This is a picture of my copy of Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days. It has broken my record for the “book with most stickies.” My system is that the stickies on the top edge are ideas for my next book, and the ones on the side are ideas for this blog.
As you can see, it’s a gold mine for great stories about entrepreneurship. Here is a list of some of my favorites. The major lesson: Entrepreneurship is all about tactics, hootspah, not knowing that things are not done “this way,” and making do with not enough money. You’ll LOL at points and wonder if a better title would not have been Flounders at Work.
Sabeer Bhatia (Hotmail) on how he decided whether to tell venture capitalists the real idea he wanted to get funded. “If they passed the litmus test of not rejecting us for the wrong reasons and said, ‘OK, we don’t mind that you’re young, we don’t mind that you don’t have management experience, only when they would start poking holes in the actual idea would we share the Hotmail idea with them.”
Woz (Apple). “All the best things I did at Apple came from (a) not having money, and (b) not having done it before, ever.”
Mitch Kapor (Lotus Development) on how much money he asked for from Sevin-Rosen. “I think I said probably $2 to $3 million. We had nothing. We hand an early-stage under-development spreadsheet, and me and Jon Sachs. So that was the biggest number I felt I could ask for without being totally absurd.”
Evan Williams (Blogger.com) on how he raised money to buy more servers. “We posted it on our website, and it said, ‘Hey, we know Blogger is really slow. It’s because we need more hardware. We don’t have the money to buy it, so give us money, and we will buy more hardware and we’ll make Blogger faster.’”
Tim Brady (Yahoo!). “The funniest thing I can remember was when there was a huge storm in May of ‘95, and the power grid went down for a few days. We had to go rent a power generator and take turns filling it with diesel fuel for 4 days. 24/7. We were laughing, ‘How many pages to the gallon today?’”
Mike Lazaridis (Research in Motion) on the importance of recruiting students. “’…What’s important to me are the signs on the back of the building.’ Of course, everyone recoiled from that. I explained to them, ‘I don’t really care if anyone else knows where the building is. All I want is the students to know where the building is.’”
Mike Ramsay (Tivo): “I remember one weekend, we took the entire company, what was about 60 people at the time, and we divvied them up and went to all the Fry’s stores in the Bay Area, because they were selling at Fry’s. We set up demo stations and the employees were giving demos. It was great because almost everybody had no experience of what it’s really like to sell in a retail store.”
Paul Graham (Viaweb): “Neither of us knew how to write Windows software, and we didn’t want to learn. It seemed like this huge steaming turd that was best avoided. So the main thing we thought when we first had the idea of doing web-based applications was, ‘Thank God we don’t have to write software on Windows.’”
On raising money: “The advice I would give is to avoid it. I would say spend as little as you can because every dollar of the investors’ money you get will be taken out of your ass…”
Catarina Fake (Flickr): “So Flickr started off as a feature. It wasn’t really a product. It was kind of IM in which you could drag and drop photos onto people’s desktops and show them what you were looking at.”
Brewster Kahle (Thinking Machines): “The blessing of Thinking Machines and the curse of Thinking Machines was that it had a lot of money. If you have a lot of money, then you can be detached from people that are going to pay you in the future.”
Chuck Geshke (Adobe) on the reaction of the spouses of Xerox execs to a demonstration of PARC technology in 1977: “They loved this stuff. They sat down and played with the mouse, they changed a few things on the screen, they hit the print button and it looked the same on paper as it did on the screen. They said, ‘Wow, this is really cool. This would really change an office if it had this technology.’”[This is why you should always listen to your wife. And if you’re a woman, you should never listen to your husband.]
Ann Winblad (Open Systems). “So I get in front of these 60 or 70 guys and these guys are probably all in their 50s and I’m in my 20s, and we had a ‘blue light special,’ where we said, ‘If you give me a check today for $10,000, you can have unlimited rights to one of our modules.’ …I went home with, I think, like 12 or 15 of these $10,000 checks in my purse.”
James Hong (Hot or Not) on his first beta site. “My dad was the first person that ever saw Hot or Not besides Jim and me, and he got addicted to it! Here’s my dad, a 60-year-old retired Chinese guy who, as my father, is supposed to be asexual, and he’s saying, ‘She’s hot. This one’s not hot at all.’”
On using his parents to moderate the pictures: “I originally had my parents moderating since they were retired, and after a few days I asked my dad how it was going. He said, ‘Oh, it’s really interesting. Mom saw a picture of a guy and a girl and another girl and they were doing…’ So I told Jim, ‘Dude, my parents can’t do this any more. They’re looking at porn all day.’”
On his newfound dating success with hot women: “All of a sudden Hot or Not happened, and I was starting to date all these attractive women. I got a taste of it, and I realized that looks don’t make up for a good personality. Many of these girls were annoying. They were fun to hang out with, but I couldn’t have a conversation with them.”
[IMHO, James is the funniest person in the book.]
James Currier (Tickle). “When we started the company, we wanted to change the world, and we had all these tests on the site to help people with their lives. We had the anxiety test, the parenting, relationship, and communications tests. And no one came. …’Let’s do a test for what kind of breed of dog you are.’ …We put it online and 8 days later we had a million people trying to enter our site.”
Mena Trott (Six Apart) on early meetings with the current CEO of the company, Barak Berkowitz. “Barak said, ‘That’s great for a niche or personal lifestyle business, but we’re not interested in investing in that.’ At first we thought, ‘Who is this asshole? Why is he saying that to us?’”
These are just a few nuggets. The whole mine is what you should get.
Thanks for this recommendation, Guy! As I relentlessly code away day and night, it’s healthy to be reminded of the fact that others have been (and are) in similar situations. I love what The Woz had to say in #2. How true!
Guy Kawasaki rounds up some useful quotes from tech founders….
I love the book. It is amazing how many of the stories fall in to “first we did this, then we did what worked.”
Excellent post Guy! I always love hearing about fellow entrepreneurs and how they got started.
Looks like another good book to add to my list to read…thanks!
I’ve been reading this book lately. It’s pretty good and has some stories I didn’t know (like about Adobe) but the one negative is that it has at least one typographical error or transcription error per interview. For example, in the interview with Charles Geschke they call John Sculley “John Scull”. It makes me think that the interview has no idea who John Sculley is, which makes the whole thing lose a little bit of credibility…
Guy Kawasakis Posts on Founders at Work
Guy Kawasaki has a great Post on his website about the book Founders at Work. Im gonna have to go buy the book now. If you look at the first three sentences on Amazon you get a quick idea of the book contents:
Founders at Work: Stories …
I read the book from front to back.
Excellent! Highly recommended.
I am now waiting for “VC’s at Work” to hear their side of the story…
Haha, the Yahoo diesel generator story is great… I wonder how many pages per gallon they were actually getting… If it were to happen today, what type of energy source would they would use? There might be a new industry niche: solar powered servers.
Great stories the sacrifices that entrepreneurs go through to bring an idea to the marketplace is humbling and inspiring.
I just received my copy from Amazon today and was about to start reading it. Thanks for pointing out the best of the book.
This book is pretty encouraging, especially when working day and night on building something that we have so much passion for.
Currently I am working on building a Social Marketplace http://www.onista.com and I really want to find time to read this book completely to keep myself going.
thanks Guy, Good post.
Got it the day it came out, read it days, brilliant book, simply brilliant. I think the best profile is probably Paul Graham’s. But there all really good. Evan Williams showed amazing persistence there with blogger. Why not Odeo?
Buchempfehlung: Founders at Work: Stories of Startups Early Days
Unter den Lesern hier sind sicherlich einige dabei, die sich für die Gründung eines eigenen Unternehmes interessieren, und denen kann ich ein bestimmtest Buch sehr empfehlen. Founders at Work: Stories of Startups Early Days von Jessica …
i was lucky enough to take a company from 0 to a public offering back in web 1.0 days. besides the thrill of kicking the s*&% out of your bigger competitors, the really great part was the young kids that you got to mentor. You did it without even knowing it. It is so fun to run into someone on linkedin or other system and see where they are now and what they have accomplished. the pleasure in knowing that in some small way you helped make them a (hopefully) better person, or more creative, or probably more confident in their abilities. Other than watching your own children, there is probably no better high in the world. that is what being an entrepreneur is all about.
Founders at Work – Sold!
Books are hard to sell; trust me as a two-time NY Times best-selling author I speak with some authority on this subject. Guy Kawasaki sold me a book, with his review, I wasnt really sure that I cared to read. He showed the picture you see and he …
There isn’t a lot I could say about this book that hasn’t been said better already. It’s just a great collection of insight from people who made their vision happen. Totally inspirational.
What I can recommend though is, if you’re looking for a better alternative to a litter of sticky notes, try Book Darts. Scott Berkun recommended them on his blog a while back and I have to agree, they’re perfect for marking all the passages in my books.
I love this line from James Hong of HON, “…and I realized that looks don’t make up for a good personality”
– sure James, and gobs of money hanging out of your pockets has nothing to do with your new-found appeal ;-)
It’s also enlightening (and a relief for some) that a few started out saying “right, let’s just start a company” but with no initial thoughts on direction, let alone a first-draft product idea.
@Brian Laks: “…a new industry niche: solar powered servers.”
Geeks + Sunlight? Are you sure that’s a winning combination?
This is a must read but will it open our eyes to how the equity structure of each company evolved over the funding rounds? I talked today with a guy developing a social software site. He has raised lots of cash and said he wished he had read my guide first. Now I guess he will say “I wish I had read this book first!”. So many people in the Cambridge Cluster, UK, want to do it a new way and not learn from others. It makes the entrepreneurial world rich and fun but sometimes people get hurt for a little bit of knowledge.
Guy, I’m also reading the book and in the middle of it. It’s extremely captivating and as an entrepreneur myself, I am sure learning a lot!
I think what Mike Lazaridis (RIM) means by “signs on the back of the building” and on how that attracts students, it helps to know that the back of RIM campus borders on the University of Waterloo. The signs out front facing the main entrances are smaller than the sign on the rear of the building facing the students.
Thanks for the recommendation.
The only other book that I’ve saw in that condition is “Disclosing New Worlds: Entrepreneurship, Democratic Action and the Cultivation of Solidarity”, from Charles Spinosa, Fernando Flores and Hubert L. Dreyfus.
I highly recommend it
Sounds like a great book. It often seems as though successful people have some ‘special powers’ that mere mortals don’t. But, as these quotes show- all it takes is perseverance and the courage to take a few risks. Everyone starts small.
Thanks for a great blog!
Founders at Work – startup stories released
Book cover from Amazon Founders at Work: Stories of Startups Early Days was published in January this
Great recommendation, Guy. Next time you need a Yiddish speaking editor, though. Hootspah sounds like a place you go in Scottsdale where you spend all day laughing. I think you meant Chutzpah, which is what most of the featured folks in the book probably had plenty of!
You don’t seriously think that I don’t know how to spell chutzpah, do you? You are farmisht if you think so! :-)
This is an awesome post, I’m getting the book. I’m the founding entrepreneur of JibberJobber.com – which I started after I lost my job in “a good market.” Months later, and getting interviews with only two companies, I figured I better look at something else. I always wanted to own my own business but never figured that I could find a “better mousetrap.”
JibberJobber came from that – from my need, and the needs that I saw others had with job search, personal relationship management, stuff like that.
And since we are all supposed to change jobs every 3 – 5 years… I found my better mousetrap.
Stories like these help keep me going – thanks for posting the snippets from the book!
CEO – JibberJobber.com
An amazing book. I worry that Guy broke it before I had chance to use the info in it to my advantage :-)
It definitely sets the bar very high for anyone in the midst of writing another best-selling book. (I can’t think of anyone who’s doing that at the moment ;-) )
btw…there was a John Scull at Apple, wasn’t there?
There was a John Scull at Apple. He was “Mr. Desktop Publishing.” The person who commented about the book losing credibility is actually wrong. Jessica is right: It was John Scull, not John Sculley, who did the dtp evangelism.
I feel the same way about James Hong’s interview. I spent some time with him at SFBeta and I told him that his interview was the most raw. Initially he wasn’t sure if I had complemented or criticized him, but after a bit of explanation he said “thanks.”
James is a great guy. Jessica’s book is fantastic.
Great post … off to Amazon to put it on my reading list. Thanks!
I like this post and will buy the book once I get the chance.
I choose this as the post of the day!
Founders at Work
by: Guy Kawasaki This is a picture of my copy of Founders at Work: Stories of Startups Early Days. It has broken my record for the book with most stickies. My system is that the stickies on the top edge…
As always, a cool post by Guy. Will most certainly read “Founders at Work”…sounds interesting.
Great Advice For Entrepreneurial Businesses
I spend a lot of time working with dealers, brokers, VARs and other independent channel partners. What strikes me is how entrepreneurial these businesses are…typically running far more efficiently than most direct sales organizations for large corpor…
For those looking for other books along the same lines as “Founders At Work”, check out “100 Great Businesses and the Minds Behind Them” (2006). I highly recommend the audio book version. It’s both entertaining and insightful. Enjoy.
A Book About Startups’ Early Days
Guy Kawasaki posted a few snippets from Founders at Work, a book about startups’ early days. From reading these lines I think I’m gonna read it. By the way Guy is this ex-Apple evangelist and now VC that wrote The
Entrepreneur Snacks: Guy Kawaskai on stories behind well-known start-ups
So I’ve been thinking for a while to start posting some refs to sources which I find useful, entertaining and good reading for entrepreneurs. Since I’m just a regular guy without a long resume, I’m thinking about people at my
I also saw “Forbes Greatest Business Stories of All Time” when buying “100 Great Businesses and the Minds Behind Them” – it looked pretty good too.
Inspirational books like these 3, James Dyson’s “Against the Odds: An Autobiography” and Guy’s many books are important reads when you’re involved in a Start-Up…they remind you that you only win by never giving up.
Wisdom from Wozniak
Guy Kawasaki has posted a review of an interesting new book, Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days. I don’t know that I normally would plan to read a book on startup companies, but Guy’s enthusiasm certainly has me…
When we initiated our website last year, we knew that keeping it fresh might actually be more difficult than the large amount of work which went into building it. Because our content – Hollywood movie history – lends itself well to the short-story blog format, we figured that using a blog for the “current” content might be a good way to go. The thing I find most interesting about Guy’s post here is not the entrepreneurial aspects, but his “blog story” tagging system. We have just recently come to the realization that “blogging on the fly” did not fit in with the rest of our paying-job lives and the time we were putting into our anchor site. “Current news” regurgitation, which is a pretty speedy blog method, does not quite fit for us. And so we have begun our own “virtual and actual” desk-drawer system for collecting blog ideas, akin to Guy’s post-its. We’re still learning, so it was positively reinforcing to see that someone of Guy’s broad interests and publishing skills also needs something to keep the chaos of good ideas in order!
One of hte key skills of a blogger is knowing what to steal!
You should see my copy of your book! I’ve routinely quoted your text during lectures, and have told many new entreprenuers to read your book then keep it on their desk…
I’m glad you are doing the same…
keep up the good work!
It’s “Chutzpah” not “hootspah”. It’s Yiddish not Scottish.
How to Change the World: Founders at Work
This is a great book for entrepreneurs who has either started their company or planning to start a company. It’s definitely worth reading. Look at all the sticky notes that Guy has in the book!
“The book with the most stickies”
In a review of the new book Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days, Guy Kawasaki highlights a few of the stories and anecdotes he found most interesting — especially those that involved the interaction between start-up founders and
I just started reading this – great! The first two chapters on Max Levchin (ebay) and Sabeer Bhatia (hotmail) are insightful. Woz’s story, as told in his own words, is an ode to an egomaniac. He’s so full of himself, which is an amazing contrast to some of the other folks profiled here.
Thanks for sharing this book – while I can’t identify with the success of these folks, I do intimately recognize my own pain as a start-up entrepreneur.
CrunchBack: How to Change the World: Founders at Work
Link: How to Change the World: Founders at Work. This book from Jessica Livingston is very dense and packed with amazing insights from some of the most successful tech entrepreneurs of the past 20 years. I’m just a few chapters
correction: Max – paypal… sorry Max!!
This is one of my favorite quotes (Marimba section of book, page 157).
Another story I remember from our first round of funding was when they gave us the checks – the lawyers were there, Kleiner was there, and I said, “Oh great, now I can buy that espresso machine!” and they all jumped me and said, “No, you’re not going to buy an espresso machine with this money. This is to start the company.”
And it became a sticking point. We were very frugal and we didn’t spend money on frilles, but after the IPO there was a really bad time for Marimba when it was very difficult to hire people, and all the early people that had been there 3 to 4 years were starting to leave. Morale was very low, and so I went to the CFO and said, “Look, I want to buy an espresso machine.” And he said, “No, we can’t do that, it’s too expensive.”
A few weeks later, when another senior engineer quit, I said, “Screw it, let’s go buy an espresso machine.” So Jonathan and I went online and bought this super-duper Italian, fully automatic, $15,000 espresso machine on his credit card and submitted the expense form. The CFO almost had a baby. It was unbelievable.
This was a beautiful piece of work, and they came and installed the espresso machine and it was the best money ever spent. Every morning, people would meet and crowd around it. This thing was just it, the bee’s knees, people loved it, they couldn’t stop talking about it. A month later, the CFO came and said, “I’m sorry, we should have done this years ago.” And it tells you something about where you spend your money and what you spend your money on. It’s not just business-related expenses. You also have to create an environment that you like so that people are happy and feel they are valued.
@Aristus: “Geeks + Sunlight”
I’m sure with the cost savings they could afford some protective coverings, like the suits astronauts use for their spacewalks…
Founders at Work
Jessica Livingtons recent book, Founders at Work, is a series of a interviews with successful technology entrepreneurs from the last twenty-five years. The format is a refreshing change from much of the tech press that focuses exclusively on lau…
this book was incredibly dense with practical advice from founders. For anyone who wants the “Cliff’s Notes” I wrote up a summary post each day for the month of May giving the synopsis of each founder’s story along with our perspective having bootstrapped our own startup over the past year-> http://www.grid7.com/founders-at-work-digest/
Few Roads are Straight
Aside from short stretches of highway, very few roadways are straight. There are several reasons, landscape, keeping drivers alerts, and surface features being the most prominent. In fact, a winding road can be a bit more enjoyable to drive on.I…