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.


Comments (Archived):

  1. LIAD

    Talking to Humans.Superb Pricing. Bravo…and just like that they earned themselves (another) evangelist/reader/student

    1. fredwilson

      yeah, $0.99 for an ebook seems like a reasonable price

      1. LIAD

        can import pdf’s/ePub into ibooks and other e-readers, so ebook effectively free.

        1. John Revay

          even at $0.99 ebook is effectively free

        2. Sean Hull

          Yes, but what’s the cost of the 5 minutes to do this? LOL

      2. LE

        .99 is a great price if I am walking through the airport and see something that I can buy for a 10 year old that puts a smile on their face.My gut tells me it would be easy to get more than .99 and have more total revenue and more impact. (Unless you somehow are able to wrap the .99 in as some kind of a PR angle etc.) As I mentioned in my previous comment it would be easy to test this and/or issue different versions. [1][1] And guess what? That’s what business is about. Doing things like this. It doesn’t take much to offer a product and simply mimic what others are doing (part of the problem of not learning by doing..)

      3. Nick Ambrose

        It works for me! I would probably have actually felt better paying something higher to reward the effort though

    2. giffc

      Frank and I discussed price for a while. Ultimately we did it to give back to the community, and so set the minimum price possible (print is at print cost), hoping this didn’t sully how people viewed the content. Thanks for checking it out.I should also mention that the free ePub and PDFs, along with some free worksheets, are on talkingtohumans.com

      1. JLM

        .Your price is too damn low. Anyone who would shoplift your work for free should be ashamed of themselves.JLM.

        1. JamesHRH


          1. LIAD

            why shoplift when it is offered for free?

          2. JamesHRH

            I think you intended this for @JLM:disqus

      2. LE

        and so set the minimum price possible (print is at print cost), hoping this didn’t sully how people viewed the content.I think if the book is recommended or required then then people won’t be sullied by the low price. Because they are buying it on a recommendation. (And in that case you can charge more anyway.)But if people are making a buying decision based on a recommendation then I feel that the price will imply value and while you don’t want to have a “to high price” and scare off buyers having a to low price will definitely impact the perception of value of the material.Separately, along the lines of “hoping this didn’t” why not just setup a test and/or issue two different versions and test the hypothesis? Different versions perhaps with different amounts of content or perhaps same content different covers.

        1. giffc

          Good question LE :-)The simple answer to why we didn’t test is time (this was very much a side project). We tested the actual content on two classes of students, but after that, needed to ship!

      3. ShanaC

        Worksheets actually are a really good idea

        1. giffc

          thank you Shana 🙂

  2. awaldstein

    Bought Talking to Humans.Great topic.Online especially, how to you discover what your customers are thinking without asking them what you should build.Especially interesting as I believe that you need to sell new ideas and that it is your job to show the customer their future in the product. This is often the opposite of asking them if they ‘like’ it.

    1. giffc

      Absolutely. Qualitative research should neither be a replacement for vision nor an exercise in speculation. Our view is that it is incredibly powerful for reality checking assumptions and for understanding the market’s current behavior, the latter of which is important even if you intend on changing that behavior.Fred, thanks so much for mentioning us today. 🙂

      1. awaldstein

        Agree wholeheartedly.I work in this all the time with my own and clients project and very much looking forward to reading your book.Will most likely blog on it and share it with my readers and clients.

  3. John Revay

    “Frank believes that seeking feedback after you’ve built the product is tough because by then you are so invested in your product”So much for saying “Build it and they will come”

  4. William Mougayar

    When compared to the thousands of books written on traditional business management topics, the number of books written on startups is still very small. We need many more such books, to make it easier for start companies, to help avoid mistakes, learn from lessons, follow practical methods, etc.By default, the path to startup success is fraught with uncertainty. Although there will always be an art and luck component to it, anything that makes the roadmap clearer is a good thing.

    1. awaldstein

      Well said.I think you can take this from the other side though as well.There are hundreds, no thousands, of blogs about entrepreneurship, about startups, about building new businesses.And much fewer about plain vanilla business.The reason for this is it is new, about opinion rather than fact, about workable conjecture, not pontification. About an understanding that the right solution is always situation specific.The rush to books is happening. This is good.Hopefully the next generation of business books will understand that boring is the antithesis of useful.

      1. William Mougayar

        Yes. The blogs have been an amazing learning tool, as Fred mentioned above, but I think books are a good complement, because the information in books is typically better organized than in blogs, and they do go through a more rigorous validation process.

        1. awaldstein

          Agree.Longer form forces organization.Although I have lots of buddies who put out ebooks all the time and they are often a series of blogs in a pdf format.

          1. Guest

            Agree longer form forces organization, thanks

      2. JLM

        .Great comment as usual.One of the things about writing books about “experiences” is the validity and actual experience of the authors.I am a huge military history reader — having been a professional soldier, an Army brat, educated at a military school — no big surprise there.I am intrigued by the difference between memoirs, biographies and histories.Memoirs are often written by folks who were in command and their stories are often attempts to put their place in history as they want it.Biographies are very mixed because it is very difficult to get a good understanding of something as an observer. Sometimes — particularly when the dig into contemporary collections of letters or after action accounts — they are particularly educating.Histories are a variation of the biography theme but they are different as they do not focus on a single individual and therefore are able to provide an infinitely broader perspective.Then there are the individual books written by men who were at the actual fighting level of experience. Many were company grade officers who knew next to nothing about the big picture at the time but who knew exactly what it was like to fight and die and win. These accounts are the best real teachers.The best book to come out of WWII in Europe was a book titled Company Commander. I won’t describe it but will say having been a company commander myself — wow, the guy got it perfect. Perfect. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up perfect.All of this is to say that contemporary business and startup, in particular, literature follows much the same organizational theme. There are the 30,000 foot views and there are the belly in the mud views. There are the entrepreneurial views and there are the VC views and there are the technical views.Each is valuable but each is not really as instructive as the belly in the mud views. This is “to me” not to the world, mind you.JLM.

        1. awaldstein

          Thanks for this JLM.

        2. JamesHRH

          Classic saying imparted to me via a business colleague but attributed to a teaching hospital:’ Watch some. Do some. Show some. Then you understand. ‘Each perspective adds to yours.

          1. JLM

            .This is the path to mastery.The ability to do it and to teach it is the key.Well played.JLM.

        3. LE

          The best book to come out of WWII in Europe was a book titled Company Commander. I won’t describe it but will say having been a company commander myself — wow, the guy got it perfect. Perfect. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up perfect.To my point that I made (“you don’t know what you don’t know”) look at all the books that you had to read (it seems) to find one that hit the nail on the head. Had I read all of those books I would have found them entertaining but how much of what I read would I know or think is true? Not that it matters (I’m not going off to war, right?) but my point is with a newly hatched there is no way to know what is right and what is wrong even if there is such a thing.I go along with all the points that you have made which seem to acknowledge and say (the way I read you) that the personal bias in any type of writing can make the readers interpretation totally different from the actual reality.

          1. JLM

            .This is particularly true in the military.After every operation, the battalion S-3 (operations) and the S-2 (intelligence) debrief the officers as to what happened.When things have gone poorly, it is a brutal exercise. You could be sitting there with a handful of dogtags or you’re just exhausted. It is the last thing you want to do. You want to get clean, clean your weapons, eat and sleep.These debriefings are essential to catch what really happened before the perfume gets spritzed on the shit.I would sometimes read these debriefings afterwards and even I could not fathom WTF these guys thought had happened. I could not remember sometimes as scar tissue began to grow over the bad things immediately.Personal bias and confirmation bias are always a real problem in evaluating anything. As an aside, it is interesting to see the criticisms leveled in Gates, Panetta, Clinton books about supporting the Syrian rebels and the vacuum into which ISIS blossomed. These books were written years ago. Kind of chicken shit to write a book criticizing your President while he’s still in office.JLM.

          2. LE

            Kind of chicken shit to write a book criticizing your President while he’s still in office.I’ve come to the conclusion (first observed this with Stephanopolos v. Clinton) that it must be considered fair and part of the game in Washington politics to not be loyal (in or out of office).So by reverse engineering it and thinking “why does this happen let’s hypothesize” I’ve decided it’s part of the game. Don’t look for the Zebras.I think it’s similar to when I discuss business with non business people and they think “wow that’s a terrible thing to do” and I know they simply don’t understand how business is done and don’t have a nuanced understanding of the rules of the game.As a kid one of my Dad’s best friends had an auto repair shop. And he was clearly ripping off even his friends by selling them “torsion bars” that they didn’t need. Even after he did it to my dad he was friends with him years later (was at the funeral). My dad (I assume never asked him) saw it as a game and never took for granted that he should trust anyone even a friend and that it was his job (similar to when you play football) to play the better game and win. So if he let his guard down and didn’t ask the right questions he deserved to “lose”. This was among their group of immigrant friends by the way and it didn’t extend to other things. His tenants loved him and stayed for years and wrote him long thank you’s for the help he gave them.

    2. John Revay

      I like how you used “Roadmap” last sentence.

  5. John Revay

    As I read the title to today’s post – I thought you were going to talk about Peter Thiel’s – Zero to One book, it seems to be getting a lot of press lately.

    1. fredwilson

      Haven’t read it yet

  6. JimHirshfield

    Books are good. But as Paul Graham implied (I can’t find the quote) in the essay the other day, don’t use learning as a proxy for actually doing. He said something to the effect of, don’t start a startup while in school – you can’t learn how to start a startup in school, and you can’t do both. I’m sure I’ve just slaughtered what he really said.

    1. William Mougayar

      A balance is good. Learn some basics, then go execute, then learn a ton more…. Sell and repeat 🙂

      1. JimHirshfield

        For sure!

      2. rimalovski

        I’d riff on that a bit…learn some basics, and then go experiment (continuing to learn from the real world), and then execute.

  7. Twain Twain

    This w/e I was at one of General Assembly’s talks on User Experience Design where they recommended getting end-users “to solve your design problems for you — just give them a blank piece of paper and let them play design too.”Meanwhile, also this w/e, I re-read some Steve Jobs quotes like this one: “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”Clearly, the waterfall, broadcast push and “we’re going after 1% of this huge market because McKinsey (insert other consultancy) research says so” is being usurped by the agile, social engagement and “X% of our users are sticky because we’ve A/B tested them on a dynamic basis” approach.Still, there is a part of me that believes Steve Jobs is right.In a way it’s like this: with any number of scientific instruments from the compass to the airplane to the “like” button, they were designed without user feedback being integrated in from the outset.The feedback happened later as part of refinement and improvement processes.Likewise, Apple Watch is designed from the minds of Jony Ive and Apple’s team — mind you, their tens of thousands of employees may have acted as internal focus groups for all we know, :*).

    1. rimalovski

      Steve Jobs did say “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them.” I agree. But I believe think this quote is often taken out of context, and used as an excuse by many to “design from the mind” as you put it, but I don’t think even Jobs or Jony Ive can do that as well as we think. Jobs also said that “New ideas come from watching something, talk(ing) to people, experimenting, asking questions and getting out of the office!” I agree even more strongly with that assertion. That is what great entrepreneurs have always done. But, it is easier said than done, and that’s why we wrote the book.

      1. Twain Twain

        Thanks, Frank. Steve Jobs also said: “Jump the curve, not better sameness.” — which ties in with the attached image which shows better sameness for the last 80+ years in one particular technology.The reason I see it from both sides (the Henry Ford one of “If you ask customers what they want, they’d say a faster horse” and the MVP one where customer feedback is baked in from outset to inform design and product development) is because there some areas in technology where the innovation and feedback loop happens amongst niche participants rather than the founders being able to doorstep the general public on the streets, putting something up on Google surveys/SurveyMonkey to collect potential customer feedback or deploying it as a application widget on one of the larger social networks.Bitcoin would be one of those challenging areas for feedback loops. Outside of AVC community, Bitcoin developers and the most technical of bankers, not many people would be able to provide feedback on how Bitcoin should be marketed as a global transactions network — instead of as a mere virtual currency, how its data analytics should be presented and how user flow should be designed. It’s a complex entity that needs to be ultra-simplified to layman’s terms before a repeated process of education, education and education. It’s not as relatable as the photo-sharing, dating or shopping sites.AI would be another challenging area for feedback loops. Outside of the AI researchers at Stanford, MIT, CalTech, Oxbridge and those in the AI units at Google Brain, FB, IBM Watson, Apple SIRI and a handful of AI startups in SV and Israel, there are not many regular people who would be able to provide input on how to design for Machine Intelligence —Even though Machine Intelligence pervades every Web and mobile system that we use; it’s in search, topics clustering, product recommendations, etc.Now, I’ve spent the last few years designing and building a Machine Intelligence. At the heart of my project, I was aware that Machine Intelligence has struggled specifically in two areas:(1.) Understanding semantics; and(2.) Understanding sentiments.Moreover, it occurred to me that this bottleneck has its origins in ratings and surveying systems that have been around for 80+ years (please see image attached).If I was to go out and ask people on the street, “How would you design a new rating and data collection system to understand our semantics and our sentiments?” their feedback would be:(1.) “Why do we need one? Five stars works.”They’d be unaware that YouTube itself wrote a blog post to say 5-stars is useless:* http://techcrunch.com/2009/…(2.) “Let us semantically tag everything” — Google, Twitter, FB et al already enable this in our # hashtags (of various words) so there’s little that would be innovative about just copying this.(3.) “Give us buttons with sentiments on them” — BuzzFeed, Yelp, AirBnB already do this so, again, little innovation if we copy this.At this point, the founder(s) would either:(1.) Give up trying to innovate in this area of Machine Intelligence, data collection, analytics and recommendations.(2.) Copy what’s already been done — except maybe brand and market it differently.(3.) Dig deeper within their design and innovation selves and make the airplane whilst everyone else is churning out cars and asking customers how they can build faster cars, e.g. AI that can process and probability correlate data faster.These are some of the paradoxes and dichotomies about design, innovation and user feedback I’m working through by a process of doing, trial and error and re-applying learning.

  8. JamesHRH

    The feedback issue is vexing, as there is no hard and fast rule that covers all situations.Some products have to be built, even a MVP is of no use.MVP covers a lot of circumstances and has the value of limiting investment in the product.Listening to customers can be a death spiral, if that customer is a single Fortune 100 company that ‘is going to make us’.Part art; part principles.

    1. JimHirshfield

      I suppose you can’t limit feedback to a small sample size, nor put too much weight on any single piece of data.

      1. JamesHRH

        My wife’s grandfather was a really amazing cat (long story). His most impactful quote:’ When given the choice between intelligence and judgement, I will take judgement every time. ‘

        1. JimHirshfield

          I like!

  9. Brandon Burns

    I dare anyone to find me one successful startup CEO who will trace the roots of their success back to a startup how-to book.I won’t comment on these authors or their books; I know nothing about them. But if you ask me, there’s there’s too much literature out there about how to start a startup. Most (but not all) of it is worthless, authored by people whose first priority is raising their personal profile. This isn’t a bad thing at all, that’s simply how you build a career these days, but some things really can’t be taught.Some things you simply have to learn by doing.

    1. William Mougayar

      The generalization you made is far fetched.A big mistake I see is in entrepreneurs is to assume they want to re-invent everything. Well, you don’t have to. The trick is in knowing what you can learn from others, and what you can learn from yourself. A healthy balance is a good approach.

      1. Sebastian Wain

        Except if you have experience, I think one of the main issues is how to handle and execute against a lot of uncertainties. The few entrepreneurs I know, don’t know that they don’t know. If they came from the software development field they don’t appreciate the complexity of the business as a whole, even if they have an excellent product/service.This is why I think one of the top business books is Only the Paranoid Survive.

      2. Brandon Burns

        My comment is more a reaction to the plethora of crap advice out there. Everywhere you turn, there’s someone pushing an agenda via posing as a guru on startups. Its not just books, but classes, workshops, conferences, etc. Most of them are written and led by people who haven’t led a successful startup themselves. You read these things and go to these panels and you have to stop and think, “Who *are* these people?!”But so many folks are so eager to get their hands on something that’s going to tell them how to build the next Facebook, they don’t stop to ask themselves if the advice they’re receiving is crap. I guess they wouldn’t really know anyway. Catch 22.That said, not everything is crap. I obviously read AVC regularly. I’ve found most of Paul Graham’s essays to be uniquely insightful. Albert Wenger’s thoughts also usually have a unique worth to them. But that’s just my opinion.

        1. PhilipSugar

          I understand your comment a bit more now. My point would be that given the book is decent, it cannot hurt reading it and thinking about what it means.I have always said this about books on sales. Yes, many are crap, and yes you can’t learn how to sell reading a book, but reading many books, and then going out and doing it is much better than learning purely through on the job experience.Now then if you want to comment on the classes, workshops, and conferences that profit from people going to them? I’m with you there. If you want to comment on how entrepreneurship has been glorified? I’m with you there.Funny but I am in the process of writing a book.

          1. Brandon Burns

            Even funnier, I’m also in the process of writing a book. :-)Indirectly, the book is about the hypocrisy of giving advice, how there’s never one way to do anything, and why folks should just surround themselves with multiple stories, points of view, and in the end ditch all the advice and follow what they personally want to do.And the book is not me giving any advice to anyone at all. It’s simply a collection of interviews / stories of what others have done. I personally find that more useful.I may never finish it, let alone get it published, but it’s something fun to toy around with.

          2. JamesHRH

            The hyprocisy of giving advice:1) Most people asking advice ask the wrong person.2) Most people giving advice merely state what THEY would do in your shoes, not what you should do.3) Most people who are actually capable of giving good advice are reticent to do so, because they do not wish to offend.

          3. Brandon Burns

            This is why I find personal stories and anecdotes to be more powerful, especially when retold by a good storyteller with a knack for editing.I don’t want people to tell me what to do, for the reasons you just outlined. Tell me what you did, and what a bunch of other people did, and then I’ll filter that using my own devices and decide for myself what I want to do.

          4. PhilipSugar

            That is what my book is about!

          5. Nick Ambrose

            Definitely agree on point #2

          6. LE

            Even funnier, I’m also in the process of writing a book. :-)If this is an entertaining side hobby instead of watching sports then that’s fine.But one thing I learned early on when I used to shop and enjoy buying and reading books (at Barnes and Noble) is that at a certain point you have to stop using the entertaining crutch of reading and start doing. Point being is you have to be disciplined with how you spend your time. (I work on that all the time and it’s pretty difficult since it’s easy to rationalize a perceived future benefit from doing anything worthwhile..)

          7. Brandon Burns

            Its for sure a side hobby. I just find it interesting to talk to folks who’ve done cool things and write down their stories. I’m going to try to get a couple of those stories published as articles in a couple magazines, and then see if I can compile a bunch into a book.I’ve always wanted to write a book, so it’s a personal thing. That said, it’s not exactly in my top 3 priorities at the moment, so we’ll see how far I actually get.

          8. Daksh

            Sometime back I reached a similar conclusion with respect to my behaviour – Reading was infinitely entertaining, so much so that it was taking over time meant for “action”. And I am not necessarily referring to Business/ Management books

          9. tim

            you are giving advice too, just through the stories of others. not much different imo

          10. LE

            it cannot hurt reading it and thinking about what it means.I think we had this same discussion the other day relative to stocks iirc. Listening to the point of someone who was 3 years out of college as if they had authority and what they say mattered.I don’t typically buy into the “cannot hurt reading” angle. Not saying that it couldn’t be true but I don’t accept that “more information is better” particularly in people that don’t know jack shit and can’t separate the wheat from the chaff. Even coming from these sources.All information has impact. Reading repeats of the wrong information or repeated and generally accepted mantra can have a brainwashing effect that could potentially prove negative when you are newly hatched.This is not an argument to buy or not buy this particular book. Just a counter to “cannot hurt reading it and thinking”. You know there are plenty of “book smart” people out there.but reading many books, and then going out and doing it is much better than learning purely through on the job experience.I can always tell when I run into someone who is trying to sell me and has read a book on how to sell. This is not to say they might be successful with other people. But when I see that it reeks from an unnatural implementation of “this is what you do to close”. I know it’s from a book and I don’t read those books and never have (and there is a reason that I don’t).Separately I think (along the lines of Brandon’s point) that most “real” entrepreneurs are able to learn super quickly by doing and get up to speed very quickly without knowing all the answer and techniques. They figure it out as they go along based on nominal points of data, observation and asking questions (and other things as well).

          11. JamesHRH

            Your book will be worthwhile Phil.Unless you become the Don King of Delaware.

          12. falicon

            please put me on the distribution/notification list for when you’re book is ready…I’m ready to buy right now. 🙂

          13. Donna Brewington White

            I’m in.

        2. William Mougayar

          Got it. Of course, you can ignore the bad stuff. When I curate daily, I throw out 95% of what I read, and select 2-3 articles to put into Startup Management, each day.But it’s good to see more entrepreneurs write and share their lessons. You can’t just take your lessons from VCs only.

        3. Sean Hull

          hehe that’s very true. Must be picky with our reading time. 🙂

    2. PatrickABrowne

      You’re generalization that you won’t find any successful startup CEO who will trace their roots back to a startup how-to-book is right & wrong. Yes, I doubt many simply picked up a book and created a successful company the same way you can’t pick up a text book on Biology and instantly be a biologist. But, more importantly, I’m sure thousands of CEOs have read books along the way that helped shape ideas, methods & thinking that they may have not tried if they did not pick up certain books.

      1. Brandon Burns

        Books are great. I read many. Both the books Fred’s advertising here teach specific skills, and I think that’s great. Learn some design tips. Tweak your customer development tactics. Those are good things to do.But the post ends with these words:”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.”That, these books won’t do. These books won’t teach you how to figure out what kind of business to build and ensure that people love it. No one book will ever do that for you. Ever.

        1. LE

          will help you figure out exactly what to build and how to design it in a way that users will love it.I would agree with that since I feel that most things that people end up doing come from inspiration, observation, emotion or pain which results in creativity and drive.You see something and you think or feel something. If the emotion is high enough it keeps you going and makes you obsessive to see it through.I think it’s similar to song writing (something I know zero about so song writers feel free to chime in here). You can’t wake up in the morning and write a great song because that great song most likely will come from inspiration, pain or emotion. [1]Likewise you couldn’t get me to write a reply to a comment on AVC.com that didn’t involve “pain, inspiration or emotion” of some sort.[1] Best work of recording artists tends to come in the hungrier years before fame and complacency lacking some other stimulus to re spark the creativity (Eric Clapton say with “Tears in Heaven” as an example).

          1. JLM

            .Fabulous blog. Great insights.I hate the word “intuit”. I think it isn’t a real word. I think that’s an Indian tribe, right?Well played.JLM.

          2. Girish Mehta

            In case you are thinking about the inhabitants in the Canadic Arctic region (& Greenland), its Inuit.

          3. JLM

            .Shhh, don’t tell anyone but I was making a very small joke.JLM.

          4. Girish Mehta

            :-). Wondered.

          5. JamesHRH

            Thanks for kind words – work in progress.As for Intuit, its a SW company, no? But maybe you are right, the Intuit might run a casino in northern Saskatchewan….I will look into it.To your point, no one ever uses instinct as a verb…….

    3. JamesHRH

      Some genuinely great, smart people come before you and some of them write things down in a useful way. I have a shelf of bibles that are really useful.However, most business books fit your comments.Some are just good stories.As for your first paragraph, that’s the egocentric nature of most unicorn founders & other high performers (its a sociopathic disorder technically….I mean, has Marissa Mayer ever been wrong? about anything?).

    4. LE

      Some things you simply have to learn by doing.Why do I always have to repeat myself. People don’t want to learn by spending time “doing” and making mistakes. They want to have an easy answer, fix, instructions etc. or better yet a pill or an injectable. Maybe a lap band.You know it was probably my first month in business (and not from a book and not from 4 years of business school for sure) that I learned that if you give a customer to many choices they a) waste your time and b) they can’t get off the fence and make a decision. So I learned to limit and select the choices in advance so they only had 3 or 4 choices (for this particular product let’s call it) and then it became fast and easy and they were happy and they paid me money. (And I’ve got a gazillion stories like this of things that I “learned by doing”).Anyway, years and years later I’m with my wife and we are getting the bathroom done. And I just marvel how this designer for a big established company takes me to a granite yard or sends me to a bathroom fixture place (alone because it’s a competitor who has certain products) where I am totally swamped with “to many choices” and no direction or narrowing down of what to even begin to consider or look for. It’s obvious that the execs in charge at this place haven’t advanced to a level of sophistication that someone right out of college was able to see by actually dealing with people 1 to 1 in real life. (And I see examples of this every day by the way..)

      1. Brandon Burns

        “People don’t want to learn by spending time “doing” and making mistakes. They want to have an easy answer, fix, instructions etc. or better yet a pill or an injectable.”Here’s a startup idea: rid the world of these people. :-PWhile that dream will never come true, you’ve never spoken truer words.

      2. Nick Ambrose

        ” I learned that if you give a customer to many choices they a) waste your time and b) they can’t get off the fence and make a decision”Indeed … I was considering buying a Dell a while back. There were so many confusing options that were essentially impossible to distinguish between that I ended up buying nothing (and am probably better off for it)

        1. PhilipSugar

          You are on a roll. I have a simple statement. A confused mind never buys. So simple. Here is good, better, best, and extravagant. People will buy best.

          1. Nick Ambrose

            Exactly !

    5. Richard

      It depends on what the definition is of a “startup how to book”.

    6. ShanaC

      what do you think is the right way to go about this.

      1. Brandon Burns

        I’m not sure there’s anything that can be done. Writing a book or a blog or whatever is now status quo for building a personal brand, so more and more people will continue to do it. Which, really, they should if that what they need to do to build their career or business.I would assume that at some point the overload will lead to folks ignoring all the content, the content will lose value as a whole, and folks will write less, and the system will correct itself. I’d think. But who knows.

    7. Sean Hull

      I’m a startup CEO of the smallest kind of startup. Database & scalability consulting. You’re right you *DO* have to learn a lot by doing, but I’ve found the seeds of many ideas through books, as much as I had by working with colleagues etc. And the doing puts those ideas to use. Two that come to mind…RE:WORK by 37 Signals – Fried & HanssonHow to Make Friends & Influence People – Dale Carnegie

    8. Donna Brewington White

      But why be limited to learning by doing? Why not broaden the scope of knowledge by learning from others’ experiences? I don’t see why it has to be either/or.

  10. pointsnfigures

    loved Ben Horowitz book. Peter Thiel’s book and “Scaling Up Excellence” by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao

    1. falicon

      From Zero to One was a great listen (via audible)… 🙂

  11. bfeld

    Thanks. Grabbed them both. Keep recommending books!

    1. JimHirshfield

      Waiting for your seminal “disc set”….The Feld Collection, a bundle of books.

  12. JLM

    .The lowly focus group as a means of engaging customers and of obtaining feedback at the conceptual stage is often overlooked. It is a basic marketing and design tool when used correctly. It can be absolutely be used at the conceptual phase before you have committed to a design or a product thereby avoiding the loyalty that comes from loving your own baby.It is not a “one size fits all” solution nor is it the only tool to be used at any given time. It is not “the” solution, it is only one tool in your tool box but here’s the real important thing — IT WORKS.I am often amazed at how few people in the startup world understand how to configure and use a focus group. Politicians — campaigns being a variation on the startup theme — get it and overuse it sometimes.A/B testing is a variation on the theme. Companies like Experiment Enginehttp://www.experimentengine…are doing this every day. I like them because they essentially custom design their approach marrying talent and methodology.JLM.

    1. ShanaC

      AB testing requires a larger baseline that most people have.

  13. PatrickABrowne

    Great recommendations – looking forward to reading.This is sort of off topic, but has anyone worked with the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute? I’m an alumni of one of NYU’s grad school programs and currently neck deep in the customer discovery / talking-to-humans process for my own business. I’m interested in touching base with someone at the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute who can help me learn more about how to get involved with the NYU Entrepreneur community…. any thoughts on who to reach out to first at the institute? Thanks in advance!Also, happy to share my own thoughts on the customer discovery process – which we are doing pre-product & MVP – if anyone has questions..PB

      1. PatrickABrowne


  14. LE

    Another thing that is driving this startup phase is the plethora of information on how to do it. I wouldn’t say that is driving it as much as it’s supporting it.What’s driving it is the same thing that drives people to gamble in casinos. Flashing bells lights and sounds of success which overshadow those that aren’t being successful.

  15. LE

    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.It may not be a good thing depending on what you mean by “getting people out of dead end jobs”. A dead end job that supports your family or is stable with little stress has value. And it might be an idea to stick with that job instead of gamble on the unknown out of jealousy and envy.I think part of the problem with all the hype is that it’s making people much unhappier than they’d be if there wasn’t the hype. Similar to how some people become unhappy in their marriage after they compare themselves to the positive things that they see in other relationships. If they didn’t see and have envy they’d probably be much more satisfied.I learned this also when buying a cars. I drove the “regular” model and then drove the “S” model of the same vehicle. The “S” model had more horsepower and went faster. After I drove it I wasn’t satisfied buying the “regular” model I had to have the “S”. So going forward I never drove the “S” model (meaning whatever the model was with more horsepower) unless I was prepared to buy that model if I liked it. Otherwise all I’d be is unhappy with what I did buy. (This also applies to buying boats by the way if you’ve ever been to a boat show you know what I mean..)

  16. kirklove

    Cool. Will check them out.I hadn’t bought something on Etsy for quite some time (sorry Buster). Went back last month and I was beyond impressed. Beautiful design and experience. That alone gives credibility to the book IMO.Etsy is one of those odd companies (in a good way). Simultaneous killing it and still flying under most people’s radar. It’s almost like they are taken for granted. Shouldn’t. Impressive company.

  17. ErikSchwartz

    “Of course that is a great thing”Depending on how one defines startup I am not sure it is necessarily a great thing for either the people or the startups. There’s a big difference between being employee number 5 and employee number 50.Lots of people need the structure to be productive.

    1. JLM

      .Most people require structure. Not a “lot” MOST.This is why entrepreneurs can be so successful when they are able to articulate a credible Vision, Mission, Strategy, Tactics, Objectives, Values for their startup. It is essential when they get out of the cradle and are a real company.People will follow a good plan and a good entrepreneur who can articulate the plan.JLM.

      1. ErikSchwartz

        As a friend of mine likes to say, I agree with you more than you agree with yourself.

  18. Vasudev Ram

    Downloaded the EPUB and am reading it. Looks good. Thanks for the book, Fred and the authors.

  19. falicon

    Late to the party today…but one of the books I’m currently reading/enjoying is “How to build a billion dollar app” by George Berkowski ( http://www.amazon.com/How-B… )Ignore the title, it’s not a “how to”, but it is a great “how it has been done” book with lots of good tips and things to think about for anyone building in today’s environment/world…and as a bonus point, USV is mentioned in the book. 🙂

  20. paramendra

    This in response to your partner Brad’s DC appearance you posted here a few days back: War On Terrorism And Drones And Android Phones And India http://democracyforum.blogs

  21. Amresh


  22. Rob K

    Fred, thanks, great choices. I sent you an email to see if you would give me an interview for a book I’m working on about ‘mid-life’ entrepreneurship. What do you think?

    1. fredwilson

      i didn’t see it Rob

      1. Rob K

        Fred- No problem, it was while you were away. I just resent it. Thanks!

  23. JimHirshfield

    Brad’s stuff is great. Great reads.

  24. awaldstein

    I am a big fan of Brad’s book and recommend them often.Informative and easy to read. Referential yet I read them like a book not an atlas.

  25. JLM

    .The provocation of thinking is the real benefit of any good read.While I am a huge fan of not re-inventing the wheel, I am an even larger fan of thinking.We do not think enough. We do not put it in writing enough. We get lazy on ourselves.I have 40 years of notebooks I have kept since I was an Army Second Lieutenant. I can still find lessons when I got my first platoon that I used on my 5th startup.JLM.

  26. William Mougayar

    Waiting for your books to come out JLM.

  27. ErikSchwartz

    Really it’s only the ninjas and gurus that will become entrepreneurs.

  28. LE

    With a little bit of McGyver.

  29. Nick Ambrose

    10 things successful people do#1 They dont read “Top X things successful people do” lists 🙂

  30. fredwilson

    it starts with the blogger 🙂