‘Chaos Monkeys’: A Startup Founder’s Silicon Valley Tell-All by [email protected]
A Startup Founder’s Silicon Valley Tell-all
In a new tell-all book, Antonio Garcia-Martinez uses his experience as a startup founder/CEO of AdGrok, a Facebook product manager, and a twitter advisor to provide readers with a look inside Silicon Valley.Garcia-Martinez joined us on [email protected] Show on Sirius XM channel 111to talk about his book, Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley.
An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
[email protected]: What are the characteristics that make “chaos monkeys” stand out?
Antonio Garcia-Martinez: Chaos Monkey is actually a piece of software that Netflix created. What it does is, it literally shuts down their own servers. They test whether they can actually still stream, for example, House of Cards. The image you should have is this wild monkey rampaging through a data center, knocking out computers. These days, Silicon Valley is the zoo where the chaos monkeys are kept. They run around and they pull the plug on taxis and say, “Look, everyone could be a taxi driver now, thanks to Uber.” Or they say, “We’re not going to have hotels anymore. Everyone with a spare bedroom can actually become a hotelkeeper [with Airbnb]. Right now, Silicon Valley to me, is almost like this gaggle of chaos monkeys that’s testing society. The question we really have as a society is, how robust are we to the chaos monkeys and what they are doing to our society?
[email protected]: We’ve seen a lot of this change happen over the past 10 to 15 years. Realistically, we’re still in maybe the first couple of innings of a baseball game right now, with so much more change possible.
Garcia-Martinez: I go to the Demo Day for Y Combinator, which is this accelerator in Silicon Valley that’s fathered a lot of companies, and that my company went through. What struck me is that literally every company is basically taking some part of either white-collar or blue-collar work and replacing it with automation. Take one particular example: autonomous vehicles, or self-driving cars. Truck driving is the most common job in many U.S. states, and one of the few ways that a non-college graduate can actually feed a family. But truck driving is going to go away. There won’t be truck drivers in 10 to 20 years. That’s how fast autonomous vehicles are coming to us. That’s just one example of one part of the economy that’s going to be fundamentally changed, thanks to Silicon Valley.
“Silicon Valley is the zoo where the chaos monkeys are kept. They run around and they pull the plug on taxis and say, ‘Look, everyone could be a taxi driver now, thanks to Uber.’”
[email protected]: After you started AdGrok, Twitter acquired it and then Facebook took it over. How did you really see this shift really first start happening?
Garcia-Martinez: There’s a famous quote from Marc Andreessen who’s a big VC [venture capitalist]. There are going to be two types of jobs: You either tell the computer what to do, or the computer tells you what to do.
AdGrok was a very small part of that. We made what’s called marketing automation software. In other words, the person who runs your Google search campaign, the ads that Google runs, we’re replacing it with software. You mentioned the company being bought by Twitter and going to Facebook. There are a lot of other things going on in Silicon Valley just at the business level. We were what’s called an “acquihire.” What that means is, companies have so much trouble finding engineers, they literally buy other companies just to recruit people. That effectively is what we were, which is one of the sort of dark secrets that I get into in the book, which is that a lot of acquisitions are really not about the technology, it’s really about the talent, which was definitely the case in our case. AdGrok was definitely our voice through that Silicon Valley weirdness that in 2010 was already sort of raging, but at this point has really reached a peak.
[email protected]: How much more change will Silicon Valley bring in the next 20 to 30 years?
Garcia-Martinez: It’s only going to accelerate. Technology accelerates exponentially. Obviously, I was most familiar with the social media side of things. The way I think about social media — and I thought about this as I was writing the book because I wrote it in a small town — social media is basically replacing the rudiments of small town life for us. With the so-called Dunbar’s number, the 150 people whose names we remember and we care about, now exist on our mobile phone.
That social media takeover of our social lives, what makes us, us, I think will only accelerate. If you look at things like augmented reality — for example, the Pokémon game that at this point is being used almost as much as Twitter, or looking further down the road, for example, the Oculus acquisition, which is this virtual reality hardware company that Facebook bought a couple years ago — that virtualization of our social lives will only accelerate. We’re going to live through a mediated small town that exists in our smartphones more and more.
[email protected]: In the book, you talk about your time working with Mark “Zuck” Zuckerberg, the job that he has done running Facebook and how he fits into this realm of this world of chaos monkeys.
Garcia-Martinez: The book actually starts with a Zuck meeting — with a Zuck and Sheryl [Sandberg] meeting to approve a lot of the crazy data targeting stuff that we ended up developing at Facebook. Zuck didn’t work directly in ads because he doesn’t really care about money. That was really Sheryl’s job.
“There won’t be truck drivers in 10 to 20 years. That’s how fast autonomous vehicles are coming to us.”
But the vision — his mantra, the mantra of the company — is creating a more open and connected world. Everyone there really believes that. I actually describe Zuckerberg as a genius — not so much a cognitive genius, in terms of being the smartest guy in the world. More that he’s fostered this corporate culture in which engineers come first. Very smart, young engineers are very committed to his vision. People actually really believe in that vision. They really want to create this sort of communication and identity layer for the internet through Facebook. That is the true corporate vision. Zuckerberg is the one behind that who has driven it forward all this time.
[email protected]: What is that like for people who are new employees at Facebook and trying to really understand that whole process and vision? You have to have that philosophy even before you’re hired there, correct?
Garcia-Martinez: Well, there is a conversion process. It’s called onboarding. Here’s how it works: Your first day at Facebook, you’ll have two emails in your inbox. One is a sort of generic, “Welcome to Facebook.” And the second one is, “Here’s a list of software bugs to fix.” On your first day, you’ll pull a version of Facebook’s code to your personal machine that’s your version of Facebook. You’re encouraged to go ahead and make changes, upgrades, improvements, whatever, from day one. You’re