Autobiographical business narratives are generally not my thing. I’ve read enough of them to know the general format. The beginning of the book is a recount of how the narrator built their business, the middle tells how the narrator overcame various trials and tribulations to achieve the pinnacle of success, and the remainder of the book is either a defense of their character, an explanation of why their company is not evil, or a lecture on how to grow and run a business. I find the beginning of the books interesting, and then tend to zone out through the rest.
Therefore, it was with a bit of trepidation that I picked up Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. I wasn’t excited about reading it, but it was very highly recommended by a close friend and had also received a good review on Brad Feld’s blog, where I’ve gotten many, many good book recommendations.
My go-to resource for web analytics is Avinash Kaushik. Guru does not adequately describe his level of expertise on the topic. If you have any interest in analytics, his blog is a great resource that is chock full of information. The articles are deep dives into the concepts, techniques, and tools that allow you to get the most out of your online presence. For bite-sized pieces of insight, I’d recommend subscribing to his newsletter, which you can do from his website.
So what does Avinash Kaushik have to do with the book Be Like Amazon: Even a Lemonade Stand Can Do It? In June of last year, Avinash mentioned the book in one of his newsletters. I have such high regard for his opinions and insights, that I immediately added the book to the top of my reading list.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Every so often, I like to read a business book on industry strategy. It’s even more interesting when the book is about an industry that I have a lot of contacts in and spend a lot of time working around – real estate. It made reading Disruptors, Discounters, and Doubters by Joe Rand an easy choice. For one, it was an excellent opportunity to gain valuable insight into the real estate industry and where it’s headed. Second, I know Joe personally and have on-going projects with him. I figured his book would provide a better, deeper understanding of the goals behind the projects we’re working on together.
What makes the book especially valuable for anyone working in and around real estate is that it is an insider’s view of the industry. More often than not, industry strategy books are written by outsiders who forecast or critique based on observation. Joe is writing his critiques while in the trenches. He has the foresight to see that disruption of the real estate industry is on the horizon. In fact, it’s inevitable. He’s raising the warning flag and suggesting that the disruption happen from within. Otherwise, those with little or no industry knowledge will force it on them from the outside .
When it comes to work, there are a few principles that are important to me. One is to always be learning new things. A second, closely related principle, is to continuously improve. As part of living out these tenets, I like to read books that I can apply to my business. Because time is precious, I look to trusted sources and watch what other CEOs are reading and recommending to add to my reading list. I learned about the book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland and J.J. Sutherland through Matt Blumberg’s Return Path blog. He had great things to say about the book. Since I run a software development business, it was a no-brainer to make sure I read the book during 2017.
With most books, it’s pretty clear what you’re going to get when you read them. Others can surprise you. I’d have to put Setting the Table by Danny Meyer in the latter category.
I received the recommendation from a customer I started working with last year, who I would now consider a good friend. When we started working on a project together, he suggested that I read the book. My first thought was, “a book by a guy who runs restaurants, how could it possibly apply to my technology business?”
Turns out, the book is very applicable to my business. In fact, anyone running a business that deals with customers, meaning every business owner, can benefit from the lessons and experiences Danny Meyer’s shares.
If you’re a regular visitor to my website, have you noticed what’s changed?
I’ll forgive you if you don’t see it right away. You need to take a look in the URL bar, usually found at the top of your browser. You’ll see a green lock and, if you’re using the Google Chrome browser, a ‘Secure’ indicator.
Yup. I did it. I migrated the website from http to https.
Making this switch sounds simple enough, but it can get a bit complicated. I self-host my own WordPress website on an Amazon EC2 instance. I also use the Cloudflare CDN service to front my traffic to make the website a touch faster and to provide a thin layer of security.
While I am aware of straight forward methods to secure a website using Cloudflare, I wanted to use the Let’s Encrypt certificate service. I’ve heard a lot about it and figured what better way to learn how it works than to use it for my own website. For those not familiar with Let’s Encrypt, according to their words it’s a ” free, automated, and open certificate authority (CA), run for the public’s benefit. It is a service provided by the Internet Security Research Group (ISRG).”
I took on the challenge for the following reasons:
- I wanted to do my part to be a good citizen of the internet. Everyone who has a website should be using HTTPS/SSL to encrypt their traffic and protect the privacy of their users. I wanted to stop being one of “them.”
- I wanted to establish a more secure connection between my website and the Cloudflare CDN. Using their Full SSL implementation would have worked and been good enough. However, I wanted to go all in and use the most secure option available – Full (strict).
- While I could have used one of the Cloudflare SSL services and certificates, I wanted to learn about and support the Let’s Encrypt service. Plus, it gives me the option to move away from CloudFlare in the future without losing SSL.
- And last, but certainly not least, one of the reasons for self-hosting my website was to learn about running a server. What better project than upgrading a website from HTTP to HTTPS, especially a WordPress instance. It’s a perfect project to use as a learning vehicle.
Enough blabbering, let’s get started.
The Guardian has become one of my favorite news outlets due to the quality of its long form journalism. Last month, they posted an article about the dangers of smartphone addiction (click here to read). It wasn’t your standard, “we need to spend time away from our smartphones” rant. It was in-depth look at how smartphones have enabled a small handful of people in Silicon Valley to control the psychology of over a billion people around the world.
For me, working in the mobile software development industry, it was a warning sign. A foreboding of what could happen if we, as a society, don’t heed the warning and take action.
You see, many worry about the development of a superior, runaway artificial intelligence that will destroy humanity. They argue that it could happen within the next 25 years if sufficient controls are not put in place.
After reading The Guardian article, I’m beginning to think that future danger could already be upon us, and we don’t even know it. Instead of the AI confronting us head-on in a war-like manner, it could be destroying us from within by turning us against each other, and ultimately against ourselves.
In the past, I’ve written about privacy and warned how the internet endangers that fundamental right. I’m now concerned that the combination of the internet and smartphones may be one of the most dangerous inventions created by mankind if allowed to go unchecked.
Allow me to explain.
As part of my new routine, I’ve been reading “learning” books in the morning. Many of these books reference other books from where they’ve derived their ideas, or used their concepts as a foundation to build upon. My general rule of thumb is that I don’t add a book to my reading list unless it is mentioned in more than a couple of books. One book that consistently appeared in many of the self improvement books I’ve read recently is “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. Naturally, it made it to my reading list and moved quickly to the top given the number of mentions.
To say Think and Grow Rich is a classic is an understatement. It was first printed in 1937, and it’s still relevant 80 years later. That makes it more than a classic. It makes it a timeless treasure.
Back in early 2015, I watched the documentary series, “The Men Who Built America”. It was inspiring to watch how industrialists such as Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Ford transformed America during the late 19th and early 20th century. While it can be debated how much came at the expense of the lower and middle classes, the fact remains that their ideas and the businesses they created had a profound impact felt around the world.
On the whole, I am rather disappointed with the innovation in our current generation. Too much energy and money is spent chasing the latest “quick buck” ideas rather than exceptional breakthroughs. Fortunately, there are two clear exceptions in my opinion – Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
I enjoy following and learning about how they have pursued their passions and built companies around their visions. One of my favorite books from 2015 was “The Everything Store” by Brad Stone. It was a fascinating tale of how Jeff Bezos conceived and built Amazon. When I saw that a similar book had been written about Elon Musk, I knew I had to read it.
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.