Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days

foundersatwork1 Founders at Work: Stories of Startups Early Days
Thanks to some well deserved vacation, I was able to finish a book I’ve started a while back: Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days. I had 2 main interests in the reading of this book. The first one was related to the time I’ve spent in the Silicon Valley from 1998 until 2006, when I had plenty of good friends working from various Startup during the Internet Bubble: Excite, Netscape, Paypal, WebTV etc. You’ve got to understand that during these times (especially 1998 until 2002) all conversations during parties were about the Internet craziness going on, all the breakthrough ideas people had at the time (and some not so good breakthrough idea … Can you say pets.com ?), all the stock options people were getting, bubbling ego etc.

I was working for IBM at the time, contemplating the possibility to join some of these startups (Sciant which went belly up, Marimba (can’t beat their CEO Kim Polese) , WebTV, Ebay …) but never took the final step. My career was on the right track at IBM and it’s the best management school you can imagine when you’ve just graduated. Part of me always wondered what it would have been like to work for one of these startups. This book, give you very good insight about what to expect when working for a startup company. It is basically a set of interviews from startup founders who share with us their early days. From the initial idea, to the sleepless night of coding, to the VC process, the churn of strategy etc. Livingston covered some of the well known startup from the past 15 years but also some older startup such as Apple (Steve Wozniak), Visicalc (Dan Bricklin) etc.

But it’s not all about the stories. You will get a lot of advice from the book and some are really commons across all startups: Be prepared to change direction quite often, listen to your customers, don’t focus too much on the competition, make it simple, don’t grow too fast, don’t sleep icon smile Founders at Work: Stories of Startups Early Days There is a lot of advice you can pick up even if you’re not working for a Startup company but for a well established one such as Experian. Especially when you come up with a new set of products which is what I’m involved in right now …

This is a definite read for all wannabe entrepreneur !

Here are some quotes I’ve picked up from the book:

Joshua Schachter, cofounder of del.icio.us

“Reduce. Do as little as possible to get what you have to get done. Do less of it; get it done… Doing less is so important… It’s the traditional “I apologize for the long letter. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.””

Caterina Fake, cofounder of Flickr

“I’m a big believer that constraints inspire creativity. The less money you have, the fewer people and resources you have, the more creative you have to become.”

Joe Kraus, Excite

“You never know anything. The hardest part in a startup is that you wake up one morning, and you feel great about the day, and you think, ‘We’re kicking ass.’ And then you wake up the next morning, and you think ‘We’re dead.’ And literally nothing’s changed.”


Charles Geschke, Adobe Systems

“If you aren’t passionate about what you are going to do, don’t do it. Work smart and not long, because you need to preserve all your life, not just your work life. One of the things that I felt really good about is that we – from the very first employees, including John and me – enabled telecommuting from day one.”

Philip Greenspun, ArsDigita

“Programmers are isolated. They sit in their cubicle; they don’t think about the larger picture. To my mind, a programmer is not an engineer, because an engineer is somebody who starts with a social problem that an organization or a society has and says, ‘OK, here’s this problem that we have – how can we solve it?’ The engineer comes up with a clever, cost-effective solution to address that problem, builds it, tests it to make sure it solves the problem. That’s engineering.”

“The programmers were in the corner doing what they were told. That’s one reason they were so easy to outsource. If a programmer really never talks to the customer, never thinks, just solves little puzzles, well that’s a perfect candidate for something to offshore. So I said, ‘I don’t want my students to end up like this. I want them to be able to sit at the table with decision-makes and be real engineers – to be able to sit with the publisher of an online community or an e-commerce site and say, ‘OK, I’ve looked at your business and your goals; here are some ideas that we can bring in from these 10 other sites that I build, these 100 other sites that I’ve used.’ And be an equal partner in the design, not just a coder.”

“Consider McKinsey, which holds itself out as one of the world’s leading repositories of knowledge on how to manage a business. They say they’ll never grow their company by more than 25 percent per year, because otherwise it’s just too hard to transmit the corporate culture. So if you’re growing faster than 25 percent a year, you have to ask yourself, ‘What do I know about management that McKinsey doesn’t know?’”

This is the list of interviewees:

1. Max Levchin (Paypal)
2. Sabeer Bhatia (Hotmail)
3. Steve Wozniak (Apple Computer)
4. Joe Kraus (Excite)
5. Dan Bricklin (Software Arts)
6. Mitchell Kapor (Lotus Development)
7. Ray Ozzie (Iris Associates, Groove Networks)
8. Evan Williams (Pyra Labs – Blogger.com)
9. Tim Brady (Yahoo)
10. Mike Lazaridis (Research in Motion)
11. Arthur Van Hoff (Marimba)
12. Paul Buchheit (Gmail)
13. Steve Perlman (WebTV)
14. Mike Ramsay (TiVo)
15. Paul Graham (Viaweb)
16. Joshua Schachter (del.icio.us)
17. Mark Fletcher (ONEList, Bloglines)
18. Craig Newmark (craigslist)
19. Caterina Fake (Flickr)
20. Brewster Kahle (WAIS, Internet Archive, Alexa Internet)
21. Charles Geschke (Adobe Systems)
22. Ann Winblad (Open Systems, Hummer Winblad)
23. David Heinemeier Hansson (37signals)
24. Philip Greenspun (ArsDigita)
25. Joel Spolsky (Fog Creek Software)
26. Stephen Kauffer (TripAdvisor)
27. James Hong (Hot or Not)
28. James Currier (Tickle)
29. Blake Ross (Firefox)
30. Mena Trott (Six Apart)
31. Bob Davis (Lycos)
32. Ron Gruner (Alliant Computer Systems, Shareholder.com)

 Founders at Work: Stories of Startups Early Days