Startup Storybooks

These books aren’t in any way practical but they are immensely fun. Each book gives a little bit of a peak behind the curtain during the company’s early years.

In no particular order:

Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!

It’s easy to forget just how much optimism and excitement surrounded Marissa Mayer’s appointment as CEO of Yahoo! When she was joined from Google in 2012 there was a genuine belief that Mayer could bring the internet giant back to its former glories.

The most fascinating portion of this book is the insight into Yahoo’s hiring process. At the time, the board were torn over wether to hire a product CEO or a content CEO. When Mayer acquired Tumblr and hired Katie Couric it appeared that she was trying to tick both the product and content boxes. The strategy ultimately failed but that’s half the fun of this book – the chance to play armchair CEO with the benefit of hindsight.

The book was published in 2015 so doesn’t quite finish the story but I would definitely read an updated version that includes Yahoo’s sale to Verizon.

The Everything Store

Amazon are unique because of the diverse range of businesses they operate. This book covers the process behind the launch of products like AWS, Prime and the Kindle but was published too soon to include the acquisition of Whole Foods and the birth of the Echo. I enjoyed learning about the backstory of some of these projects – like AWS which was an internal tool that was eventually commercialised. Amazon don’t have a great reputation as employers (rightly so) but it seems that anyone above the warehouse floor at least has some freedom to innovate – no small feat in a business of that scale.

This rate of innovation can be partly explained by the drive of Jeff Bezos and this book definitely gives a good sense of how he runs the company. His emphasis on succinct writing over lengthy meetings and presentations really stuck with me. If you can’t distil your perspective into a few paragraphs then you probably haven’t given it enough thought.

Hatching Twitter

I had no idea just how much drama surrounded Twitter’s early years. None of the founding team come out if it looking particularly well but that’s why this book is a real page turner.

Despite the eventual animosity between the founders it’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement of Twitter’s early days. The story of Twitter’s launch at SXSW in 2007 is now legendary and it’s nice to get an inside look at what it took just to get to that point.

This one’s a rollercoaster but that’s what’s so good about it.

I’m Feeling Lucky

This book feels very wholesome compared to some of the others on this list and it ultimately has a very happy ending. Douglas Edwards was 41 when he joined an early stage Google and it’s easy to cheer for him as he learns to work with Silicon Valley’s high achievers.

Edwards includes plenty of detail about Google’s early strategy and decision making processes – his accounts of working directly with Larry Page are the most insightful. The phrase “they should be paying us” seemed to be a constant rebuttal whenever Edwards asked for budget to hire contractors. Most of the time he was proved right when the proposal was reversed and companies saw the benefit of having Google listed as a client.

Possibly my favourite startup book.

Shoe Dog

The story of Nike’s rise from humble shoe reseller to global titan is every bit as fascinating as you would imagine. Founder and CEO Phil Knight goes into a serious amount of detail about what it took to turn Nike into the world’s leading sports brand. The man either has the memory of an elephant or some talented researchers. Probably both.

Apparently money was always a constant worry for the business. Even when many would have considered Nike a runaway success (boom boom) Knight was still juggling suppliers and creditors to keep everything operational. That constant state of discomfort might be one of the reasons for Nike’s success.

Startup Land

This is the story of Zendesk – a SaaS product born in the Netherlands and raised in Silicon Valley. Unfortunately it’s a little light on detail. The team seem to take these monumental leaps with only a few very manageable hiccups along the way.

While this reads more like the founder’s memoir than a warts-and-all account of the company’s journey there are still some interesting tidbits in there. It struck me how brave the founding team were to pack up their families and move to Boston and then make the move to Silicon Valley shortly after that to capitalise on their initial success. Opportunity doesn’t wait until you’re ready.

Bitcoin Billionaires

This book is a direct sequel to The Social Network movie and the early chapters do feel more like a PR exercise for the Winklevoss twins than anything of substance.

If you can stick with it the book gets really interesting when Cameron and Tyler invest in BitInstant – one of the first Bitcoin exchanges. The story of BitInstant is pretty shocking and the author is well placed to give us a front-row seat to everything that unfolds from the Winkevoss perspective.