Lyons vs. Hubspot: A juicy example of what happens when company culture fit is neglected
What happens when one over looks the company culture fit in hiring and in accepting a job offer is what you can read in the juicy tell-it-all story Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble by Dan Lyons. Lyons at 52 was laid off from his job at Newsweek and stepped on the media sexy startup trap: he decided to take a job at HubSpot because of the job location and the tiny possibility of getting rich (in US startups often offer stock options for employees to cash out later if the company IPO’s). As Ilan Mochari wrote in his post: “Ask Lyons if he underestimated how difficult it would be to acclimate to a younger, nonjournalistic culture, and he says: “I definitely underestimated it.”
HubSpot is at least as famous for their Culture Code*), as they are about their inbound marketing engine. After the world has read this unflattering tell-it-all book, HubSpot employer brand will be totally bruised.
*) Culture Code is a HubSpot powerpoint presentation about the aspired HubSpot culture created and updated by co-founder Dharmesh Shah. It has been viewed over 2 million times.
While the book describes an experience of one person, it is a powerful example of what even a single employee experience can (and will) have to your employer brand. It showcases the typical consequences of what hiring against company culture most often has:
- Lack of engagement and loyalty
- Inability to maintain the initial excitement and motivation to do a good job
- Decision to do the minimum amount of work for the salary
- Need to share the bad experiences with people outside the company
- Potentially serious impact on the employer reputation and image
Lyons’ experience is a terrible experience and does put HubSpot in a bad light. Some of the stuff he writes about HubSpot should be ashamed of. Some of the stuff he wrote about led into a federal investigation on the company, the resignation of vice president Joe Chernov, and Volpe, Lyon’s boss at the time, getting the boot. Furthermore, I can only imagine what it will do internally when the employees read it. Based on some of the stuff in the book, I would not be surprised if there would be additional experiences of former employees surfacing on the Internet.
HubSpot was clearly not a great place to work for Dan Lyons. Despite of his experiences, it’s important to acknowledge his bad experiences were caused by his personal culture related needs clashing with the real company culture of HubSpot. When I’m saying this, I’m not inclining in anyway that his experiences weren’t real. I very much believe they were. But I also believe HubSpot can be a great place to work when your work personality matches with the company real culture. I once worked in a very similarly sounding workplace and I thought it was fantastic (and I know we had our lyons’ as well). The Glassdoor reviews rate HubSpot at 4,5/5. The company was also recently ranked as the #4 best place to work in US by Glassdoor. Therefore, I believe it’s fair to say we should all make our own decisions about how our hubspots are as a workplace and learn to ask questions and evaluate information about the real values and culture of a company we apply for.
What Makes a Great Workplace Is Very Personal
What makes a great place of work is a very personal experience and it is based on how badly I want to belong to and identify with the other people in the group. It is based on the culture of that company: what it believes in, what it values and what type of behavior and attitudes it appreciates and rewards. And how much it all matches my personal values and needs. That’s how powerful company culture can be. It’s the real company culture that makes a company a great or an awful place to work.
We all have our personal preferences on how we like to work and how we need to work. For Lyons, he appreciated clear direction, the ability to do a meaningful work, the ability to use his skills and expertise on something worth his time and the time of his audience. He struggled taking orders from people much younger than himself. He could not relate to all the Nerf games or candy walls or spending time on irrelevant work when he could have been at home with his wife and children. His values and expectations were very different to those of what HubSpot culture offers.
The key to this story is understanding the importance of the right culture fit. I am sure there are a lot of people at HubSpot who absolutely love working there and do not recognize the experiences of Lyons, as their personal needs match with the HubSpot culture. They are as right about their experiences as Lyons is about his. If you are representing the employer side when reading this, my advice to you is: take the culture match seriously. Not all people will write an internationally available book about their bad experiences, but most people will talk to their families, friends and peers. And in the era of social media, these experiences travel faster than you can imagine. The good and the bad.
Disrupted: My Midadventure in the Start-up Bubble is a book case example of what happens when you hire against your culture or when you take a job without understanding the impact the company culture has to your job happiness and motivation. While the book does not tell how much Lyons
The Aftermath Has Only Just Begun
On the March 9th this year, Shah posted a blog post called Ask Dharmesh about the HubSpot Culture Code. The juice is in the questions and answers section below the post. Creating a lovable culture is a very daunting task. If it is only a vision of one leader out of many leaders in the company, it will not be a shared culture and a mutual experience for all people in the company. If it’s a vision not connected to the requirements of the business, the culture will be a separate entity from what happens on the floor in reality. You will have a slide deck presenting the illusion (or the aspiration as Shah puts it) and the real, every day experiences of your people (turned into a book in the worst case scenario).
On the March 27th, Venture Beat posts an article called The Book HubSpot Never Wanted You To Read. If you put the culture clash aside, this book also reveals quite poignantly the world startups get into with (US) venture capital: grow the revenue at all expense in order to make a sweet IPO.
On the 12th April, Shah responses to Lyons’ book on this Linkedin blog post. When you read past his quite natural desire to explain and minimize Lyons’s experiences, you hopefully see a man who co-founded a company (this book I’m sure as an entrepreneur myself, really, really broke his heart) and who I think genuinely believes in his “lovable culture of HubSpot” and means well. I’m looking at this book and Shah’s response as a failure to evaluate the fit to the company culture: a seriously important step that should have been made by Shah himself before he offered the job to Lyons and by Lyons before he accepted the job offer.
On the April 15th another post hits the Internet. “Yes, Dan Lyons’ Disrupted is a Juicy Memoir. It’s Also Something More Poignant.” Ilan Mochari throws in the culture fit aspect. We appreciate here at Heebo.
On the 18th April, a tech writer Dylan Martin blogs about the book as an important conversation starter in this article “Like It Or Not, Dan Lyons’ ‘Disrupt’ Is An Important Conversation Starter”. He’s right.
Today is April 21st and I’m posting my take on the book. I genuinely enjoyed the book. It was very insightful about HubSpot, about culture clash between a person and a company and about the harsh world of startups under the VC belt. Not the kind of world I appreciate and want to be involved with. So there goes my opportunities to ever get a VC. I loved using my company culture related insight into recognizing, assessing and evaluating the real culture of HubSpot. I am a fan of all unique company cultures. I would not want to work in all of them as we would not be fit to each other, but I can appreciate a strong culture focus. It makes sense and helps people to identify with each other, engage with each other and push for results together. Where HubSpot made a mistake was trying to make an act on diversity without understanding what they are doing. Diversity is a great thing, but you still need to share the same values, beliefs and attitudes, hire to the company culture. Otherwise it can really go wrong. Dan Lyons made a book case example of how wrong.
Book review: This book is awesome reading. It’s just so juicy and hopefully an inspirational read for everyone about how important the culture fit really is for both parties. Recommended reading!