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Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days

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Book Overview

Founders at Work tells of the early struggles for independence and acceptance of many of modern technology's giants. Their stories are told through personal interviews that are at times hilarious, at... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Real advice from the frontline trenches of software start-ups

The Summary Jessica Livingston has written an amazing book. If you want to read the stories behind some of the most well known software companies in the last 30 years, you will find it in this book. But Livingston hasn't just covered the usual suspects (Google, Microsoft), she has included a diverse collection from Steve Wozniak (Apple) to David Heinemeier Hansson (37 Signals), Dan Bricklin (Visicalc) to Blake Ross (Firefox). It covers a lot of ground from the early 80's software boom to the Web 2.0 starts ups. But there is more than just stories about starting companies, there is real advice from the frontline trenches of software start-ups. Keep your post-it notes and highlighter handy, if you are like me you will be annotating and highlighting a lot! The Audience If you have ever considered a start-up you should definitely read this book. It's like picking the brains of some very experienced entrepreneurs. Anybody that has already tried their hand at start-ups will recognize the value of this book. Most will probably feel like I did, and wish that they had had this book before they started their first company. It could have saved me many painful lessons (both financially and personally). Reading these interviews is like having 32 mentors. The Details Like many people I am always a little skeptical of `success stories'. Just because someone did x, y and z, doesn't mean that I could follow these very steps and be as successful. Just because Aunt Ethel, who lived to be a 100, attributes her long life to drinking a glass of whisky every day, doesn't mean I can drink a glass of whisky every day and live to be a 100. Instead of a collection of fluffy `creation myth' stories written about software companies, Livingston has put a lot of thought into how she approached these interviews and has collected some real gems of insights from these entrepreneurs. She has uncovered a gold mine of valuable advice and information about starting a company. As you read these stories you start to see some patterns emerging. Some of these patterns I recognize from my own experiences, but others were new to me. Sometimes you see contradictory advice from different founders; one tells you, you need to focus on the technology and somebody else explains that it's more important to focus on business/market opportunity. There are definitely multiple paths to starting a company, but some advice is repeated story after story, and these seem to be universal truths. The Ideas Here are some of the universal truths that I culled from the interviews: - Iterate through ideas, the first idea isn't always the best - Business plans are important - but be prepared to change it many times - You need to be naïve - "unencumbered by reality" - Persistence makes all the difference - Passion - you need to be really excited about what you are doing and think it's really important - Understand and listen to your end users The book is full of ideas and advice like this. The Take-Aways O

A must read for anyone involved with technology

This is an absolute must read if you're job, your passion, or both (if you're lucky) has anything to do with creating technical innovation. "Founders at Work" is a wonderfully meander through the stories of successful company founders - across several decades. Far from focusing on just those who made it big during the first dot-com boom or those who are profiting from Web 2.0, Jessica also includes some of the true pioneers in the field. She recognizes that, not only do these industry veterans have valuable stories to convey but, since many of them are helping to steer companies and venture capital funds to this day, their advice is quite topical and current. From the great introduction right through the final interview, this book is packed with great anecdotes, advice, and information and inspiration. Makes you wonder as to what the story is behind the story - how did Jessica get unfettered access to such a broad array of the founding fathers? I've included some illustrative quotes from the book below. Give them a read and then go pick up this book. The printed copy is a bargain and the e-book version is a steal. It may turn out to be one of the best investments you ever make. * "You guys are nuts. Throw out your business plan. Your customers--or potential customers - are telling you what your business should be. The business plan was only used to get you the money. Why don't you rewrite a business plan that is focused just on providing what your customers want?" - Q.T. Wiles advice to Charles Geschke (Cofounder, Adobe) on the real purpose of a business plan * "There were some warning signs. Consider McKinsey, which holds itself out as one of the world's leading repositories of knowledge on how to manage a business. They say they'll never grow their company by more than 25 percent per year, because otherwise it's just too hard to transmit the corporate culture. So if you're growing faster than 25 percent a year, you have to ask yourself, `What do I know about management that McKinsey doesn't know?'" - Philip Greenspun (Cofounder, ArsDigita) on scaling corporate culture * That [not improving core product quality] was probably the biggest mistake we made. And that's the advice I give everybody. All those little coupon schemes, this is what General Motors does. They figure out new rebate schemes because they forgot all about how to design cars people want to buy. But when you still remember how to make software people want, great, just improve it. - Joel Spolsky (Cofounder, Fog Creek Software) * "I think some people slept; I know I didn't sleep at all." - Max Levchin (Cofounder, PayPal) * "There were times when we were really broke before we had our angel investment, when only one guy who had children was getting paid." - Caterina Fake (Cofounder, Flickr) With nearly 21 of the 32 interviewees having the term "Cofounder" in their titles, Joel Spolsky's advice seems perhaps to reflect best on what was critical to the success of these companies.

Candor at Work

I've been anticipating Jessica Livingston's "Founders at Work" for some time, and I have not been disappointed. Livingston, one of the partners at angel capital firm Y-Combinator, has a genuine knack for painting captivating portraits of the people behind the most renowned startups, many of which grew up to be global behemoths. And the most humbling part of this collection of tales is the raw humanity, the candor that Livingston elicits from the interviewees: these are people who had their trepidation, had their hard knocks, and persisted even when things weren't fair but were instead very dark. In other words, this book achieves what Bob Walsch's "Micro-ISV" set out to achieve: to equip those who would follow in the footsteps (or, dare I say, stand on the shoulders) of these giants with an honest account of what it takes. Where Walsch, it may be argued, offers more tangible advice on putting together a business, Livingston gives us a sizable collection of stories that are no less useful and which actually inspire to a greater degree. In short, this book is just what the fledgling entrepreneur needs. It is packed with riveting, sometimes terrifying, stories that unfolded behind the scenes of gloss-print ads and suits at a podium. Real-life startup chutzpah mod Bob Walsch equals Jessica Livingston's beefy collection of startup accounts. And even those less inclined to run out and found their own business will find more than enough close-calls, intrigue, and American gumption to satisfy. A whole-hearted recommendation.

Amazing stories & truly inspiring

I'm the founder of an early-stage startup, and I can wholeheartedly say that this book has enlightened me. The usual problem with books of this vein is that the author only has one core idea and then fluffs it up to get 300 pages. Founders@Work however is like reading a pile of books written by successful founders, each with their own insights and tidbits of useful advice. You end up reading these real-life, down-to-earth stories about the early days at Apple and Yahoo and PayPal, and you're seeing you and your co-founder right there. Hey! I code in a towel sometimes too! They aren't telling you the glorified stories their PR guys tell them to say. This is the real deal. It's awfully inspiring. I would HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone who is thinking of starting, or is currently running a startup.

Back story narratives, lots of information, easy to read

1) I often hear advice in the form 'Do this' or 'Do not do that.' I have a hard time internalizing that kind of advice because it's hard to remember. This book tells the stories behind the advice, which is more entertaining and easier to internalize. 2) This book is meaty. It's 400 pages of small print, so there is a lot of information. 3) It is easy to read in a random access fashion. Each chapter stands on its own, and each page has it's own question and answer in the dialog. 4) You get the back stories. I read many things about Fog Creek and Viaweb that I never knew[..].
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