As Amy and I settle into our time in Homer, we spent a lot of last weekend (and the evenings) reading. We don’t have a TV up here, so our lying around entertainment is reading with some bonus knitting time for Amy.
I’ve been working my way through the books at the upcoming Authors and Innovators Business Ideas Festival and got through three of them so far. I also read a near-final draft of John Minnihan’s upcoming book and The Impossible Long Run: My Journey to Becoming Ultra by Janet Patkowa.
But, the best book of last weekend was Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber by Mike Isaac. It’s the first major book about the story of Uber, by a New York Times writer who has covered tech (and Uber) for a long time.
It’s incredibly fast-paced. It’s in the same category of a number of other “first major book about an emergent important company by a journalist” including Bad Blood (Theranos) by John Carreyrou and The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick.
While I knew over 80% of the content in the book, having it strung together in a time sequence, with emphasis on key activities that happened at the same time, or influenced other future actions, was critical to the narrative and extremely well done by Isaac. While some of it had a reporter flavor, most were non-judgmental and let the activities stand on their own. Periodically Isaac would nudge you toward a conclusion, but most of the time he let you take your view where you wanted from the context provided.
It’ll be interesting to see where Uber is in a decade. In the meantime, reflecting on how it got to where it is today is fascinating.
Amy and I arrived in Homer this evening for some time in a different place. We are TV-free up here, so that means, well, books.
She fell asleep early so I finished off The Bookish Life of Nina Hill which I had started several weeks ago but got distracted and read a few other things. The distraction was more a function of being in Boulder, surrounded by physical books which I read, in contrast to being in Homer with my Kindle, where I simply picked up on the last thing I had been reading.
This was a fun book. The protagonist, Nina, loves books, schedules “nothing” for Thursday nights so she can go home and read, and works in a bookstore. While she gets along with people, her favorite thing in the world is to be home alone reading a book. Sound like someone you know?
It covers Los Angeles, books, romance, endless book and movie references, trivia quiz competitions, books, a cat named Phil, a recently discovered family, and David Hasselhoff. Like good contemporary fiction, it moves quickly, the protagonist (Nina) is super-awesome-hilarious-complicated, and time disappears for a while and then suddenly the book ends.
But the backstory of the book is even more entertaining. The author, Abbi Waxman, shares the last name with David Waxman, who is a partner at TenOneTen Ventures. Oh, and they are married. While I’ve never met Abbi, I’ve known David since the late 1990s when I was on the board of PeoplePC and he was a co-founder. Foundry is an LP in TenOneTen and it’s been fun to work with David again after a long hiatus.
I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that David’s wife, like my wife Amy, was a writer. It popped up a few times over the years, but it never stuck in my brain. Over the summer, when Amy and I were having dinner with Nick Grouf (David’s co-founder at PeoplePC) and Shana Eddy, it came up again when one of Nick or Shana (I can’t remember which) recommended The Bookish Life of Nina Hill. Dots were again connected, and the circle now included Amy.
On the plane today, as Amy was reading my Kindle over my shoulder, she said “didn’t someone recommend that book to us?” which then prompted a fun conversation about Nick, Shawn, David, and the mysterious Abbi who I hope to someday meet.
While that backstory was merely a lame approximation of the fun tangling of characters in Abbi’s book, it seemed fitting to unroll it that way.
If you like fiction, books, Los Angeles, stories about interesting characters, and a few plot twists, go grab The Bookish Life of Nina Hill.
And, just like that, I’m off to bed …
I’m keynoting the Authors and Innovators Business Ideas Festival on 10/24/19 at the UMASS campus in Newton, MA.
As a writer, I’m excited to see events like this happening. When I got the invite from Larry Gennari, I was delighted that it overlapped with a Wellesley College board meeting that Amy was attending. So, while we won’t be together (she’ll be in Wellesley and I’ll be in Newton), we’ll be near each other.
The other authors presenting are:
- Donna Hicks (Harvard Univesity): Leading with Dignity
- Gerald Kate (Boston College): The Technology Fallacy
- Dan Albert (Cox Automotive): Are We There Yet?
- Tom Davenport (Babson College): The AI Advantage
- Gary Pisano (Harvard Business School): Creative Construction
- Jonathan Gruber (MIT): Jump-Starting America
- Karen Mills (Harvard Business School): Fintech, Small Business & the American Dream
- Jules Pieri (The Grommet): How We Make Stuff Now
I just bought all the books on Amazon so my Kindle is extra loaded up for my trip to Alaska at the end of the week.
David Cohen and I will be at the Fort Collins Barnes and Noble from 6pm – 8pm on Tuesday 9/10/19 to sign copies of the 2nd Edition of Do More Faster: Techstars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup.
Over the next few months, we’ll be doing a handful of public appearances around the book. It’s the first book I wrote and – with David – really learned how to write a book almost a decade ago.
We freshened up the 1st Edition with some new stories, lots of context and history around the evolution of Techstars, updates on where the entrepreneurs highlighted are today, and some other nuggets throughout the update.
When Do More Faster originally came out in 2010, there were three Techstars accelerators (Boulder, Boston, and Seattle) with a fourth about to launch (New York). Today, there are 50 active Techstars accelerators happening each year, located in 13 different countries. In addition to funding 500 companies per year (10 per accelerator), Techstars also runs a number of other activities, including Startup Weekend, Startup Week, a number of corporate innovation initiatives, and a set of Ecosystem Development programs based on work surrounding my book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City.
Whenever I ponder it, I get great joy from reflecting on how much progress Techstars has made from 2010 and, more importantly, the amount I’ve learned about entrepreneurship through my involvement with Techstars.
If you are near Fort Collins, Colorado on Tuesday night (9/10/19), come hang out with me and David at Barnes & Noble, 4045 S College Ave, Fort Collins, CO 80525.
Over the summer, I’ve been exploring Buddhism. I’m focused on it as a philosophy, not as a religion, but decided that reading a broad survey book that covered the history of Buddhism from multiple angles – historical, philosophical, and religious, might be interesting.
I stumbled up Buddhism 101: From Karma to the Four Noble Truths, Your Guide to Understanding the Principles of Buddhism at Explore Booksellers in Aspen. I grabbed it along with a few other books (something I do every time I enter a bookstore) and observed it sitting on my living room book table over the summer.
When we came back to Boulder, I carried a few books back with me including Buddhism 101. I’d started it and read bits of it but took a few hours on the couch this afternoon after my run and polished it off.
It’s a great survey guide to Buddhism. The chapters are short, very accessible, and remarkably clear. I’m sure some of the historical stuff will drift away from my memory, but the broad arc of the evolution of Buddhism and a reinforcement of the principles against this historical backdrop is now a solid base that I can build on.
If you have a meditation practice, a friend who is a Buddhist, or are just interested in having more than a millimeter deep understanding of Buddhism, this book will get you to two millimeters. And you’ll understand, after reading it, why there’s no value in getting attached to the number of millimeters.
I didn’t read much last month, but I got an email this morning from someone who mentioned that I’d like Greg Egan’s Permutation City. I read it in April when I was in Japan on my Q219 Vacation with Amy but never really blogged much about it.
All three of these books are outstanding. They are all near term science fiction, with extraordinary world-building dynamics, and complex time narratives.
While Neal Stephenson is possibly the best world builder in the entire fiction genre today, both Blake Crouch and Greg Egan are in the same category. Some people find Stephenson’s world-building overwhelming, but as a fast reader, I’ve learned how to skim through parts while absorbing the essence of what is going on. Interestingly, this technique isn’t required for Crouch but occasionally is needed with Egan.
All three books incorporate the concept of recursion in very foundation ways. Everyone studying computer science learns the magic of recursion very early on, often through the factorial example, listed below for fans of Scheme, just to bring back memories of 6.001.
(define (factorial x)
(if (= x 0)
(* x (factorial (- x 1)))))
While Crouch hits you over the head with it in the beginning, Egan spends about 100 pages getting you ready for it. Stephenson probably takes about 200 pages before you start getting a feel for it. But, by the last quarter of each book, you are deep, deep, deep, deep, …
I thought each book ended extremely well. For all three, I found myself staying up late reading, which is always a sign the book has grabbed me since my bedtime since I was ten has been 10 pm.
While summer reading time is almost over, you’ve still got a few weeks for one of these if you want to explore the literary equivalent of a Sierpiński triangle.
I recently met Renata George through a referral from Katie Rae (MIT Engine CEO, previously Techstars Boston MD). Renata told me about a book she was working on called Women Who Venture and asked me if I’d write the foreword.
I was honored to be asked to do this. The foreword I wrote follows. The book is out and available now in hardcover and on the Kindle.
As an avid writer and reader, I feel that a book is a unique medium that serves a different purpose than the other written media that we consume regularly. A book can display a variety of perspectives at once, providing enough details on the subjects it explores, while giving us space to contemplate.
When Renata George told me she was going to write a book about Women Who Venture, featuring around a hundred female investors of different generations, I immediately said I’d be supportive. Renata told me that she wanted to do in-depth individual interviews, to both learn and explain the true state of affairs in the venture capital, while celebrating women who best reflect this industry.
The existing bias in the venture capital industry is multidimensional and implicates career challenges not only for women, but also for other underrepresented groups. Many of the investors interviewed for this book, offer advice and solutions to address this issue. Their ideas are bold, opinions are candid, and the narrative sometimes goes against what we are used to reading in popular media.
Having unconventional perspectives to consider is helpful in understanding what true diversity looks like. By being exposed to it, we can identify particular actions that each of us, male or female, can take to generate positive change. It’s the critical mass of all the tiny changes that we can each make daily, that will eventually change the perception, and reality, of diversity in venture capital.
This book is an essential read for aspiring female venture investors who want to be inspired by the life stories of women who made it all the way to the top in venture capital. It is also a valuable resource for male investors interested in increasing diversity. Institutional investors can benefit from learning more about their investees, as well as find new general partners to consider investing in. Finally, entrepreneurs can benefit from the book by learning how the investors featured in it make investment decisions.
Fixing the diversity problem in venture capital will take a long time and require a continuous and steady pace of activities and changes. With Women Who Venture, Renata is helping us all along that journey.
One of my guilty pleasures is reading biographies about financiers and their companies. On Saturday, I gobbled down King of Capital, which is the story of Steve Schwarzman and Blackstone from inception through 2011.
While I’ve never met Schwarzman, I’ve had a handful of experiences with Blackstone, mostly with the Blackstone Foundation and the head of it, Amy Stursberg. The two most notable are the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network Colorado and the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars. Both have been great and impactful organizations and Amy has been a delight to work with.
King of Capital was a really useful book to read on a number of levels. One thing it reminded me of was to read histories of contemporary organizations that were written in the past. While 2011 is only eight years ago, it’s a lifetime in the world of finance, private equity, venture capital, and business. And, the history, stretching back to the 1970s is literally a lifetime (at least for me, who was born in 1965.)
Numerous quotes stood out, but I’m highlighting a few that I thought were spectacular for various reasons. The first is from David Rubenstein (Carlyle Group co-founder – one of Blackstone’s competitors) in 2006.
“Inevitably when people look back at this period, they will say this is the golden age for private equity because money is being made very readily,” Carlyle’s cofounder David Rubenstein told an audience at the beginning of 2006. It was indeed private equity’s moment. That year private equity firms initiated one of every five mergers globally and even more, 29 percent, in the United States. Blackstone’s partners, though, had decidedly mixed feelings about the bonanza. They began to worry that the market was overheating.
2006 was still the pits for venture capital, although a number of legendary companies (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) were in their early phases of getting started. If you were a seed or early stage investor during this time (+/- two years) your returns over the next decade would be epic. However, existing venture investors were massively withdrawn and LPs were piling money into PE firms, not VC firms. And, as we all know, the future for PE and the global economy was about to get really scary.
By early 2007, “we told our [investors] that, notwithstanding the fact that everyone else thinks it’s a fantastic time, the economy is rocking, there are no problems, we’re pulling back,” says James. “We’re not going to be investing, we’re going to be lowering the prices, we’re going to be changing the kinds of companies that we’re going to buy, because when everything feels good and you can’t see any problems, historically you’ve been near a peak.”
That’s a quote from Tony James, who was the #2 at Blackstone for a number of years. I’ve had one meeting with him and he was incredibly impressive.
“It’s not that you see problems coming. You never see problems coming at that point, or no one would be giving you ten times leverage,” James says with hindsight. “There are no clouds on the horizon. What you see is too much exuberance, too much confidence, people taking risks that in the last 145 years wouldn’t have made sense. What you say is, this feels like a bubble.”
And then, a year later, the global finance crisis was in full bloom. Two years later (2009) there were predictions that all of capitalism would fail, every financial institution would be nationalized, and life as we know it would be over.
That obviously didn’t happen. But it was a rough period for a number of years, in which VC and PE swapped places for a while (VC became trendy), but are both now synchronized again in being extremely successful asset classes, while everything seems great and there are no clouds on the horizon.
I read Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things last weekend. This is the third time I’ve read it. It gets better each time. If you are a CEO and you haven’t read it, buy it right now and read it next weekend.
There are endless gems in the book, many of them from Ben’s own experience. My favorite of all time, that stays with me through all the work I do, is his distinction between “peace time” and “war time.”
I think the first time he wrote about this was in his post in 2011 titled Peacetime CEO/Wartime CEO. There has been plenty of commentary on the web about it (see The Myth of the Wartime and Peacetime CEO, which really only says a CEO has to be effective in both wartime and peacetime to be successful.)
Ben has an incredible rant in the post that starts off with:
Peacetime CEO knows that proper protocol leads to winning. Wartime CEO violates protocol in order to win.
The rant is worth reading every single word, but I want to highlight and comment on a few of my favorites.
The first one is:
Peacetime CEO always has a contingency plan. Wartime CEO knows that sometimes you gotta roll a hard six.
BSG fans know about rolling a hard six even though the definition is contested by pilots who think non-pilots confuse planes with dice. In wartime, the odds are often very against you. Sometimes you just have to get lucky.
Another one that I love is:
Peacetime CEO strives for broad based buy in. Wartime CEO neither indulges consensus-building nor tolerates disagreements.
Things during wartime are intense. Decisions have to be made quickly. Many will be wrong, need to be overturned, and new decisions have to be made. Sitting around arguing about what to do simply doesn’t work. Get all the ideas out on the table, but then choose. And then execute like crazy.
Peacetime CEO sets big, hairy audacious goals. Wartime CEO is too busy fighting the enemy to read management books written by consultants who have never managed a fruit stand.
Your big hairy audacious goal in wartime is not to die.
As an investor, I’m involved in some companies operating in peacetime and others in wartime. There’s a lot of emotional dissonance during the day as I go back and forth between them. I’ve learned how to be calm in both modes and deal with my emotions outside the context of interacting with CEOs, founders, and leaders. But, Ben’s metaphor of peacetime vs. wartime has been so incredibly helpful to me as an investor in identifying what mode I’m in that I should probably get him some sort of a gift as a thank you.
I had surgery recently and a few friends, including Chris Moody and Sarah Ahn, gave me some books as gifts. They knew I’d be spending a lot of time on the couch either napping or reading, so my pile of infinite books to read became more abundant with a few good ones including The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates.
While I’ve met Melinda’s husband Bill a few times, but I’ve never spent any time with Melinda. I know plenty of people who know her or work for her and have overlapped with a few organizations that we both support. However, after reading The Moment of Lift, I feel like I now know her. And, she is awesome.
The book is a combination of a memoir, a manifesto, a case study, and a roadmap. While it uses the backdrop of empowering women as the framework, it genuinely addresses how empowering women can change the world.
In the current entrepreneurial climate of “changing the world” and “making a dent in the universe”, this is the first book that I’ve read in a while that really hit home on these issues. I’ve felt discouraged recently by the tenor of the entrepreneurial discussion, where phrases like “changing the world” have become cliches and are really an entrepreneurial proxy for “making a lot of money.” While I don’t object to that, I get tired of the optimistic language as a shield, rationalization, or misdirection for the real underlying motivation.
Melinda turns this on its head in The Moment of Lift. The examples she gives are real examples of changing the world through foundational activities for women, mostly led by women, and supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She devotes a chapter to each of the following topics:
- Maternal and Newborn Health
- Family Planning
- Girls in Schools
- Unpaid Work
- Child Marriage
- Women in Agriculture
- Women in the Workplace
Buried in the middle of the book is an intensely personal chapter about Melinda’s own journey. Her level of self-awareness, humility, and discovery reinforced her awesomeness, and created my own moment of lift while reading the book.
Melinda, both personally, and through her work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation inspire me. It was a perfect book to read while healing. Thanks Chris and Sarah for the gift.