Hellooo, New York! – Startup Book Review

Is there anything better than coming in to yourself as a twenty-something grad living in New York City?

I really don’t think there is. And that’s what makes Startup such an engaging read.

I’ve been living in Manhattan for the past four years – I moved here straight out of graduate school ready to take on the world. My experience may not have been crazy enough to write a book about but I’ve definitely had several quintessential NY experiences.

I lived in a duplex apartment – 1/2 ground floor and half basement, where you could only get cell phone service upstairs or internet downstairs. Try having work calls where you’re supposed to listen and recieve an email at the same time.

I’ve had nights out at clubs dancing on tables and meeting new people. I’ve lost friends, I’ve gained friends. I’ve had amazing work experience, and I’ve had my fair share of let downs.

I’ve explored this city from Arthur Ave in the Bronx to the 104th floor of the World Trade Center tower to Coney Island in Brooklyn.

I’ve had the best of times and the worst of times – but I have certainly loved my time here. It was the best place to be from age 23 to 27.

Why am I getting in to this? I think remembering the experiences I’ve had – this wonderful trying time of finding yourself in New York city –  is the primary reason I LOVED Startup. I felt like I had been there. It reminded me of the book Sweetbitter that I read for my book club last summer. We all related to the feeling of getting to New York and being totally lost but also totally inspired.

To me, Startup is the Sweetbitter of the tech industry. If you liked Sweetbitter – check out Startup. If you kind of liked it but the restaurant industry/ all the drugs weren’t for you – check out Startup. Didn’t read Sweetbitter yet? READ EM BOTH!

“Let’s say I was born in late June of 2006 when I came over the George Washington Bridge at seven a.m. with the sun circulating and dawning, the sky full of sharp corners of light, before the exhaust rose, before the heat gridlocked in, windows unrolled, radio turned up to some impossibly hopeful pop song, open, open, open” – Sweetbitter

Before I dive in to my thoughts on Startup here’s a quick synopsis from Goodreads:

“Mack McAllister has a $600 million dollar idea. His mindfulness app, TakeOff, is already the hottest thing in tech and he’s about to launch a new and improved version that promises to bring investors running and may turn his brainchild into a $1 billion dollar business–in startup parlance, an elusive unicorn.

Katya Pasternack is hungry for a scoop that will drive traffic. An ambitious young journalist at a gossipy tech blog, Katya knows that she needs more than another PR friendly puff piece to make her the go-to byline for industry news.

Sabrina Choe Blum just wants to stay afloat. The exhausted mother of two and failed creative writer is trying to escape from her credit card debt and an inattentive husband-who also happens to be Katya’s boss-as she rejoins a work force that has gotten younger, hipper, and much more computer literate since she’s been away.

Before the ink on Mack’s latest round of funding is dry, an errant text message hints that he may be working a bit too closely for comfort with a young social media manager in his office. When Mack’s bad behavior collides with Katya’s search for a salacious post, Sabrina gets caught in the middle as TakeOff goes viral for all the wrong reasons. As the fallout from Mack’s scandal engulfs the lower Manhattan office building where all three work, it’s up to Katya and Sabrina to write the story the men in their lives would prefer remain untold.”

The story is really centered around the three people described in the synopsis – Mack, Katya, and Sabrina. The other character of note for this review is Isabel.

Isabel was ‘hooking up’ with Mack, the CEO of her start up, and when things start to go haywire, her work situation is severely compromised. There are several other supporting characters who I would love to talk about as well, but these four tell the part of the story that I want to discuss:

As I read this book, I really hated Mack.

This is not a criticism of the book, but he just really irked me. One line from early on, where whoever is narrating at the time says something along the lines of ‘startup bros are worse than lawyers and bankers because at least the latter groups admit that they’re in it for the money.  Startup bros act like the money is a biproduct of disrupting the way things are for the better.’ (Not a real quote, just a summary!) Mack was the epitome of this.

Mack gets himself in some hot water in the book, and I’ve read a few people online saying ‘he sent some sexts, who cares?!’

To me what stood out – and why we care – was the lesson that Sabrina (age 36) passed on to Isabel (age 26) as the whole dick pic scandal was playing out. The lesson is this: It doesn’t matter if its not the “definition” of sexual harassment that you heard about in school- even if your boss isn’t smacking your butt and calling you ‘sweet cheeks’ or idk any other example like that. But if it looks like sexual harassment, and it smells like sexual harassment, it is sexual harassment. If someone with the power to promote or fire you,  makes you feel uncomfortable because of unwanted advances, it’s sexual harassment.

I could go on and on, but I think what this book brought to life is that in the startup world, the bosses aren’t always 60 year old, fat, balding, outwardly creepy old men who we would associate with sexual harassment. Not that this is the case outside of the startup world either necessarily, but it’s infinitely more common to have a young twenty-something, attractive, single, and charming CEO at a startup. So while Isabel felt like she was hooking up with an attractive coworker and not a “boss”, it was her boss, and it affected her career when it ended. On the other hand, while Mack felt like he was hooking up with an attractive coworker, he was influencing the culture of his company and his credibility to investors.

It’s a new game out there in the constantly evolving tech world, and it’s important that everyone is aware of what game they’re playing.

This message was resonated throughout the book, and I thought that in a book that is so fun to read, so easy to read, so quick to read, and so seemingly  lighthearted, it’s important to draw out the message here.

I hope this doesn’t make me a downer – I totally played along and loved the funny love triangles and sexual tensions going down in this book. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it, but also WARNING – maybe don’t buy this for your mother or your pre-teen sister because it gets pretty far in to the shady side of craigslist.

I hope you enjoy the book – let me know if you’ve read it! Since I only have six more weeks of soaking up my twenties in New York (I’m moving not turning 30), this was a great way to relish in my time here 🙂

Overall: 4 Stars.

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