StartUp Podcast: Part 7: MAGIC (Season 4, Episode 10)
December 28, 2016 11:06 AM - Subscribe

Season Finale. Following his ousting from American Apparel, Dov Charney has been eager to restart and launch his new venture. He has assembled the fabric, the equipment, and the people to help make his new clothing line. Now he needs to find his customer base.

In this, the season finale of StartUp, Charney debuts his product to a group of people that knows his history well. But will his past prove to be an obstacle, or become part of what leads his new business to success?
posted by sparklemotion (18 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Housekeeping: I intentionally skipped a few episodes because I felt like the a discussion of the season as a whole would be more fruitful -- feel free to post intermediate ones if you want.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:07 AM on December 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Well... that happened.

I am having a hard time telling whether Gimlet is intentionally throwing shade by writing the episode descriptions to be so neutral and then presenting such a thoroughly abhorrent portrait of this guy.

I'm sure he went into this project thinking that this scrappy podcast was going to turn into great PR for him and he'd be able to manipulate Lisa et al. into enthusiastically joining Team Dov. I'm a little disappointed that he appears to be lying low and not going on a Trumpesque tweetspree about how unfair they are, because I would enjoy that schadenfreude very much.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:16 AM on December 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I haven't listened to this season at all because I didn't want it to be a fluff piece for Charney. I'm ... guessing that didn't happen?
posted by Tevin at 11:21 AM on December 28, 2016

tevin - woah, no that did not happen.

The podcast starts with his side of the story. Then they get into the controversy. Then past "controversy" and into allegations of abuse. And then into a description by the producer of when he crossed the line with her. That's the climax of the reporting. They follow with an episode about people who are still willing to work with Dov and his new company, which, knowing what I know now about the guy, I couldn't listen to that without hearing a sense of "can you believe these people are willing to still work with him?"
posted by rebent at 11:57 AM on December 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

What's interesting in hindsight is that the "his part of the story" episodes really just put the fact that he is very good at manipulating people into the best possible light.

Oh that Dov! He's so passionate about his business! He's a little socially awkward but that's just because he cares. so. much. And yeah, it seems like he was really shitty to women but it's because he loves them and can't make himself let go. And look at how he charms customers and can predict trends!

And then the dark side of the manipulation starts to peek out: He's promoting a lot of young women which is great because other people in industry don't take them seriously. Yay! But then he's also sleeping with a lot of them. Hrm. And some of them are competing with each other for his affection/attention, and he doesn't care because that means they are motivated to make his life better.

And then you start to see what happens when he doesn't get his way. The rages, the cut downs. We get to hear a bit of how terrible he can be when he gets snippy on the record. But in a later episode there's a point where he's getting angry at Lisa and asks to go off the record (Gimlet has the tape, but won't release). After that, we hear a bit of how Lisa and her producer reacted to the rant, and it's scary, because we've heard how bad things were when he was on the record. What did he say when off?

And in the end it's frustrating because you can hear a lot of people who won't work with him anymore say "He is brilliant, if he would just show some remorse and make some effort to change, I would wish him the best." But the show makes it clear that he doesn't think that he did anything wrong. Even the people who are willing to work with him now are doing so assuming that he's not going to repeat past behavior. But I think that all that's going to happen is that he will demand even more loyalty from people before he brings them into his inner circle to control.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:33 PM on December 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

I haven't listened to this last episode, but I have made it through the rest of the season. It hasn't been terrible, just boring. Like I had to turn off several episodes to listen to something else, not because I found Dov abhorrent (he is), but because there wasn't that much interesting to say about him. The details of how he got fired (episode 6?) were pretty good, but the kind of unending details of why his is such a worthless dick were tedious. The guy is a garden variety narcissist, there are a lot of them in big business. I'm glad that Gimlet didn't sugarcoat his story, I thought they were fair (which means showing that he is an awful human being but with the capacity to be fun and charming), but why bother? I'm sure they can't just go in halfway and say "oh, it turns out there's not much story here beyond him being a huge jerk, let's drop this", but this was just not good radio. Maybe 3-episode arc would have been okay.
posted by skewed at 1:23 PM on December 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hmm, I stopped listening after the first ep of this season, but now I'm torn about trying to pick it up again.
posted by radioamy at 9:18 PM on December 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

For those who stopped listening and considering picking it up again, I'd recommend starting with Part 5: Suits (Season 4, Episode 8). Part 4: Boundaries is good too, but I could see it being a turn-off*.

Suits introduces us to some of the board members who eventually work to oust Dov, and it's interesting because it's not like these are super woke male feminists we're dealing with. They mainly saw Dov's behavior as a problem because it was bad for business. And I, personally, have done a bunch of thinking about whether I think that is a good sign or a bad sign.

Robert Greene is especially interesting, because his book (that they make him read snippets of!) seems kind of skeevy, but Dov apparently read it as gospel and a blueprint for how to run his life. And yet Robert is very much not on Team Dov.

*it deals with Dov's relationships with female employees, which is gross to hear about. In its defense it does let us hear the voices of some of the women on both "sides" of the debate, but it lets the strongest points of the episode be made by the male partner of a woman who has chosen to keep working for Dov -- not that I blame them: it was great, unprompted, tape, but Caleb's motivations are suspect to me.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:06 AM on December 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

I listened to all episodes, mostly because I'm curious about what makes this guy so successful as a leader. My guess is there are tons of people in Dov's position that have this leadership style, as I've worked for a few. You'd think at some point history would catch up.

Oh that Dov! He's so passionate about his business! He's a little socially awkward but that's just because he cares. so. much. And yeah, it seems like he was really shitty to women but it's because he loves them and can't make himself let go. And look at how he charms customers and can predict trends!

Yeah, there seemed to be so much denial that I was getting a bit anxious listening, and I'm only observing through a damned podcast. For whatever reason this personality type is like the energizer rabbit, just keeps going, and going. I honestly wonder if that having that much negative energy is a driver.

...But in a later episode there's a point where he's getting angry at Lisa and asks to go off the record (Gimlet has the tape, but won't release)...

I wonder what his recourse would be if they released the tape? Is it common practice for journalists to agree to let their subject go off the record like this?
posted by SteveInMaine at 9:58 AM on December 30, 2016

Got around to listening to the final episode, had to fast forward through a bunch but the discussion with other people in the industry re the new company's viability is interesting. Personally, I cannot stand rough cotton and am willing to pay a significant premium for lovely brushed cotton.

I wonder what his recourse would be if they released the tape? Is it common practice for journalists to agree to let their subject go off the record like this?

If he had some sort of contract with Gimlet about what they publish from their interviews or not, he would have some sort of legal recourse, but I cannot imagine Gimlet had that arrangement with him and would lose all respect for them if they did. Absent that, they can publish it if they want, the decision to honor his wishes is just to preserve Gimlet's future ability to get people to be candid in interviews with them.
posted by skewed at 10:25 AM on December 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

OK so I've never listened to this podcast before and just happened to see this post. I used to use a few articles on Dov Charney to teach my business writing students about sexual harassment and discuss management issues. I have to say he was really useful for that because my students tended to think of sexual harassment as a "he said she said" thing with unclear lines. But when you talk about the things that Dov does (meetings in his underwear) or his idea that he can run his company the way he wants because he is the CEO and answers to no one but himself (clearly not) it gives them a whole new perspective and produces really interesting conversations. In short, analyzing him and his "management style" really makes them think about things in a new way. So, from that perspective he's useful. From my perspective, I have refused to set foot into an American Apparel store since I found out about his behavior. I will in no way be a party to that.

So I'm excited to start listening to this. Thanks for posting.
posted by miss-lapin at 9:28 AM on December 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm glad to hear this seems to have gone far better than one might have predicted based on the softball interviews in the first episode and tone-deaf Gimlet response to criticism on social media.

I've skipped every episode since the first on the grounds that spending time thinking about Charney isn't something I want to do and there's essentially no chance anything they say will impact my life or decisions. But I'm happy to spend three minutes reading the metafilter take on the result. Seems like it wasn't awful. Thanks!

I'm not sure, "here's a bad guy, with very little power or influence. Everybody see how bad he is," is the most useful statement a journalist can make. But, it's not actively damaging, and if other people find it interesting, then it serves a purpose. Perhaps it will even convince a few otherwise oblivious frat boy VC funders that Charney is too toxic to loan money to, which would be a good thing.

Still, I'm looking forward to a new season about someone it's possible to care about.
posted by eotvos at 12:12 PM on January 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

the kind of unending details of why his is such a worthless dick were tedious

I didn't find it tedious, but I did end up feeling that there was a certain inevitability that made this season ultimately unrewarding, in a "hey, you know that guy who's kind of awful? yeah, he's awful" way.

I did come away from it convinced that Charney's utterly unrepentant, does not see his behavior as abnormal in any way, and will of course continue to repeat it.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:30 AM on January 12, 2017

I'm only halfway through this series but so far liking it. A big topic in tech startups these days is creating a more welcoming environment for women. It's fascinating hearing the story of a startup that is so, so awful to women in such a cartoonishly specific way. I keep feeling so sad hearing these women talk about how much they liked what Dov taught them, the responsibility he gave them, while also sort of baffled about the sexual part.

Mostly commenting here because I'd gone through the first few episodes getting Dov Charney of American Apparel mixed up with Mike Jeffries of Abercrombie & Fitch. A&F also had crazily sexualized advertising, and Jeffries has also been accused of sexually harassing employees. Male employees in his case.
posted by Nelson at 8:04 AM on January 22, 2017 [3 favorites]

I think the usefulness here for me was, as someone who was in a abusive relationship last year, while there was OBVIOUS WRONG BEHAVIOR I did get a lot out of the relationship in that both of us were writers. He really fed me creatively in a lot of positive ways. And that was a difficult thing for me to reconcile that this person who was good for me creatively was being abusive to me emotionally and trying to be controlling. And of course there two things were linked. I think these people have the same difficulty. "I got good things out of this so it CAN'T be abusive." It can be exceptionally difficult if this is the first person who encouraged you to accept what actually happened in terms of abuse/harassment. It's a difficult realization to process.
posted by miss-lapin at 3:12 PM on January 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just finished listening and I think this is excellent reporting. My only regret is it was couched in the pretense they were talking about Dov's new company. I mean they did, but that wasn't the interesting part at all for me.

The interesting part was hearing what it's like when you have a monster as a CEO. All the abusive behavior, the craziness, the denial. And how it plays out in boardroom drama and employee fear. I feel like some excerpt of this should be required listening for any business class students.
posted by Nelson at 4:01 PM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Farewell, American Apparel. Your moment has passed, a funny skewering of a dead company. Focuses specifically on the clothes.
Each clothes rail suggested a different career costume: teaching assistant with a dark past, for instance, or junkie wedding planner, or ex-Christian selling her virginity online, or drummer from a regional punk band, or barista who went to Brooklyn once, or victim of a phishing scam, or dad who’s given up.
posted by Nelson at 7:31 AM on February 7, 2017

Eva Wiseman is the best!
posted by ellieBOA at 10:45 AM on February 7, 2017

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