I was born in 1981 so technically I am considered a Millennial but I feel so far removed from what typically characterized that generation that I don’t feel the title is justified for me.
Recently, a new microgeneration was created: Xennials, people born between 1977 and 1983, aka the years the three original “Star Wars” movies were released. Xennials are characterized as having experiences an analogue childhood, but digital adult years. They are less savvy than their younger counterparts. They are partially as cynical as Gen Xers but also partly as optimistic and driven as the younger Millennials.
So that’s me, a Xennial.
When I was growing up, we still hand wrote most of our papers. Using a computer regularly did not happen until Middle School. The internet was not a thing until I was in eighth grade and people started using AOL.
Facebook was not around when I was in college. Neither was Twitter or Instagram or Snapchat. Yes, I use some of those forms of social media now but would not consider myself a pro like the younger Millennials who were born knowing how to use these programs.
Doree Shafrir’s “Startup” is written for those younger Millennials, the one who were born with an iPhone in their hands and who read Twitter the way older generations read the newspaper.
The story follows three characters: Mack McAllister, Katya Pasternack and Sabrina Choe Blum, all of whom work in Manhattan’s tech industry. Mack is a young creator of a mindfulness app, TakeOff. Katya is a tech reporter looking to stay ahead in her industry with whatever scoop she can find. Sabrina is in her mid-thirties, married and a mother, who works for Mack and tries desperately to balance her unhappiness at home and her stress over keeping up with her younger colleagues.
Mack is preparing to launch an upgrade on his app and reaching out to venture capitalists for another round of funding. At the same time, his casual relationship with Isabel, one of his colleagues, is changing in ways that he finds disappointing.
Katya, meanwhile, learns from her co-worker, Dan (also Sabrina’s husband) that their bosses are going to start monitoring the quality of their internet traffic and so she needs to land a real scoop. When Katya and Sabrina (desiring a night out from her children) end up at the same party with Isabel, they see something that will change everything for both of them, as well as for Mack.
Look, I really do not know much about startups and tech culture. I do not speak emoji. I just started using my Twitter account (you can follow me @dorothysasso). I have no idea what Snapchat is. But I really enjoyed this book.
“Startup” manages to create a caricature of the startup culture and Millennials, while also skewering that world, particularly how male centered that culture can be. It is easy to roll one’s eyes at people who need apps to be happy, who travel everywhere by Uber and who have nerf gun fights in their offices (which come with their own snack bars!). And yet, these characters are real enough that it was easy to empathize with their predicaments, even while rolling your eyes at their very Millennial behavior.
“Startup” is an easy, funny read. It also seems as though Doree Shafrir was trying to make a point about the role of women in startup culture. There is a part towards the end where several men have a meeting where they discuss how there are constant complaints about how there are not enough women in the tech world. One character says, “It’s a pipeline issue… People want it fixed yesterday. It’s just not a good time to be a straight white guy getting accused of sexual harassment.” A second character replies, “Why should I have to pay because the world is messed up? The fact that there’s no female partner at Gramercy has nothing to do with my situation.”
This struck a cord given the recent Google memo that were viral, where a software engineer for Google wrote a 10-page essay explaining the biological reasons behind unequal gender representation in STEM fields. “Startup” is a great book to pick up after reading the memo and all the backlash that came out against it.
My one complaint is the ending, which is very abrupt and leaves several threads dangling. While I do not feel that a sequel is necessary, I would have liked a little more closure for the female characters of the novel. After all, they deserve a major role in the tech world, just like the Mack McAllisters have.
Author: Doree Shafrir
Page Number: 304
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company