I don’t like to do book reviews back-to-back but Founders at Work has kept me pretty busy reading (and not writing) over the last couple of weeks. The book definitely deserves a five star rating and at $13 for the e-book version, it really is a great deal. My review follows…
This is an absolute must read if you’re job, your passion, or both (if you’re lucky) has anything to do with creating technical innovation. “Founders at Work” is a wonderfully meander through the stories of successful company founders – across several decades. Far from focusing on just those who made it big during the first dot-com boom or those who are profiting from Web 2.0, Jessica also includes some of the true pioneers in the field. She recognizes that, not only do these industry veterans have valuable stories to convey but, since many of them are helping to steer companies and venture capital funds to this day, their advice is quite topical and current.
From the great introduction right through the final interview, this book is packed with great anecdotes, advice, information and inspiration. Makes you wonder as to what the story is behind the story – how did Jessica get unfettered access to such a broad array of the founding fathers?
I’ve included some illustrative quotes from the book below. Give them a read and then go pick up this book. The printed copy is a bargain and the e-book version is a steal. It may turn out to be one of the best investments you ever make.
- “You guys are nuts. Throw out your business plan. Your customers—or potential customers – are telling you what your business should be. The business plan was only used to get you the money. Why don’t you rewrite a business plan that is focused just on providing what your customers want?” – Q.T. Wiles advice to Charles Geschke (Cofounder, Adobe) on the real purpose of a business plan
- “There were some warning signs. Consider McKinsey, which holds itself out as one of the world’s leading repositories of knowledge on how to manage a business. They say they’ll never grow their company by more than 25 percent per year, because otherwise it’s just too hard to transmit the corporate culture. So if you’re growing faster than 25 percent a year, you have to ask yourself, ‘What do I know about management that McKinsey doesn’t know?’” – Philip Greenspun (Cofounder, ArsDigita) on scaling corporate culture
- “That [not improving core product quality] was probably the biggest mistake we made. And that’s the advice I give everybody. All those little coupon schemes, this is what General Motors does. They figure out new rebate schemes because they forgot all about how to design cars people want to buy. But when you still remember how to make software people want, great, just improve it.” – Joel Spolsky (Cofounder, Fog Creek Software)
- “I think some people slept; I know I didn’t sleep at all.” – Max Levchin (Cofounder, PayPal)
- “There were times when we were really broke before we had our angel investment, when only one guy who had children was getting paid.” – Caterina Fake (Cofounder, Flickr)
With nearly 21 of the 32 interviewees having the term “Cofounder” in their titles, Joel Spolsky’s advice seems perhaps to reflect best on what was critical to the success of these companies. “But because they never really take the leap and quit their job, they can give up their dream at any time. And 99.9 percent of them will actually give up their dream. If they take the leap, quit their job, go do it full-time—no matter how much it sucks—and convince one other person to do the same thing with them, they’re going to have a much, much higher chance of actually getting somewhere.”