April 18 2016 02:57 PM

Uber-ize all you want, but tech is still a house of cards

The original plan for this column was to try and spin a new angle on the "Uber-ization of Everything" that continues to percolate among many different wannabe billionaire startups around the country and most certainly here in San Diego.

We've got Heal, a "doctor on your doorstep" delivery service, and Veyo, which delivers patients to doctor appointments. There's several Uber-ish business riffs for pizza and other restaurant deliveries such as Grubhub and DoorDash; there's an Uber to summon stylists to your home/gym/office, Glamsquad. Go deep webbing and you'll find Uber-types for reefer and hookers.

But as I was working to somehow make this repetitive trend story interesting and local, I was increasingly burdened by the question: "Who gives a fuck?" There are a ton of places where you can read about the Uberization of America, the sharing economy and what it's done for "entrepreneurship," etc., ad nauseam.

Then Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Startup Bubble, the crash-and-burn business memoir by Dan Lyons got released, and it's such a perfect zeitgeist-capturing snapshot of our specific moment in time, and the hubris-anchored smoke and mirrors of too much of the modern business paradigm, that the most important thing to write this week is that you need to read it.

In our electronics-inspired ADD world, it's become increasingly tough for me to finish a book; I get distracted by a screen and it goes by the wayside after 150 (or 15) pages. But I tore through Disrupted in a day. I couldn't put it down, because it casts such a clear and engagingly written portrait of a business model that is doomed to failure. It reads like a last Cassandra-call before the pending Dot.Bomb 2.0.

Lyons—Newsweek's longtime tech columnist and current scriptwriter for HBO's Silicon Valley—gets downsized from the dying journalism business and ends up taking a job at HubSpot, a hot company that makes inbound marketing software but is even better known for its evangelical content marketing stance to promote its product. The place turns out to be a complete shit show—petty, political, full of stupid and shallow people selling a mediocre product buttressed by spectacular marketing strategy.

Beyond the hilarious and disturbing human drama, "Disrupted" effectively explains the inherent pyramid scheme at the center of the current digitally driven charade that passes for modern industry. The Federal Reserve is pumping money into the system to keep it afloat; a lot of this money is flowing to Venture Capital, which has been throwing it at companies often run by people who are in way over their head.

But the book really cut me to the quick about halfway through with the introduction of a character Lyons called "Trotsky"—the book offers shorthand nicknames for many key players, including "Cranium" for the detached chief marketing officer and "Spinner" for the vapid and strategically short-sighted PR gal—who gets one of the most fully-realized depictions of hateful to dangerously sociopathic workplace behaviors in modern journalism.

Trotsky is a chilling addition to the narrative, but what makes it all the worse is that I know this guy. I would call him a fallen friend, a guy I shared meals and beers with, and hung out at with several of the biggest conference circle-jerks such as SXSW, CES and Advertising Week. We talked a lot of baseball and left-leaning politics. He was smart and funny and had some sharp edges I liked. So I'm not going to write any more about Trotsky. His fate is in the book and I see no need to pile on.

But where I would like to cast a stone, and a warning, is at the entire tech industry world, which is built on sand, the same sand that was washed away in 2001-02 and 2008. Nothing has changed. People with too much money and not enough sense are throwing around immense sums of virtual cash in a manipulated bubble market that cannot do anything but ultimately pop.

But as bad as those two previous crashes were, we are in uncharted waters when it comes to the world of finance and its influence on the tech space, which in turn is a key driver for the American workforce and consumption-based economy. Plan your next couple months conservatively is my suggestion.


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