The "entrepreneur" is, to many, a mysterious beast surrounded by myths and legends. This book, edited by Techstars founders David Cohen and Brad Feld, seeks to share some of the secret juice that makes for a successful entrepreneur. If, like me, you expect this book to be like Founders At Work, edited by Y-Combinator's Jessica Livinsgton, it would be only partially true. FAW contains interviews with the creators of some of the hottest tech products such as Gmail and Hotmail. DMF on the other hand is a collection of short essays of 1-2 pages, where entrepreneurs seek to distill the most important lesson in taking their idea to execution often with mentoring from Techstars. These essays are organised along seven themes: Idea & Vision, People, Execution, Product, Fund-raising, Legal & Structure, Work-life Balance. The titles are a testament to good editing. The book can almost become a reference point for those scratching their heads about something specific.
Strong points are made including that if you have an idea, you can be sure half a dozen people around the world are already working on it, and that most start-ups started out doing something totally different from what they do now. Myths are busted including the belief some entrepreneurs have that they need to raise external cash to find validation. Remarkable honesty is on offer such as in Issac Saldana's essay on how he much preferred writing code over talking to people, but how the latter helped him create a valuable and valued product. The value of pragmatic over perfect is demonstrated such as by Matt Mullenweg in how 2006 became Wordpress's lost year, not in a bad way but in a way that brought a valuable lesson regarding product releases and discipline to Automattic. And good advice too such as the essay titled "stay healthy", which I have often said to young entrepreneurs I know including one who had to be hospitalised for a few days to accept the value of good health above all else. Brad Feld's punchy essay "The plural of anecdote is not data" but establishes a home-truth about the need to question and validate any data, especially anecdotes often peddled as truths. I marked out several essays as my favourite by folding pages. No points for guessing more than three-quarters of the book was folded over by the time I finished reading it.
However the definition of "tech" used here is relatively narrow. If you somehow miss paying attention to iRobot (Why would you do that anyway? They make Roomba!) you might think "tech" is all about the web and services. But on some reflection, it is easy to see the broader applicability of the lessons to successful commercialisation of innovation in other sectors too.
Usefulness note: The saying goes: "Ordinary people learn from their mistakes; smart ones learn from others' mistakes". If you think you have a world-changing idea (or if you know someone who thinks so), you - or that person - may want to learn from some of the most successful entrepreneurs featured in the book. If you don't think you can learn anything from this book, then you perhaps need to make your own mistakes in executing that idea, in which case, refer to the saying above. If you are a mentor to start-ups, you will equally enjoy this book and the thoughts it provokes.
on 1 May 2011
If you're working on a tech startup you should absolutely try and get into a accelerator programme like TechStars, YC, Springboard, etc. However, the chances of getting in to one of those are tiny...
That's where this book comes in. It compiles the best advice and knowledge from TechStars mentors. It's definitely a must-read for anyone considering, or already working on their startup.