Welcome to the Startup Edition of Book Club, where we will explore books about launching tech companies. As you may be aware, I launched a startup company in October of this year, only to have it disintegrate by December. Although the lessons in these books did not prepare me for the specific issues that led to the company’s demise, they taught me enough that I cannot wait to dive right back in as soon as I find the right opportunity for me.
The previous article in this series was about DevOps.
All of the books listed are available in audiobook; my preferred reading format.
Book 1: The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
Written by: Eric Ries
This book is, essentially, the bible of startups. If you want to join or start a startup you NEED to read it; it will teach you almost everything you need to know to start a tech company. It was recommended to me by Dr Ian McDonald when I worked at Microsoft, and after reading it I was hooked. I wanted to create a product, I wanted to start a company, and I wanted to use my technical skills to change the world. This is the book that defined the idea of a “Minimal Viable Product” (MVP), getting the earliest working version of your product into the hands of customers so that you could find out if you were actually solving their problem or not (i.e. does your product have value). This book is a step-by-step guide and covers a huge array of topics and activities when starting a company and creating a useful product that people actually want. Even if you aren’t going to start a company, I highly recommend this book; it was fascinating and exciting to listen to.
Book 2: Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business
Written by: Matt Blumberg
I suggest only reading this book if you are starting or joining a startup, but if you are, you should 100% definitely read this book. Matt Blumberg gives an in-depth and illuminating explanation of how to run and scale up a successful startup, and also how to be a fair and good CEO. Quite frankly, after reading this book, I think most people would dream of working for a person like Matt; the respect he has for his team is woven into every part of the book. Matt details everything you need to know to be a CEO, and then some: from the very high level, to the minute details. I would not characterize this book as “exciting,” instead I would say it is informative, reflective and high-quality.
Book 3: Rework
Written by: Jason Fried, David Heinemeier Hansson
I didn’t like this book at all. I know that I said I would only cover books that I liked and that would be helpful to my readers, and that is why I’m covering it; I think it could be helpful.
Negative: I felt that this book had an overall tone to it of superiority, as though the writers feel that they know better than the rest of the industry. I also felt like they have had a lot of luck involved in their story, which they did not acknowledge at all, and I didn’t like that either.
Positive: They had a lot of cool ideas about how to run a company, focusing on modern workplace strategies like remote work and other strategies to ensure you don’t burn out your employees. They also pushed back against the idea that you have to run a company “like this” or “like that” and that founders should run things in the way that is best for them; I liked that too. The writers are clearly very intelligent, experienced, and successful.
But yeah, I didn’t enjoy this book at all. I just couldn’t get past the tone.
Book 4: Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley
Written by: Emily Chang
This book is about startup culture in San Francisco, and it is WILD! Prostitutes, working until near-death, drugs and more: this is the opposite of what I think about when I think of tech companies. Honestly, I imagine cubicles of quiet people typing or chatting in near-whispers; clearly I have lived a sheltered life up here in Canada.
Emily Chang exposes acute sexism in the startup culture in San Francisco, and how it seems impossible for women founders to get ahead in this game. Honestly, it scared me a bit. That said, I’d rather have my eyes open to what could potentially happen than be underprepared.
The stories in this book reminded me of when I worked in the entertainment industry; I recall a video producer physically grabbing me and sliding me across the bench seat so I was right up against him, the moment my band member had left the table. As he grabbed me and slid me towards him I yelled “NO!” loudly, and pushed away. He said I was overreacting and he was “just trying to hear me better”. When I told my bandmate he was horrified. Needless to say, he did not make our music video. But then we had no one to make the video and no funding. Standing your ground can be an expensive choice. Many of the stories in this book remind me of the experiences I have like this from working in music, comedy and acting; those in power trying to take advantage.
While this may seem like a book that you might not need to read, I will say that if we close our eyes it will still be happening. Male, female or otherwise, if you work in startups, and you want to improve the working conditions in our industry for everyone, read this book.