Work & Purpose

Boomer Finds Ageism in Millennial Workplace

Journalist Dan Lyons describes working in 'startup hell'

(This article originally appeared on Boomercafe.com.)


One challenge for all of us as boomers is, well, just keeping up. With technology, we mean, and with the new culture of high-tech companies that have become the accepted standards of American industry. That’s why BoomerCafé’s co-founder and publisher David Henderson wrote this piece, originally for his own blog, about a book that has just come out. It’s by a fifty-something guy to whom this brave new world seemed pretty cool … until it turned awfully cold.


Nerf-gun battles rage, with people firing weapons from behind giant flat-panel monitors, ducking and rolling under desks.

Reading the numerous news stories of Dan Lyons’s exposé of working a short time at the tech startup HubSpot in Boston, I was reminded of an unemployed cable TV installer who had time to learn Twitter in its early days and went on to become a self-proclaimed “leading Twitter guru,” charging naive CEOs up to $21,000 an hour to explain Twitter. On the other hand, he has a reputation for talking about fleecing CEOs.

I once again wonder whether technology has made America smarter or just a zombie nation that will believe any sort of hype and jive from any fun-loving, fast-talking flimflam huckster.

His Year in ‘Startup Hell’

Journalist and writer Dan Lyons (known to some for his Fake Steve Jobs blog) had spent his entire working career in a newsroom environment. Yet when he was suddenly laid-off by Newsweek, he had to find a job and what he found was at HubSpot. Lyons calls it his “year in startup hell,” and details his experience in his new book, Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble.

The book is getting wide attention. HubSpot has created its own scandal, accused of “extortion” attempts to block publication of the book. The FBI is involved.

Lyons labels HubSpot the epitome of a cultish and juvenile trend in tech workplaces.

While I had heard of HubSpot several years ago, I knew little about the outfit — only that it seemed to be run by people with vague expertise, credentials and accomplishments. But, then, that’s fairly commonplace in tech consulting firms these days.

In a nutshell, HubSpot sells software to help online marketers “game,” manipulate and hype products and services via email spam or tricking search engines.

Offices Like a Preschool

Of HubSpot offices, Lyons describes them as bearing “a striking resemblance to the Montessori preschool that my kids attended: lots of bright basic colors, plenty of toys, and a nap room with a hammock and soothing palm tree murals on the wall.”

Millennial fun and non-stop games at HubSpot.Credit: Courtesy of boomercafe.com
Millennial fun and non-stop games at HubSpot.

He says “teams go on outings to play trampoline dodgeball and race go-karts and play laser tag … Nerf-gun battles rage, with people firing weapons from behind giant flat-panel monitors, ducking and rolling under desks.”

Of HubSpot’s services, Lyons writes “customers include people who make a living bombarding people with email offers, or gaming Google’s search algorithm, or figuring out which kind of misleading subject line is most likely to trick someone into opening a message. Online marketing is not quite as sleazy as Internet porn, but it’s not much better either. One involves using a misleading subject line in an email — something like, ‘fwd: your holiday plans’ — to dupe people into opening the message.”

Blasting Out ‘Lovable Marketing Content’

While HubSpot claims to fiercely oppose spam emails, Lyons says it is blasting out billions of “lovable marketing content” emails to all of us who consider it to be spam.  “Lovable marketing content” is really what HubSpot trainers call it.

Dan Lyons, author of “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble.”
Dan Lyons, author of “Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble.”

The convoluted logic behind this is that “spam” means unsolicited email, and the company sends email only to people who have handed over their contact information by filling out a form and giving their permission to be contacted. HubSpot’s emails might be unwanted, but they’re not, strictly speaking, unsolicited, and therefore they are not spam … they claim.

Even though the company and its customers send out literally billions of email messages, they are not trying to annoy people, but trying to help them. Sending one message after another, each time with a different subject line, is how HubSpot discovers what someone wants.

“We’re learning about them. We’re listening to them,” or so goes the HubSpot thinking.

By David Henderson
David Henderson is co-founder and publisher of BoomerCafé, a site for news and information-sharing among boomers with active lifestyles and youthful spirits. He is also adviser and counselor to CEOs and executives on enhancing organizational brand and reputation and runs the News Strategies consultancy. You can find out more about him at Davidhenderson.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidHenderson.@DavidHenderson
Are you one of the 1,679 readers who have supported Next Avenue in 2019?

If so, thank you. Your financial gift helps us fulfill our mission of being an essential source of news and information for older adults. Just as important, your contribution demonstrates that you believe in the value of our work. We have a lot of exciting things planned in 2020 and we need your help to make sure they happen.

Haven’t given yet? Please make a gift today and help us reach our end-of-year goal — any amount helps. Thank you.