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My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley [Hardcover]

Ben Casnocha , Marc Benioff
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 25, 2007 0787996130 978-0787996130 1
Ben Casnocha discovered he was entrepreneur at age 12 and hasn't slowed down since. In this remarkably instructive book, Ben dissects the entrepreneurship "gene," explaining that everyone has inherited it if they have an idea to make the world a better place. In Casnocha's case, he found a better way for city governments to communicate with constituents on the Web. Six years later, Comcate has dozens of municipal clients, a growing staff, and a record of excellence. This book is the story of his start-up, but also a conversation with his mentors, clients and fellow entrepreneurs about how to make a business idea work?and how to have the time of your life trying. From Pat Lencioni to Marc Benioff of salesforce.com, Ben has won over the best and brightest of the business world?now it's your turn!

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My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley + The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career + The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

When Casnocha, a first-time entrepreneur and author, shares his life story chronicling a jam-packed 19 years, it's clear he listens to Oprah's encomium "live your best life." What's even more jaw opening is the level of wisdom and self-awareness he displays. Each brief chapter features at least one personal, headlined sidebar about, say, customer feedback, advisory boards, or the power of mentors. There are also short "braintrust" synopses from Casnocha's ever-expanding network; venture capitalist Heidi Roizen weighs in on taking responsibility, while writer Chris Yeh muses about the right blend of work and life. In between the snippets lies a compelling narrative, from the author's first meander into customer focus groups to hard-earned lessons about technology and bootstrapping. A simply written yet remarkably direct, honest, and, yes, a bit heart-wrenching account about a lost teenagerhood. Barbara Jacobs
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

LORD, I loved being 19. If I had the chance to do it all again, I’d start up my life at that age. For most relatively “normal” guys like me, life at 19 is a joyously ephemeral state of being in between. Your adolescence is not quite behind you; your adulthood is not quite at hand. You can appropriate the privileges of a grownup without facing the responsibilities. And if you’re lucky, you can still put it all on your parents’ tab.
Or you can be Ben Casnocha, the 19-year-old author of “My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young C.E.O. Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley.” Publishing a book in his teens actually ranks as one of his more modest accomplishments. At 12, he started his first company. At 14, he founded a software company called Comcate Inc. At 17, Inc. magazine named him “entrepreneur of the year.”
Along the way, Ben (I refuse to address him as Mr. Casnocha until he turns 21) was also captain of his high school basketball team and edited the school newspaper. He will be enrolling in Claremont McKenna College this fall.
In the meantime, he’s been taking what he describes as a “year off” to travel the world and to lecture at universities while continuing to serve as chairman of Comcate. So much for being a normal, carefree 19-year-old.
“I don’t want to be normal,” Ben declares in “My Start-Up Life.” “I want to be something else.”
Ben’s book proves that he is indeed something else, and then some. Like its author, “My Start-Up Life” is precocious, informative and entertaining, if not quite fully realized as a grown-up work. But it’s still very much worth reading to gain insight into the mind, manners and ambitions of an American entrepreneur from whom we will almost undoubtedly be hearing again throughout the first half of this century.
Ben organizes his story in chronological order. He recounts the otherwise “routine day” in 2000 when the teachers of his sixth-grade technology class in a San Francisco-area middle school proposed the idea of creating a Web site dedicated to resolving citizen complaints about local government. Unlike his classmates, who abandoned the project as soon as school let out, he spent the summer learning how to write the HTML code necessary to make ComplainandResolve.com a short-lived but functioning entity.
In 2002, Ben transformed that not-for-profit classroom venture into Comcate, a classic Silicon Valley start-up that provides software to enable city managers to track and resolve citizen complaints. He describes days when playing hooky from school started with catching a flight to Los Angeles and ended with basketball practice back in San Francisco. In between, there were sales calls to potential clients, lunches with venture capitalists, and scores of e-mail messages to and from a software programmer in India.
But “My Start-Up Life” is more of an entrepreneurial how-to manual than the autobiography of a whiz kid. The narrative chapters are interspersed with sidebars headlined “Brain Trust” and “Brainstorm” that provide insights from adult business people and share the author’s epiphanies on everything from “redefining the entrepreneurial lifestyle” with proper sleep, nutrition and exercise, to ways to “maximize luck.”
“Expose yourself to as much randomness as possible,” Ben advises. “Attend conferences no one else is attending. Read books no one else is reading. Talk to people no one else is talking to. Who would have thought that giving a speech at a funeral at age 12 would introduce me to a man who would introduce me to my first business contact who would introduce me to several other important people in my life. That’s luck. That’s randomness.”
An appendix offers a “One-a-Day, One-Month Plan to Becoming a Better Entrepreneur.” If some of the daily agenda items are mundane (“Stop watching TV,” “Form an advisory board”), others are both insightful and inspirational.
“Act on incomplete information,” he urges in the context of entrepreneurial risk-taking. He says Gen. Colin Powell “expected his commanders in the field to make decisions when they had 40 percent of the potentially available information. In life-or-death situations. And you think you need more information?”
Unfortunately, “My Start-Up Life” fails to give a coherent account of Comcate’s financing and the current status of the company, which is privately held. In a recent telephone interview, Ben said he withheld those kinds of details for proprietary reasons because his company is a developing enterprise.
With a little prodding, he told me that he raised “about $250,000” to start Comcate, and that the company is now “self-sustaining” with 6 employees, 75 local government clients and anticipated 2007 revenue of $1 million. I just wish he’d put some of this general information in the book.
Apart from its repeated references to the dot-com mania of Silicon Valley, the book lacks political and socioeconomic context. In describing the early days of Comcate, for example, Ben notes that the fall of 2001 was a “busy few months,” without any mention of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. When I asked him about that, he said that “it didn’t really impact the business.”
I also would have liked to read more about Ben’s parents. He duly expresses his gratitude, especially to his father who lent space in his law office for Comcate. But we never get a clear picture of what life was like in the Casnocha household. Talk about risk-taking — nothing takes more wisdom and courage than their kind of entrepreneurial parenting.
In any event, Ben seems to be gaining an ever more acute sense of history and his own mortality as “My Start-Up Life” hits the stores. He told me that he’s already working on a second book, about “America as the world’s greatest start-up.”
He added that he intends to make the most of the time left until his next birthday, in March 2008. “I’ve got another eight months until I’m just another boring 20-year-old,” he said. (New York Times, June 17, 2007)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (May 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0787996130
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787996130
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #521,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm a San Francisco-based entrepreneur, author, and most of all, learner.

As an entrepreneur, I've started and run several ventures. From selling gumballs and pens as a kid, to founding an e-government software company (Comcate) that currently delivers hosted CRM solutions to hundreds of local governments in America, to incubating consumer web properties at Wasabi Ventures. BusinessWeek named me "one of America's best young entrepreneurs" and PoliticsOnline named me "one of the most influential people in the world of internet and politics."

I also write books and articles. My most recent book (with Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh) is The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age. In 2012, I coauthored with Reid Hoffman the #1 New York Times bestseller The Start-Up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career. In 2007 I wrote a book titled My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young Entrepreneur Learned On His Journey Through Silicon Valley. I've also written more than a million words on my blog about current affairs, books, entrepreneurship, careers, and technology, and for a number of other publications.

Most recently, I spent two years as Reid Hoffman's Chief of Staff at LinkedIn and Greylock Partners, where I helped conceive, then built up and ran a new organization to amplify and extend Reid's strategic priorities.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frontline entrepreneurship September 30, 2007
Format:Hardcover
A captivating read and a candid story of Ben's startup experience with Comcate. If you thought your young age and `lack of business acumen and experience' was working against you, think twice after learning how Ben handled his business pitches at the ripe business age of fourteen. The story comes to life on every page and offers countless advice - I couldn't help it, I read it in one sitting. A must read for any entrepreneur, both seasoned and new to the game.
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7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Bold, insightful, and clearly from the heart, Ben Casnocha's story is the manual for young people looking to join the adult world on their own terms. Throughout his book, Casnocha cleverly intertwines fundamental life lessons with genuine first-hand anecdotes. The result is a unique and astoundingly refreshing story that I urge everyone, young and old, to have on the top of their list for summer reading.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
This is for me by far the best business book I have read, and trust me, I have read many. There is almost no other Author that has this sharp and organised thinking and humble, none-ego driven attitude. The story is engaging and the insight boxes are very educative. The fact that he was 19 when writing the book is impressive, however for me secondary. Since reading his book I have developed my own business which is now operating in over 40 countries[...] Believe me, Ben's thoughts and insights have been key in my start-up development process and I'm sure that part of the way I think as an entrepreneur has been influenced by this book.
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7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life on the Entrepreneurial Roller Coaster May 21, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Ben Casnocha's book is a disarming tale of a startup told by an young entrepreneur who, instead of trumpeting his tale as a tribute to his own genius, shares the real inside story, a roller coaster of a journey. Ben's story shows the value of being humble enough to ask questions when you don't understand and being determined enough to put one foot in front of the other and build a real business. I especially appreciate the way Ben portrays the crucial role of mentors in his successful business. In addition, Ben clearly understands one thing that often evades entrepreneurs (young and old) : the value proposition of a business must be defined from the customer's point of view. And Ben's story does hinge on what I call the twin devils that plague all entrepreneurs: cash flow and people issues.

The book has interesting discussions of many practical issues, including how to: teach yourself about finance and accounting, build a board, ask the right questions in a sales pitch, find the right kind of money, pay close attention to detail when presenting, and move a product from small scale to large scale.

It would be tempting to focus on Ben's age (indeed, he is a whiz-kid in every sense of the word), but I think the real value of the story is that it has so much in common with entrepreneurs of all ages. Ben struggled to be a "normal high school kid" in the same way I see many talented entrepreneurs struggle to reconcile their own highly empowered view of life with others who are on more passive tracks. Most of Ben's mistakes are not a function of being young, but a function of being human and therefore fallible at times.
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6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
My Start-up Life is a rare 'business book' that is both entertaining as well as educational. Ben Casnocha, through the tale of his founding a technology company while in high school, has created a compelling, interesting and fun coming of age story -- about both the young man himself as well as for the 'teen years' of his startup. This would be a great book to give to high school students who are interested in starting their own businesses -- but it isn't just a 'kid' book. Quite to the contrary, entrepreneurs of all ages will find useful, hard-won lessons in Ben's story. Highly recommended.
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9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Casnocha is wiser than most people who are three times his age. My Start-up Life is the best gift you can buy your teenage son or daughter ... it will give them confidence in their own abilities and courage to take on new challenges. But you might want to buy two copies as you'll find yourself getting just as much out of it. Ben's crisp writing and interesting anecdotes gave me and sense of adventure and fun while learning a great deal about business. It is Harry Potter meets Good to Great.
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7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome Startup / Life Story May 21, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The story is oriented around Ben's experiences as a teenager trying to deal with the pressures of both teenage and adult "business / entrepreneurship" life simultaneously. He does a magnificent job of articulating the characteristics of a startup without being preachy and weaves in a number of vignettes from experienced friends and colleagues. It is simultaneously personal, educational, and emotionally deep.
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honesty and Usefulness in Ben's book May 17, 2007
Format:Hardcover
At times you'll find books that have one or the other (honesty or usefulness) and they're ok. At times you have neither and they stink.

This time Ben has written a book that is both and it manifests as a book that is worth reading, keeping and referencing. It's nice that an author can write a book and keep it understandable and compelling.

The way he describes the difficulties of the life of an entrepreneur coupled with the confusingly and at times contradictory life of a high school student is fascinating. I think it's a wonderful example that academics as a means to produce business leaders is not necessarily on target.

I can't see why this wouldn't be the type of book that shouldn't be required reading for college (or even high school) students. I bet it would be difficult to do however because I'm not sure teachers know how to handle the subjects that Ben looks at.

Finally, the book proves that an author can speak from the heart and share real life advice for readers without us feeling like we're being lectured.

I highly recommend the book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars First Time Reviewer - Not Worth A Dollar
I have bought probably a hundred books from Amazon.com. Some were great, some not so great. However, this is the first time I felt that strongly to actually leave my first review. Read more
Published 16 months ago by RDExpert
4.0 out of 5 stars PARENTING A PRODIGY
FASCINATING BOOK, FASCINATING KID. AS A PARENT I WOULD HAVE LIKED MORE INFORMATION ON HOW HIS PARENTS NURTURED HIN AS A VERY SPECIAL CHILD
Published on July 19, 2007 by Thomas W. Madland
1.0 out of 5 stars Hype machine
Lots of hype in promoting this book, almost no content to speak about. Maybe useful for teenagers...
Published on July 15, 2007 by Mircea Mihaescu
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound, sensible and compact.
Mr. Casnocha does an excellent job at pulling out the intrinsic meaning behind moments in his own life and illustrates how that meaning has played a role in his growth and... Read more
Published on July 11, 2007 by T. Crawley
1.0 out of 5 stars Useless.
The more I read of the book, the more I realized it was useless. First, it would have been nice if Mr. Casnocha had given us a little more information as to his business success. Read more
Published on June 28, 2007 by Roman Hans
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring and Compelling
This book is an excellent guide for young and/or first-time entrepreneurs. Casnocha's honest, unsentimental appraisal of his own successes and failures with his second company,... Read more
Published on June 15, 2007 by David Macdonald Carlson
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant first effort by Ben Casnocha
Firstly, I really enjoyed the book. I felt in some ways in read like a lot like a novel, I found myself compelled to keep flicking through the pages to find out what happened next. Read more
Published on June 15, 2007 by Mark Steele
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't waste your money
I'll keep this short, find another book. This is rubbish, and I suspect the 5 star reviews here are all the author's buddies.
Published on June 14, 2007 by S. Graham
3.0 out of 5 stars Pass...
Sorry Ben... But I would pass on this one.
Published on June 14, 2007 by Ethan E. Giffin
5.0 out of 5 stars An insightful read
Ben has an interesting story to tell. He first got involved in

the tech boom when he was 12, and by high school he was heading a

multi-million dollar company. Read more
Published on June 4, 2007 by M.I.T. Student
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