Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley is an autobiography written by Antonio García Martínez. When you get to the end of the book you might think to yourself that Martínez is an asshole. That is what the voice in my head said to me. In my opinion that might be the author’s intended reaction. He certainly did much mudslinging at many of the people highlighted in the book. On the other hand, much of the mud landed back on him. The book starts out with Martínez leaving his current company, Adchemy, and taking two engineers with him to create a start-up, called AdGrok. He then convinces some Silicon Valley angels to front him in his new venture.
Adchemy then sues him and he now has very high legal bills that he cannot pay. He then cooks the books to get more angel funds, knowing that the venture is doomed. He then convinces his angels and their connections to get Adchemy to drop the suit. However, things change on the business environment side and the AdGrok vision is no longer viable. AdGrok engineers continue coding and developing product because they believe they are in a real start-up that has potential, with Martínez knowing full well it now has no hope at all. After nine months, he sells out his two partners and AdGrok to Twitter and Martínez goes to Facebook with a similar package to work on their ads team. The transaction is known in the Valley as “acquihire.” However, the angel investors are basically left holding a stinky bag.
The book is somewhat interesting as Martínez’s career rolls through Facebook and beyond. In true justice, his two former partners made out very well at Twitter, while Martínez’s fortunes did not materialize. However, this has more to do with the tax code than life events. My big takeaway is the insight into the Valley’s tolerance for failure whether it is product, project, or venture. It is clear that much of what the Valley produces is a stinky bag, but it is those successes that make the Valley smell great!
Our CHAOS research shows the same phenomenon. Organizations that tolerate failure have a much higher rate of return than those organizations that try to prevent failures at all costs. Readers who live or have lived in the Valley or are part of the tech industry will enjoy the book more than people outside tech or the Valley. I rate this book 3 out of 5 butterflies.