Book: No Better Time

Stack of recently read booksI’ve been reading a lot lately. On an almost daily basis, someone out in the world sends me a physical book, which I love. While I have something like 500 unread books on my Kindle, I still love laying on the couch reading a physical book. So the stacks of books that show up keep me company and I chomp through them whenever I need a break from everything else.

Yesterday I read No Better Time: The Brief, Remarkable Life of Danny Lewin, the Genius Who Transformed the Internet. It was awesome and I recommend it for any entrepreneur out there either working on a company or thinking about starting a company.

If you don’t recognize the name Danny Lewin there are two big things to know before you dive into this book. First, he was the co-founder of Akamai Technologies (NASDAQ: AKAM – currently valued at $8 billion.)  Second, he was likely the very first person to die in the 9/11 attack.

There are lots of other interesting and unexpected things to know about Danny before you start the book. He was born in Denver. His parents made aliyah to Israel when he was a young teenager. He was built like a tank and was a member of Israel’s Sayeret Matkal. He longed to be at MIT.

Akamai’s original name was Cachet Technologies. They entered, but didn’t win, the MIT $50K competition in 1998. As a judge for the MIT $50k until 1996, there were always a lot of VCs hanging around. In this case, however, the only VC who truly had conviction to get behind Akamai was Todd Dagres – then of Battery Ventures, now of Spark Capital.

Akamai was an amazing pre-Internet bubble story. From nothing to IPO in less than 18 months, a market cap of > $20 billion, followed by a 99% decline in the stock price post-bubble. Over the last decade, however, they’ve demonstrated that they have a real business, now valued at $8 billion with Q313 revenue of $396m, Q313 GAAP Net Income of $80m, and cash flow from operations in Q313 of +$158m. Not bad for a company that was written off completely a decade ago.

This is the story of the creation of that company. And the people behind the creation, mostly notably Lewin. The author, Molly Knight Raskin, writes beautifully, deeply, and thoughtfully. She combines an origin story (for Akamai), a coming of age story (for Lewin), and a tragedy (for Lewin, his family, his extended family, and Akamai.) While the tragic ending, which comes much to early, is the end of the book, it’s short (less than 10% of the book), appropriate in its level of drama, and helps us process the amazing life that Lewin lived.

I’m tired of the classic boom bust popular media story arc of “hero emerges from nothing, the hero does amazing things, bad things happen and the hero crashes, watch how the hero is no longer a hero, the hero fights and claws his way out of the cellar and rises again to be a hero.” This is not one of those books. Instead, it’s a great biography of an entrepreneur, his company, and his all too short life.

  • Hey! I recognize that book at the bottom of your pile 🙂

    • Indeed you should!

  • Saul_Lieberman

    hmm… who’s the coach? (typo alert)

    • Typo being fixed now.

  • There are a few Internet unsung heroes. Danny Lewin is one of them.

    I remember well the Akamai hey days, back in the day.

  • Adding to the list!

  • tyronerubin

    Thanks @bfeld:disqus , just put No Better Time in my cart, any other recent recommends?

    Some recent reads on my side

    – Remote = finding it okay, not absolutely loving it, yet..

    – David and Goliath = love all of Gladwell.

    – Startup CEO = wealth of knowledge.

    – Hatching Twitter = very entertaining.

    – An Astronaut’s Guide to Life = Started last night and looks to be outstanding.

    – Creative Confidence = also just starting now.

    – The Everything Store = loving it!

    – Difficult Men = for any tv junkie.

    – The Lean Entrepreneur = great lean startup literature.

    – Trust Me, I’m Lying = great PR read.

    – Without Their Permission = nice read.

    • Good list – thx. More reviews coming. I read Hatching Twitter last night.

      • tyronerubin

        do you speed read or just read super super fast?

        • I just read super super fast. Always have.

          • Douglas Cezar

            Do you have tips on reading super fast? How do you know you have understood enough? I feel I’m missing something if I read fast but I’m afraid it’s just a bad habit to read slow. There are tons of books I wish I could read, I’ve a handful of them on my kindle.

          • tyronerubin

            speed reading insights would be amazing.
            and thanks @bfeld:disqus for the continued book recommends.

          • I don’t really have any tips – I don’t have any special skills here, I just have already read fast with high comprehension. I never did any training.

  • RBC

    Was just coming to your blog today to send a link about disrupting/rethinking publishing. This looks like a very good idea:

  • Klever

    Brad, I’ve enjoyed reading your posts, particularly as I move into startup CEO mode. I was there at Akamai in the very early days (1999 through when we became profitable in 2004). Superb group of people and Danny was indeed a superstar among superstars. A ‘titan’.

    • Awesome – that must have been a powerful experience / time to be there.

      • Klever

        It was – both during the heady days and also after 9/11 when we had to completely change in order to survive. Not surprisingly, our first two hires at Klever are very early Akamai employees who know what it takes to take a powerful idea and disrupt existing businesses by scaling based on what customers want and need.