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The Monk and the Riddle : The Education of a Silicon Valley Entrepreneur Hardcover – March 24, 2000

4.1 out of 5 stars 201 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Prospective entrepreneurs may think they know everything there is to know about starting a business in Silicon Valley. They can draw up business plans, have meetings with venture capitalists, maybe even get funded and actually launch a start-up. However, in The Monk and the Riddle, Silicon Valley sage Randy Komisar reasons that's only half the equation for success. And it may not be the important half. Komisar has worked with a number of companies--Apple, LucasArts Entertainment (the gaming division of George Lucas's empire), and WebTV among them--and has come to a rather startling conclusion: if you can't see yourself doing this business for the rest of your life, don't start it. In other words, he wants to see passion and purpose in business, not just spreadsheets and a by-the-numbers business model.

To illustrate, Komisar takes the reader through a hypothetical Silicon Valley start-up, with an eager entrepreneur named Lenny trying to get funding for an online casket-selling business. As Komisar helps Lenny find the real purpose of the business, the passion behind the revenue projections, he reflects back on his life as an entrepreneur. Komisar emerges as a master storyteller, the kind of guy you'd feel honored to share a bottle of wine with. And you believe his conclusion: "When all is said and done, the journey is the reward." It's great if you've made billions on the journey, but the important thing is that you do something you can truly throw yourself into. --Lou Schuler

From Booklist

Komisar is among a new breed of executives who have been called "virtual CEO's." Unlike consultants, they not only advise but actually work for companies that tend to be very small high-tech or Internet start-ups. In addition to working currently for seven such companies, Komisar has worked with WebTV and TiVo, was the "real" CEO at LucasArts Entertainment, and was one of the founders of Claris Corporation. With the assistance of freelance writer Kent Lineback, who has produced numerous films and videos for the Harvard Business School, Komisar here intertwines the story of his own career with that of two fictional entrepreneurs. The purpose is to show how deals are made and businesses get started in Silicon Valley. Komisar's many experiences allow him to speak firsthand about how venture capitalists and headhunters think and operate. He also warns that passion and vision are just as important as a well-crafted business plan. Throughout, we also get a strong dose of Komisar's own philosophy of success and fulfillment, a philosophy that might best be called Zen capitalism. David Rouse

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Product Details

  • Series: Harvard Business School Press Tip Sheet
  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (March 24, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1578511402
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578511402
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (201 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #132,814 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. I've been recommending it to friends and colleagues, but I've had a real struggle trying to summarize what it's about. Regardless, a big part of my enthusiasm is that Komisar has given a voice to so many of my core beliefs about my own career.
So, here's my attempt at summarizing the book. It's a story about a business plan being pitched by a budding entrepeneur that Komisar is reviewing for a VC friend. The (factitious...I presume) story includes Komisar's personal perspectives about how one's career interacts with one's life and passions, how his own career, life, and passions have evolved together, and how VC's look at business plans / ideas. The story is well written and not the typical Harvard Business School Press book, in that all of the wisdom and content are presented neatly within a story.
If you need more from your job than a wage, you will likely find some pearls of wisdom in this story. If you like what you read here, check out Komisar's article in the March/April '00 HBR. If you're interested in some insight into how VC's look at business ideas, there is certainly plenty of information within this story for you too.
Finally, about the five stars, the book is absolutely deserving of them. This story hit me right between the eyes in so many ways, was so elegantly presented, and so refreshing, that I highly recommend it.
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Format: Hardcover
Consider this book a gift of 15-20 years, the period it took Randy to gain the life lessons that are conveyed in this deceptively thin, but deep, book.
So deep in fact, that many readers and reviewers may miss their significance for three simple reasons:
First, the book doesn't give answers. This is a brilliant insight which frustrates 'inside the box thinkers' no end. After you've written a dozen business plans and pitched a hundred venture capitaliists, you quickly discover the conribution of 'dumb luck' in getting a company funded and through a liquidity event. The hubris which generally accompanies fast millions blinds most people to the mere veneer of control they exert on the destiny of a business.
Second, some people won't get the cosmic joke. Using the vehicle of a pseudo dotcom called Funerals.com, the book gently makes fun of the absurdity of monomaniacal obsession with business, contrasted to the shortness of life. Again, the authors allow the reader to explore the journey of a startup in ways which few others dare imagine.
Third: they permit the struggle to appear deceptively easy. Randy glosses over how the passions of the founders are quickly subsumed by the demands of capital, perhaps the only shortcoming that bears mention.
If Randy or a top tier business school could develop an algorithm that properly values passion on the balance sheet, inspired founders everywhere would be more likely to adopt his guidance from day one.
Implicit in the message is the question: "What do you have to become to be successful?" Their insights may help you avoid a Faustian bargain. That is a gift you'll want to savor and pass on to others.
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Format: Hardcover
Overall, I found this episode in the life and adventures of Randy Komisar to be interesting, but not groundbreaking. Though certainly filled with some valuable insights, there was something more to be desired. There was still a lot to learn, however, the most important being the general observations from a real-life perspective on what it takes to enjoy life in the entrepreneurial world.

The work itself was often scattered and forced. There was no real continuity between the flashbacks, often sounding as if Mr. Komisar decided to insert various triumphs in his life whenever he felt like it. Furthermore, I found the characters of Lenny and Allison to be more symbolic than human. They were not actual individuals, but prompts put in by Komisar to respond to the questions he wanted answered. In his interactions with them, Komisar walked an unhealthy line between humility and arrogance, presenting himself as a sort of low-key person who thinks outside the box, yet is always right on everything and draws reverence from those around him. At times, I wondered whether this book was more of a teaching tool or a testament to his own greatness.

I found his main message to be useful, but somewhat hypocritical. His criticism of the "work first and then retire" philosophy struck especially close to home, as that is one I have often embraced. I paid close attention to his words and was partially persuaded. I think he is downright contradictory, however, when he tries to use his own life as an example of how a business does better when fueled by complete passion and the expectation of it being one's life's work. There were many times when I felt like screaming out, "Mr. Komisar, practice what you preach!" Furthermore, I can think of so many ways that his theory is wrong.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr. Komisar has a simple message: It's the journey . . . not the destination . . . that counts, stupid! What that means is that you should focus on getting the most out of the moment, in creating a synthesis between what you value and what you spend your time on and do. The book opens with a brief story of Mr. Komisar giving a monk a ride on his motorcycle. After a long afternoon of riding, he delivers the monk where he wants to go. A few minutes later, he learns that the monk wants now to return to where they started. Finally, it sinks in. The monk just likes riding on motorcycles. He doesn't really have a destination in mind. Mr. Komisar connects that anecdote to his life as a young lawyer where he was so focused on goals, that he didn't see the conflict between his ambition for the future and the selling out of his values. Through a number of job changes and experiences, he emerges as someone who understands that the journey is all that counts, and takes on the role of virtual CEO for start-ups. This role means that he tries to help management accomplish what it wants, rather than representing the investors as venture capitalists do. It's a shift in direction that makes all the difference. My hat's off to Harvard Business School Press for publishing this heart-warming, inspiring book.
Most of the book is a fable about a stiff would-be entrepreneur named Lenny who seeks Mr. Komisar's advice. To get some idea of this fable, Lenny starts his pitch by saying that his business concept is to put the fun in funerals. Through the course of the book, Lenny learns (with a lot of prodding from Mr.
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