It hasn’t been a good week for HubSpot.
The inbound marketing company was faced with a PR problem over the weekend: It appears in a scathing excerpt from “Disrupted,” the new book about working in tech, published by Dan Lyons in Fortune.
And Lyons, who started at that company at age 52 after a career in journalism, is not kind to the company. He describes it alternatively as a frathouse and sometimes as nothing very much at all: a company based not on great product, but on salespeak and marketing. He not only damned Hubspot, but pretty much the entire industry. “Online marketing is not quite as sleazy as Internet porn, but it’s not much better either,” he wrote.
It’s not a pretty article, and many wonder if this will cause trouble for HubSpot when it comes to hiring. Like most companies of its kind, HubSpot needs a lot of people to do what it does. As of December 31, 2015 the company had 1,157 full-time employees, up from 785 the previous December.
Lyons, in his article, describes how the company needs young people, right out of college, to do its “labor-intensive” jobs. And the free beer and the fun office culture contribute to making them work longer hours and perhaps be OK with getting a salary of $35,000, in what Lyons compares to a Bangladeshi clothing factory — except they’re working with computers, not sewing clothes.
But Robert Passikoff, president and founder at Brand Keys said the excerpt merely confirms what everyone already suspected about tech companies and startups. For millennials just entering the job market, none of this is news. Instead, for younger people who are aware that signing up to a startup life means all the things recounted in the story, the Lyons piece may backfire completely and act as a pretty compelling recruitment tool. HubSpot comes off sounding like it values its people and makes work seem more like fun.
Brian Halligan, CEO of HubSpot, said the company has not read the book, just the excerpt. “We put a ton of effort into making HubSpot a great place to work and a great company to work with, and it’s unfortunate that Dan’s account of his time here doesn’t reflect the experience that we strive to provide all of our employees. That said, it’s a big leap for anyone to take their singular experiences as an employee and use them to make a broader commentary on the company and community at large,” he told Digiday via email.
“Lyons’ experience was couched in 20th century expectations and I think that people HubSpot is looking to have come and work for them have a different set of expectations regarding employment,” said Passikoff. Indeed, HubSpot appeared on the Boston Globe’s list of best places to work in 2015. And it has long been able to sell its particular brand of culture, detailed in a set of slides called The Culture Code that has been viewed over 2 million times on LinkedIn alone.
Still, it’s not easy to find tech talent in Boston. A study by Massachusetts High Technology Council this year found that the state had a dearth of it to start with: The Boston Globe detailed a war for tech talent that has pushed starting salaries as high as $90,000. In that atmosphere, HubSpot may find it hard to find people it can actually afford. (Back in the boom days of 2013, HubSpot famously offered a $30,000 bounty to headhunters who found software people.)
“In particular, we have experienced a competitive hiring environment in the Greater Boston area, where we are headquartered. Many of the companies with which we compete for experienced personnel have greater resources than we do,” the company wrote in its 10-K filing for 2015.
Passikoff said HubSpot executives may want to come up with some answers in case they’re asked questions during interviews about what it’s like working for the company, but they need not worry too much.
The book has already caused some internal waves — last year, HubSpot fired its CMO, Mike Volpe, for trying to procure a galley of a book about HubSpot — presumably “Disrupted.” The Boston Globe reports that the attempts to procure an advance copy also sparked a federal investigation into an ethics scandal because the FBI got wind of “multiple failed attempts to manipulate and extort people” in order to stop the publication of the book.
The HubSpot stock has been down Tuesday and Wednesday, compared with the small-cap Russell 2000 index, which means it is underperforming compared with broader market trends.
Image courtesy HubSpot
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