Monday, September 10

Book Review: Founders at Work

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days is a very large collection of mostly fantastic interviews with people that founded (or were closely related to the founding of) companies that made them ridiculously wealthy, or at the very least dot-com celebrities. They are not necessarily successful companies; in some cases rather miserable failures that burned bright then burned out, and in some cases names I've never heard, and I did my tour of duty pretty deep in the trenches. But they are companies that, for the most part, changed the face of business for the better.

It took me forever to get through this book, and it was worth nearly every page. I could have done without the Woz interview; who hasn't heard his story fifty bazillion times now? I expected the Spolsky interview to be more of the same, having followed his popular blog since its inception, but surprisingly it wasn't a regurgitation of his regular rants, which I appreciated.

The author and interviewer, being female, was very keen to ask each of the female founders about their gender-related challenges, which I found rather awkward and borderline insulting, but they all handled it well. They are probably used to it. I guess I can't relate, since I'm male and haven't made a mint off any of my start-ups.

One thing this book wont teach you is the secret to success. It will reinforce the virtues of perseverance, faith in your ideas, following your dreams, and acting on instinct. But it seems the one thing all these people and their stories have in common is that they were in the right place at the right time, knew the right people, and just plain got lucky. Being the first or the best doesn't necessarily mean jack squat, which can be a hard pill to swallow.

Another thing most of them have in common is that their original goals and ideas were merely springboards to funding. Once they had enough money for offices and employees, they had to change their plans and products pretty drastically to adjust to what the market really wanted and was willing to pay for. I know first-hand how true that is, based on the experience of my last couple ventures, and the ventures of a colleague entrepreneur over the last dozen years.

For me, the book was a prime source of nostalgia, since my career started shortly before the dot-com boom, and I remember watching many of these companies from the sidelines. It was also an inspiration for those evenings when I had to decide between sitting on the couch watching mind-numbing television or picking up the laptop and helping my entrepreneur friend get his latest company off the ground. The latter is much more satisfying at the end of the night.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. It's going in the top-ten section of my bookshelf. Pick it up and read a few of the interviews; you wont be sorry.

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