'Like chickens laying eggs in factories': The CEO of a hot European startup just launched a stunning critique of Silicon Valley culture


Adrien Nussenbaum, co-founder and co-CEO of Mirakl.

  • Adrien Nussenbaum is the cofounder of French software services startup Mirakl, which raised $70 million in February.
  • He has strong views on Silicon Valley culture, which he says treats workers like “chickens laying eggs in factories” and has an unhealthy preoccupation with money.
  • Nussenbaum is proud of the culture he has developed at Mirakl, where staff are encouraged to keep a balance between their work and personal lives.
  • “I’m not part of the ‘yo, bro’ culture of Silicon Valley. At Mirakl, we try not to cultivate an egotistical culture,” he says. “Where Silicon Valley was once a role model, it has lost track in a lot of ways.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Silicon Valley. A mecca for tech startups. Home to the most influential companies in the world. The breeding ground for 32 new unicorns in 2018. But not, it would seem, to everyone’s tastes.

Adrien Nussenbaum, the cofounder of hot French tech startup, Mirakl, which raised $70 million in February, has strong views on why California’s tech haven does not have everything right.

Speaking to Business Insider over the phone, he laid out a stunning critique of work culture in the Valley, contrasting it with the spirit he has attempted to establish at his Paris-based company, which helps brands like Walmart offer products from third-party sellers on their websites.

Nussenbaum’s views are not all-encompassing. He recognises that Silicon Valley is full of “passionate” and “bold” people, and that it remains unrivalled as a destination for raising finance. Indeed, some $168 billion flowed into the Bay Area from VCs between 2010 and 2018, The Economist reports.

But Nussenbaum says this fountain of cash comes at a price.

He thinks that tech giants like Google wring every drop of value out of their staff members by creating cultures that keep people in the office. Ping-pong tables, free food, and nap rooms might seem like attractive benefits, he suggests, but they hide a more sinister motive.

He explains: “When I visited Google’s headquarters, an employee told me that staffers are obliged to be no more than 25 yards from food… For Google, you are an asset, and Google will feed you up so you produce. They’re like chickens laying eggs in factories.”

Nussenbaum is not the first to touch on this issue. Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian talked about the fetishization of extremely long working hours last year, pointing out that it’s terrible for people’s physical and mental health.

“This is one of the most toxic, dangerous things in tech right now,” Ohanian said. “This idea that unless you are suffering, grinding working every hour of every day, you’re not working hard enough. It’s such bulls—.”

Nussenbaum contrasts this with his view on Europe: “Silicon Valley is full of passionate people, but here in Europe, we like debating; we like life outside of work. We have joie de vivre.”

On the culture he has attempted to create at Mirakl, he continues: “Our teams are obliged to eat away from their desks. They eat at a communal area. We have team lunches once a week, with a talk from a guest speaker.

“We offer yoga classes and language lessons. We also encourage everyone to teach their own hobbies to each other. For example, once week, an employee who is into photography will teach everyone photography, the following week, an employee who is a keen mixologist will teach everyone mixology, and so on.”

Staff at Mirakl, a French software startup

Nussenbaum says Silicon Valley’s pursuit of the next big thing, of big backing, of unicorn status does not always draw out the best qualities in people and company culture.

“People envy one another. People are always open to being poached by rival companies. The people there don’t admit how central money is to their motivations,” he says.

“Silicon Valley has a ‘fail fast and move on’ culture. But that’s not Mirakl’s culture. At Mirakl, we refuse to fail. This results in more debate and more discussion [than there is in Silicon Valley].

Read more: 10 crazy things Silicon Valley thinks are normal that make the rest of the country think it’s out of touch

“In terms of [Mirakl’s] funding, we’ve been very selective with our investors. Burning, burning, burning has never been our culture. Once a year, we take one-and-a-half days just to discuss strategy with our board. The talks are always hosted at one of the investors’ houses. Our investors are part of our family; they come to our Christmas parties.”

Since launching in 2011, Mirakl has grown to more than 130 employees and has raised a total of $100 million from backers including Bain Capital. As well as its Paris headquarters, it has offices in London, Munich, and Boston, a US city that Nussenbaum thinks has a healthier “approach to risk and reward” than San Francisco.

“I’m not part of the ‘yo, bro’ culture of Silicon Valley. At Mirakl, we try not to cultivate an egotistical culture,” he says. “Where Silicon Valley was once a role model, it has lost track in a lot of ways.”

SEE ALSO: What life is really like in the most expensive place in the US, where the typical home costs $1 million and it feels like everyone works in tech

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