Category: Books

Feb 19 2018

New Book: The Startup Playbook

My longtime friends Rajat Bhargava and Will Herman are launching their new book today. I wrote the foreword and was a reviewer.

I’ve worked with both Raj and Will for over two decades – as a co-investor, co-founder, board member, and co-director. They both are incredibly experienced founders and entrepreneurs, so I was delighted to be involved in their book.

The book is called The Startup Playbook and it’s their personal how-to guide for building your startup from the ground up. In it, you’ll find a collection of the major lessons and shortcuts they’ve learned that will shift the odds of success in your favor as you build your business. They are sharing their tips, secrets, and advice in a frank, founder-to-founder discussion format.

Startups are incredibly difficult, as we all know. In fact, Raj and Will claim that 9 out of 10 of them fail. My view is that is optimistic. Regardless of the odds, Raj and Will focus on the steps that founders can take to improve their chances of success.

Not only do I think that this book is an important read for all founders, but I think founders should hand copies to their startup team. Execs, early employees, and anyone interested in creating or working for a startup can learn a great deal about how to build a startup.

The book is available via Amazon for an introductory price of $0.99 (Kindle version) for its first week of sales.

I know that Raj and Will would love to hear any feedback. Comment here, or email me and I’ll get it to them.

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Jan 21 2018

Pyongyang, Vonnegut, and Depression

Amy and I had another wonderful digital sabbath yesterday.

It started Friday at sundown when I put my computer to sleep. I’m using Inbox When Ready and have locked my inbox from Friday at 6pm to Saturday at 11:59pm. I also put my phone in Do Not Disturb mode for this same time period. While I’m not committed to doing this every weekend in 2018, I’m going to do it most of the time.

I woke up Saturday morning and meditated for 30 minutes. Amy and I then had breakfast and then we retired to the couch to read. I’ve decided that in 2018 when I’m at home I’ll read physical books, since I have an infinite pile of those along with my infinite pile of Kindle books. I scanned my shelves of unread books, picked four that I thought varied widely, and dug in.

I started with Architectural and Cultural Guide Pyongyang. North Korea has been on my mind lately (fathom that), although I had bought this book a few years ago after Eric Schmidt’s trip to in North Korea. It was mentioned in one of the articles I read at the time, but it had been sitting on my shelf since then. It was a fascinating and beautifully done book (well – pair of books). The first was a detailed architectural overview of Pyongyang with official descriptions of all the buildings. The second was a series of essays on different aspects of the architectural and historical dynamics of modern Pyongyang. Everything was otherworldly and mysterious.

I then moved on to If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice to the Young-The Graduation Speeches – a short volume of nine graduation speeches by Kurt Vonnegut. It turns out there is a second – expanded – edition, but I didn’t notice that until after I’d finished and logged the book in Goodreads. I love Vonnegut. One summer over a decade ago I bought all of his books in hardcover, ordered them by publication date, and started working my way through them. In addition to being a delightful writer, Vonnegut was an in-demand and excellent public speaker. Each graduation speech was unique even though there were some lines and jokes repeated. What stuck with me was the contrast between the Beatitudes and the Code of Hammurabi and how Vonnegut applied them to our modern world.

Amy and I had lunch and then took a nap. I went for a run as I’m starting to ramp up again, although I still have some issues with my left calf.

After a shower, I settled into Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope by John Saunders. I’m not a sports fan and never watch ESPN (unless I’m at a Ruby Tuesday or other place where it’s playing on the TV during a meal) so I didn’t know who John Saunders was. I can’t remember who recommended the book to me, but it was in the context of a well-known person’s memoir where they reveal – in depth – their struggles with depression. In a cruel twist, Saunders died before the book was published, but his family bravely supported publishing it posthumously. The book is incredibly intimate, linearly told, but with Saunders going deep on his life. He struggled with depression. sexual and physical assault as a child. continuous racism. endless suicidal ideation, health issues including diabetes, a major brain injury in 2011 from a fall on the ESPN set, and a heart attack in 2014. Through it all, he rose to the top of his field as a sports journalist, with a 30-year career at ESPN / ABC.

After I finished it, I reshelved the fourth, unread book and went to bed. When I woke up this morning, there was snow everywhere.

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Jan 7 2018

My Perfect Saturday of Fire and Fury

Yesterday was a perfect Saturday. I decided to do a digital sabbath so on Friday night at 5 pm I shut down my computer. Amy made a nice small dinner of leftover cauliflower soup with farfalle pasta. We then went downstairs and finished off the Burns/Novick The Vietnam War.

I woke up mid-morning on Saturday. I meditated for a half hour. I had a light breakfast of Dave’s Killer Bread and peanut butter with some coffee. I then grabbed my Kindle, got on the couch near Amy, and dug into Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

I stopped for a brief lunch with Amy and went back to it. I was three-quarters of the way through it by mid-afternoon so I went for a three-mile run, stretched, took a long bath, and then went to dinner with Amy and John Wood. We talked about the great work he was doing at Room to Read, being in our 50’s, the Vietnam War, and Fire and Fury, which John hadn’t started reading yet.

We got home about 8:30 pm. I finished Fire and Fury while Amy read New Yorker’s on the couch, and then we went to bed. When I woke up this morning and checked my email, I saw one from John at 1:01 am that said “Fuck, yeah, this book is a great read! Thanks for recommending!”

That’s how I felt. In general, I don’t read books about current politics. I steadfastly avoid all the manufactured stuff promoting candidates, and generally only dive in when I feel like some history. I did succumb to my curiously last week and read Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, so I was probably ready for Wolff’s book when all the hysteria around it broke on Thursday, including Trump’s lawyer’s very predictable cease and desist letter.

I thought Wolff did a nice job in his Author’s Note at the beginning of the book setting up the context for how he got the material for the book. He acknowledged conflicting stories, deep background talks, and he dealt with the journalistic conundrums he found himself in. The obvious attack approaches being taken to fully discredit Wolff and the book are shallow and not-credible after you read this section.

There’s a remarkable amount of media on the book, which has already soared to bestseller status on all channels. I found it fascinating to read through some of this media, and while occasionally repetitive, like so many things about this administration, the story of the administrations’ reactions to the story is an important part of the story.

Here are some of the better links I found this morning. Skim if you want, but I encourage you to grab and read the book.

Michael Wolff Did What Every Other White House Reporter Is Too Cowardly to Do

The Wolff lines on Trump that ring unambiguously true

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House review – tell-all burns all

In Michael Wolff’s book, the Trump White House is full of intrigue, and out of ideas

Trump boasts that he’s ‘like, really smart’ and a ‘very stable genius’ amid questions over his mental fitness

Fire and Fury confirms our worst fears – about the Republicans

Booked! Trump, staffers who cried Wolff and a week of fire and fury

Trump hits back at Steve Bannon: ‘When he was fired, he lost his mind’

Exclusive: Bannon apologizes

White House adviser Stephen Miller calls Bannon an ‘angry, vindictive person’ over comments in Wolff book

The ‘stable genius’ isn’t even functioning as president

Finally, from a post I wrote in 2015 titled “The Paradox of VC Value-Add” I want to expose one of my deep biases.

“Before I dig in, I need to express two biases. First, whenever someone says “I’m a (adjective) (noun)” I immediately think they are full of shit. When someone says “I’m a great tennis player”, I immediately wonder why they needed to tell me they are great and it makes me suspicious. “I’m a deep thinker” makes me wonder the last time the person opened a book. “I’m a value-added VC” makes me think “Isn’t that price of admission?””

I wonder if there will be a horse named Stable Genius in the Kentucky Derby in the next few years.

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Jan 3 2018

Book: Principles by Ray Dalio

Several people recommended Ray Dalio’s book Principles to me. I read it a few days ago and thought it was spectacular. I’ve gone out and bought a copy for each of my partners and I recommend that every VC, as well as anyone who is building an organization of any kind, buy and read it.

Dalio is famous for his extremely successful firm Bridgewater Associates which is known for its goal of achieving excellence in their work and their relationships through radical truth and radical transparency. The TED Talk below is a good summary, but the book is worth reading in total.

As a bonus, watch Dalio’s great explanation of How the Economic Machine Works.

As I get older, I’m reflecting more on the last 30 years of what has worked for me – and what hasn’t worked – as I codify my own business philosophy around the idea of #GiveFirst. As part of that, it’s a treat to soak in books like Dalio’s, as it stimulates a lot of thoughts around this.

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Dec 21 2017

Book: The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living

This book was a delight. I started reading it earlier this year, caught up quickly (I started in July), and then mostly read a page each day when I was in the bathroom in the morning. I let it unfold slowly, reading the daily quote and Ryan Holiday’s (and Stephen Hanselman’s) thoughts on the quote, and then rereading the quote.

I was near the end so I finished it off last night. I smiled when after I read the December 31 meditation.

Stoicism is fascinating to me. While I don’t categorize myself as anything and try to resist being put in boxes, I like to take elements of different philosophies, religions, approaches, and styles and weave them into the fabric of me. As I was reading The Daily Stoic I found many ideas that spoke to me.

I’ve known Ryan from a distance for a while. We ended up at a dinner together at either SXSW or CES a number of years together and I remember an interesting and engaged conversation. For a while, I subscribed to his monthly Reading List email but in a fit of unsubscribing from everything, I unsubscribed.

I just re-subscribed.

Several times a year, I send a book (or two) to all the CEOs in our portfolio. I sent this one out this fall. I’ve heard back from a few that they enjoyed it, and I’m hoping that most of the CEOs are at least dipping into it.

If you’ve heard any of the names Zeno of CitiumChrysippusCato the YoungerSenecaEpictetusHierocles, or Marcus Aurelius, then you’ve heard of at least one of the famous Stoic philosophers. If you’ve studied any of them, you are in for a treat with this book as it presents Stoicism in a unique and very accessible way.

For a taste of the kind of quotes Holiday and Hanselman riff off of in the book, take a look at the fun Brain Quotes pages for Marcus Aurelius and Seneca.

The book starts with a quote every day on January 1st. You’ve still got a few days to grab a copy from Amazon and start the year out with a daily dose of Stoicism.

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Dec 18 2017

Book: Am I Being Too Subtle?

While I enjoy a good biography of a historical figure, I love autobiographies of living people. They are hit or miss – either awesome or awful.

Sam Zell’s autobiography Am I Being Too Subtle? was awesome. I was sent a copy by an editor at Penguin Group who sends me books, presumably that he thinks I’ll like. While this was in my infinite pile of books, I grabbed it randomly last night and polished it off tonight.

If you’ve never heard Sam Zell talk, here’s a recent short clip of him talking about entrepreneurship and a few other things.

I don’t know Sam Zell. While I only have second-degree connections to him, I’ve known of him for a while and I spent an afternoon touring his apartment in Chicago as part of a Wellesley Art Tour that he graciously opened his house for. So I had a little sense of him.

Whenever I read an autobiography, I’m always curious about the tone the person takes when talking about themselves and what they’ve learned over their life. When it’s consistent with the view I have of the person from a distance, I value the content more, regardless of what the content is. In this case, Zell’s personal reflection mapped pretty well to my impression of him over different short snippets of content from the last 20+ years.

I loved hearing the history of his entrepreneurial evolution, from his origin story in his early 20s to current time 50 years later. He’s had massive successes, but also some very big blunders along the way. While he’s gotten lots of criticism for specific failures like the enormous take private (via a leveraged buyout) – and subsequent bankruptcy a year later – of the Tribune Company, he doesn’t dodge his mistakes in this book. He takes the good with the bad and has a mantra of never taking himself too seriously, which he calls “the Eleventh Commandment.”

“… the Eleventh Commandment acknowledges that we’re all human beings who inhabit the world and are given the gift of participating in the wonders around us – as long as we don’t set ourselves apart from them.” 

Of course, he followed this section by talking about the two stately, well-fed ducks that have their own heated pool and live on a deck outside his office in Chicago.

His love of his early partner, Bob Lurie, who died in 1990 at age 48, really stuck with me. It had an emotional tenor that is similar to my feelings for my partners.

Most autobiographies have some self-deprecation in them, but it often stands out as awkward – almost like the writer was following the autobiography-101 script which says “make sure every now and then you sprinkle in some self-deprecation so you feel more authentic to the reader.” While there were plenty of self-deprecating and even cringe-worthy moments in the book, Zell wove them in with style.

I read autobiographies for the stories, not for historical truth. The stories in this one were great.

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Dec 14 2017

My Goodreads Year In Books

Amy and I love to read. For a number of years, I’ve recorded everything I read on Goodreads. When I write a blog post reviewing a book, I usually (but not consistently …) repost it on Goodreads and occasionally remember to post it on Amazon. Regardless, the definitive log of what I’ve read is on my Goodreads Bookshelf.

Last year Goodreads started doing a fun compilation of all that a user read in the past year with their Year in Books summary.

Brad's 2017 Goodreads Year in BooksMy goal for this year was to read 100 books. I’m at 73. The year isn’t over yet and I typically read a dozen or so books in the last two weeks of the year so we’ll see where I actually end up.

I’ve always been a high rater of books. Instead of 1 to 5, I almost always rate in the 3 to 5 range. I do this because if I don’t like a book while I’m reading it, I stop, and don’t log it.

Not surprisingly my three top genre’s are non-fiction, fiction, and biography. In the fiction category is a lot of science fiction. I’m not sure where the categories came from but in 2018 I’ll do a better job of shelving my books by actual category.

22,201 pages is a lot of pages to read. For perspective, that’s about 60 pages a day of reading. My reading between Kindle and physical book is probably 75% Kindle / 25% physical. When I reflect on Amazon’s impact on my reading (which includes Goodreads), it’s pretty remarkable.

My goal in 2018 will again be 100 books.

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Dec 10 2017

Book: Why We Sleep

As part of v52 of me, I’ve decided to commit to at least eight hours of sleep a night. I’m doing ok, but need to keep working at it.

From my early 20s, until v47, I woke up at 5 am from Monday to Friday. I’d then binge sleep on the weekend, often sleeping 12+ hours on Saturday or Sunday (my record is just under 16 hours of sleep.) When I had a major depressive episode early in v47, I stopped waking up with an alarm clock. For the next six months, I slept over 10 hours a night (often more than 12), every night.

I was extraordinarily sleep deprived. I knew it was bad for me on multiple dimensions, especially my mental health, so since then, I’ve slept until I woke up naturally each morning. Amy and I go to bed early – usually between 9 and 10 pm, so I’m still up between 6 and 7 am on most days.

Several friends, who know I both love to sleep and am intrigued with how sleep works, recommended that I read Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. It was excellent. While my self-assessment of my sleep habits are very positive, I learned a few things. More importantly, I now have a much better understanding of the “Why” surrounding sleep, especially around sleep’s importance to a healthy and long life.

There are a number of things that I’ve done in the past few years that have dramatically improved my sleep. In addition to eliminating alarm clocks from my life, I stopped taking sleep aids (Advil PM, Ambien) except for helping me reset on international travel (and, after reading this book, I’m going to give Melatonin a try for this situation.) I’ve stopped drinking alcohol. I don’t drink any caffeine after noon (and rarely more than one cup of coffee a day.) I take regular afternoon naps – almost every Saturday and Sunday and whenever I’m on vacation. Our bedroom is pitch black and 65 degrees. I started using a Resmed CPAP machine several years ago (I have a mild sleep apnea). I don’t read or watch TV in bed. Finally, a few months before v52, I stopped drinking fluids after 7 pm and have been skipping dinner several nights a week.

While reading this book, I realized how messed up our societal norms are around sleep. Kids needing to get up early in the morning to get to school by 7:30 am is insanity. ADHD drugs, especially in children, is basically doing the exact opposite of what is helpful. Drowsy driving is way more dangerous than drunk driving. Our schools have lots of different kinds of health education (physical, dietary, sex) but virtually nothing on sleep. The 9 to 5 work culture massively disadvantages people we call “night owls.” The macho ideal of a business person who only needs five hours of sleep a night is extremely counterproductive and dangerous, even though many of our visible leaders (business and political) claim they don’t need more than five hours a night.

The author, Matthew Walker, is Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Founder and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science. While the book is thoroughly researched and supported by actual scientific studies that either Walker or his colleagues have done, it’s a very accessible book. I realized, as I was reading through the construction of the 17th experiment he was describing, that I was learning as much about how to do sleep studies as I was learning about the conclusions from the studies.

As a special bonus, the section on Alzheimer’s and cancer was powerful and a profound motivator to anyone who knows someone who has suffered from either of these diseases.

Time for bed.

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Nov 18 2017

Book: The Entrepreneur’s Roadmap – From Concept to IPO

The NYSE recently published a book – The Entrepreneur’s Roadmap – From Concept to IPO that I’ve been involved in. I wrote a chapter and made a number of introductions to the team working on the book that resulted in a number of other chapters.

The book covers a variety of stages of company development, including:

  • The Seed Stage: Starting a Company
  • The Growth Stage: Scaling the Business
  • Late Stage: Preparing for the next chapter
  • The Exit: Strategies and Options
  • Corporate Governance and Other Considerations

It’s free to download in PDF, EPUB, or Kindle.

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Nov 14 2017

Startup Opportunities Available on Audible

The audiobook version of Startup Opportunities: Know When To Quit Your Day Job is now available on Audible.

Unlike the Audible version of Venture Deals, this one was read by Stephen Hoye.

If you like audiobooks, grab a copy, give it a listen, and tell me what you think.

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