Thursday, July 14, 2016

All Those Zeros

Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley – Antonio Garcia Martinez (Harper)

Self-admission up front- I am not a tech-weasel. I have never been an early adopter, my personal cell-phone would be considered and antique by most, I carry a Blackberry for work, and I have studiously avoided all things Facebook since 2012. I have been mildly intrigued by the so-called tech bubble and all of the acquisitions and chitter-chatter about multi-million or billion dollar deals that seem to pop up in Silicon Valley on a daily basis almost in spite of a lack of any real products being produced.

That being said, I was interested in getting an insider’s low down on the world of startups and deal making from somebody who had been there and done that. It is promised in the form of Antonio Garcia Martinez’s book, Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley. Billed as doing to the tech world what Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker, did for Wall Street and investment banks, in Chaos Monkeys, Martinez walks the reader through getting started in Silicon Valley and then busting out with a couple of partners to start hacking on their own project, the dash for cash and working towards the big payoff in the form of a buyout deal featuring lots of zeros.
Martinez comes off like a smarmy, self-important, dickhead who likes to point fingers at other smarmy, self-important, dickheads. He drops names like the Kardashian sisters drop their clothes; the problem is the folks outside the insular world of Silicon Valley don’t know who these people are much less care. Aside from high profile tech-weasels like Zuckerberg or Elon Musk, most people could pick these guys out of a lineup.

If you wade carefully through all of the name dropping and unwarranted self-importance, Martinez does drop a few crumbs of insight into the startup process. Most interesting among the crumbs is the fact that while talk of big dollar deals abounds the reality is those big bucks come with lots of strings attached, employment contracts and vesting before the big payoff comes down. Skip any of those little steps and all those zeros end up in the ether.

In end, Martinez may not reveal a whole lot of the dirt you may have been hoping for on guys like Zuckerberg other than to possibly confirm your suspicions of the Facebook founder.

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