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HubSpot executives respond to book that mocked company

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HubSpot cofounders Brian Halligan (CEO, left) and Dharmesh Shah (CTO) penned an online rebuttal to Dan Lyons’s “Disrupted,” titled “Undisrupted.”
HubSpot cofounders Brian Halligan (CEO, left) and Dharmesh Shah (CTO) penned an online rebuttal to Dan Lyons’s “Disrupted,” titled “Undisrupted.”Keith Bedford

A week after the release of a book that torched its leaders and corporate culture, Cambridge software company HubSpot Inc. is hitting back — gently.

In a blog entry posted on LinkedIn Tuesday afternoon, HubSpot cofounders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah responded in detail to Dan Lyons's new book "Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble," an intensely unflattering portrait of the company based on the author's brief employment there.

Rather than fight fire with fire, the two executives penned a magnanimous defense of HubSpot, trying to defuse the swirling controversy by essentially (and literally) saying: "C'est la vie."


"If you were expecting harsh, retaliatory attacks on Dan or his book, you can safely stop reading. You will be disappointed," Halligan and Shah wrote, going on to praise Lyons as a "very good satirist" with a "sharp, biting wit."

A Winchester-based author and longtime journalist who has written for the HBO series "Silicon Valley," Lyons spent roughly 18 months working at HubSpot as a "marketing fellow."

His book became the subject of intense speculation last year when HubSpot abruptly announced that it had fired its chief marketing officer, Mike Volpe, for violating the company's ethics policy "in connection with attempts to procure a draft manuscript of a book involving the company." Another executive resigned before the company could determine whether he also should be fired, and Halligan was fined for failing to promptly alert the company's board after finding out about the incident. Federal authorities investigated the incident but ultimately declined to bring criminal charges.

In a statement provided to the Globe Tuesday, Lyons questioned why Shah and Halligan still won't say what the fired executives did, exactly.

"I'm still disappointed that Shah and Halligan won't provide any information about the events that took place last year that led to Halligan being sanctioned and CMO Mike Volpe being fired," Lyons said. "I've been seeking answers from HubSpot since last July about this. The company has stonewalled. Shah claims 'radical transparency' is a core part of HubSpot's culture. His silence raises questions about HubSpot's corporate governance."


HubSpot said in response, "Following an internal investigation in July 2015, we turned our findings over to the authorities. We haven't had any additional communication with them since cooperating with the investigation last year but it's our understanding that they chose not to pursue any criminal charges."

"Disrupted" disappointed some observers who were expecting it to contain a bombshell about the company. Still, Lyons got widespread press attention with his description of a frat-house culture at HubSpot where older workers were shunned, and backstabbing and "groupthink" were common. He also questioned the company's business model, noting that HubSpot is unprofitable, running an old-fashioned "boiler room" in which young sales representatives relentlessly call potential customers and run through scripts in order to close sales.

"We were upset when we first read the book," Halligan and Shah acknowledged in their post. "We wish the book hadn't been so harsh towards individual people from the HubSpot team. They are smart, hard-working, and caring people that didn't deserve it. But negative emotions have a relatively short half-life with us. Our emotions have been dissipating quickly and we think they'll asymptotically trend towards zero over time. Besides, life is too short to hold grudges."

The executives said that despite Lyons's negative depiction, internal surveys show most employees love working at HubSpot.


Halligan and Shah said HubSpot's business model is strong, and that the company was choosing to grow quickly rather than become immediately profitable.

"What we've shown, and what investors seem to value, is growth plus a path to profitability," they wrote.

They also defended their practice of bringing a stuffed teddy bear to meetings to represent HubSpot customers, saying "Yes, it's goofy. But candidly, it works."

Still, Halligan and Shah admitted some of Lyons's criticisms were true, and pledged to fix them.

HubSpot isn't diverse enough, they said, pledging to release numbers on the makeup of its workforce next year. The company said the average age of a HubSpot employee is 29, but noted that 85 people over the age of 40 worked at the company as of December.

The executives also admitted HubSpot had erred by euphemistically saying employees who had been fired "graduated," a practice Lyons mocked as Orwellian.

"It was disrespectful and misleading — not our intention at all," Halligan and Shah wrote. "Lesson learned and change already made. We're sorry."

Reached by phone, Lyons declined to comment, but did say he thought it was good that the company was heeding some of his criticisms.

Dan Adams can be reached at dadams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielAdams86.