Startup

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 Aug 2017

Member Reviews

An entertaining read centered around a burgeoning start-up, as the CEO's errant behavior causes a chain effect that rattles through a number of lives.
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Startup is like the television hit Silicon Valley if they cared at all about the female perspective on that show. Not only is it a fantastic view into a fictional startup world and an insider view into the tech world, but Startup also explores gender qualms in the modern workplace. As a woman in tech myself, all of these themes really resonated with me. However, you definitely don't need to be involved in the technology industry or working at a startup to find yourself caught up in this story line.
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DNF @11%

I really tried getting into this book, and it's all a business oriented upper class posh man living in Manhattan. The story didn't have any qualities that attracted me to it, and I just couldn't connect with the narrative. I don't plan on giving this one another shot, but I'm still grateful for getting the opportunity to try and dabble in it.
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Completely switching gears to something a little lighter, let’s look at Doree Shafrir’s novel, Startup.

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. 

Definitely lighter and less serious than the other books featured today! This is a great book to relax with and enjoy.
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Shared review on Instagram, Twitter, and newsletter. Rated on Goodreads.
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Nicely paced novel of the NYC tech scene. Had plenty of details that felt accurate. Men are jerks?
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The ending didn't feel like an ending. Yes, there is a sense of hope towards the end of the novel, but for only one character. What about everyone else? I suppose this means there will be a follow-up novel...
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Summer Reads for culture vultures - A books roundup in 24 Hours (circulation 800,000 daily readers)
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I graduated in the early 80’s with a degree in computer science.  I’ve watched computers go from big main frames to personal computers in every home to phones that do more than my first computer.  So, I find the technology world fascinating. 

Starup:  A Novel really captures the feeling of being in the technology field today.  The emphasis on social media.  Trying to get the scoop ahead of all the other websites.  Relentlessly checking your stats, your follows, your likes.   Trying to come up with the next big idea.  

Like social media, this book moves along really quickly.  The characters are all interesting, even the unlikable ones.  

A quick, enjoyable read. 

I received an ARC of the book.
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This book was absolutely spectacular! Thank you for the opportunity to read and rate it!
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This book was a pleasant surprise. The author provides a fascinating look into the world of tech start-ups and the people that occupy this space. For our older readers (our focus) it will be instructive as well as providing a deeper look into what the youth of today are pursuing for careers.
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This originally appeared at The Irresponsible Reader.
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It's hard to give a thumbnail pitch for this book -- my gut wants to compare it to Coupland's Microserfs, just because I liked that so much. But it's more like a feminist Po Bronson's The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, I think. It's been about 20 years since I read that, and my memory is more than fuzzy on the details. It's about web/app-based companies in New York and the strange (especially to outsiders) culture that surrounds them. You don't have to know a lot about tech -- or venture capitalism -- to appreciate this, however. You just have to know about people.

Because at the end of the day, this book isn't really about startup culture, apps or technology -- it's about people. There are 5 central characters -- and a couple that hover around central -- to this book, and yes, they're all involved with startups, but that's just where they happen to be. You could set this novel in the Wall Street culture of the mid 80's and not have to change much about it at all, because the relationships, the people are what matter -- not the industries/subcultures they're in.

You've got Mack McAllister -- the driving force and face of TakeOff -- an app promoting mindfulness, happiness and productivity; he seems pretty harmless (initially, anyway), but gets reckless with money and sloppy with interpersonal issues -- when that starts to snowball out of control, he then crosses the line into something worse. Isabel is in charge of Engagement and Marketing for TakeOff, she had a little thing with Mack awhile ago, but has started to see someone else recently. Sabrina works for Isabel, is ten years her senior, but has just got back in the workforce after having kids -- she's got some money problems and a husband that seems to be checked out of the relationship and parenting. His name is Dan, and he's an editor for a Tech News website -- he's pretty oblivious to a lot, really (like his wife's problems) and the crush he has on one of his reporters (actually, he may be very aware of that, come to think of it). Her name is Katya, the child of Russian immigrants -- a hungry reporter, trying to figure out just how to make it in the world where journalism is judged by quantifiable results (views, shares, retweets). Katya needs a break, and stumbles upon a story about Mack -- and Isabel -- and this could be the thing to solidify her position at the news site.

That's all you really need to know going in -- actually, I knew far less, so that's more than you need to know. You take those people and their goals, their problems -- but 'em in a blender and this book comes out. It's pretty easy to see how -- the part that isn't obvious is how Shafrir accomplishes this. She does it by: 1. making these all very relatable characters, with strengths and weaknesses; 2. by making even the villains of the piece not that villain-y (I'm not saying, for example, that Mack is a paragon of virtue -- he does some horrible things, but he never sets out to be horrible, he just ends up that way); 3. by making the heroes of the piece not all that heroic -- just people trying to do (and keep) their jobs, while not screwing up the rest of their life.

I love the fact that Sabrina and Katya are both pretty serious grammar Nazis who find themselves in jobs where they have to do so much that violates grammar -- it's a nice touch, and I enjoyed their reactions to poor grammar. Similarly, Katya's attitude toward smoking is a lot of fun to read about -- but not really something you want to inculcate to kids, or even see in someone in real life.

This is Shafrir's first novel, but she's been writing for forever -- most notably as an online journalist. She knows the world she's depicting, she's lived it and wrote about it -- this is just a barely fictionalized version of her reality, so it reeks of authenticity. I have no doubt I could find people very much like her main characters without trying very hard if I put myself in the right cities. She's not so close to this world that she can't comment on it, nor is she so close to it that she's bitter, nasty and cynical about it.

There's a very slow build to this book -- around the 40% mark, I noticed that while I was enjoying the book, appreciating the writing, and so on -- I wasn't really "hooked" by it, I wasn't invested in any of the characters, which I thought was odd. So, I resolved to make note of when it happened, to see if it was an event, or a development with a character or whatever that prompted it. By the time I hit 80%, the hook was set (it happened well before then, but don't ask me where), but there wasn't anything that I could point to that did it. Just slowly but surely, these people and their individual struggles wormed their way into my subconscious. Which is a great way for a book to be -- not that I mind those that hook you from the start, or those that a have a big, dramatic moment that grabs you -- but those that gradually get you without you noticing.

The ending sneaks up on you -- I really didn't realize the novel ended when it did -- I got to the words "Acknowledgements" on the next page before I realized that the book had ended. I really liked the way it ended (once I figured out it happened), even if I found the last sentence annoying. I still do, actually -- but I see what she was going for and she achieved it. But I still would've liked a few more pages to follow that last sentence.

I can't help feeling like I should have a lot more to say about this book -- but I can't figure out how to do so without giving everything away. So I'd better leave it by saying that I really liked these people, Shafrir's writing, and the way she told a story. Startup was honest, heart-felt, compassionate, and real -- this debut is as strong as it is winning. I hope to read more from Shafrir in the future.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Little, Brown and Company via NetGalley
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Doree Shafrir did a great job portraying startup culture. I live in Silicon Valley and the mentality here is much the same as she made New York startups to be. Ageism, sexism, "culture fit" - it's rampant discrimination. Startup founders, fueled by VC money, truly believe their apps of dubious necessity and value will somehow "change the world" (the most cringe-worthy, cliche'd term in tech). 

The reality of the setting aside, the characters are believable and relatable. Startup is a quick and fun read.
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Doree Shafrir is a culture writer for Buzzfeed, so it’s not surprising that her social commentary on the NYC startup world is biting and snarky. In Startup, she skewers douchey startup founders, the South by Southwest technology festival, and the lack of diversity at startups and the venture capital firms that fund them. But, beneath the snark is a human workplace story that spreads its tentacles into marriage, motherhood, and women in the workplace.
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I had high hopes when I started Startup by Doree Shafrir. It starts at a ridiculous MorningRave, a "clean living dance party" populated by all sorts of denizens of New York City's startup scene, notably Mack, the founder of an app of questionable value, and Katja, a journalist covering the tech scene. I was expecting more satire, and instead the story was more heavy with ideas and a lot of characters who were kind of despicable at times and noble at other times.

Ultimately the characters never felt quite real to me and more representative of ideas: here's the older journalist going off about how journalism has changed in the last ten years, here's a young woman being sexually harassed in the supposedly-enlightened company she works for: the characters seemed more like ideas than people, if that makes sense. I've seen reviews talking about how readable and accurate the story was, and while I read it quickly, I just felt dissatisfied by the story. It's a book filled with sad, disconnected people who work an awful lot, and it wasn't my thing.

Startup by Doree Shafrir

Little Brown, April 2017

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.
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If you like your summer reads served with a hefty side order of tweets, selfies and slack channels, you will probably enjoy BuzzFeed writer Doree Shafrir's novel Startup, a darkly comic, smart and keenly observed cautionary tale set in New York's fast-paced, social-media-saturated tech startup world. 

The novel opens at a booze-free, pre-breakfast Morning Rave in a gentrified factory in hinterland between Williamsburg and Greenpoint. The young, the hip and the tech-savvy are all there to dance, network and post hashtag-hijacked selfies to their Instagram accounts. Present at the party are two twenty-somethings: Mack McAllister, the ambitious founder of a fledgling startup called TakeOff, and Katya Pasternack, a budding reporter struggling to prove her worth at online tech news outlet TechScene. 

Mack needs to secure investment to launch the new-and-improved version of TakeOff app, a mindfulness app that scans your texts, social media posts and other data, in order to anticipate how you might be feeling at a given time and offer motivational suggestions to improve your mood. However, scaling up a small business into a larger, slicker operation — especially in New York, thousands of miles from Silicon Valley — comes with its challenges, and Mack himself, as a high-profile figure in the industry who has grand, perhaps even hubristic ambitions, is just one inappropriate text or tweet away from a crushing fall from grace.

Meanwhile, the founders of TechScene want the reporters to stop going for the low-hanging clickbait stories that bring in a steep but transient spike of page views and seek out the stories that yield greater engagement: repeat visits, comments, social media shares and 'scroll depth'. This is no mean feat when you can spend weeks reporting on a story only to be scooped by a single tweet spoiling the take-home message if you wait too long before publishing.

Fate brings Mack and Katya together a Katya accidentally stumbles on a potential lead that could secure her future at TechScene while destroying Mack's career. But nothing is straightforward in the incestuous New York tech world, where a reporter's boss might be married to someone who works for the company the reporter is writing about, and where publishing the story might also harm the reporter's relationship with her own boyfriend, who also runs a startup.

Shafrir's novel is sharp, fast-paced and all too familiar — particularly for anyone who works in technology, new media, social media or digital marketing. The point of view alternates between several key characters, some of whom are more likeable than others, but most are convincingly written. Mack sees himself as Steve Jobs, but others are less confident in his leadership and talent. He reminded me more of Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network; at one point, he literally clicks refresh in an app waiting for a response, mirroring the final scene of David Fincher's film. Katya, as the young, solitary, single-minded hack, is a recognisable trope too, but Shafrir's writing brings verve and wit to the character.
 
I finished Startup in a single day and it's a tightly plotted, compelling tragicomedy of the digital age. It would also make a nice companion piece to Jon Ronson's So You've Been Publicly Shamed — or, of course, The Social Network, if you haven't already seen it.
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If you are looking for a great work of contemporary fiction about the high-paced tech startup world told from the POV of the clash of 20- and 30-somethings, a Travis/Uber-like man-child that harasses women and the women who don't put up with this behavior, then this book is for you. Well done and taken from today's headlines and a great story too.
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