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Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days Paperback – March 11, 2009
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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 (www.StartupSchool.org). She has a bachelor's degree in English from Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
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Take away message for me: there are very few rules when it comes to founding a tech startup. Just be yourself, and toss the proverbial coin.
That being said, the quality of the book was great. It was full of all sorts of insights and experiences. They can all be summarized as don't give up, watch out for VC's but don't write them off, listen to your customers, be willing to change, make sure the initial founding team works together well, etc... But just listening the values does not do it justice. You really have to read the experiences. The book is full of all sorts of insights too, not just about entrepreneurship but also about the individual companies. For example I was really impressed about PayPal and the fraud stuff they did and how valuable that was. I just never knew. Overall I think the book was very well put together. Although some of the founders liked to talk a lot more than others and it droned on and on. But others were brief and insightful. I would definitely recommend this.
If I bought the print edition I suspect I would be giving it 5 stars. But really the kindle experience is probably worth 0 stars. But the content is so good that I figure 4 stars is fair. Since at this time I see hardcover editions for $5 or $6 new I would say go grab one of those now!!! The book is definitely inspirational.
The chapters covering Hotmail and PayPal showed some remarkable insight into how a given product can be marketed. Hotmail was a fairly straightforward shot from original idea to sales, (email from PIM DB is a fairly minor refinement technically -- it was huge from a business standpoint) but went through some massive changes in how that idea was sold. PayPal, on the other hand, went through profound shifts in the product itself, and also in marketing.
For me, insight into the founders' thought-processes as they rolled with the changes that they encountered was the primary value of the book. The author, then, is to be commended. Keeping the discussions of multiple interviewees relevant and picking out such insightful details is no mean feat. Every chapter so far has been excellent in these regards -- A further testament to her skills as an interviewer and editor.
If you are in or are considering going into a technical business, this book will help you understand the mind of those successful at that sort of thing. Most of the business advice I find is directed at the non-technical side of things, which is a very different sort of mind. That is what makes this book so particularly useful.
I think it is particularly good for the latter group. The author, an interviewer and editor more than an author really, asks successful and some famously unsuccessful entrepreneurs what it was like in those early years. Questions that, if you are living in your own startup, feel particularly germane. You'll see that these invariably very bright people felt the same emotions and motivations (hint: rarely about the money) that you do. You'll hear about a very diverse set of people telling you remarkably consistent things about the necessity of co-founders, and how important it is to have the right ones. You'll likely find inspiration in each person's ability to embrace uncertainty, and ability to know when to change from your first (and sometimes second and third) idea to the big idea that ultimately earned them a place in this great book.
For a book published in 2007 that focuses heavily on tech and Silicon Valley startups, you wont find obsolescence here. Some interviews, such as Steve Wozniak's, are engrossing even more so with the passing of Steve Jobs. Others, such as Evan Williams' are remarkable because his interview has nothing to do with Twitter. Beyond that, you feel you are witnessing in a way the early days of Y Combinator, as one partner, (Livingston) interviews two others, Google and Friendfeed's Paul Buchheit and Viaweb's Paul Graham.