Category Archives: Book Reviews

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

I have never before ventured into the world of philosophy.  Although I have been curios at times to know more about it, I never got to read a book on the subject.  I was actually prompted to read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by a quote in a Paul Graham essay, then after seeing some tweets from others that have read it, I had to give it a try.  Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was a very long read, but I found it thoroughly thought provoking. It definitely got my mind thinking and asking questions even more than it usually does while reading.

The timing of reading the book was also a happy coincident.  Spending the ski season in a small BC ski town, and embracing the mountain lifestyle, was the perfect setting for me to read this 1970s’ classic.  It helped me think about what a quality life would really mean for me and my family, and where we are most likely to find it.

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The book tells the story of a motorcycle journey through the North West United States, while on the road trip the narrator takes you on an intellectual expedition of discovery into philosophy.  He asks some fascinating questions about quality, technology and education.  It also gives insight into the narrator’s struggles with mental illness and his relationship with his teenage son.

As many in my generation, my idea of technology is sometimes limit to what we experience today.  So when he talks about how technology changes the world in a book written before I was born, it serves as a reminder that technology transcends our lifetimes.

The way he talks about working on a motorcycle in the book reminds me what great cricket batsmen always say they try and do while batting.  To live in the moment, they look for that state of mind where you don’t think about anything else than the next ball you have to face.  This ability to completely embrace in what you are doing is something I want to work on.

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Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was also the first book in a long time, maybe ever, that I have read written in the first person.  As the author explains in the introduction to this edition, that limits the reader to the narrators view of the world.  After finishing the book, I had to read the introduction again.  This got me thinking how the same limitations apply to own thoughts and the way we view the world.

I can see how Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance became a classic. Take the time to read it, you will not regret it.

Startup Life – Review

Startup Life

I have really enjoyed all of Brad Feld’s books I have read. Venture Deals and Startup Communities were two of my favourites.  Startup Life co-authored by Brad and his wife Amy was the next instalment in his Startup series.  For some reason I was a little hesitant to read it. I was not sure I wanted to get the balanced life and relationship advice I thought it would offer.

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Luckily Brad had a competition a few weeks ago.  He offered a dinner with two couples and their partners as the prize.  All you had to do to enter was to buy the book and send him proof.  I obliged entering for both the amazon and B&N competitions.

So when I finished the Founders Dilemma’s, I started to read Startup Life. It turned out to be a really awesome read.  Brad and Amy offer some great practical life to help everybody in the family adjust to the pressures of startup life.

They’ve also included some advice and inserts from other entrepreneurial couples.  Since they don’t have kids, most of the chapters on kids was contributions by others who do have kids.

They have a big focus on communication, which forms a central theme throughout the book.  They give some great examples from their own relationship on how to work on improving communication.  They have some great suggestions like four minutes focused on each other each morning, life dinner and quarterly vacations off the grid.  Many of these suggestions came when Amy renegotiated their relationship years into their marriage.

I am really glad I read this one. Next step is to get my wife to read it as well. It will definitely help us have a better relationship going forward. Especially as I get ready to do my next startup.

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Thanks Brad and Amy for going to the effort of writing Startup Life, and being so open in sharing many of your personal thoughts and solutions.  I look forward to the next instalment in the Startup series.

The Founder’s Dilemmas – Review

Founders Dilemmas

A few years ago I read an article in the Harvard Business Review that asked: Do you want to be rich or king?  After reading that article I thought my answer to the question is obvious and that I would rather be rich than king of the castle.  So when Amazon recommended The Founder’s Dilemmas, I was immediately intrigued to read the book.

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The author Noam Wasserman is a professor at Harvard Business School.  Although The Founder’s Dilemmas reads a little like an academic article, I found it fascinating.  The data used as basis for this book was gather by Wasserman over more than a decade. It included more than 10 000 founders, in the technology and life science industries.

The Founder’s Dilemmas analyzed many of the reasons that people tend to start businesses. Although there are many, the primary motivators are either wealth or control.  Wasserman the goes into great detail into many of the decisions that founders make through out the life of the business that they start.

Some of the most critical decision included: Founding on your own or as a team, taking investment or bootstrapping, when to replace a founder CEO, hiring people.  For example control motivated founder will tend to: remain solo founders, hire inexperienced people and keep control of decisions, self fund, and choose to remain CEO through all stages of the business development.

I found this central theme very insightful, and it really helped me understand my own motivation better. I have no doubt that it will help me make better and more consistent decision when I start my next business.

I also loved the real live examples of founders and the decision they made. One of the case studies were Evan Williams, through founding and selling blogger and then founding Odeo which eventually led to starting Twitter.  Interestingly another case study was Feedburner, who was founded by Dick Costolo (among others) whom later become CEO of Twitter when Evan Williams stepped down.

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When starting a business the founders make key decision very early on that they will have to live with for the life of the business, The Founder’s Dilemmas offers great guidance to make sure you make informed decisions.  It will also force you to properly examine your own motivations.

What are your motivations and how have they effected key decisions when you started a business?

Getting Real – Review

Getting Real is a Great Read!

After reading Rework from the, I could not wait to also read Getting Real.  I was not disappointed, it is another practical and inspiring read.  This book was actually published before Rework, so some of the ideas were a repeat of things also mentioned in Rework.

True to there own philosophies of leaving out everything possible, the book is relatively short and broken up into short chapters with mini chapters sometimes added.  Throughout Getting Real the authors supplement the book with inserts from other people reinforcing the point they are trying to make.  It was great reading somebody else articulating the idea a little differently.

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Getting Real is all about taking action rather than talking about taking action. It is about not writing documents about what you are going to do and just doing it and learning as you go.  One of the fundamental ideas behind this philosophy is that many of the problems you anticipate will happen never will. So stop worrying about them and get going.  Then solve the problems that do occur in a JIT (just in time) manner.

The book applies the Getting Real way of thinking (or doing) to almost all aspects of getting a web application going.  This includes interface design, feature selection, coding and promotions among many others.

It ties in very nicely with the Lean Startup methodology.  I suspect some of the ideas in the book will help when I get to start my next business.  Most of the idea would have already come in handy if I had read the book a few years ago. I think I would have approached many conversations and discussion we had at Private Property in a different way if I had read it back then.

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If you find yourself in software, internet or mobile startup, you would be well advised to read Getting Real. If you have read Getting Real, tell me your thoughts below:

The Art of the Start – Review

By Guy Kawasaki

Many people have encouraged me to read The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki.  Although I didn’t find the first few chapters to fascinating, the latter chapters made up for it.  I found most value in the parts covering recruiting and bootstrapping.  Overall I found very good value in The Art of the Start and would recommend it to anybody about to take the dive into entrepreneurship. It would be well used as a manual to starting a new venture.

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Each chapter in The Art of the Start concludes with a few FAQ, which offered some additional insight. There are also topical mini chapters interwoven into The Art of the Start like: The art of designing T-shirts.  I got some great book suggestions from the recommended reading at the end of every chapter. The Art of the Start is divided into five main parts: Causation, Articulation, Activation, Proliferation and Obligation.

Causation: (The Art of Starting)

Kawasaki starts The Art of the Start with what he believes the 5 most important things entrepreneurs have to accomplish: Make Meaning, Make Mantra, Get Going, Define your Business Model and Weave a MAT.  It is a relatively fresh approach for me, but I think I have had an overdose of books on the vision and mission side of business.  Which is probably why this was the least appealing part of The Art of the Start to me.

Articulation: (The Art of Positioning, The Art of Pitching, The Art of Writing a Business Plan)

Kawasaki argues that the positioning of an organization should explain why the founders started it, why customer should support it and why employees should work there.  Which is related to the three golden circles Simon Sinek refers to in Start with Why.

When trying to raise money most entrepreneurs’ lives consist of pitching day in and day out.  The advice offered on pitching is very practical and should help anybody taking that route.

I have come to the conclusion that business plans are mostly a waste of time and effort.  While Kawasaki accepts that the actual plan is more or less worthless, he makes a case that the process adds value to a startup by forcing it to answer some of the tough questions. As well as getting the founders in each other’s faces, this result in either confirmation that they are a good team or that they aren’t.

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Activation: (The Art of Bootstrapping, The Art of Recruiting, The Art of Raising Capital)

This was by far my favourite part of The Art of the Start.  In my next business I am going to do my best to bootstrap all the way. I learned a great deal in the chapter on bootstrapping to help me when the time comes. Kawasaki gives five characteristics of a bootstrappable business model: Low up-front capital, short sales cycles, short payment terms, recurring revenue, word-of-mouth advertising.  Those are great clues to look out for.

The recommendations Kawasaki offered in the chapter on recruitment was my favourite.  He gives tips on doing the reference checks like that it is better to do them earlier in the process. He also discusses the conflict I have often felt between my intuition and the qualifications of a candidate.  There is also a table to decipher some of the lies often told by prospective employees.  If you only read one chapter in this book, I would go for this one.

The Art of Raising Capital starts off with some great advice: focus on building a business not raising money. There are wonderful insights in this chapter. I am sure allot of people would prefer this chapter, but my attention is more turned to bootstrapping so I was not fully engaged. A very entertaining part was the 10 lies entrepreneurs tell investors.

Proliferation: (The Art of Partnering, The Art of Branding, The Art of Rainmaking)

For startups it always looks attractive to partner with a big company that could help shorten the road to success, but this road is full of potholes. Kawasaki offers tips on helping to navigate the potholes and also includes a table to decode big company ‘speak’.

The best part of the branding is his advice on recruiting evangelists.  He also suggests helping fans setting up a community, giving them tools and interacting with them often.

Each chapter in the book begins with a quote. The quote at the start of Chapter 10: The Art of Rainmaking is one of my favourites:

“Stop going for the easy buck and start producing something with your life.  Create, instead of living off the buying and selling of others.”   -Carl Fox (From the movie Wall Street).

Kawasaki explains also that great business can be built when unexpected customers use products in unexpected ways. You just have to be aware enough to notice and capitalize.

Obligation: (The Art of Being a Mensch)

There is a common theme in The Art of the Start: that starting and growing a business should be about more than just money. It should be about meaning and making the world a better place.  That really resonated with me. Kawasaki ties it all together with this last chapter by showing that paying back should be the fulfilment of any successful career.

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Writing this review of The Art of the Start has actually made me realized that I enjoyed the book and learned more than what I though I did when I started to write it.  The Art of the Start should be compulsory reading on any entrepreneurship course, and if you are going to start a business.

Did you enjoy The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki? Please give your thoughts below: