I needed a break so Amy and I hopped on a plane and flew down to Hope Town, Bahamas (next to Marsh Harbor – where the airport is) to hang out with some friends. Hope Town is far enough off the grid where my cell phone didn’t work and while our friends had high speed Internet, I couldn’t get my computer configured correctly to use their cable connection so I chilled out instead and gobbled down some books, only occasionally checking my email via the web.
I started with The Real Story of Informix Software And Phil White: Lessons in Business And Leadership for the Executive Team. Steve Martin (no – not the funny guy who played a mean banjo on last night’s TBS special “Earth to America“) has written a thoughtful and balanced account of the rise and fall of Informix Software and its charismatic CEO Phil White. There was a point – in the mid-1990’s – where the real software industry battle was between Oracle, Informix, and Sybase for database dominance. Sybase fell first (they shipped a product that simply didn’t work, missed their numbers, and never recovered). Informix had Oracle on the defensive for a while, but then bought Illustra for $400 million, announced a product that didn’t exist, and then shipped a product that didn’t work. Predictably they missed their numbers and fell apart. In the middle of this, they did a few marginal accounting things which White got caught up in and our friendly, neighborhood government decided to make an example of him. Martin digs beneath the surface and explains the actual accounting and legal issues that tripped up both Informix and White – after reading the book it definitely seems like White got a much harsher treatment than he deserved.
Bootstrapping Your Business: Start And Grow a Successful Company With Almost No Money by Greg Gianforte was next. I was on a panel – with two other VCs – that Greg moderated recently. He started the panel out by asserting that entrepreneurs don’t need venture capital, that VCs add very little to the entrepreneurial ecosystem, and that many VCs are marginal excuses for a collection of protoplasm. Greg has created several successful companies – including RightNow Technologies – and – as the self-proclaimed “nation’s top bootstrapper” – asserts that bootstrapping is the future of business. Once you cut through the hyperbole, the book has lots of good advice for starting and growing a business – which apply to both bootstrapped and non-bootstrapped (e.g. venture-backed) businesses.
Next up was The PayPal Wars: Battles with eBay, the Media, the Mafia, and the Rest of Planet Earth. As a happy PayPal user and sometimes eBay purchaser, I vaguely remembered the rise of PayPal in the collective consciousness. Eric Jackson – Confinity (PayPal’s original name) employee number 27 and the first marketing guy – has written an entertaining book on the creation of PayPal. It’s a quick read that I expect will be an enduring part of the history of the Internet 100 years from now.
I finally gave in to the inevitable and stopped reading business / tech stuff. Stephen Hawking’s new A Briefer History of Time stared imposingly at me with its Salvador Dali clock cover. When I read Hawking’s original A Brief History of Time : From the Big Bang to Black Holes, I only understood parts of it and its half life was about 24 hours. This version promised that it was “The Science Classic Made More Accessible, More Concise, Illustrated, and Updated with the Latest Research.” It lived up to its billing – the pictures were great. I don’t know if it was that I really understood more of the original than I remembered, had a better understanding of physics from Mr. Taylor, my high school AP Physics teacher, or Hawking just did a magnificent job of making this book accessible (ok – it was the latter) – I thoroughly enjoyed A Briefer History of Time and when I put it down, I actually felt like the information would stick with me for at least a week.
I’m out of books and now that I’ve infected our Bahamian hosts with Suduko puzzles via Sudoku Easy Presented by Will Shortz Volume 1 : 100 Wordless Crossword Puzzles, I’ve been reduced to running, relaxing, and blogging about my long weekend.