BuzzFeed’s Doree Shafrir takes aim at startup culture

BuzzFeed Senior Culture Writer Doree Shafrir skewers the New York tech industry in her new novel, Startup. Mack McAllister is a man with a plan. His mindfulness app, TakeOff, is poised on the edge of greatness; if he can just get that next level of VC (venture capital) funding, he can roll out the next version of it and become a billion dollar business. In the meantime, he’s the king of his world: an eligible bachelor, sleeping with eligible bachelorettes, including his Marketing Hero (managers are heroes, assistants are ninjas), Isabel, but he’s not looking for anything serious. It’s not like he’s 30, for crying out loud.

Katya Pasternack is a writer with TechScene, a tech blog that’s putting the screws to their journalists to get them to produce more. She needs a big scoop, a juicy story she can break wide open, so she can get out of fifth place on the leaderboard they’ve just put up at work. Her boss, Dan, takes an interest in her career – maybe a little too much of an interest, but he’s ancient – he’s, like, 39.

Meanwhile, Sabrina Blum, a thirty-something, exhausted mother of two, works for TakeOff, which happens to be in the same building as TechScene. She copes with her faltering marriage by shopping herself into a mountain of credit card debt and turns to more creative solutions when the cards start getting canceled. She works at TechScene because it’s better than being home all day long with the kids, but her coworkers are a decade younger, single, and more tech-savvy than she is. This group works together, plays together, and, in Mack and Isabel’s case, even sleeping together. Sabrina goes home and takes care of her kids – she doesn’t fit in with “company culture” – while her husband (who’s also Katya’s boss) stays out, claiming to have worked late.

Things start going very wrong for Mack when he sends a very personal message to Isabel, kicking off a viral shitstorm that could ruin TakeOff. By virtue of where she works and who she works with, Sabrina gets caught in the middle; Katya sees her chance at getting her big break. The fallout’s going to be huge.

I’m a veteran of late ’90s Silicon Alley, and this book could have been written back in 1998 and I wouldn’t have known the difference. Same mindset, same bullshit, smaller technology. The obsession with youth still holds; the idea that you work and play 24/7, with the same people is still there; the free food, the Nerf guns in the factory space open workplaces, it’s all the same.

Shafrir’s send-up of startup culture is witty; a biting satire, with deliciously catty stereotypes, from the spin doctors to the founder “I am Jobs, I am God” mentality. Everyone’s terrified of turning 30, but at the same time, it seems SO far away that they can’t comprehend actually being that OLD.  She nails the exhaustion of keeping up with the pace of social media, technology, and the coworkers; she nails it with the entitled ideology of the tech culture. I liken Startup to Bonfire of the Vanities: you’ll love the book, but you won’t find one single likable character in here. It’s a A delicious zinger to read on your commute.

Startup, by Doree Shafrir, is available in bookstores and online. ($26, Little, Brown & Co., ISBN: 9780316360388)

About the Author

Rosemary K.
I’m a children’s librarian, comics and pop culture fiend, bibliomaniac, unrepentant fangirl, and tabletop gaming n00b. Every year, I watch streaming E3 panels with my kids, who are gamers, and I return to my Monster Busters app on my phone and sigh.
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