Hot Seat by Dan Shapiro: A Book Every Startup CEO Should Read

On Saturday, I polished off Hot Seat: The Startup CEO Guidebook. I started it last weekend at the tail end of my Weekend Reading on Startup Communities but four books weren’t in me so I didn’t finish it.

It was excellent and is now on my “all startup CEOs must read” list. My recommended book list for startup CEOs is very long, but there are only three books on the must read list.

  1. Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business by Matt Blumberg
  2. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz

and now #3: Hot Seat: The Startup CEO Guidebook by Dan Shapiro.

All three are from experienced CEOs. Each is a delightful mix of stories, advice, and experiences. They are all contemporary, highly relevant, and fun to read. Regardless of the number of times you’ve been a startup CEO, from having started ten companies to being an aspiring CEO/founder, you will learn a lot from each of them.

I don’t think I’ve ever physically been in the same place as Ben, but we’ve exchanged emails in the past and he was willing to allow me to republish his classic essay The Struggle in the book I wrote with my wife Amy – Startup Life: Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an EntrepreneurIn contrast, I’ve known and worked with Matt since 2001 when I first invested in his company Return Path (well – it’s a little more complicated than just an investment – see my post Return Path Launches Email Intelligence from 2012 where I recounted some of the story.)

Return Path is an extraordinary company that I’m proud to have been involved with for the past 12 years. At our board meeting last week, Matt gave me and Fred Wilson our 12 year anniversary gift – a pair of red Return Path-branded Adidas sneakers. I still vividly remember the phone call Fred and I had where we cut a deal to merge two nascent companies – Veripost and Return Path – in what became Return Path. We cut a deal in 10 minutes – I offered up a 50/50 merger and Fred suggested he wanted a little more since Return Path had raised 3x the money Veripost had. I responded with “how about 55/45″ and Fred said “it’s a deal.”

Matt has become one of my best friends and I treasure every minute I get to spend with him.

Dan is a new friend. The first email I remember getting from him was from 9/3/13, titled My new project: Robot Turtles, and he acknowledges in Hot Seat that it’s the one time he spammed everyone in his address book. I don’t know why I was in his address book, so I asked Dan, and he dug up his very first email to me, which happened to be about the term sheet series that my partner Jason Mendelson and I wrote that lead to our book Venture Deals.

First Email Between Shapiro and Feld

The first substantive email exchange we had was on 3/18/15, as a result of an intro from Ben Huh, the CEO of Cheezburger and another long time friend. We went back and forth on a rapid fire thread about Dan’s newest company Glowforge and the round he was starting to raise. We agreed to terms on a financing on 4/20/15 and closed a $9m financing with True Ventures on 5/8/15, at which point Amy and I went to Paris to celebrate (actually, we just went on vacation for one of our quarterly off the grid vacations.) There were a number of articles around the financing, but the best – and most thorough explanation of the company – was in Natasha Lomas‘s Techcrunch article Seattle’s Glowforge Is Building A Maker Machine To Challenge Amazon Prime.

Suffice it to say that in 75 days, I’ve gotten a good dose of Dan and am having an absolute blast working with him. He’s definitely got a healthy dose of evil genius combined with deep wisdom from being around the startup block a number of times. He’s tireless, intense, but delightfully funny and witty. He’s got extremely broad range as a CEO and entrepreneur, which comes through in his daily activities as well as his writing.

Which brings me back to Hot Seat. Like Matt and Ben’s books, it’s very fast paced. The chapters are short, written in first person, and easy to read. He’s not shy about calling things out clearly, including his own crazy experiences, especially the things he totally fucked up or had no idea about when he first encountered them. His examples are great, including some from mutual friends including Rand Fishkin and Ben Huh. The book is well organized and easy to dip in and out of. He flogs Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalistwhich I put in the flattering special bonus category. And – he’s got great footnotes in each chapter which give you a special dose of his sense of humor.

I hope to get to work with Dan for a long time on Glowforge. But, regardless, I know I’ll be regularly recommending Hot Seat: The Startup CEO Guidebook to every CEO I know.

  • So the corollary is if I can exchange substantial mails with you, I am a future author. Wondering if the former is easier or the latter…

  • I’ve read the first two, based on your prior recommendations — they were extraordinary.

    One word to sum them up: courage.

    I look forward to Dan Shapiro’s take on CEO’ship; hopefully it’ll arrive at some point on Audible.

  • Victor Muthoka

    Just read the TechCrunch article, this is a very exciting machine! Much more useful to the everyday makers in the long run that 3D printers. Looking forward to seeing how it eventually scales.

  • Two down, one to go…

  • Rajesh Chavakula

    nice article

  • panterosa,

    Glowforge, so deeply awesome. Want one. Am almost depressed thinking of all the things I could already have made with one.
    Looking forward to the book too.

  • Summer is approaching. Thanks for the dockside reading list, Brad!

  • Jesse Wendel

    My copy arrived Saturday. Read the book cover-to-cover Sunday. Yes, it’s that good.

    For first-time Founders “Hot Seat” is one of damn few books you MUST read. Doesn’t waste your time; tells you only what you must know and what you must do. Along with “Venture Deals,” Dan Shapiro’s “Hot Seat” is as necessary to founders as seed funding.

    “Hot Seat” spells out the minimum table-stakes and standard practices for early-stage start-ups. If your boss and company isn’t better than this, fix it or join one who is. Give a copy to anyone founding, joining, or working at a start-up. Highly, highly recommended.

    • Wow. Thanks for the kind words, Jesse. This book was the work of nearly five years (about the longest I’ve managed to work on any one project!) so it’s really gratifying to hear that it’s helpful. Much appreciated.