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‘Live Work Work Work Die’ author Corey Pein shares the secrets of tech success: Be lucky and ruthless

“I want to take this industry down a couple notches,” Pein says of Silicon Valley.

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“Live Work Work Work Die” author Corey Pein
“Live Work Work Work Die” author Corey Pein
Corey Pein

Corey Pein moved to Silicon Valley in 2015, hoping to sell a company and get rich — and, along the way, he would write a book about the subject.

“Honestly, I was expecting to walk into some easy money,” Pein said the on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “I have an Ivy League degree, I’m a white man, I was wearing a hoodie, I thought I had everything that I needed to have. There were stories coming out all the time about these ridiculous startups which were getting funded, and I thought, ‘How hard could it actually be?’ It was harder than I thought.”

The riches may not have materialized, but with his new book, “Live Work Work Work Die,” Pein says he wants to “take this industry down a couple notches.” In it, he punctures Silicon Valley culture, corporate negligence and the myths of becoming a success story in the tech sector.

“As Americans, we’re raised to believe that hard work and a good idea will lead to success and riches, and that’s simply not true,” Pein said. “The main factor is probably who you know, and then, on top of that, luck. And who you know is a byproduct of luck, so you can really just boil it down to that.”

He was surprised to discover that even startup hustlers who seemed to be on the up-and-up were extremely unhappy. And the “stress and misery” of being an entrepreneur, in turn, informs the behavior of the companies that succeed.

“I don’t see a lot of startups that are even pretending to do good anymore, like they did a few years ago,” he said. “Now it’s, ‘Whose throat can we slit to pick their pocket?’ It’s really ruthless and mercenary about extracting value from users and labor and all the usual suspects.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, Pein also talked about the broader backlash against tech companies that has been brewing in recent years and criticized the way business like Facebook have made their fortunes.

“Our lives are turned into a profit source through data mining,” he said. “If we are an employee or a contractor or even a user of these companies — users are part of the labor force for the big platforms now. The vision is, they have no obligations to us as labor, and we have no or few options but to do what they say, to abide by the terms of service.”

Pein pointed out that when they have been in power, Democrats have historically been cozy with the tech giants. Based on what he heard at a recent book reading in Washington, D.C., he offered an explanation for why, now, liberal lawmakers are pushing back on issues like privacy and data collection.

“The word around the Hill was — I’m paraphrasing, I’m putting this in the simplest and most cynical terms that I can — ‘We don’t care if you disrupt newspapers or schools or the trucking industry and put all these people out of work, but you mess with the elections, that’s where we eat,’” he said. “So that’s why they’re mad, and that’s why I think you’ll see more mainstream media coverage be more critical of the tech platforms, because the Democratic Party is maybe not as friendly as it was.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • On Too Embarrassed to Ask, also hosted by Kara Swisher, we answer the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara.

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