The Disruptive CEO—Why Do Silicon Valley Founders Behave So Badly?

The San Francisco Bay Area has been taken over by the cult of “Radical Disruption.” Everywhere I turn I see a new elite college drop-out founding the latest, greatest tech startup that will totally disrupt life as we know it, and make someone a shitload of money, with a workforce of only rock star, ninja programmers and slick, hip PR guys and gals who will remake the world, while also completely fudging the numbers and harassing every employee that comes through their doors. I imagine we can blame it on Steve Jobs, but the leaders of the cult of “Radical Disruption” around here are startup CEOs, worshipped like gurus for their guts, their genius and their ability to both be super cool and create radical new workplaces while totally DISRUPTING some commercial space AND attending Burning Man and Coachella Music Fest each year.

I don’t mean to sound snarky. Both of my teen-aged sons inform me on a regular basis that I’m not funny and thus snark is way out of my element. However, as I watch the world of technology from my seat in the sleepy Santa Cruz Mountains to the south of Silicon Valley, all I can do is wonder, “Who the hell are these people?”

I get it, I’m old. But not that old. I mean, I didn’t have to program using punch cards. I actually learned to write code using an actual keyboard. To give some perspective, I’m only five years older than Uber Founder and CEO, Travis Kalanick, so I’m not sure we’re of dramatically different generations. Yet I’m astounded by the allegations that show up in my newsfeed everyday about him, and many others, that live and work just over the hill from me. They have come to power and what do they do with it? Use it to disrupt EVERYTHING, and I don’t mean the actual commercial space they occupy, but the lives of the employees and investors that prop up the very dream they seem to think is their divine calling.

Let’s begin with Travis Kalanick, the Uber CEO, who has been accused of spying on former employees who have dared to sue him,  tagging iPhones even after its app had been deleted and the devices erased — a fraud detection maneuver that violated Apple’s privacy guidelines, creating a workplace rife with sexual harassment where female employees weren’t given the same black leather jacket reward because there weren’t enough women in the department to get a group discount. And my favorite? Alphabet’s Waymo lawsuit against Otto (purchased by Uber) for allegedly stealing the design of a key self-driving system.

Wow. You get to be CEO of a company about to IPO while all this shit is hitting the fan? Travis Kalanick, you are sooooo lucky to be a rock star CEO in 2017. Seriously, because if you’d been the CEO of a company in the 1990’s, you’d be finished.

It appears that sexism exists all over Silicon Valley, but certainly not in a company founded by women, right? One would think that at Thinx, a company that makes period-proof underwear, things would be downright utopian for the ladies. Not so, and this story really breaks my heart. Meet Miki Agrawal, one of the cutest Valley CEOs and the founder of a company I completely adore. I use the Thinx period panties and while they’re a bit pricey, they’re a great technological feat. I wanted her company, and the brand she was selling, namely herself, to succeed. But that was not to be, and just a month ago sexual harassment charges were brought against a “SHE-E-O”!!!! Allegedly, Ms. Agrawal touched employee’s breasts, and demanded that one employee to let her look at the empolyee’s new nipple piercings in front of the male co-worker in her office. Ms. Agrawal also often changed into other clothes and period-proof undies in front of everyone in the office. In her post on Medium, Agrawal writes that her lawyers have found no evidence for these claims, however, the case is still open and awaiting trial, and she’s stepped down from her post of CEO. Of course, in another post on Medium, she details her adventures in the Orgy Dome at Burning Man while promoting her products, so, I guess that's okay for a CEO to reveal in public as well?

Now, for those reading this that live in the Midwest, Deep South, or even the East Coast, this is happening in California, the land of the free in more ways than you can think of. Nudity is common, I see it when I walk down the main street of my town, polyamory is in, and many women flirt and make-out with one another all the time. It’s cool, for some, you know? But in the workplace? No. It isn’t cool, even in Silicon Valley.

Sexual harassment, stealing trade secrets and spying, I imagine that’s what you have to do to be a successful CEO in the cult of “Radical Disruption” because that’s what venture capitalists are looking for.  But how about completely lying to investors about key metrics? Take Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, the blood-testing start-up that she started as a 19-year-oldStanford dropout, which was valued at some $9 billion. That was before the Wall Street Journal reported in October of 2016 her company was basically a sham and that Theranos used competitor’s products to do all of its testing because its own technology didn’t actually work.

Oh my. Holmes was a female self-made millionaire in a world of male dominance, and a shining light here in the Valley. She even wears nothing but black turtle necks, just like Steve Jobs. Theranos was going to disrupt the health care industry by providing lab work at a fraction of the cost. Yet when Ms. Holmes’ technology failed, rather than report it, she purchased competitor equipment and lied to her investors.

But Ms. Holmes, you’re not alone. Let me introduce you to Evan Spiegel, your male twin when it comes to hiding data from investors, and Snapchat’s founder and CEO, who not only said, according to a former employee, “This app is only for rich people. I don’t want to expand into poor countries like India and Spain,” his company also exaggerates Snapchat’s user data to keep top executives completely misinformed about key metrics. Now if you are an actual investor in Snapchat, Evan wants to assure you that these metrics are really no big deal, honestly, they're not, because in the end lying to your investors is also part of the cult of “Radical Disruption.”

All of this troubles me. I wonder, what will happen to our technology and our future when these types of people are considered glamorous and fit to found and run the companies that will define the future? Do business schools assign case studies on these innovators as a means to encourage their students to follow in their enlightened footsteps? Each one of these founders set out to create something new—a new way to hail rides, a new way to manage your period each month, a new way to administer blood tests, a new way to communicate with your friends. Yet each and every one has created a workplace of harassment, poor benefits, or lied to their investors and the public. Where did they learn how to do business? Who were their role models?

If companies are now being founded on the cult of “Radical Disruption” is it any wonder that everything—from workplace security to honesty in reporting data—is being disregarded? To disrupt means, “drastically alter or destroy the structure of (something).”

What do we lose when we encourage this next generation of leaders to destroy in the name of success, brilliance and destiny?

Personally, I expected more from my generation. Corruption is corruption, even if you attend Burning Man.

My Latest Project: An eHuman Reboot!

Spring has sprung and since the equinox, I’ve made a few big decisions. Can we call it an author spring cleaning? First I've decided to seek new representation as I attempt to traditionally publish my latest trilogy, which isn’t about a future rebellion, but one that took place in 200 B.C. in Egypt. The Song of the King’s Heart is the story of the last native Egyptian Pharaoh, Ankhmakis the Rebel King, and his attempt to reclaim Egypt from the Macedonian Ptolemaic Empire. After twenty years of ruling 80% of Egypt, his rebellion came to a brutal end, but the story is one that has captivated me for years and I can’t wait to share it with readers. However, before I can do that, I must find that agent who loves Ankhmakis as much as I do. The process of agent and writer coming together is mind-boggling, but a topic for a later blog, as I’ve just begun and honestly have no idea how this adventure will turn out. Hopefully, it will end with a publishing contract, but in the meantime, there’s an eHuman Trilogy in need of completion.

Which leads me to the second major decision I made—to pull eHuman Dawn and eHuman Deception from publication. As soon as I announced this decision on my author FB page, I received more than a few emails from readers, mostly questions about when the last book will be done, and how they can read it if the eHumans are no longer online.

After a dozen or so inquiries, I decided to share via blog why I made this rather strange decision and what it means for me as a writer, as well as for those readers waiting to get that final story.

Why did I pull the eHumans offline for a reboot?

1.       I can do better
Since eHuman Dawn was published in 2013, I’ve written five other novels, as well as kept my blog and Medium accounts rather active. Writing is a wonderful craft because the more you do it, the more you improve. After I finished the Egyptian Trilogy, I started working on the final eHuman novel. In order to get back into the eHuman world, I re-read both eHuman Dawn and eHuman Deception, and as I read them, I realized, “Wow, I am not the same writer I was four years ago. I can do better.” This realization began to haunt me and I began to think, “…if only I could pull it and rewrite it…”

2.       Now that I know how the story ends, I want to change the beginning
Again, as I began to develop the final eHuman story, the ending finally became clear. Edgar Prince’s motivations are also finally understood, and I began to ask more questions of the characters. Is this really a great rebellion, or a family feud? What is it like when the elites of the world get carried away with their power? How do they co-opt the system to work for them? Is a militarized rebellion the only path towards taking over Neuro, especially in the light of cyber warfare and malware? The rebellion rising up is an overused trope, I think there’s a more elegant way for Adam, Dawn and Origin to wrest Neuro from Edgar’s hands. Is the timeline correct? Has is really been two hundred years since the Great Shift, or only 50? In light of the recent election and the state of the world, Edgar makes more sense, and I realized that there are plot points missing in the earlier novels that need to be there if the ending is to be true. Again, I was haunted with the idea, “…if only I could pull them and rewrite…”

3.       I want to hear more from Dawn
She’s got a lot to say, and I want her to say it. What if I tell the story more from her view? It changes, but in a good way, like how Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow tell the same story, but from different viewpoints. Dawn knows more than Adam, so what if she tells the story until he wakes up and understands more? There are POV issues in general I wish to clean up and as Dawn demanded more face time I really wished, “…if only I could pull them and rewrite…”

4.       I can pull them and rewrite them
I published eHuman Dawn and eHuman Deception with Story Merchant Books and per our contract, all rights belong to me. This is my work and with this unique publishing deal, I’m able to put a story out there, get feedback, and pull it to make it better. And so I did just that. The story can be improved upon, and I have the time and ability to do so.

While I write the last book, currently titled, eHuman Deliverance, I will also be rewriting the other two, taking all three stories into my hands as one story, split up over three books. When will I be done? I will be done when the story is done. When will they be available? Again, that all depends on my future. If all goes well, an agent is going to swipe up Ankhmakis this year and then be super happy to discover that I also have a science fiction trilogy to fall in love with. Imagine it, you read one novel and get six when you sign me! For my eHuman readers, that means you might have to wait a while. Traditional publishing doesn’t move at the speed of ePublishing. Of course, maybe I will self-publish all six of these novels in time, but the pros and cons of self-publishing online vs. working with a traditional publisher is also the topic of another blog.

So dear readers, I know this is a strange move, but trust me, it’s the right one. I ask for your patience as I attempt to make eHumanity worth your time. I love the story, but the one thing I’ve learned these past three years is that the best story isn’t the one I want to tell you, it’s the story that wants to be told that is the most powerful. As an author, the trick is to open myself and catch that story, so that I can share it with you.

Thanks for understanding and please comment, pm or tweet me with any questions. I’ll be blogging most weeks and posting more on Medium as the eHumans reboot, and I will keep you informed every step of the way.