Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Mike Trigg Interview - Bit Flip

Photo Content from Mike Trigg 

Mike Trigg was born in Kentucky and raised in Wisconsin. He earned a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from University of California, Berkeley. Over his twenty-five-year career in Silicon Valley, he has been a founder, executive, and investor in dozens of venture-funded technology start-ups, as well as a contributor to TechCrunch, Entrepreneur, and Fast Company. He lives in Menlo Park, California, with his wife and two sons. Bit Flip is his first novel

When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill? 
The first time I thought “maybe I want to be a writer” was while taking an undergraduate creative writing course at Northwestern University. I had never before experienced such a deep emotional connection to something I’d written—a short story about working at my grandfather’s chicken hatchery. I ‘chickened’ out (sorry, couldn’t help myself) on becoming a writer then, instead pursuing a career in public relations, marketing, and, ultimately, technology. But later I returned to that original dream. There is a brief homage to that creative inspiration in Bit Flip when the protagonist, Sam, also works at his grandfather’s chicken hatchery.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published. 
Publishing a novel is such a long journey, and there are so many rewarding experiences along the way. But probably my most rewarding experience so far was receiving a 5-star review from Foreword as my very first trade review. It’s always nerve wracking to be reviewed as an author, but I find every review to be deeply rewarding, whether it’s positive or not, because it means someone is reading, reacting, and engaging with your work. That’s all you can hope for as an author.
Having a job! Like many authors, I started out writing Bit Flip during nights and weekends, but I just wasn’t making enough progress. I had a super demanding job at the time, first as an executive at a tech start-up, then founding my own company—not to mention raising two kids. I just couldn’t find enough time for everything. When COVID happened, my start-up was, sadly, shut down. But that ended up having a silver lining, affording me the opportunity, also thanks to my wife’s job, to focus on writing full-time.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us? 
Storytelling is how we learn as human beings. Stories enable our brains to retain information. From the most primitive languages and earliest cave paintings, stories have been our mechanism for spreading knowledge. Lisa Cron’s excellent book, Wired for Story, does an amazing job explaining how, as human beings, we are genetically oriented to storytelling.

Can you tell us when you started BIT FLIP how that came about? 
I’ve spent over 25 years founding, operating, and investing in technology start-ups in Silicon Valley. Practically every night when I got home, I would share with my wife something crazy, funny, or eye-rolling that happened in my day. She would often say, “you should write a book.” But I didn’t want to write a memoir; I wanted to write a novel. Finally, I came up with an outline (loosely based on the Hero’s Journey template) into which I put these satirical anecdotes. I wanted to write something that felt authentic to technology insiders, yet was engaging and approachable to anyone. I describe the book as a satirical critique of Silicon Valley disguised as a corporate thriller.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters? 
People often ask if (or assume that) the characters in Bit Flip are based on real people. Fortunately, they are not, or I would have gotten out of the tech industry a long time ago! But the most surprising thing as I created these characters was how real they felt. Based on my long career and thousands of colleagues, I was able to craft very believable characters who are amalgams of traits, behaviors, and characteristics I’ve witnessed first-hand. I think this approach gives the novel an authentic feel, without relying on thinly veiled real-world individuals.

Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from BIT FLIP
I’ll give you three. Almost everyone who has read the book so far, particularly if they are professionals in the tech world, has remarked on what I’ve come to call the “Avocado scene.” The protagonist, Sam, is having breakfast with one of their venture investors who berates the server with his superior knowledge of avocado varietals. Something about that scene seems to capture the not-so-subtle condescension that often happens in Silicon Valley.

A second scene I really enjoyed writing is the opening scene. Without warning, Sam is suddenly thrust into one of the greatest fears for many people: public speaking. As COO, Sam is expected to beat his chest about how great his company is doing, but instead he has a moment of gut-wrenching candor and an on-stage meltdown that ends up costing him his job. I loved this scene because Sam expresses the sentiment that so often seems to be lurking under the surface at this kind of event, telling the audience, “The story you’re told by entitled entrepreneurs, and your friends at other companies, and investors, and the tech press, is just that . . . a story. Ostensibly to inspire you, but, in reality, it entraps you. Don’t let yourself be a victim of that one narrative.”

The third scene that comes to mind is Sam’s return to his home state of Ohio. As a Midwesterner myself who relocated to California, I wanted to explore the complex basket of emotions around such a transition—both for those who leave, and for those who stay—ranging from guilt to envy to resentment. I believe this dynamic, in which pursuing opportunity has exacerbated geographic and class rifts, explains much of the political polarization in our country. And I hope this sequence of scenes captures the nuance and complexity of that from both sides.

  • 1. The book features dozens of beloved locations around the Bay Area, and I’m producing a virtual video tour of some of my favorites.
  • 2. The opening chapter was the original ending of Bit Flip in my first draft.
  • 3. The original name of the protagonist, Sam, was Mark—just way to close to Mike!
  • 4. Just like Sam, I drove a U-Haul cross country when I first moved to the Bay Area.
  • 5. I really did do a job interview once in which a dog started barfing during the interview.
  • 6. There are several scenes that describe the homelessness crisis in San Francisco—a heartbreaking, often-ignored reality that I wanted to draw attention to.
  • 7. As mentioned, my grandfather really owned a chicken hatchery, but in Minnesota.
  • 8. There are deliberately two golf scenes, which represent class division.
  • 9. The Hughes family residence at 806 Richardson Court doesn’t exist, but homes on that street really do sell for $3 million or more.
  • 10. The fictional Sand Hill Court Hotel in the book is inspired by the social scene at a hotel less than 5 minutes from my home.
Meet the Characters
– Sam is a fortysomething, Ohio-born tech executive, striving to make it big in Silicon Valley. When a moment of candor about his disillusionment with the start-up scene costs him his job, he starts to unravel into a full-fledged midlife crisis. But an inadvertent discovery pulls him back to his previous company with the promise of a career-making acquisition. Sam embodies a contradiction many in the Bay Area feel—criticizing the materialistic extravagances of others, while simultaneously pursuing the same dream for himself. At one point, observing a group of tech bros, Sam admits, “I may roll my eyes, but I’m chasing the same thing. I’m part of the problem. I’m just as much of a douchebag! I drive a nice car, I wear fleece vests, I even drink fucking kombucha, for Christ’s sake! Every day, I further perpetuate the cliché that I can’t stand. If I’m going to play the part, then I might as well embrace my inner asshole.” Sam’s inherent conflict is whether he will compromise his morals to achieve entrepreneurial success.

HEATHER HUGHES – Heather is Sam’s long-time spouse, but, symbolically, plays the role of his moral compass. Juggling her own career, three children, and financial pressures, Heather is the stable voice of reason, tethering Sam from spinning out of control. Although Sam misinterprets her sentiments, even contorting her statements as justification for his worst decisions, she is unafraid to speak her mind—eventually forcing Sam into a decision between his career and his family, informed by a terrible incident in her past.

ROHAN SHARMA – The outwardly brash, but inwardly socially awkward, founder and CEO of Ainetu, where Sam works. Rohan exhibits the superficial swagger of a young successful entrepreneur, but everyone else at the company can see he’s in over his head. He also has incredible tenacity, cunning, and paranoia, willing to do almost anything to make himself and his company a success.

BEN, KAMAL, AND PRESTON – The three venture investors and board members at Ainetu, Ben Kamal, and Preston represent a range of behaviors and motivations that determine the fate of the company. Each has their own reasons for their shifting priorities, playing out their investment in the company like a hand of poker. At times adversaries, they are all ultimately brought together in pursuit of their common interest in exiting the company.

Your Journey to Publication
The first step of getting it published was getting it finished. After over a year of working on it, I finally finished a first draft of the full novel toward the end of 2019, but it was way too long and linear. So, I found a great developmental editor (and fellow author), Josh Mohr, who helped me significantly improve the story. Just when I was ready to pitch it, COVID hit! Although 2020 was a bit of a lost year, it gave me the chance to further refine my manuscript and focus full time on getting it published. After submitting to dozens of agents and publishers, I finally signed a deal with SparkPress. For me, the independent publisher route has been fantastic. SparkPress has the distribution prowess and commitment to quality of a big publisher, combined with curated attention and incredible support, particularly for first-time authors.

Writing Behind the Scenes
The process I hear about many successful authors is that they are disciplined about writing at designated times or a certain number of words every day. I don’t do that, probably to my detriment. The process that seems to work for me I describe as “ride the wave.” I tend to get an idea, scene, character, passage, whatever, stuck in my head, and I just write as much of it as I can while inspiration strikes. This lets me take advantage of bursts of productivity. Where I’ve found I need to be more disciplined is in editing. Once the story is written, waiting for inspiration no longer works. I’m gradually getting better at staying on schedule for copyedits, proofreads, and other less creative but completely critical parts of the process.

What is the first job you have had?
I had lots of unofficial jobs growing up, from mowing lawns to shoveling snow. But my first “real” job with a paycheck was as a shoe salesman at JCPenney. Surprisingly, it was a physically demanding job. I was on my feet all day, carrying stacks of shoe boxes, and climbing ladders in the store room, all in a suit.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
After college, my then-girlfriend (now wife) and I were both doing the backpacking thing in Europe. We were traveling separately, each with friends. This predated cell phones, text messaging, and even email, so we had no idea where on the continent the other one was and hadn’t communicated in months. We ended up coincidentally bumping into each other in a tiny alley in Venice, Italy. The chance encounter rekindled our relationship, and four years later we were married.

What's your most missed memory?
It’s a memory that is captured in my book: when we first moved to California. It was 1996 and I was immediately enraptured. The climate, the people, the culture, the economic vibrancy, and, most of all, the sense of unlimited potential at the start of the first dot-com boom. My overarching feeling was one of thrilling possibility. I had complete conviction that this was where I was meant to be.

Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
Probably the dot-com crash in 2000-2001. Until then, I’d only known economic boom times during my early professional career. The crash totally changed my thinking, because I suddenly realized how lucky and ephemeral success can be. I feel old when I say this, but the recent stock market collapse reminds me of those times. There is a generation of young professionals who have never seen salaries, employment, valuations, stock prices, etc. go down. Nothing like a recession to make you appreciate what you have.

Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
True love, of course! Has any author ever answered “never loved before” to this question? Authors by our very nature are passionate people, who relish both true love and heart break. And the guarantee of heart break in the first part of this question doesn’t strike me as a trade-off at all. There is no such thing as true love without heart break—the two emotions are inextricably linked. Allowing yourself to love requires a broken heart sometimes. Like life, every love eventually ends, one way or another. So give me true love and I’ll enjoy it as long as I can.

What event in your life would make a good movie?
I was a prep cook at a restaurant and inn in Door County, a resort area in Wisconsin, for a summer during college. A bunch of us lived in a group home behind the hotel. It was a blast—working the breakfast and lunch shifts, but then going to be beach, meeting up with friends working at other resorts, going out to bars, staying up late, and doing it all again the next day. It felt like the set of a great ‘coming of age’ movie, like Superbad, Dirty Dancing, or Mystic Pizza.

Most horrifying dream you have ever had?
I had a nightmare that I was camping with my family on a beach when an unexpected tsunami hit in the middle of the night. I had this dream while I was camping with my family on a beach. Probably not a coincidence!

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
Tsunamis. For some reason, they scare the shit out of me. Probably because I’m a mediocre swimmer. I also happened to stay in the same region of Phuket, Thailand on the same day (December 26), six years before the tragic tsunami there in 2004, which only served to magnify my fear. If you want to stoke the same paranoia for yourself, I recommend Krakatoa by Simon Winchester, a history of the eruption and subsequent tsunami in Java that killed some forty thousand people in 1883.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
A revolving faux bookcase, activated by pulling a wall sconce, that revealed a secret hang out room. I want one.

Fortysomething tech executive Sam Hughes came to Silicon Valley to "make the world a better place." He's just not sure he's doing that anymore--and when an onstage meltdown sends him into a professional tailspin, he suddenly sees the culture of the Bay Area's tech bubble in a new, far more cynical light.

Just as he's wondering if his start-up career and marriage might both be over at fortysomething, an inadvertent discovery pulls Sam back into his former company, where he begins to unravel the insidious schemes of the founder and venture investors that led to his ouster. Driven by his desire for redemption, he discovers a conspiracy of fraud, blackmail, and manipulation that leads to tragic outcomes--threatening to destroy not only the company but Sam's moral compass as well. Entangled in a web of complicity, how far will he go to achieve his dreams of entrepreneurial success and personal wealth?

Bit Flip is a corporate thriller that delivers an authentic insider's view of the corrupting influences of greed, entitlement, and vanity in technology start-ups.

You can purchase Bit Flip at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you MIKE TRIGG for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of Bit Flip by Mike Trigg.


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