Doree Shafrir on Her Tech Culture Satire and Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
Given all the stuff we’ve seen (ahem, Silicon Valley) and heard about startup culture—unlimited food! treadmill desks! an “office” that looks straight out of Disney!—it’s basically begging to be parodied. Doree Shafrir did just that, and she did it brilliantly. The Buzzfeed writer’s debut novel Startup hilariously satirizes the male-dominated NYC tech world, a place where both free snacks and sexism are the norm.
“The ways in which people in their twenties are gravitating toward the tech industry was really interesting to me,” she told us about the book's inspo. “There are so many novels about young women that take place at women’s magazines, and that was the story of an aspirational career path for a long time.” But times have changed, and Startup is new kind of coming-of-age novel that’s decidedly 2017 (in more ways than one!). Before you grab the book, read our interview with Doree below.
A big theme of the novel is ambition. Sometimes, being driven can be misinterpreted as being overly aggressive. What advice do you have for girls navigating this system?
I think it is really complicated because we still live in a patriarchy. And the things women do will still be evaluated in the lens of how men perceive them. That sucks, and that's unfortunately the reality. The more we can do to just normalize your behavior, the better. I hate those articles with headlines like “Here’s what to do to make yourself more likable in the office!” or lists that tell women they need to change their behavior to make themselves more palatable to the men in charge. That’s so offensive. One of the takeaways from my book is that it's not women's fault that they are perceived as bitchy or aggressive. I don't think that women need to change their behavior; society needs to change its behavior.
What’s the first step to accomplishing that?
The best thing young women can do is find allies in the office. Women need to stick together and support each other. The more we can get ourselves in the positions of power, the better.
There’s a major plotline in Startup about sexual harassment that feels super relevant, especially given recent headlines. What inspired that?
Well, it’s not based on real life—it’s not based on me—but around the time I was working on the book, there were a few sexual harassment scandals in tech. One of them was Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of Tinder, suing for sexual harassment after she got into a relationship with one of her fellow cofounders and it went horribly awry. I was interested in this particular story because these were known people who founded this company that was instantly successful. They had gotten rich really fast, but they were still kind of kids and didn’t understand the ramifications of their behavior. Things really snowballed and people behaved inappropriately. There was also a venture capitalist, Ellen Pao, who sued her employer for gender discrimination. It went to trial a month after I started the book, and she lost the case. I was surprised and shaken by this. Those two instances were at the forefront of my mind as I was writing.
What’s your number one piece of advice for girls who want to break into a competitive (and mostly male-dominated) field like startups and tech?
It’s circumstantial, but it is really important to find allies and, if you can find one, a mentor. It doesn't have to be a woman but it can often help if it is. I never had a mentor and I had to navigate things on my own. I see friends who have had relationships with mentors and it's been really beneficial. I think it can feel awkwardly formal to say, “Would you like to be my mentor?” But a lot of women would be flattered to be someone’s mentor. They want to help young women on their way up.