Brad Feld

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Book Review: Starting Something

Aug 18, 2005
Category Books

I’ve read eight books since my last book review – none were notable enough for me to write about (although What the Dormouse Said came close, but Fred Wilson covered it.)  I just finished Wayne McVicker’s book Starting Something: An Entrepreneur’s Tale of Control, Confrontation & Corporate Culture.  It was fantastic.

Wayne was the co-founder of Neoforma – a pre-bubble startup that was one of the early 2000 B2B IPO’s.  It’s peak market cap was over $3 billion – today it is a publicly traded company with a $150m market cap, $3m / quarter of revenue, negative gross margins, a $15m loss last quarter, and about $25m of working capital – basically, a small-cap Internet bubble survivor that has a questionable future.  Wayne left Neoforma in 2001 and spun out a new company called Attainia

Starting Something is Wayne’s story starting at the inception of the concept for Neoforma.  It’s deeply personal and autobiographical – Wayne writes beautifully about his experience.  Each chapter is a month in the story, is artfully titled, typically has one key concept, and has two metrics at the beginning (# employees and valuation) to help you keep pace.  While Wayne changes some names to protect the “innocent” (or not so innocent), the characters are easily recognizable if you are either in the venture business or were in the bay area frenzy at the end of the century.

Unlike so many other “Internet bubble biographies”, this one is full of awesome lessons.  Wayne is clearly a thinker – he’s been able to reflect on his experience and built a coherent narrative that teaches something while telling a great story.  While there are some gossipy sections, they are woven into the story so they actually add rather than subtract from the lessons (yeah – I’ve had enough boom and bust titillation at this point.)

I deeply identified with several stories, both from the perspective of an entrepreneur, angel investor, and a VC.  Wayne tells his tale with a nuance that is precise without being annoyingly insider-ish.  And – in the end – it cycles back around to people and relationships – which is ultimately much more interesting storytelling.

This one – like MouseDriver Chronicles – is a must read for every entrepreneur (both aspiring and practicing).