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Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days [Hardcover]

by Jessica Livingston
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (142 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 25, 2007 1590597141 978-1590597149 1

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days is a collection of interviews with founders of famous technology companies about what happened in the very earliest days. These people are celebrities now. What was it like when they were just a couple friends with an idea? Founders like Steve Wozniak (Apple), Caterina Fake (Flickr), Mitch Kapor (Lotus), Max Levchin (PayPal), and Sabeer Bhatia (Hotmail) tell you in their own words about their surprising and often very funny discoveries as they learned how to build a company.

Where did they get the ideas that made them rich? How did they convince investors to back them? What went wrong, and how did they recover?

Nearly all technical people have thought of one day starting or working for a startup. For them, this book is the closest you can come to being a fly on the wall at a successful startup, to learn how it's done.

But ultimately these interviews are required reading for anyone who wants to understand business, because startups are business reduced to its essence. The reason their founders become rich is that startups do what businesses do—create value—more intensively than almost any other part of the economy. How? What are the secrets that make successful startups so insanely productive? Read this book, and let the founders themselves tell you.

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Jessica Livingston is a founding partner at Y Combinator, a seed-stage venture firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Mountain View, California. She was previously�vice president�of marketing at investment bank Adams Harkness. In addition to her work with startups at Y Combinator, she organizes Startup School ( She has a bachelor's degree in English from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 500 pages
  • Publisher: Apress; 1 edition (January 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590597141
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590597149
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (142 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jessica Livingston is a founding partner at Y Combinator, a seed-stage venture firm based in Cambridge, MA, and Mountain View, CA. She was previously VP of marketing at investment bank Adams Harkness. In addition to her work with startups at Y Combinator, she organizes Startup School. She has a BA in English from Bucknell.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
113 of 115 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Summary

Jessica Livingston has written an amazing book. If you want to read the stories behind some of the most well known software companies in the last 30 years, you will find it in this book. But Livingston hasn't just covered the usual suspects (Google, Microsoft), she has included a diverse collection from Steve Wozniak (Apple) to David Heinemeier Hansson (37 Signals), Dan Bricklin (Visicalc) to Blake Ross (Firefox). It covers a lot of ground from the early 80's software boom to the Web 2.0 starts ups. But there is more than just stories about starting companies, there is real advice from the frontline trenches of software start-ups. Keep your post-it notes and highlighter handy, if you are like me you will be annotating and highlighting a lot!

The Audience

If you have ever considered a start-up you should definitely read this book. It's like picking the brains of some very experienced entrepreneurs. Anybody that has already tried their hand at start-ups will recognize the value of this book. Most will probably feel like I did, and wish that they had had this book before they started their first company. It could have saved me many painful lessons (both financially and personally). Reading these interviews is like having 32 mentors.

The Details

Like many people I am always a little skeptical of `success stories'. Just because someone did x, y and z, doesn't mean that I could follow these very steps and be as successful. Just because Aunt Ethel, who lived to be a 100, attributes her long life to drinking a glass of whisky every day, doesn't mean I can drink a glass of whisky every day and live to be a 100.
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39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for anyone involved with technology February 19, 2007
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, and 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.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing stories & truly inspiring February 7, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm the founder of an early-stage startup, and I can wholeheartedly say that this book has enlightened me. The usual problem with books of this vein is that the author only has one core idea and then fluffs it up to get 300 pages. Founders@Work however is like reading a pile of books written by successful founders, each with their own insights and tidbits of useful advice.

You end up reading these real-life, down-to-earth stories about the early days at Apple and Yahoo and PayPal, and you're seeing you and your co-founder right there. Hey! I code in a towel sometimes too! They aren't telling you the glorified stories their PR guys tell them to say. This is the real deal. It's awfully inspiring.

I would HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who is thinking of starting, or is currently running a startup.
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43 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great content, awful format September 19, 2007
There's plenty of great information here, as all the other reviews said. But this interview format is really excruciating to read. Casual speech is very hard to transcribe in such a way that it becomes readable. This is why journalists and other writers are trained in how to reduce a long, tangential speech into something meaningful and clear. These interviews tend to run on and on and on, with the subjects jumping around, sometimes contradicting themselves, or misspeaking; all the stuff we do when talking, but which doesn't really matter in conversation, where other cues like body language make up for it. It really takes a lot of work to read this stuff, you're constantly having to hear the subject "out loud" in your head for it to make sense.

This book's easily twice as long as it could be if these interviews were edited down to a few really useful pages each. Or better: rewritten as short essays.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Hear it from the horses mouth - - -
The founders, saw a need and went out and did it. Just like other start-ups the demand took over and business sense took awhile to get in place. Read more
Published 1 month ago by James G. Domke
4.0 out of 5 stars In Their Own Words...
The value of this book comes from hearing directly from the founders - about their fears, mistakes, and ultimately their successes. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Peter Holfelder
1.0 out of 5 stars Arrived without the cover
The book cover is missed when it arrived...not sure what to say now, disappointed a bit even it is a used book. But didn't say it doesn't have a cover.
Published 3 months ago by pocomaru
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book but primarily tech startups
This is a good book that provides a lot of insight into what it takes to start up a company. That being said, it is mostly directed at technology startups which I have less of an... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Mark Twain
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting interviews to founders that younger entrepreneurs had not...
I enjoyed the book although it is not updated and some of the founders have made great thing since the interview (I. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sergio
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read! I like this book a lot.
I'm really enjoying this book. I haven't finished it yet, but it's very enjoyable to read. Like a treasure trove of tib bits of info you can use in your own pursuits.
Published 4 months ago by Nick R.
3.0 out of 5 stars It's OK
It really didn't tell me anything I didn't already know about these people. It was an interesting read but not anything mind-blowing.
Published 4 months ago by Jay Payne
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book, TERRIBLE print quality
First, I've only read one of the chapters (Philip Greenspun, quite amazing), but I've seen enough to know I'm going to greatly enjoy the many start-up tales in this book. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Holland Ward
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Book!
Purchased this book on a whim, and haven't regretted it at all. It provides wonderful insight into some of the struggles that somebody would have on building up a company. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Michael MccUrrey
5.0 out of 5 stars Just my opinion
Reminds me of "Religions of the World" by Huston Smith. Well organized, well written and transforms ignorance into awareness. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Christopher W.
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Topic From this Discussion
Is this book 458 pages or 500 pages?
You've probably found this out already, but it's 458 pages. That number is if you count the index and two advertisement pages. The last page of content is 446.
Dec 1, 2007 by Robert Owen |  See all 2 posts
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