Xconomy Bookclub: “Startup” Offers a Pointed Look at Techie Culture

Doree Shafrir’s novel Startup is set in New York City’s tech scene, but given its theme, there is, of course, a detour to Austin to attend South By Southwest. She describes it as “the tech industry’s five-day Super Bowl, prom, Oscars, and Coachella all wrapped into one, with breakfast tacos.”

At this annual techie pilgrimage, she writes that standard-issue startup bro dorks eagerly seek out the requisite wristbands for exclusive parties while “desperately texting the person he knew inside, who inevitably didn’t have cell service.”

Once inside, these lemmings obediently tweet from each party with the correct hashtag and “get way too excited when they saw them show up on the real-time projection of everyone’s tweets on the wall.”

Hugh Forrest, SXSW’s chief programming officer, says he enjoyed the book and noted the “not particularly complimentary” SXSW references. “At least they spelled the name correctly,” he says, laughing.

Tonight, Forrest will have a chance to verbally spar with the author when he hosts Shafrir, who makes a stop in Austin on her book tour, at a reading at the Book People bookstore. “If this was said in a less playful way I would take more exception to some of this stuff,” he says. “I read it much as I would watch [television show] ‘Silicon Valley.’ It’s funny and there’s a lot of biting truth to it. But ultimately the fact that she’s doing this is because this is such a fascinating part of our culture.”

The Gotham that Shafrir paints is not the New York previously sketched out by the literary world. (She was a longtime writer with Buzzfeed in New York, and now based in Los Angeles.)

Our tale starts with purple-legging-clad acolytes jauntily making their way to a rave. No, it’s not a flashback to Studio 54. These millennials are headed to a pre-dawn “Morning Rave,” a monthly “clean-living dance party” in a warehouse in Brooklyn.

As Dan Blum, a jaded and nearing-40 editor for fictional online news site TechScene puts it: “Welcome to Startupville: population douchebag.”

The characters of Startup include:

—Mack McAllister, golden boy founder (who happens to be a Dallas native and SMU grad), whose burning through cash a little too rapidly and is desperate to snag millions in new venture investment to turn his mindfulness app TakeOff into the tech industry’s next coveted unicorn.

—Katya Pasternak is a 20-something, chain-smoking writer for TechScene (motto: “Tech news straight, no chaser.”) A Russian immigrant who managed to learn English and make her living in the language, she chafes at people who spell whoa “woah,” and hungers for a really big … Next Page »

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Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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