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Holy cannoli! That’s what I shouted out loud (startling Amy and the dogs who were laying peacefully next to me on the couch last night) about 100 pages into William Hertling‘s second book A.I. Apocalypse. By this point I figured out where things were going to go over the next 100 pages, although I had no idea how it was going to end. The computer virus hacked together by a teenager had become fully sentient, completely distributed, had formed tribes that now had trading patterns, a society, and a will to live. All in a parallel universe to humans, who were now trying to figure out how to deal with them, ranging from shutting them off to negotiating with them, all with the help of ELOPe, the first AI who was accidentally created a dozen years earlier and was now working with his creator to suppress the creation of any other AI.
Never mind – just go read the book. But read Avogadro Corp: The Singularity Is Closer Than It Appears first as they are a series. And if you want more of a taste of Hertling, make sure you read his guest post from Friday titled How To Predict The Future.
When I was a teenager, I obsessively read everything I could get my hands of by Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Robert Heinlein. In college, it was Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, and Neal Stephenson. Today it’s Daniel Suarez and William Hertling. Suarez and Hertling are geniuses at what I call “near-term science fiction” and required reading for any entrepreneur or innovator around computers, software, or Internet. And everyone else, if you want to have a sense of what the future with our machines is going to be like.
I have a deeply held belief that the machines have already taken over and are just waiting for us to catch up with them. In my lifetime (assuming I live at least another 30 years) I expect we will face many societal crises around the intersection of man and machine. I’m fundamentally an optimist about this and how it evolves and resolves, but believe the only way you can be prepared for it is to understand many different scenarios. In Avogadro Corp and A.I. Apocalypse, Hertling creates two amazingly important situations and foreshadows a new one in his up and coming third book.
The Founder’s Dilemmas by Noam Wasserman is another book that belongs on every entrepreneur’s bookshelf. It’s excellent.
I met Noam for the first time last week when I was at HBS. I was on a panel of VCs (me, Mike Maples Jr., Kate Mitchell, and David Frankel) talking to a room full of HBS alumni who are VCs. Noam and I had exchanged several emails over the past few months and he sent me a review copy of the book but it got lost in my infinite pile of books to read. After seeing him and talking to him briefly, I decided to put it on the top of the stack. I laid on the couch all day yesterday with Amy and the dogs and demolished a pair of books. The Founder’s Dilemmas was the first.
I get asked endless questions about founder dynamics, solo founders, optimal number of founders, equity allocations between founders, roles of founders, alignment between founders, and investor – founder relationships. I’ve been involved in many conflicts between founders, transition in roles between founders, emotional struggles with founders as businesses grow and change, investor conflicts (other than me) with founders, and the list goes on and on and on.
I’ve never seen a book before that was particularly helpful – to a founder – about the wide range of issues a founder will face. There are plenty of books lots with stories, anecdotes, and suggestions, but none that are particularly systematic about going through all of the issues. Noam’s book is the first I’ve read – and he totally nails it.
He covers it three ways – with data, with analysis, and with stories. He’s done a ten year quantitative study that he follows up with his own analysis and then intermixes this with actual stories from a set of founders, including two that I know reasonably well – Dick Costolo (FeedBurner – I was on the board), Genevieve Thiers (Sittercity – we looked hard at investing but ultimately didn’t) and many I know from a distance. As a result, I was able to back test the stories and anecdotes and they were completely factual in contrast to many other books like this where the qualitative stories are embellished to fit either the ego of the participants or the point being made by the author.
Noam systematically marches through all of the major dilemmas I could think of for founders: career, solo-vs-team, relationship, role, reward, hiring, investor, failure-vs-success, founder-CEO succession, and wealth-vs-control. I believe he’ll coin several new reference phrases, including my favorite around wealth-vs-control (“do you want to be king or want to be rich?”) He looks at each of these from all sides (e.g. yes – you can be king and rich, but there are other options that may get you where you want to go faster and with a much higher chance of success) and uses a great blend of data, analysis, and anecdote to make and support his points.
If you are a founder, or considering being a founder, a board member, or an investor, buy The Founder’s Dilemmas right now. One of your goals should be to do everything you can to maximize your chance of success. This book will help a lot and you won’t regret the time you invest in it.
Amy and I just spent a week off the grid in Hawaii with my partner Ryan, his wife Katherine, and their son. It was a much needed break – I was once again totally fried – from work, travel, and all the training for my upcoming 50 mile race. Amy is about halfway through the mending process for her broken arm so it was nice for her to just relax and be ministered to, especially by her man servant – me!
I read nine books on this this trip. I was with an eight year old boy so we had plenty of Percy Jackson and the Olympians in between the more serious stuff. I had a lot of business books that I’d been avoiding reading so I decided to take my medicine and read some of them so at the minimum I could delete them from my Kindle.
The full list of reading (not including People, US, Vanity Fair, Time, and Glamor) follows:
How They Started - Carol Tice and David Lester: This was a bunch of short essays about the founding and development of various companies, including LinkedIn, Zynga, Twitter, Groupon, Etsy, Dropbox, IBM, RIM, eBay, Microsoft, Pixar, Chipotle, Jamba Juice, KFC, Coca Cola, Pinkberry, Zipcar, and SPANX. The mix of companies was fun, although like most business history I was amazed at the missing info and the rewriting of important moments around the founding of the company. The authors did a good job but, given that I knew a few of the stories in detail, missed some important points.
The Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan: This was my first Percy Jackson book. It had a similar formula to Harry Potter (and many other heroic children coming of age books) but with a fun mythology underpinning. Perfect for a smart eight year old who loves to read along with a 46 year old who still likes to think of himself as in his early teens.
The New Road to Serfdom – Daniel Hannan: My uncle Charlie told me to read this. Hannan is an MEP who is outspoken about British, Europe, and America’s economic and political problems. He believes in the theory of localist and giving strong power to local government and weak power to national / federal government. I enjoyed some of the book and found myself nodding in parts, but found others unnecessarily polarizing and tone deaf to the continually evolving macro scene, at least from my perspective. I wouldn’t have read this unless Charlie put it in front of me – I now understand his (and my Dad’s) political position more clearly.
Into The Forbidden Zone – William Vollman: Easily the best non-fiction book of the week. Last year on spring break we cancelled a trip to Hawaii (with the McIntyres) because of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Japan. This is a well written short travelogue by Vollman who spent a few weeks in Japan after things had settled down and wrote about his experience and observations as a westerner traveling through some of the impacted areas. Not a “fun” book, but an interesting and thought provoking one.
The Sea of Monsters - Rick Riordan: Percy Jackson book #2. Better than book #1 – more fun, better characters, faster pace.
Who – The A Method For Hiring: I wasn’t looking forward to this book – I find books like this excruciating to read and generally hit “skim” by about page 30. I found this one to be really good – it drew me and and ended up being a very practical guide to how to hire great people. I’d recommend it to anyone in an entrepreneurial company who is responsible for interviewing and hiring people. I rarely send out book recommendations to the Foundry Group CEO list – I sent this one the day I got home.
Boulevard of Broken Dreams - Josh Lerner: The subtitle summarizes the book nicely - Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed–and What to Do About It. As I continue to grind through writing Startup Communities: How To Create An Entrepreneurial Ecosystem In Your City, I’m trying to maintain a steady diet of complementary books. Lerner does a good job of dissecting government efforts and involvement around the stimulation of entrepreneurship and does a thorough job. This is a negative leaning book, but there is some positive and constructive stuff in it.
The Titan’s Curse - Rick Riordan: Book #3 of Percy Jackson. Not as good as Book #1. I’m not bored of this yet – I’ll definitely read book #4 and #5, but that might be it.
The Design of Business - Roger Martin: Ugh. Given the subtitle (“Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage”) I was hoping for something amazing and magical about design and how important it is in the context of creating great companies. Instead, I got a handful of boring stories about big companies including a long section on how amazing innovative RIM is and how their strategy around design in the consumer market will blunt the iPhone’s entrant into the enterprise. Ok – whatever.
I expect Q2 to be much more about writing than reading, and then this summer will be about both. Either way, the infinite pile of books I have is easy to carry around due to my Kindle (well – the Kindle app on my iPad) so I always have plenty of them with me at all times.
I expect many of you have read at least one book on Steve Jobs and Apple since Jobs’ death. If you, like me, grabbed and consumed a copy of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, I have a recommendation for you. Go buy a copy of Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired–and Secretive–Company Really Works by Adam Lashinsky. It’s much better, much more interesting, and in many ways, more revealing.
I’ve long admired Lashinsky’s writing in Fortune. Sometimes he makes me want to scream when he missed the mark, but often he gets under the surface of what is going on an covers it in an interesting and compelling way. He doesn’t write puff pieces while at the same time avoiding the trap of always writing nastiness, especially unfounded stuff, that many journalists seem to have fallen into the trap of (which – I expect – was prompted by competition from bloggers and the endless fight for headlines and link bait.) Lashinsky has avoided this trap, which makes me enjoy reading him even more.
I wrote a short but extremely positive review of Isaacson’s bio on Jobs. I liked it a lot, but as time passed I felt mildly unsatisfied. I couldn’t put my finger on it until a dinner conversation with a friend who knows Isaacson and some of the back story of the book. It came up randomly in our conversation and after I told him what I thought he responded that he thought it was a huge disappointment. He said that Isaacson totally blew it and his publisher, and the pressure of “publishing now” undermine the potential for what he was working on.
My friends suggestion was a simple, yet profound one. Isaacson should have publicly stated that he was delaying the book for a year and then gone back and re-interviewed many of the people he’d talked to. He should have probed deeper on the character of Jobs and explored things that people might not have been willing to say – both good and bad – when Jobs was alive. And he should have taken his role as official biographer more seriously – rather than rushing a book out on the heels of Jobs’ passing, he should have paused, thought hard about how he was trying to portray Jobs, and worked incredibly hard to nail it.
His words rang true. And, as I read through Inside Apple I kept thinking about what my friend said. We all know that Apple is an intensely secretive company and the external (and internal) messages are tightly controlled. By Jobs. Now that Jobs is no longer around, the dynamics around this might change. It certainly would change in anonymous conversations with an official biographer. Regardless, another level of research, thought, and analysis would be powerful.
This is what makes Lashinsky’s book so interesting. He doesn’t focus on Jobs, he focuses on Apple. But by focusing on Apple, he does a magnificent job of exploring and revealing Jobs. As a bonus, this isn’t yet another story of Jobs’ progression from adopted son to the Apple II to Next to Pixar to Mac to iPhone to iPad. Instead, it’s a contemporary look at the company, what makes it tick, and how it really works.
Lashinsky gets to some provocative stuff. In a section about “the narcissist (Jobs) and his sidekick (Cook)” he discusses how the narcissist / sidekick relationship can be incredibly effective. In this one section, he nails the notion of a productive narcissist, which captures part of the psychology of many successful entrepreneurs I know. It’s much more subtle – and useful – than the normal “pathological narcissist” discussion that follows many entrepreneurs around. A tweet about this section in the book from me generated an email exchange with an organizational psychologist friend which gave me an even deeper understanding of this dynamic.
Overall, I give this book an A+. If you are into Apple, curious about it, use their products, or are curious about Steve Jobs and the other leaders at Apple, I highly recommend this book. And yes, I read it on an iPad.
My close friend Ben Casnocha and Reid Hoffman’s new book The Start-Up of You is officially out. And – it’s #1 on Amazon. Not just in some obscure category like Business & Investing: Small Business & Entrepreneurship: Entrepreneurship, but #1 in all books on Amazon. That’s awesomely cool. And well deserved.
I met Ben about a decade ago. He came to Mobius with his dad to talk about his company Comcate. I think he was 14 or so at the time. I fell in love with him in the first meeting and have been a friend of his ever since. He’s been involved in many things that I’ve worked on, including being an early TechStars mentor and we generally get together for a few days (with my wife Amy) every year or so. It’s been a blast to be part of Ben’s transition from precocious young high school entrepreneur to best selling author (and I expect – after Sunday’s New York Times comes out, a NY Times Bestselling author.)
While I’ve known Reid for a shorter period of time, we’ve spent a fair amount of time together over the past four years as fellow board members at Zynga. A few years ago Reid asked me what I knew about Ben. They’d been hooked up and were talking about doing a book together. When Reid described what he was talking to Ben about, without hesitation I said “Ben’s your guy – you’ll love working with him and he’ll do an awesome job.”
The Start-Up of You is the result of their collaboration. If you haven’t bought it yet, go buy it now – it’s excellent and highly relevant to every human on the planet.