Further details have emerged about a series of firings and resignations last summer at the marketing software maker HubSpot. According to documents obtained by Freedom of Information requests and seen by Business Insider, the firing of chief marketing officer Mike Volpe and resignation of vice president of content Joe Chernov were fallout from failed attempts, including through email hacking, manipulation, and extortion, to interfere with the publication of a critical book by former employee Daniel Lyons.
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That name might ring a bell. Lyons is a former Newsweek writer and the creator of Fake Steve Jobs, a wildly popular satirical blog that spoofed the late Apple leader’s hard-nosed style in the late 2000s. Jobs’ illness and death ended that project by 2011, and Lyons’ journalism career hit a rough patch. He joined HubSpot in a marketing role, in what he has called “my ridiculous attempt to reinvent myself and start a new career”.
What he saw at HubSpot reads like fairly typical startup culture, like “fear conquering” exercises, Nerf gun fights, and a “frat house meets cult compound” vibe. He put the experience to work helping pen the second season of HBO’s biting Silicon Valley. Then Lyons sold a book about his time at HubSpot: Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble comes out in April. Fortune has published an excerpt from the book.
It’s hard to understand HubSpot’s surprise that, after giving a fairly renowned satirical tech writer the inside line on their every quirk, he wrote something satirical about it. But it appears HubSpot (HUBS) execs wanted to squash the book. The documents seen by Business Insider mention “multiple failed attempts to manipulate and extort people” towards that end, as well as a California lawsuit claiming extortion.
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HubSpot has stated that “Following an internal investigation in July 2015, we turned our findings over to the authorities. We haven’t had any additional communication with them since cooperating with the investigation last year but it’s our understanding that they chose not to pursue any criminal charges.”
Lyons tells BI that he’s not sure why HubSpot saw his book as “blackmail-worthy”—it doesn’t detail individual affairs, for example, although there is plenty of general bad behavior. And on his site, Lyons does describe HubSpot as a company that “made the world a better place … by selling software used to create email spam.” So they can’t love that.