in Startup-Land” at the JW Mar­riott. Lyons spent most of his ca­reer as a tech jour­nal­ist, but af­ter be­ing laid off from Newsweek, he de­cided to work for the type of firm he spent his life writ­ing about: a tech startup.

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