Part of the rhythm of my reading list is to mix-in a business book between fun science fiction reads. Given I’m working on growing my business, I like to read and learn about the tactics and methods that other startups and tech companies have used or are using to market their wares. This desire led me to reading Startup Growth Engines: Case Studies of How Today’s Most Successful Startups Unlock Extraordinary Growth by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown. Both Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown are well-respected in the technology startup community, particularly for working in and helping businesses rapidly grow their user bases. Bottom line, the book was a good fit according to the criteria I’ve established for my reading list.
While I was a General Manager at Vitesse Semiconductor, traveling to our office in Woodstock, VT was always an interesting adventure. The town of Woodstock is your stereotypical quaint New England town that looks like it came straight off a postcard or out of the set of a Hollywood movie. The office there was a converted ski lodge off Route 12 on the outskirts of town. It wasn’t a big building. There were 2 offices upstairs, and a meeting area, break room, and space for about 10-12 cubicles spread across 2 rooms downstairs. From one of the upstairs offices, you could see the old rope tow that took you up the slight incline that had once serviced a single run ski slope.
It was ten years ago this month, October 10, 2006 to be exact, that Aumnia, Inc. officially incorporated. Since that time, it’s been a long road of ups and downs. Given that 90% of all startups fail, I feel very fortunate that the company is still alive and kicking. Some other time, I’ll document the history of the founding and early days of the company. In this post, I’m going to document a few of the things that I’ve learned in 10 years of running the company.
When I’m adding books to my reading list, I do my best to keep track of where the initial recommendation came from. It helps me to prioritize my reading list. There are sources I rely on that will move a book up my reading list, and certain sources that will advance a book to the top of it. For my latest read, The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, I didn’t have a recommendation source written down. It’s not that book wasn’t recommended. It’s that it was recommended by nearly every source that I use. They all gave it good reviews, especially if you were starting up or running your own business. Needless to say, I fit that description, so I decided I should prioritize the book for my 2016 reading list.
A couple of years back, I watched the History Channel series “The Men Who Built America“. I was blown away by the vision, foresight and determination of the people portrayed – Rockefeller, Carnegie, JP Morgan, Edison, and Ford. Looking back, it was impressive to see how they saw a vision of the future and made it a reality.
Well, I believe there are two such people in our generation who people will look back upon in the same way – Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. When you listen to them speak, their vision of the future is impressive. What’s more impressive is that they aren’t just talking about it. They are doing things that are enabling them to create and achieve their vision. I’m not talking about creating the next social network or iPhone app. They are working on items like space travel to enable colonization of other planets, artificial intelligence to improve human capability, sustainable energy to preserve our planet, and more mundane things like building better cars and improving media.
One of my favorite books from last year was The Everything Store – Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. It was one of my favorite types of business books, a third party account that chronicled the building of Amazon. In the comments to my book review, one of my favorite bloggers, Rohan (author of the blog A Learning a Day), mentioned In the Plex – How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy. Since the book fit my theme of a biography/story-based business book and came recommended from a trusted source, I decided to let it jump the queue in my 2015 reading list.
In my earlier startup lesson posts, I wrote about team diversity and team chemistry. In this startup lesson, I am going to focus on another important team concept for startups – roles. Assigning roles can be uncomfortable, especially during the early stages of a startup. However, it’s important to make sure people know and understand what’s expected of them, as well as who is in charge. While it would appear this lesson applies only to startups with multiple founders, it is just as important for those with a single founder. As a lone founder, it’s absolutely critical that roles are defined as the company and team grows.
As part of running my own company, I’m always looking for ways to improve various pieces of the business and my performance in it. Since one of the most important parts of any business is the sales process, I am constantly on the lookout for resources that will help me to understand the process better and to identify ways to improve it. Amazon must know it too, because their recommendation engine suggested the following to me – Same Side Selling: A Radical Approach to Break Through Sales Barriers by Jack Quarles and Ian Altman. Even though I’m not in love with the Amazon recommendation engine, I went ahead and picked it up.
I am on a quest to continuously improve my understanding of software development, particularly as it applies to agile development practices. I started it by reading one of the classics on software development, The Mythical Man Month, which I found very informative. While good, I wanted something that would help me understand the concepts behind agile software development. I read a couple of books on creating user stories a few months ago, but I still felt like I was missing critical pieces to the puzzle. Then I read User Story Mapping: Discover the Whole Story, Build the Right Product by Jeff Patton.
One of the startup blogs that I follow is written by Sean Murphy, who does sales and business development consulting for startups. A recent post he wrote contained a great passage in response to an article by Morgan Housel titled “I’m Just Now Realizing How Stupid We Are”.
Sean Murphy highlights one of Housel’s lessons learned:
I’ve learned that people’s expectations grow faster than their wealth. The country is richer than it’s ever been. I don’t think it’s as happy as it’s ever been.
and relates it to a startup:
Too many entrepreneurs think that wealth will solve their problems or make up for other shortcomings. I have watched a lot of people get wealthy, very few were improved by it. If they were unhappy or held back by bad habits wealth enabled them to engage in worse behavior and only pointed out the need for personal transformation.
It got me thinking as to why people become entrepreneurs.