I am an enormous Ben Mezrich fan – I’ve read almost everything he’s every written. So it’s mind-bendingly exciting to me that he decided to publish his latest work of fiction, titled Q, with our publishing company FG Press.
If you don’t know Ben, his books including Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six MIT Students Who Took Vegas for Millions (the book the movie 21 was based on) and Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History.
But he’s probably most well-known for The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal which was the book that the movie The Social Network was based on.
I first met Ben through my long time friend Niel Robertson, an entrepreneur we’ve backed many times. I met Niel a few months after I made my first angel investment in NetGenesis in 1994 – he was the fifth employee. He went on to fund Service Metrics with Raj Bhargava and Tom Higley, which returned two-thirds of our entire first Mobius fund (I think the technorati are now calling those “Dragons” – this one was a baby Dragon.)
I’m in Boston one day for something and Niel emails me and says, “Hey, do you want to meet Ben Mezrich?” This is after Bringing Down the House but well before The Accidental Billionaire. “Sure, where?” I say. Niel knows me well, so he offers up sushi at some place in the Copley Mall. The next few hours were a really fun intellectual romp.
I haven’t seen Ben since then but our emails have crossed a few times. I love the origin story of Sex on the Moon (hint – Niel and other friends are involved, including Matt Emmi.) And I’ve continued to suck down whatever Ben writes.
Whenever Amy and I talk about the extinction of the human race, she has a very clear point of view on how it will happen. Viruses. That’s it – simple. When the Ebola thing happened a few months ago (hey – why isn’t anyone talking about Ebola anymore – it’s not like it’s solved?) Amy was all over it. As a result, I knew more about what was going on with Ebola than most other things I was exposed to.
Ben appears to have the same fears. AI becoming sentient and evil? Nah – that’s not a big deal. Viruses mutating, having a 75% infection rate, undetermined incubation period, and 75% mortality rate? Now that will mess up the way human society works.
If you are into fiction, what Ben has written, viruses, societal change, stuff that will scare the shit out of you, tragic heroes, slow motion train wrecks, and something that will slow you down and make you think, you’ll love Ben Mezrich’s Q.
And with that, I’ll leave you with a Q&A Ben did with FG Press for the book.
Why and when did you start writing “Q”? Was it because of the Ebola outbreaks? Q is a project I’ve been working on for about a decade, actually. I’ve always been fascinated by quarantine laws—how incredibly fast our world could change if an outbreak of an infectious disease started to truly get out of control. During the SARS epidemic, I started interviewing doctors and specialists and discovered how close we had come to some form of martial law in the United States. The Ebola outbreak just confirmed everything for me, that the response to a disease can sometimes be as terrifying as the disease itself.
How close do you actually think we came to a national quarantine? We were extremely close. For a time, SARS looked like it was going to explode— before it was stopped in Canada. Ebola, as frightening as it is, isn’t SARS. It’s not anywhere near as easy to spread. But with Ebola, the entire world is paying attention in a way it hasn’t before.
Are you a hypochondriac? How much of this do you think is really real? Definitely, I’ve gone through periods in my life where I was extremely crazy about infectious diseases, and I always thought I was coming down with something. At one point, my doctor wouldn’t even see me anymore. I’ve actually calmed down a bit since I’ve had kids, who catch every damn cold that comes around because the reality is, we all get sick, a lot, and it doesn’t do much good panicking about something you can’t control. This is just the world we live in.
There are CDC interviews in the book, but are they real? It looks like you used real names? Are they? I conducted real interviews, but Q is a work of fiction, and none of the names are real, except my own.
Have you put out a digital-only book before? Why do this with FG Press? I’ve never done something like this before. I’ve published fifteen books through traditional means, and have had a great time with them—but I also recognize that there’s this whole, uncharted world, and I wanted to try something new and creative. This is a book about a virus, and I like the idea of putting it out in a way that could go viral. I’m excited to see what FG Press has in store for something that’s a little bit out there, a little bit different.
What was your writing process for this book? Did you research first and then write, research as you go? Did your process differ because it was fiction? I spent a lot of time researching, obsessing, traveling, and trying to understand where we are heading. I was also very inspired by the book Fahrenheit 451, which I reread about twenty times while writing this; when I actually set out to write Q, I tried to get myself into the head of the people who will be on the front lines of the battle with the next true epidemic—the regular cops who will have to come face to face with people spreading the disease, once it truly hits a big city. It won’t be the scientists or the doctors who have to enforce quarantine laws, it will be police officers and EMTs.
You’ve started to write more pure fiction (e.g., “Q” and “7 Wonders”); is this something we can expect to see more of from you? I love both forms, and will continue to write fiction. Q is something I’ve had on my mind for a very long time, and it’s very different from anything I’ve ever written before. After Q, my next big book is nonfiction, a big true thriller that comes out this summer. It’s a bit of a secret right now. I can only tell you the title: Once Upon a Time in Russia. I’m also working on a second children’s book (I published one last year, the first in an Encyclopedia Brown type series, called Bringing Down The Mouse), the second in the Seven Wonders trilogy, and a TV show based on my book Ugly Americans.
If you’ve read this far and still haven’t bought the book, do a friend a solid and grab a copy of Ben Mezrich’s Q right now.
Alongside some private events with EMC, MIT, HBS, and the N2 Conference, we’re doing a few public events which I would like to invite you to. On Tuesday night (10/28) we’ll be at Techstars Boston and on Wednesday night (10/29) we’ll be at Yesware.
10/29 – RSVP for the Yesware event
Charlie and I will be onstage talking about the importance of results and integrity – me from an entrepreneurial perspective and Charlie from his perspective as one of the most accomplished Fortune 1000 CIOs in the world. It’s a dynamic that isn’t often combined and I’m looking forward to exploring the similarities and differences with someone I consider one of my closest mentors and friends (as well as my uncle.)
A big thanks to Techstars Boston (with Foley Hoag) and Yesware for picking up copies of the book for all who attend each event. The book isn’t due to be released until mid-November but book tour has some early release copies of the book which is super fun.
If you’re not in Boston or can’t make it out to the events, here’s a brief overview to whet your leadership literature appetite.
The book is a perspective on leadership disguised as a biography of Wayne Calloway and his time at PepsiCo. Calloway served as an executive at Frito-Lay and PepsiCo for over twenty years and managed to put up some serious numbers. Year-on-year double digit growth for over 20 years which translates to doubling revenue and profit four times over that time frame. The numbers are amazing but the book is about both the leadership vision and nitty-gritty tactics that led to these results. A plus is that the book reads like an oral history of PepsiCo during that time due to the interview based format of the book. A second plus is that this book is the fifth title from FG Press, the publishing house that I co-founded with my Foundry Group partners.
You can pre-order The Calloway Way here.
I love origin stories. Yesterday at the kickoff of Techstars FounderCon, I stood on stage with David Cohen and David Brown as we went through the origin story of Techstars, followed by a build up of what has happened over the past seven amazing years. As the 50+ people working for Techstars stood on the stage at the end, I got chills. Afterwards I got feedback from a number of the 500 people in the audience that it was extremely useful context for them, many of whom joined the extended Techstars network in the past two years.
A few weeks ago, FG Press released the first book in its Techstars series titled No Vision All Drive: Memoirs of an Entrepreneur. It’s written by David Brown and is the origin story of David Brown and David Cohen’s first company Pinpoint Technologies.
If you recognize David Cohen’s name, but not David Brown’s, you have a new David in your world. Brown was one of the four co-founders of Techstars (with Cohen, me, and Jared Polis). A little over a year ago, he joined Techstars full time as one of the three managing partners – the other two being David Cohen and Mark Solon. Brown runs the organization day to day and Solon manages all the fund and capital formation activity.
While I’ve known Brown for seven years, Cohen and Brown have worked together for 25 years. Pinpoint was a self-funded company that was their first entrepreneurial endeavor. Like many other startups, it had many ups and downs but the David’s created a very successful, profitable business that was acquired by ZOLL (a Boston-based public company) in 1999. Brown stayed at ZOLL for a while, left, and then came back and ran ZOLL Data (the division based on Pinpoint) until last year when he finally left for good.
When I read the first draft of No Vision All Drive I immediately realized this was a powerful origin story. It shows the personal and professional development of Brown and Cohen as they grew from two guys trying to figure out how to start their business to leaders of a real company. Brown’s reflections on the experience are detailed and demonstrates his incredible talents as an operator. If you know Cohen, after reading this book, you understand why they are perfect partners and have worked so well together over the past 25 years.
It’s a delight to get to work with both of these guys. No Vision All Drive gave me deep insight into Brown and how to be effective working with him, as well as what to expect in the context of his leadership and management style. And it made me even more optimistic about the future of Techstars.
Our goal with the Techstars Series is to get out a series of books applicable to all entrepreneurs at an affordable price. So, instead of doing the default Kindle $9.99 price, or tying the Kindle price to the hardcover price, we are charging $4.95 for the Kindle version. We know there is no marginal cost to each incremental e-book so we want to provide it at a price that entrepreneurs won’t think twice about, which we pegged at the equivalent of a Starbucks Venti Peppermint Mocha Frappuccino .
If you are interested in origin stories or just want to better understand the guys behind Techstars, I encourage you to grab a copy of No Vision All Drive: Memoirs of an Entrepreneur.
As many of you know, I have a keen interest in the future of digital publishing.
One of the reasons we started FG Press was to give control and transparency back to the authors. Specifically, at FG Press the author gets 50% royalty on all books sold (up from the traditional 15%) and we employ the latest technologies, promotions, and marketing efforts to help the author build a personal audience who they have a direct relationship with. Ultimately, we want to create the foundation for how future long-form content (e.g. books) will be created and consumed as well as how the connections between reader and author will be established and managed.
But what about sales and distribution? It’s not enough to create great content. It’s equally important to get the content into the hands of avid readers. And, from our perspective, link the readers to the authors.
Right now, most readers purchase their ebooks from Amazon. But as Amazon battles Hachette and others, this could change. Amazon has no incentive to move away from their centralized online store where they own the consumer/reader and the data.
As an author, I’ve found Amazon’s lack of transparency on data to be frustrating. I can blame some of this on the traditional publisher, but given what could be possible, everyone falls short. As a reader, I find the lack of connection with the author infuriating. I know some authors don’t want to be bothered, but for the one’s who do, I’d love to interact with them directly. And, as an author who loves to hear from and interact with his readers, I often want to scream when I am confronted with the wall that is “the publishing industry.”
We’ve explored many different approaches. There are hundreds of startups working on a wide variety of things, many of which we are systematically incorporating into our infrastructure at FG Press. I’ve used some of them for my Startup Revolution series with many more coming now that we have a manageable way to deploy them, and a team to make it happen, versus just me in my spare time, which is basically non-existent.
One of these approaches is BookShout, a technology platform which can allow “any site to become a bookstore.” With iOS, Android, HTML5, and web apps, BookShout has created technology to power the sales and distribution of ebooks from nearly any site. It allows authors and retailers to do things that are difficult to do in the current publishing ecosystem, including:
BookShout has also taken the additional step to make sure the content is connected and the distribution is social. As BookShout CEO Jason Illian often says, “Content is king, but viral, connected content is King Kong.”
BookShout’s unique implementation allows every brand or author to use Twitter, Facebook, and other technologies to build audience and naturally stimulate re-occurring purchases and interaction. As an example, not only could Ben Horowitz sell his great book The Hard Thing about Hard Things from the A16Z site (beyond just a banner ad that clicks through to a landing page with a link to Amazon and other places to buy the book), he could also leave notes and create conversations with readers, allow those readers to invite others into the fold, and create new offers and promotions for his next book.
If an e-retailer wants to sell ebooks alongside any of their products on their own site, they can now do so with Bookshout. If a media company wants all of their largest brands to provide ebooks, each brand can build its own community and stay connected around ebooks. If a bestselling author wants to sell her next book from her own site, she now has the tools to generate more revenue and build an audience. Ebay, Urban Outfitters, Nike, James Patterson, NPR, Walmart, Alibaba – they can now each control their own future.
I’m not an investor in BookShout, but I’m a fan and I believe they are on to something big. Look for more from them, and more from us with them.
Around the Foundry Group Offices we’ve been referring to Jane as “Sheryl Sandberg meets Chelsea Handler.” If you happened to catch my interview with Jane during Boulder Startup Week, you know exactly how smart, funny, and authentic Jane is. She’s a great CEO (who just sold Rudi’s Organic Bakery) with an incredible amount of experience on the front lines building and guiding businesses. Her writing style is funny while packing a serious punch.
I first met Jane on a street corner in Boulder in the rain. It’s not that random – my partner Seth Levine knew her and was talking to her when I ran into them. Jane sent me over a draft of the book – I read it in one sitting and loved it. We had just started FG Press and I told her immediately that this is the kind of book we want to publish. Fortunately, she was game to take a chance on us.
We’ve had a great time working together to get the book finished and launched. If you want a taste of the Sleep Your Way to TOP launch party at eTown, take a look.
Get your copy of Sleep Your Way to the TOP here, https://bit.ly/sywtbook, or buy it directly below.
And, if you want to learn a little more about Jane, in her own words, here you go!
Jane Miller’s launch party for her first book (and FG Press‘s second title) Sleep Your Way To The Top And Other Myths About Business Success is happening in Boulder this coming Tuesday, 5/20 at eTown Hall.
Profits benefit the CU Leeds Professional Mentoring Program.
Around the Foundry Group offices we’ve been referring to Sleep Your Way To The Top as “Sheryl Sandberg meets Chelsea Handler.” Jane is an awesome CEO (who just sold Rudi’s Organic Bakery to The Hain Celestial Group) with an incredible amount of experience on the front lines building and guiding businesses. Her writing style is hilariously funny but packs a serious punch.
Jane will reveals the tips and tricks she learned on her journey from small town Illinois girl to shattering the glass ceiling at more than one male-dominated corporation. She’ll cover myths such as:
MYTH: Size Doesn’t Matter
MYTH: You Have Nothing To Learn From Barbie
MYTH: Only Extroverts Win In The Corporate World
MYTH: If She Plays Dirty, Play Dirty Back
MYTH: Bad Guys Are Just In The Movies
Jane offers specific steps and practical advice for grads, pre-grads, and new or seasoned execs. She shows us where it’s easy to get tripped up, who might trick us, and how to make it past the pitfalls on our way to the corner office.
If you’d like to join Jane and the FG Press team for the celebration of Sleep Your Way To The Top’s Book Launch Party – rsvp here: https://janemillerbook.eventbrite.com
I’ll let you know as soon as Sleep Your Way To The Top hits the virtual book shelves or pre-order your copy here: https://bit.ly/sywtbook.