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I love reading books written by friends. Knowing how incredibly hard it is to write a book, I enjoy fiction even more, since it’s something I’ve never tried to write.
My friend Cindy Gold wrote Sailing an Alien Sea about a year ago. I read it last month and loved it.
I’ve known Cindy and her husband Terry Gold since 1996, shortly after I moved to Boulder. I was an early board member, then angel investor, and subsequently VC investor in Terry’s company Gold Systems. Terry worked incredibly hard at Gold Systems, along with many people who worked for the company through the years. It went from an idea and a few founders to an almost $10 million revenue company, before growth peaked about a decade ago. Over the past five years, the company had a steady, but slow decline, being close to break even every year, but never becoming solidly profitable or generating additional growth. After numerous painful layoffs and several near misses to sell the company, Gold Systems finally shut down early this year. Throughout the entire process, Terry was a tireless leader who never gave up and, even after two acquisitions feel apart at the end, he still tried to find a home for the remaining employees. While my investment in Gold Systems returned $0 to me, I’ll have lifelong respect for Terry and will always consider him a close friend.
Ok – that paragraph should put you in the mood for this book. Cindy is a genius writer. Her story likely has some autobiographical parts, as most first novels do. She writes the story of two teenage girls growing up in Santa Fe. They are an unlikely pair of friends and they travel down different paths as they get older. Much of the book is through the eyes of Sylvie, who is expect is channeling some of Cindy’s wit, style, and personality, which is sharp and deliciously direct. This is no romanticized story of coming of age – it’s complicated, challenging, often disappointing, and sometimes heartbreaking. But against this challenging backdrop, these girls are amazing. I’m not a reader of “chick lit” and this doesn’t fall in that genre, but rather something I enjoy to read, which I refer to as “human fiction.”
Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. Relationships aren’t easy. Life isn’t easy. And writing a first novel is really fucking hard.
Cindy – well done. Gang, if you want some a great first novel to chew on, grab Sailing an Alien Sea.
There will be a lot of books written about the story of Twitter. As far as I know, there have now been two, but there are probably 71 more coming out soon.
Biz Stone’s new book, Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind is outstanding.
I’ve read two really awesome books in the past month that combine first person startup accounts with personal philosophy and advice. Biz’s is the second. Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things is the other.
Ok – enough effusiveness. There is a simple reason these two books are outstanding. They both mix the author’s direct and very relevant experience with their personal philosophy and lessons learned from the experience. While moments of Ben’s book are dramatic, Biz tells the story of Twitter in an understated way. He’s fun and playful while covering enough of what happened so you have a feel for it. But it’s not overwrought with drama.
Instead, Biz focuses on highlighting critical moments, and key experiences that he had, which help the reader understand the path of a remarkable company. I’ve heard most of the stories before, although a few were new to me. Biz drills into the essence of what matters and not the noise surrounding it. As a result, I felt like I could really process the experience and understand the lessons he learned, rather than be distracted by stuff around the edges.
While I don’t know Biz, I immediately related to him. He drew me in. He’s a guy I’d like to hang out with. Someone I’d like to know, who I’d be happy to go into battle with, or just have a long playful dinner. Basically, he’s real.
If you are an entrepreneur, or a student of entrepreneurship, Things a Little Bird Told Me: Confessions of the Creative Mind is another must-read on my list.
I’m going to start doing something new on my posts. Rather than having separate posts promoting stuff I’m up to, I’m going to begin including a short header in each post with either a thing I’m involved in or something I read recently that I think is particularly germane. For now, I’ll style these in italics – at some point I’ll come up with some new CSS to set it apart more clearly. Feel free to offer any/all feedback on this. Today’s tip is from Alex Iskold, the Techstars NY Managing Director and is 7 Calendar Tips for Startups. If you struggle with your calendar, it’s highly recommended.
Last week Amy and I went to our favorite place in Cabo San Lucas for our Qx vacation. We went off the grid (no phone, no email). I ran a lot, slept a lot, and ate a lot. I watched all of Orange is the New Black and almost all of Caprica thanks to hotel WiFi and Neflix on my iPad. But most enjoyably, I read a lot. Following is a summary with links.
Is Amazon Bad For Books?: What a yummy article that gives a lot of history about what has been going on between Amazon and the traditional publishing industry. Highly relevant for a lot of our thinking around FG Press.
The Science of Battlestar Galactica: I listened to this on Audible while running. If you are a BSG fanboy like me, this is a must read.
How To Defend Against Patent Trolls Without Breaking The Bank: Ken Bressler has been super helpful in one of the more vexing and annoying patent troll cases I’ve been involved in. As the Supreme Court once again has a chance to do something about software patents and patent trolls, I remain cynical and pessimistic that this gigantic tax on innovation will get resolved anytime soon.
The Underwriting: More Startup Fiction – this time in a weekly serialized format. I paid for it before I left but for some reason I only had two episodes. I just paid for it a second time so hopefully they’ll start coming in a steady stream. It’s pretty fun – a little too much sex and investment banking for my tastes, but we’ll see where it goes.
Battlestar Galactica Series Bible: The original series bible written by Ronald D. Moore. Another BSG fanboy must read.
The Secret of Raising Money: Seth Goldstein and Michael Simpson have written a really strong book on how to raise money from angels and VCs at the early stage. I’ve known Seth since the mid-1990′s and think he and Michael did a great job of capturing the essence of this very hard and often complex process.
Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?: I hadn’t read this since it first came out a year or so after Lou Gerstner retired as IBM’s CEO. This is his memoir of his experience at IBM and was a fantastic history lesson. While some of the strategic advice felt a little dated and “big corporate”, there were endless gems throughout the book, including a clear view on key decisions that Gerstner made relatively early which dramatically changed IBM’s downward spiral into the depths of mainframe doom. I’ve felt for a while that Microsoft is having its “IBM moment” that occurred for IBM in the early 1990s and to date have been uninspired with how they have approached it. I don’t know Satya Nadella but I hope he’s read this book.
Giving 2.0: Transform Your Giving and Our World: Amy and I plan to give away all of our money while we are alive. We’ve been active philanthropists since the late 1990s and are always trying to learn more. Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen’s book is a wonderful combination of personal history, advice, and storytelling about what other people are doing. I was especially pleased to see a long chapter on our friends Linda Shoemaker and Steve Brett’s efforts in Boulder around their philanthropy.
The Trial: I’ve been describing our annual fund audit process as “Kafkaesque” to whomever I talk to about it. I realized I had never read The Trial so I grinded through it. I thought I knew what I was in for, but the copy I read fortunately had a Kafka history as well as a history of The Trial with a short summary at the beginning, so it made a lot more sense as I read it. And yes, the audit experience is still something I believe is Kafkaesque. Hopefully they won’t kill me like a dog at the end.
Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison: I randomly watched Season 1. I figured I’d bounce after a few episodes but found myself deeply engaged in it. So I grabbed the book and read it. The book was even better than the show. Piper Kerman blew my mind – both with her experience and her writing about it. So powerful, depressing, upsetting, and enlightening, all at the same time.
Neuromancer: I read Neuromancer my in college shortly after it came it. I loved it then. I haven’t read it since so I decided to listen to it my iPhone while running, just like I did earlier this year with Snow Crash. Like Snow Crash, it somehow felt richer when I listened to it during my long runs. Case, Molly, Wintermute, and the Dixie Flatline still delight, as does Gibson.
If you haven’t yet bought Ben Horowitz’s book The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, go get it right now. It’s one of the best books you’ll ever read on entrepreneurship and being a CEO.
If you are a CEO, read this book.
If you aspire to be a CEO read this book.
If you are on a management team and want to understand what a CEO goes through, read this book.
If you are interested in entrepreneurship and want to understand it better, read this book.
On Friday, I spent the entire day with about 50 of the CEOs of companies we are investors in. Rand Fishkin of Moz put together a full day Foundry Group CEO Summit. It used a format Rand has used before. We broke up into five different groups and has sessions on about ten total topics throughout the day. The groups were fluid – people were organized by category (alpha and beta) but then went to the topic they were interested in. There was a moderator for each session – the first five minutes was each CEO putting up one “top of mind” issue in the topic, and the then balance of the session (75 minutes) was the entire group spending between 5 and 15 minutes on each topic.
It was awesome. We finished with a fun dinner at Pizzeria Locale. I drove home with my mind buzzing and arrived around 8pm to see Amy laying on the couch reading a book. So I grabbed my iPad and looked to see what was new on it.
I’d pre-ordered Ben’s book so it was in slot number one. It felt fitting to start reading it.
At 10:30 I was finished with it. The Hard Thing About Hard Things was the perfect way to cap off a day with the CEOs of the companies we invest in.
Trust me on this one. Go buy The Hard Thing About Hard Things right now.
Ben – thanks for writing this and putting 100% of your heart into it.
My exploration into meditation continues. I started on February 5th when I wrote the post Learning To Meditate. Since then, I’ve been practicing every day, read a few books on meditation, talked to a lot of people about it, and explored several iPhone / web apps.
The impact on me has been awesome.
After talking to Jerry Colonna for a few hours about meditation on the snowy Sunday after I started, he recommended I take a look at Headspace. I signed up that night and started doing the Take10 meditations. For the first few days, I did it once a day, but then quickly starting practicing twice a day, once in the morning and once before I went to bed. Occasionally I’d toss in another session at lunch time, although sometimes I just did a silent meditation instead for 10 to 15 minutes.
After about a week I was deeply hooked. I grabbed the iPhone GetSomeHeadspace app and untethered myself from my desk. We’ve got a meditation room in our new house and even though it’s very sparse right now (just one sitting pillow), it’s a magnificent sanctuary for my meditation.
I noticed that Andy Puddicombe, the founder of Headspace, had written a book called Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day. I downloaded it and read it last night and this morning. Since I’m deep into the Headspace program, a lot of it was familiar to me. But Andy’s description of his own meditation journey is fascinating, and reinforces a lot of things he guides you through in the Headspace program.
Near the end, he has a great chapter on different forms of meditation beyond sitting. He covers walking, sleeping, eating, and running. These are forms that intrigue me, especially since I run a lot, eat too fast, and am exploring different sleep patterns.
Overall, the book is a nice addition to the Headspace program. If you are intrigued about meditation, it’s a fast, easy, helpful read. But there’s nothing like just practicing. For that, I recommend you hop on line and try the free Headspace Take10 program.