Xconomy Bookclub: “Startup” Offers a Pointed Look at Techie Culture

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—Dan, mentioned above, is Katya’s boss and TechScene’s managing editor. He resents how Twitter and list-icles have taken over “real” journalism. Shafrir sums up his view: “So many of them thought that news meant posting something that another site already had done with words slightly rearranged and a different headline.”

—Sabrina is Dan’s wife and an “Engagement Ninja” at TakeOff, which happens to be located in the same building as TechScene. Frustrated with her inattentive husband and her own thwarted career ambitions, she is a reluctant explorer navigating a new world of emojis, GIFs, and acronyms like “tfw,” meaning “that feel when” and not “too f-ing weird.”

The supportive cast of players include Isabel, Mack’s former assistant and now TakeOff’s social media manager (and Sabrina’s boss); Jason Schneider, Mack’s perhaps too-helpful COO; Andrew Shepard, founder of a startup called Magic Bean whose budding relationship with Isabel sends Mack off the deep end; and Victor, Katya’s boyfriend and founder of a failed startup called StrolledUp.

If it all seems a bit claustrophobic, it’s by design. The characters that inhabit Startup adhere to the techie philosophy of work is life, life is work, and your colleagues are your friends.

But do they really know each other? As Shafrir writes, Katya, at a party of New York tech’s Who’s Who at Andrew Shepard’s West Village brownstone, didn’t know her host as a person.

“But she knew him, just like she knew practically all of these guys. They were runners and foodies and cyclists; they all wore fitness trackers and competed with one another about who had run the most miles or slept the optimal 7.5 hours. They donated money to charities started by their friends that taught underprivileged kids but voted against raising taxes to make those kids’ schools better. They participated in hackathons and marathons; they climbed mountains; they loved South By Southwest. They thought everyone, including themselves, were where they were entirely because of hard work and innate creativity, and if you weren’t successful, that was because you hadn’t tried hard enough.”

Ironically it is technology—an inappropriate text and the seeming cluelessness of the sender in dispatching it—that sets our plot into motion. Katya’s need for a big story coincides with the accidental viewing of said message, setting off a chain of events that results in TakeOff going viral, but for all the wrong reasons.

Startup is a pointed illustration of the tech world’s cults of personality, the outsized egos that believe something like a mindfulness app could change the world, and the seedy underbelly of all that workplace closeness: sexual harassment.

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