Chaos Monkeys Update

I’m finished.

I’d like to tell you it’s an easy satisfying read but the truth is despite the book being billed as a Facebook expose, the first half, when Antonio Garcia Martinez is delineating his travails in a startup, is much more interesting than the details of his tenure at the social network thereafter.

And the dirty little secret is most acquisitions are acqui-hires, for talent as opposed to product, and the bandied about number is oftentimes much higher than reality, never mind needing to work at the new establishment for years to get your payout, but there are a ton of lessons in this book that should be heeded.

“People go into startups thinking that the technical problems are the challenge… No, every real problem in startups is a people problem, and as such they’re the hardest to solve, as they often don’t have a real solution, much less a ready software fix.”

Ideas are a dime a dozen, execution is everything. And to succeed you need a team, and that group only succeeds if you can get along. People look at Hollywood and think they could move out west and triumph, do a better job, and why is it all these people without an education, certainly not from a top-notch institution, are succeeding? Because they know people. Sure, you might see the misdeeds in the media, but the truth is winners in the entertainment business are cunning individuals who’ve entranced an entire posse who will lay down for them. It’s about loyalty. And you incur this via favors, by connecting, by getting along. Not by being a doormat, but by being fun and getting things done.

“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.”

That’s Mario Andretti speaking.

I wrestle with this, I don’t want to make mistakes. I’m trying to learn to lose control. I always think of the Beatles, who got everything right, then again, they were making it up as they went along, they were clueless at the time. The problem might be that I know too much, or that I operate in fields already well-defined. The greats venture into the unknown and create something out of thin air, and when you don’t know where you’re going you’re definitely going to go the wrong way some of the time.

“As Geoff Ralston, a YC partner told us: people don’t really change, they just become better actors.”

It’s the adjustment that adds friction, that prevents an enterprise from moving forward. Once the game is defined, everybody knows their role, but when there’s chaos, greatness can emerge. Meanwhile, I’ve said for years that people in relationships don’t change. I don’t want to believe this is true. I want to believe people can gain awareness and adjust. Then again, everything someone tells you on a first date is true, believe them, it’s these unguarded revelations that will come to haunt you in the future. What you didn’t believe, what you thought was cute, you’ll find totally true and abhorrent as time goes by, even if it does explain so much.

“PG was our genius guru, but like many brilliant minds, he occasionally got things flamingly and egregiously wrong, and this was one such instance.”

Or as James Taylor put it in “Lighthouse”:

But just because I might be standing here
That don’t mean I won’t be wrong this time
You could follow me and lose your mind

We’re all looking for beacons, we’re all looking for guidance. But it’s best to accumulate data and trust your own instincts, then you only have yourself to blame.

Or, as Bob Dylan sang:

Don’t follow leaders
Watch the parking meters

“in Silicon Valley, the Land of No Sarcasm”

That’s what easterners don’t understand about California, the optimism, the can-do spirit, the ability to make friends with enemies and move on like the past didn’t happen.

On the east coast it’s dreary, everybody’s bringing each other down. It’s a cutting atmosphere whereas California is an uplifting atmosphere, and if you were brought up in the east it seems so phony. AND IT IS! But then you realize you like it this way, that everybody’s into their own trip and ignoring you, you’re free of the barbs, if not the sharp elbows. Yes, everybody in California wants to get ahead, and if you’re in their way, watch out, they’re not about to lend a helping hand.

“In VC (venture capital), as often in life, it’s the incompetent and insecure who are generally the assholes; the masterful and successful – not to mention those universally perceived as the best in their field – are playing the long game.”

Like Tom Freston. Who never luxuriates in his status, is always endearing and delegates as opposed to consolidating power. What a difference from Philippe Daumann, who will lose his job at Viacom and never work again, as opposed to Freston, who is one of the engines behind Vice’s success. Vice is MTV on steroids, it’s much more than music. News is today’s music, if only the musicians understood this.

“I gave him an extended version of our pitch, which he consumed with that look of rapt attention, accompanied by staccato bursts of questions, which was the unmistakable sign of sincere investor interest.”

1. Listen, nothing endears you to people more.

2. Ask questions, it demonstrates interest.

3. If people aren’t laser-focused on you and your pitch and want to know more, you know you’ve failed.

4. The greats will give you all their attention until they won’t. Don’t waste their time and don’t be offended when they’ve moved on. They remember what’s important to them, and if you made an impression, you’re seared into their brain.

“America still loves an underdog, and you’ll be surprised at how many allies come out of the woodwork when some obnoxious incumbent is challenged by a scrappy startup with a convincing story.”

You have friends you are unaware of until you find out you share a common enemy. Then they’ll go to war with you and support you in your effort to rectify an injustice. You are not the first victim of this bullying jerk who believes the world bends to their will. You know, the asshole who tells you you’ll never work again after you stand up for yourself. That person has always been imperious. The world is a web of relationships, and someone can always get to the perpetrator, you’ve just got to work your network to achieve the desired result.

“So long as you maintain unit cohesion and a shared sense of purpose, and have the basic rudiments of living, you will outlast, outfight, and out-rage any company that sets out to destroy you. Men with nothing to lose will stop at nothing to win.”

This is why upstarts succeed. They’re willing to work harder, stay up all night, live in substandard conditions and sacrifice all for the goal. Every winner has a tale of utmost sacrifice. If they don’t, they’re lying. Or their success is paper-thin and about to be revealed.

“To quote Balzac, ‘The secret of great fortunes without apparent cause is a forgotten crime, as the crime was properly done.'”

People forget. They just see where you are, not how you got there. Joe Kennedy was a bootlegger. Sean Parker started at Napster… Once you’ve got the cash, status and gravitas come naturally.

“In a world where superficial relationships and glib bullshit are the rule, there’s nothing more fearsome than to see true loyalty at work.”

People will go out of their way for you, they like to help, it makes them feel good, and if they can settle a score in the process, even better.

“The harsh reality is this: to have influence in the world, you need to be willing and able to reward your friends and punish your enemies.”

Those who are nice and offend no one don’t succeed. They become vice-presidents and stall out. The true movers and shakers spread the wealth and gain allies, and they’re willing to go after their enemies’ jugular.

“First, the ability to monomaniacally and obsessively focus on one thing and one thing only, at the expense of everything else in life.”

Are you willing to sacrifice everything to make it? Not only a steady income, but a roof over your head, good food on the table and a relationship and children? If so, you have a chance of making it. If not, you’re already in the rearview mirror.

“Second, the ability to take and endure endless amounts of shit.”

It hurts, but it’s the only way to the top. If you’re unwilling to be on the receiving end of tons of doo-doo, justified or unjustified, you don’t have the cojones to make it. You’re gonna make mistakes, and there are others who just want to keep you down and dissuade you, deal with it.

“Love is grand, but hate and fear last longer.”

This is the cynicism losers abhor.

“I observe that some men, like bad runners in the stadium, abandon their purposes when close to the goal; while it is at that particular point, more than at any other, that others secure the victory over their rivals. —Polybius, Histories”

Can you close? Or do you dream of success and when you get to contract you start thinking about the millions of ways it can go wrong and are afraid to sign. I know, I’ve got this fear, I’m trying to overcome it, trying to realize that all deals are imperfect and you never know what will happen after you leave the starting line. Could be bad, but could be incredibly great too. As I always say, you never know what will happen once you walk out your front door.

“Do they have that ‘lean and hungry look’ of Cassius in Julius Caesar, and eat at dingy taquerias, or perhaps live off cheap staples like ramen or food substitutes? Those are the truly dangerous ones, the ones who live like organized crime trigger men, guerrilla fighters, or sailors at sea – eating shitty food and living in cheap, dumpy crash pads – and who couldn’t give a damn about quality of life. Those are the people to fear, because they don’t need anything an antagonist can deprive them of.”

Whew! When you got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose. You win on your brains and hard effort, not your sports car or fancy office.

“Here’s another lesson for the aspiring startupista: don’t skimp on lawyers.”

They’re cheap in the end. And the best ones not only know the game, but the players. You’re looking for advice and protection, and those never come cheap.

“Lawyers didn’t get into law because they’re good at business; bamboozle them however so long as they get cracking.”

You can’t sell your law practice in California. There is no asset value to your firm. Lawyers don’t have all the money, their clients do.

“Such scheming happens either by phone or in person, with no emails or messaging involved. That’s when you can tell you’re really in some juicy shit; conversely, if you’re still emailing about it, there’s actually nothing real going on.”

Because there’s no paper trail, no record, nothing to subpoena.

“Often, given the reigning shabby-chic aesthetic, you couldn’t immediately distinguish between the technohipsters and the drugged-out homeless. (As the hardened SoMa veteran joke goes: the homeless have Android phones, while the techies have iPhones.)”

It’s true. If you’re using Android, you’re behind the curve, you’re a joke, primarily because you’re not on iMessage. Technohipsters love to group message on iMessage, comments can fly fast and furiously. And if you’re on Android, you’re left out. Don’t argue, it’s such a small, inexpensive part of the game, just get an iPhone.

“Team-work? Who ever made a fortune by team-work? There’s only one way to make a fortune and that’s to down the fellow who’s up against you. – W. Somerset Maugham, ‘Straight Flush'”

You’re in it together until you find out you’re not. The truth is people are out for themselves. The sooner you learn this, the better off you’ll be. Your business partners will stab you in the back, leave you out, do what’s expedient. If your husband or wife does this, you’ve chosen really badly, re-evaluate your criteria.

“I asked Sacca, who ignored my inquiries; as we were to learn, this was a man who only ever talked his book.”

Chris Sacca’s another one whose past has been forgotten now that he’s become a billionaire. Look into his efforts with Philip Falcone, would you have done that? I know Sacca, he came to Aspen and spoke twice. He blew the attendees’ minds, demonstrating what Google, his then employer, could do for you, which the music biz people in attendance were clueless as to. Then I wrote about it and Sacca said his speech was off the record, which he’d never said, and then he REWROTE my missive and told me to post that. I just took the post down. But that’s Sacca, a man who needs no introduction who thinks he owns the world and is now on “Shark Tank.” By “his book,” Martinez means Sacca, an investor in the startup, gives advice and pulls strings that are beneficial to him. In this case Sacca had and still has a big stake in Twitter, so he wanted the acquisition to happen there.

“If you can only be good at one thing, be good at lying…because if you’re good at lying, you’re good at everything. – @gselevator”

Think about this. Once you’ve left the field of honesty, everything is up for grabs.

“As every new arrival in California comes to learn, that superficially sunny ‘Hi!’ they get from everybody is really, ‘Fuck you, I don’t care.'”

Natives don’t want to be your friend. Best to align yourself with transplants.

“Have a mad vision, and you’re a kook. Get a crowd to believe in it as well, and you’re a leader.”

Or as Joe Walsh put it:

Everybody’s so different
I haven’t changed

“That was the uniquely piratical attitude: if you could get shit done and quickly, nobody cared much about credentials or traditional legalistic morality. The hacker ethos prevailed above all.”

That’s the California tech ethos, it’s all about results. No one cares where you went to school or who your parents are, it all comes down to “What have you done for me lately?”

“Facebook is full of true believers who really, really, really are not doing it for the money, and really, really will not stop until every man, woman, and child on earth is staring into a blue-framed window with a Facebook logo.”

Determination is everything, never underestimate the power of the true believer. Remember when Google+ was gonna kill Facebook? That didn’t happen.

“In general, be it at startups or aggressive companies like Facebook, there should be a cultural bias for launching.”

Get your record out as opposed to making sure it’s perfect. This is something the old cats can’t fathom but the young acts understand.

“As in life, so in business: maintain a bias for action over inaction.”

When you’re unsure, go for it!

“This too shall pass. What befell Sun could befall us too, so MOVE FAST AND BREAK THINGS!”

One day Facebook will die. The major labels are surviving on their catalogs, which they wield as power in negotiations, without the old tracks upstarts would rule. But in tech, the assets fade very quickly, he not busy being born is busy dying.

“If we don’t create the thing that kills Facebook, someone else will. ‘Embracing change’ isn’t enough. It has to be so hardwired into who we are that even talking about it seems redundant. The Internet is not a friendly place. Things that don’t stay relevant don’t even get the luxury of leaving ruins. They disappear.”

This is how tech beat the music business. You don’t accept the blows, you give them.

“A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point. – Leon Festinger et al., When Prophecy Fails

This is why despite the “New York Times” attacking Trump every damn day, he still stands. Where were the Democrats when the underclass was suffering as a result of trade deals? As for the Republicans, they defined the debate, Hillary is a liar, Obama is ruining the country…to the point where Democrats are on defense. But despite playing the long game, the Republicans lost touch with their base completely and now their party is in disarray and no one is reunifying it.

“All ambitious men want either to please their fathers or to punch them in the goddamned face.”

Well-adjusted people don’t win. Winners have deep-seated anger, frustrations and inadequacies that make them play so hard and succeed, to demonstrate their worth.

“How did we finally get on the right track? The way Facebook sussed out anything: it mooched information from potential acquirees and business partners via meetings of dubious good faith, and then figured out how to hack the outside world to its advantage. It’s what every large company with incumbent leverage does, incidentally.”

Don’t trust the man. He’ll entice you with candy, take everything you’ve got and leave your carcass by the roadway. You might have a legal case, but good luck finding enough dough to sue the deep pocket.

“When confronted with an unwelcome social situation (which is most of them), I default to a Terry Gross pose of interviewing journalist.”

Me too! This is why we read, to see ourselves in print, to feel so not alone. When I’m anxious, when it’s quiet, I start asking questions. People will tell you anything and everything. But I judge those who never reciprocate, who never ask me about me, and they’re few and far between, the people who care about anybody but themselves.

“Facebook had no interest in real innovation. It liked its faxes. Like any large company, Facebook would always aim to create monopoly pricing power and maintain information asymmetry, rather than drive true innovation. If Facebook played with the outside world, it always played with loaded dice.”

The “Innovator’s Dilemma” is your friend. Every established enterprise leans on its past, it’s your opening to disrupt them.

“There’s a negative selection in which the cream (or whatever it is that initially rises) gets constantly skimmed off, and you are what’s left after years of continual skimming.”

It’s a rat race out there, become complacent and not only are you left behind, YOU’RE OUT!

“To quote Theodor Herzl, ‘If you will it, it is no dream; and if you do not will it, a dream it will remain.'”

It’s all about the effort, success comes through hard work.

Chaos Monkeys” is a hard read. And, when you get to the Facebook half your eyes start to glaze over a bit. But it’s more than worth plowing through, for the insights, for the lessons… Martinez Googled everybody he was gonna meet with. Life is about preparation, but don’t be so busy preparing that you don’t play, because once the game begins…ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!

“Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley”

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