Posts from Books

Serving Workers In The Gig Economy

nick's bookUSV’s very own Nick Grossman has co-authored an ebook for O’Reilly Media called “Serving Workers In The Gig Economy” and you can get the ebook here.

This book came out of a year or more of research that Nick has done on this sector for USV. We’ve been thinking that there are investments to be made in this sector and although we haven’t made one yet, we continue to think that’s the case.

Nick and his co-author Elizabeth Woyke cover a lot of ground in a this book, but it’s a quick read at roughly 50 pages.

If you are interested in the future of work, the gig economy, union 2.0, and/or related issues, you should give it a read.


The Prize

A few weeks ago, the Gotham Gal said to me “considering how much time and money you are investing in K-12 education efforts, you should read this book.” The book she recommended is called The Prize by Dale Russakoff and it tells the story of the Newark, NJ public school system reform effort over the past five years.

I’m almost done with the book and I’m very glad she suggested it to me. I’ve long been a fan of the education reform movement, in particular the rise of charter schools, but I’ve also been troubled by the knowledge that charters don’t solve all the problems and some students are beyond the reach of even the best teachers.

The Prize tells two stories at the same time. It tells the story of the “top down” Newark reform effort driven by Cory Booker and Chris Christie and funded with Mark Zuckerberg’s incredibly generous $100mm gift. It also tells the story of real teachers and real students and the challenges they face every day in a few of the charter and district schools in Newark. By telling the story this way, Russakoff gets to the fundamental challenges facing the education reform movement and the entire K-12 system, at least the K-12 system in inner city schools.

In Newark, and in the New York City school system where I’ve spent time the past five years, you have both charters and “district” schools. The charters benefit from flexibility due to having non-union teachers, they benefit from not having the overhead burden of the “district bureaucracy”, they benefit from often having wealthy donors (like us) who cover startup costs and other needs, and they benefit from the self selection that comes from parents who care enough to get their kids into a charter school. The results that the best charter operators have produced with this formula in Newark and New York City is undeniable. They have created some amazing schools that are getting fantastic results. I know many of the leaders of these charter schools and I continue to be impressed by the quality of their work, their schools, and their commitment to the students and we have supported them financially and in other ways.

But not every child gets into a charter and there is a growing number of people, in and out of the education reform movement, who understand that district schools aren’t going away and we need answers for these schools and the children that attend them. And it is also important to understand that, by their nature, charters tend to siphon the best families in a community out of the district school and those that are left in the district schools need more social and remedial support than they are getting and that the district schools have resources to provide.

A few years ago a friend of mine said to me “if you are interested in K-12 inner city education you need to go see this person. The person he sent me to meet with has been providing mental health services to children who are struggling in inner city schools. She explained to me that you can’t teach a student who is in trauma. It doesn’t work. So she has taken on the effort to try to provide mental health resources to the most challenged schools and the most challenged students. That is an example of the “social and remedial support” that district schools need more of.

If there is any lesson that I took away from The Prize it is that we can talk until we are blue in the face about bureaucracies, and unions, and bad teachers, and fraud, and corruption, and the need to reform all of that. And we do. But where the rubber meets the road is the student and its the inner city students who are failing in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade who we need to focus on. Because once they fail at that level, it is so hard to get them back on track and most don’t make it.

I sat next to NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina at Mayor de Blasio’s recent speech on his education efforts. When the Mayor mentioned the big investment they are making in second grade reading performance, Carmen turned to me and said “this is critical. these kids need to read in second grade”. She’s right.

If you are interested in this stuff, as I am, I would strongly recommend reading The Prize. It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. But I helped me think about this stuff and that’s super helpful.

Book Recommendation: The People’s Platform

My partner Albert recommended we read this book, The People’s Platform, by Astra Taylor.

Astra’s perspective, to use my words not hers, is the promise of the Internet to be transformative for society has largely been a disappointment and “the new boss is the same as the old boss.”

This is an important perspective that I want to hear and internalize. So I’m reading it now and I thought you all might want to join me.

A Couple Of Good Books For Entrepreneurs

I feel like we are in this zone where everyone is doing a startup. Of course that is a great thing. Getting people out of dead end jobs and into their creative zone seems like a good thing no matter what the outcome. There is a flood of angel and seed capital flowing through the economy and it is easier than ever to do the thing you’ve always wanted to do.

Another thing that is driving this startup phase is the plethora of information on how to do it. It started with blogs, like this one, but has moved to podcasts, videos, and books. It is so easy to share what you’ve learned these days that more and more people are doing exactly that.

Two friends of mine have recently published books that are excellent and quick reads for entrepreneurs.

Randy Hunt is the Creative Director at Etsy. He built and leads Etsy’s team of designers who help create Etsy’s web and mobile applications. He has taken everything he’s learned in that role over the past five years and put it down on paper. The book is called Product Design For The Web, but it is highly relevant for designing mobile applications as well. The great thing about Randy’s book is you don’t need to be deeply technical to get value out of it. In fact, I think it might be most useful to someone who is just getting into designing interactive applications.

But knowing how to design and build something is not the only thing you need to know. Maybe most importantly you need to know what to build.

My friend Frank Rimalovski has been a VC since the late 90s. He currently runs the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute and the NYU Innovation Venture Fund. He explains in this blog post that in the 16 years he’s been working with entrepreneurs, he has seen countless numbers of them build something first and only then seek customer feedback. Frank believes that seeking feedback after you’ve built the product is tough because by then you are so invested in your product that you don’t hear the negatives well enough. And so he and another friend, and sometimes commenter at AVC, Giff Constable, have written Talking To Humans, a book that explains how to do the customer development interviews in a way that will get you the most accurate and actionable feedback.

Reading these two books in tandem will help you figure out exactly what to build and how to design it in a way that users will love it. And that is a recipe for success in the startup world.

How We Got To Now

For the past two years, NYC’s loss has been the Bay Area’s gain. No I’m not talking about hot startups, VC, or anything like that. I’m talking about Steven Johnson‘s two year departure for the beauty of Marin County over the grimy streets of NYC. But this summer Steven and his family came back to NYC, reminding me that the world is just and fair if you wait long enough.

I liked Steven the minute I met him. He has a wonderful smile and a gracious being, he is whip smart, and he writes beautifully and simply. He tells stories that educate. I have read pretty much everything he’s written and whenever something new comes out, it is an instant buy.

Yesterday was “pub day” for his most recent book, How We Got To Now. It’s the story of six technological revolutions that set up the world for what it is now. Those would be glass, cold, clean, sound, light, and time. The book has a companion TV series on PBS of the same name. The first of the six episodes airs on Oct 15th at 9pm

And to make things even better, I got to spend part of “pub day” with Steven yesterday. We did an event at WNYC’s Greene Space (a great venue in west soho) yesterday morning.

I believe the event was recorded and will be online at some point. If and when that happens, it will be a video of the week post.

We talked about a bunch of things, but the most interesting thing is how all of these innovations are related to each other. Steven told a story about the printing press and how when books started making their rounds, people realized that they needed reading glasses, which spurred a spike in demand for lens makers, which in turn led to microscopes and telescopes, which led to all sorts of biological and astronomical discoveries. That’s the kind of connections Steven makes in his stories. I love them.

I have the book and I am going to watch the series. If you love history, technology, and great story telling, I strongly encourage you to do both of these things as well.

Audio Books – Late To The Party

We were driving up the coast of Italy from Rome to Genoa listening to music being bluetoothed from my phone to the car’s audio system and the Gotham Gal said, “let’s listen to some audio books on this trip.” I was dubious but she was adamant. “I tried it on a drive from NYC to Long Island this summer and it is really great”, she said. So I replied “sure.” Later that night in our hotel, using their wifi, I downloaded the Audible app and a few books onto my phone.

We started with Peter Mayle’s A Year In Provence. That was awesome. Listening to a book about a place like Provence while driving around Provence is a fantastic experience. That sold me hook line and sinker on this audio book in the car thing.

Then we went for Daniel James Brown’s The Boys In The Boat. We failed to check how long the audio book was before selecting it. This particular audio book is 14 hours 25 minutes. Good thing we were taken with the story. We stuck it out and finished it yesterday. We cheered as the author ended the story. That was a marathon. All that said, it is a great story about the boys from the University of Washington who won the Olympic Gold Medal in the Berlin Olympics of 1936 in the eight category.

The strange thing about audio books is the play time of the book and the page length of the book are not directly correlated. Boys In The Boat took 14 hours 25 minutes to listen to and it is 416 pages. A Year In Provence took 2 hours and 52 minutes to listen to and the book is 224 pages. I think it may have to do with the fact that the audio book version of A Year In Provence we listened to is abridged.

In any case, we found that three hours is a great length for an audio book. Fourteen and a half hours felt a bit long, maybe even more than a bit long.

We are now listening to Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Given that we are now in Paris having recently been in Barcelona, Pamplona, and San Sebastian, it seemed like the right time to revisit that novel.

The Gotham Gal’s pitch on audio books is that it makes long drives fly by. I am not sure they “fly by”, but I would agree that listening to a great narrator read an interesting story does make long drives a lot more enjoyable.

It looks like we’ve got a new pastime. And I’m happy about that.

A WordPress Plugin For A Books List?

The Gotham Gal moved to WordPress this week. I mentioned it in a post mid week.

She maintains a book list on her blog. She’s a huge reader, at least a couple books a week, many times more than that.

And she lists her favorite reads for all to see. It used to be a TypePad widget on the sidebar but in the new UI, it’s an entire page linked to off the main header.

On TypePad, she could enter a book name, an ASIN, or an ISBN and the book and link to Amazon would automatically be added to the list (with her Amazon Affiliate ID attached).

I spent about an hour yesterday trying to replicate that functionality on WordPress via a plugin. I tried about five or six plugins without any success.

Has anyone come across a WordPress plugin that does this? If so, we’d love to know about it. Thanks.