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Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days Paperback – March 11, 2009
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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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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What surprised me most was how down-to-earth and normal most of these successful people were. Only a couple of them seemed full of themselves. The rest, surprisingly, were just the opposite. Their stories about their startup days provided insights into their values, motivations, aspirations, points of view, work ethic; as well as their worries, fears, doubts, and concerns; plus their approach to making tough decisions and a recognition of their personal limitations and flaws. Their interview responses are full of insights into their decisions about business development, product development, product management, pricing, promotion, distribution, customer service, technical support, accounting, finance, hiring and technology choices; and dealing with venture capitalists, business partners and actual or potential competitors.
The interviews also provide a lot of insights into technology trends and market trends during the time that the founders' companies were starting up.
Here are the companies whose founders were interviewed, in the order they appear in the book: PayPal, Hotmail, Apple, Excite, Software Arts, Lotus Development, Iris Associates, Groove Networks, Pyra Labs (Blogger.com), Yahoo, Research in Motion, Marimba, Gmail, WebTV, TiVo, Viaweb, del.icio.us, ONELIST, Bloglines, Craigslist, Flickr, WAIS, InternetArchive, Alexa, Adobe Systems, Open Systems, Hummer Winblad, 37signals, ArsDigita, Fog Creek Software, TripAdvisor, HOT or NOT, Tickle, Firefox, Six Apart, Lycos, Aliant Computer Systems, Shareholder.com.
This book is perfect for anyone interested in entrepreneurship, technology startups, technology companies in general, and business books in general. I've read the book once already and now I'm in the middle of reading it a second time. I wish there were an audio version of it.
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.
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.