Chaos Monkeys – Inside the Silicon Valley Money Machine

Many bleary-eyed entrepreneurs from all over the world gravitate to Silicon valley to give wings to their dreams. Money is not a problem. If your idea has so much as a wrinkle of potential, someone will soon take notice and money becomes available to you on tap.

With access to both money and talent, Silicon Valley has all the trappings needed to take your business places. But this is only one side of reality; reality as is often reported in the mainstream media.

Antonio Garcia Martinez rains on the Silicon Valley cheerleading parade in his blistering memoir ‘Chaos Monkeys’. The haloed money-making apparatus of the Valley, apparently, has an obverse side. A side only insiders are privy to. Outsiders only gawk at what gets published in newspapers or reported on TV without ever getting a peek into behind-the-scenes liaisons. Thanks to Martinez, you get a guided tour into Silicon Valley’s dark secrets.

“In the startup game, there are no real rules, only laws, and weakly enforced ones at that. In the end, success would forgive any sins, as it did for Gates and Jobs.” – Antonio Garcia Martinez

If you leave out the ‘bumping people off’ part, there is not much that separates Silicon Valley from Sicilian mafia in operational terms at least. Getting deals done via backdoor negotiations, ordering legal hits on ex-members to nip their ventures in the bud, backstabbing your partners to earn management stripes, it all happens.

Before joining Facebook as its first product manager for ads targeting, Martinez had sold his infantile startup Adgrok to Twitter for $4 million; a paltry sum in the context of Silicon Valley. His entrepreneurial gig got off to a bad start though when a former boss sued him for allegedly stealing the technology.

Martinez perfectly captures the travails of a tech entrepreneur who is hung in two minds about the success of his venture and looks for ways to jump ship at first opportunity. The story of Martinez running the gauntlet at the Valley’s top accelerator Y-Combinator, setting up AdGrok and selling it immediately thereafter, forms the most riveting part of the book.

Chaos Monkeys is not a book for purists. The narrative is riddled with F-bombs and obscenities fly with horrifying frequency. Martinez drops names and dresses them down with aplomb, he mentions the sensitive company-policy-violation stuff without bother. Any other author, in my opinion, would have skirted around a host of issues mentioned in the book, but not Martinez. He is of a different constitution.

“Men with nothing to lose will stop at nothing to win.” – Antonio G. Martinez

All those poor souls who ever messed with Martinez get their reputations blown to smithereens. Murthy Nukala, founder of Adchemy and author’s former employer, who hounded him with lawsuits gets the worst stick of all. Martinez effectively pounds Murthy’s credibility to pulp. Here’s the author on his former employer’s sartorial tastes, “In his ill-fitting polyester polo shirts with color palettes stolen from the late ’70s, Murthy reminded me of the bored auto-rickshaw drivers in front of Connaught Place, Delhi.”

Yes, he does opine like a giant flaming gasbag, but, it is Martinez’ colorful language that sets the narrative up a notch or two. His deep insights into the cutthroat startup machine – when he is not throwing vengeful punches – are just priceless. From explaining more commonplace stuff such as the cap table, pre-money valuation, etc. to the more obscure matters like ‘consideration’ given to investors and price per employee at the time of startup sale, Martinez wins you over with his smart-alecky wisdom and scathing observations.

“If you want to be a startup entrepreneur, get used to negotiating from positions of weaknesses.” – Antonio G. Martinez

The final third of the book meanders into technical minutiae of ads targeting. Those who love the wonkish nitty-gritty of how an ads exchange works, what a software stack is, what are demand-side platforms and so on, would cherish the author’s efforts while non-wonks might have to thumb through the pages.

Author’s portrayal of his against-all-odds project at Facebook and its subsequent sidestepping by the top brass comes across as grumbling of sorts. He spearheaded FBX, Facebook’s foray into ads exchange business, but the project soon ran into internal politics and turf wars. Eventually, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, took a call and weened FBX off any more resources to shift focus to mobile ads.

Facebook shut down FBX post-Martinez’ departure and it doesn’t look like Zuckerberg and co. are any worse off without FBX. On the contrary, Facebook as its stands today earns 87% of its ad revenues from mobile advertising, thus vindicating Sandberg’s stand to maroon the ads exchange business.

The sole reason why Chaos Monkeys sold well is Antonio Garcia Martinez and his epic storytelling craft. From stem to stern, the book brims with genius wordplay and in-the-face humor. His biting remarks and incisive insights in the realm of entrepreneurship are deep, provocative and wide-ranging. The Valley faithful might call him a tub-thumper and his work a vindictive rant of a disgruntled employee, but, in the end, Chaos Monkeys turns out to be more than the sum of its parts – a genuine how-not-to book on striking it rich in Silicon Valley.


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