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.
I got a lot out of the book Same Side Selling by Jack Quarles and Ian Altman. It was one of my Must Reads in 2015 and one of my top business books to read for 2016. What I liked most about their approach was that, unlike most sales books, they don’t focus on driving the client to ‘yes’. They encourage you to examine your business model’s strengths and weaknesses, understand what customer problem(s) your solution or product solves, and identify your target clients. As I wrote back in July 2015, they don’t teach closing techniques:
Instead, they take a long-term view to the sales process and drive the delivery of value to the customer as the basis for a long-term relationship.
In other words, they propose an approach where the seller offers value by working together with the buyer to build a solution, or offer a product, that solves a buyer’s specific problem.
Given how much I liked the book, I decided to grab a copy of Altman’s Upside Down Selling.
Between my recreational, science fiction reads, I like reading books to brush up on product and business development, software development techniques, management and leadership skills, and business strategy. Strangely enough (tongue in cheek), the emails I get from Amazon are either full of sci-fi books or business books. Therefore, I was not surprised when UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products that People Want by Jamie Levy showed up in my Amazon recommendations. Since I work with clients on product development strategies, as well as potential product ideas for my business, UX Strategy looked like it had a lot of potential. The strong reviews on Amazon certainly didn’t hurt its cause, so I added it to my short list of books for 2016.
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.
Given how often management theories change and evolve, there are very few “classic” management books. High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove qualifies as one. For those who are unfamiliar with Andrew (Andy) Grove, he was one of the founders of Intel Corporation, became its CEO in 1987, and served as Chairman of the Board from 1997-2005. He was an instrumental figure in many of Intel’s business strategies, particularly the decision to change Intel’s focus from memory chips to microprocessors. In other words, Andy Grove is synonymous with Intel. Even today, a lot of the business practices, strategies, and culture of Intel are a reflection of his philosophies of building and running a successful 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.
I’ll admit that I’ve been a long-time admirer of Southwest’s business model. As I’ve written in the past, they are a model of operational efficiency. I’ve always experienced top notch customer service, both on the ground and in the air, when I’ve flown with them. Their fares are always competitive, and often the lowest on the routes they fly. I’ve been impressed with Southwest as both an observer of their operations and as a passenger on their planes.
I got my first exposure to them through a case study I read in the mid-nineties while in business school at UCLA. The case study exposed and dissected their operational efficiencies. Shortly thereafter, as I began traveling regularly for business, I got to experience the flight experience first hand. I would watch with interest how quickly they would turn planes when they landed. I would notice how the little things they did allowed them to best the competition – things such as open seating, flying 737’s exclusively, handling their own reservations, and flying to the smaller airports in a city. I’ve always been interested in learning more about how the company was run.
A couple of years back while reading The Startup Playbook, one of the interviews in the book mentioned Nuts by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg. It was presented as a way to learn how Southwest has used culture to build a great company and to deliver outstanding service. Given my desire to learn more about Southwest’s business practices. I added it to my reading list. It took some time, but it finally reached the top.
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.