Getting down to the real world. Some psychology, some economics, some anthropology, and lots of business books.

Barking up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker

Barking up the Wrong Tree audiobook cover

What’s great about this book is that the author examines both sides of common perceptions (often misconceptions) about success. He takes them to their logical extreme, digs in and finds research to most refute both sides of the extreme, and often ends up recommending something right in the middle. However, there were a few good take-aways from the book, including one piece that I’m continuing to work on in my daily life: self-compassion. It’s a good book and is worth a read, even if it’s not totally mind-blowing. 

Genre: Non-Fiction, Self Improvement

Black Swan, The by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Black Swan audiobook cover

The point of the book is well worth knowing and understanding, though I think you could get the point with a very well made 10 minute video.

Genre: Business, Non-Fiction

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Blink audiobook cover

I’m writing this review six years and one month after buying this audiobook—I started this project of reviewing my Audible library at Thanksgiving 2018, and I’m writing this review at Christmas 2018—and at that distance, I recall liking this book quite a bit, but not much else. The stories in the publisher’s summary, below, ring a bell. What I do remember is that this book got me started on a string of other about thinking, decision making, and applying those insights to daily life. I may go back and re-read this as a refresher and come back to review it again. In the meantime, I recall it was a good Gladwell book.

Genre: Non-Fiction, Psychology

Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins

Confessions of an Economic Hit Man book cover

The recent history of America is fascinating, and this book will provide an interesting perspective on how USA waged economic war in the cold war era, and beyond. 

Genre: Bios & Memoirs, Non-Fiction

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore

Crossing the Chasm audiobook cover

It’s hard to believe this was only released in 2012, because it instantly became part of the common language of tech startups everyone. It was brought up so frequently that by the time I read it in 2013, I assumed it had been around for a decade already. Regardless, it’s a great framework. If all you need is to understand the terminology or the framework, then a YouTube explainer video should do the trick. If, after watching that you want to dive in then by all means—it will be worth your time.

Genre: Business, Non-Fiction

Do More Faster by Brad Feld, David Cohen

Do More Faster audiobook cover

Once upon a time, the idea of a startup accelerator was new, uncommon, even unique. YC and Techstars were the originators of this model. I moved to Boulder to be part of the tech startup world here, led by Techstars, and this was the bible. Filled with short stories told by the founders, this was a great read—one I read multiple times. It’s been a few years, so I don’t know how it stands up after nearly seven years. 

Genre: Business, Non-Fiction, Startups

Eisenhower in War and Peace by Jean Edward Smith

Eisenhower in War and Peace audiobook cover

I’m not super into biographies, but I really wanted to read about great leaders, and heard good things about this book. I enjoyed learning out Eisenhower, but when it got into his presidency it started to drag for me. I finished it and am glad I read it, but decided that I’m just not that into biographies. 

Genre: Bios & Memoirs, Non-Fiction

Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pamela Slim

Escape from Cubicle Nation audiobook cover

I don’t remember anything about this book. To be fair, I’m writing this review in November of 2018, over nine years from when I read it. But some books stick with you for the impact they make on you, no matter how long it’s been. And some fade in memory. This is the latter. 

Genre: Non-Fiction, Self Improvement

Founder’s Dilemmas, The by Noam Wasserman

The Founder's Dilemmas audiobook cover

I had the pleasure of seeing Noam speak at Techstars in Boulder, and I was deeply impressed by his research. If you are in the startup world, this is a…

Genre: Business, Non-Fiction, Startups

Freakonomics [Revised Edition] by Stephen J. Dubner, Steven D. Levitt

Freakonomics book cover

This is a great, easy read with some mind-bending research and conclusions. I highly recommend picking this book up for a fun read—and that’s not something you’d like anyone would ever say about an economics book.

Genre: Economics, Non-Fiction

I’m Feeling Lucky by Douglas Edwards

I'm Feeling Lucky audiobook cover

I’ve learned that I don’t really go in for memoirs, but for whatever reason this one appealed to me. It was written by one of Google’s first marketing people. It’s a wild story that covers a lot of ground with Google: multiple offices, expansion after expansion, and plenty of internal political battles. The author is a great writer, and he does own up to at least one mistake. He also clearly had no love lost for Marissa Mayer. The only reason this isn’t a four-star for me is because I prefer business books with data-backed insights and lessons over retrospectives. If memoirs are your thing, then this would be an interesting read into the early days of Google.

Genre: Bios & Memoirs, Non-Fiction

Long Tail, The by Chris Anderson

The Long Tail audiobook cover

Reading this in 2006 when it came out or even in 2009 when I picked it up, it felt like the inevitable future of the internet. “Mass Customization” was the trend of the day. I remember being influenced by it and enjoying it. As I write this review in 2018, I think it’s worth revisiting the book to see how well it holds up today—though I don’t think we’ve quite fulfilled Anderson’s vision.

Genre: Business, Non-Fiction

Mastery by Robert Greene

Mastery audiobook cover

I’m really torn on “Mastery” as to whether I loved it, hated it, or just liked it. The stories of everyone from Faraday to PG to Darwin and Franklin and dozens more are absolutely brilliant. I love the stories and kind of wish the book was just that: stories of great people who achieved mastery. 

What I hated was the cringe-worthy advice. There are whole sections with broad generalizations about how people supposedly behave (e.g., “arrogant people are insecure”) that are not backed up by a shred of research or evidence. For how well the rest of the book is researched, the lack of it in the parts that are supposed to help the reader better understand their fellow humans is awful. 

I appreciate that the author created a clear framework for mastery and turned it into a blueprint that others can follow. Even if not every master in the book fits precisely within that framework—who was Paul Graham’s overbearing master under whom he served as an apprentice?—it was still a decent framework. 

Pick up this book to listen to the stories and appreciate the lives of some of the greatest humans to ever walk the planet. And take the rest with a grain of salt.

Genre: Non-Fiction, Psychology, Self Improvement

Measure What Matters by John Doerr

Measure What Matters audiobook cover

I was all gung-ho on OKRs for a while and when this book came out, I picked it up right away. While the stories are great, I kind of wanted more out of it. Really what the book did for me was whet my appetite to read about Andy Grove. 

I’ve since backed off my initial excitement for OKRs after hearing some strong counter arguments from startup CEOs, including my partner at SpringTime, Jeff Gardner. Hearing how OKRs work against the direction of a company and its path to growth was enlightening. 

Regardless, if you want to learn about OKRs this has a number of interesting stories about how they’ve been implemented in successful companies, as well as clear guidelines and definitions. Dig in!

Genre: Business, Non-Fiction, Startups

Power of Habit, The by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit audiobook cover

What’s interesting about this book is that it’s the why behind the how. If you want the “how” then read Hooked. But the “why” these things work, and why we have habits and what we do with or without them and the how they form is fascinating. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Though it is basically a psychology book, it’s a great read filled with tons of stories. 

Genre: Business, Non-Fiction, Psychology

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator by Edwin Lefevre

Reminiscences of a Stock Operator audiobook cover

I first read this book in 2000 when I was a day-trader. The stories were just as entertaining then as they were when I recently re-read it. And by entertaining, I mean entertaining to a finance nerd. I bought a copy of this book for my dad, who does his own trading, is a self-taught corporate finance guy, and has interest in the stock market. He thought this was terribly boring. I obviously disagree, but I do want to give you the caveat of my glowing recommendation: the stories are about stock and commodities trading from nearly 100 years ago.

I find the stories fascinating and the lessons especially prescient in the crypto markets today. But if you are unsure that you’ll find it interesting, then skip it.  

Genre: Bios & Memoirs, Non-Fiction

Screw It, Let’s Do It by Richard Branson

Screw it lets do it audiobook cover

Richard Branson is one of those guys that everyone wants to be or wants to know. He does cool shit, does it his way, and doesn’t seem to be a dick about it—from the limited I’ve read about him. I was excited to read a book by him. It was fun. It was cool. It had great stories about his origins and the growth of Virgin. I didn’t get much else out of it. 

Genre: Bios & Memoirs, Business, Non-Fiction

Sex at Dawn by Allyson Johnson, Jonathan Davis

Sex at Dawn

This entire book was a retort to another anthropology book, “Anatomy of Love” by Helen Fisher. I had read that book right after college and recalled being blown away by it. Somehow I stumbled across a review of “Sex at Dawn” and how it provided a counterpoint to “Anatomy of Love.” It’s less of a counterpoint and more of a line-by-line nitpick. I concluded that either I’m not as into anthropology as I thought I was, or this book is just terrible. I did’t finish it.

Genre: Anthropology, Non-Fiction

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Start with Why audiobook cover

An absolute must-read. There are very few non-fiction books I recommend unequivocally, and now that I think about it, this might be the only one that I recommend without preamble or qualification. I consider Start with Why to be baseline reading for anyone, anywhere. In case this wasn’t abundantly clear, you should go read this book now. And if you have read it, go re-read it. I think I’ll do the same.

Genre: Business, Leadership, Non-Fiction
Subjects: Rich's Reco's

Startup CEO by Matt Blumberg

Startup CEO audiobook cover

I really want to be able to strongly recommend this to most of the startups I work with on a daily basis, but it’s not for early stage startups. I have to keep in mind that this series of startup books originated with Brad Feld from Foundry Group, a venture firm that invests in Series A & B rounds. The vast majority of the startups I see and work with are at the angel and seed level of capital and growth. As such, advice such as annual 360 reviews is not the most critical advice I would offer early stage startups.

The title may have been better as “Scale-up CEO” and targeting companies that have found a scalable, repeatable business model. 

With the idea in mind that this is for “scale-up” executives, then I heartily recommend it. But for me and my audience, it’s something to aspire towards. 

Genre: Business, Non-Fiction, Startups

Startup Communities by Brad Feld

Startup Communities audiobook cover

Ah, the “Boulder Thesis”. Startup Communities is essential reading for anyone in the startup world, especially if you’re in the startup world outside of the Bay Area. I’ve read this book quite a few times, and have heartily recommended it over and over again. It has become such an important part of startup community development that many of the terms, ways of thinking, and even the phrase “Boulder Thesis” have become part of the startup lexicon. If you’re in the startup world and you haven’t read it, go grab it now.

Genre: Non-Fiction, Startups
Subjects: Rich's Reco's

Startup Life by Amy Batchelor, Brad Feld

Startup Life audiobook cover

Juli and I listened to this on a few road trips. It provoked some very good discussion between us, and often enough that we would pause the book, talk about what we just heard, debate and discuss, then continue listening. As I write this review some five years later, I honestly can’t recall a single specific thing from the book, but that it was thought-provoking enough for us to want to pause and discuss, should be enough of a recommendation. 

Genre: Non-Fiction, Self Improvement

The Humor Code by Joel Warner, Peter McGraw

The Humor Code audiobook cover

My friend Peter co-wrote this, and I was very glad to see it come out on Audible right away (I do hate to read books in the old-fashioned sense). It’s outside of my normal genres of sci-fi, startup, sci-fi, business, fantasy, and more sci-fi, but I’m glad I picked it up. Despite my bias, I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Peter and Joel really do travel the world in search of what makes things funny. The combination of a researcher and a writer make for a great combo for a book. 

Genre: Non-Fiction

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

The Lean Startup audiobook cover

Reading this for the first time in 2013 felt like reading the secret code for how all businesses will be run in the future. And it is. It’s a must-read for the startup world. It’s such an important piece of the modern business world it’s practically table-stakes. 

Genre: Business, Non-Fiction
Subjects: Rich's Reco's

The Rise of The Creative Class by Richard Florida

The Rise of The Creative Class audiobook cover

I picked up this book because Brad Feld referenced it once or twice in Startup Communities. Five and a half years later, I’m trying to write a review for it. I vaguely recall nodding my head quite a bit in agreement research and feeling hope from the conclusions. However, I didn’t go back and re-read it. As much as I want to read a book that’s backed by research, sometimes the research is too much of the narrative and I want suggested action. In 2013 I was just getting started as an ecosystem leader/builder. With a few years of experience in that realm under my belt now, I may go back and give this a re-read. Until then, three stars just because I want the gameplan book (Startup Communities) not the research book (this one).

Genre: Business, Economics, Non-Fiction

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck audiobook cover

There were times during this book where I thought I was listening to a self-aggrandizing autobiography, and just as I was judging the author for a pointless diversion, BAM! He’d hit me upside the head with something mind-blowing, earth-shattering, or just laugh-out-loud funny. This book is now on my unequivocal recommendation list. GET IT, READ IT. 

Genre: Non-Fiction, Self Improvement
Subjects: Rich's Reco's

Tipping Point, The by Malcolm Gladwell

Tipping Point audiobook cover

The Tipping Point is research and stories about what happens after you follow the advice in Made to Stick. If you want the how, read the latter. For the “what” read the former. That’s not a criticism, it’s just that I found the book interesting though not containing specific instructions.

Genre: Business, Non-Fiction

Venture Deals by Brad Feld, Jason Mendelson

Venture Deals audiobook cover

Note: this review is for an older edition of the book—they’re on the third edition now.

I don’t offer many conditional reviews, but this review is predicated on the fact that you want to learn more about startup venture financing. It’s a dry subject, and if you’re not into it, or it’s not relevant to you, then skip this book.  However, if you are in the startup world and you want to know about venture capital from the experts, then this is a must. It’s just OK as an audio book, and I got a copy of the print book (print! so old fashioned) to be able to review the parts with math. 

Genre: Business, Non-Fiction, Startups

Who Stole the American Dream? by Hedrick Smith

Who Stole the American Dream? audiobook cover

There are very few things in the world that have had such a profound impact on me as “Who Stole the American Dream?” I read this in 2014, after being hired by SoftLayer, a recent IBM acquisition. Though my paychecks said IBM, everything else I did was under the SoftLayer banner and culture (until 2016, but that’s a story that wraps up here). 

I was flying around the country, working with startups, evangelizing a cloud product I cared about and believed in, and getting paid by IBM to do it. IBM, by the way, is prominently vilified by Hedrick Smith in a few places. Smith’s vilification and my job enjoyment—way beyond mere satisfaction—seemed in direct conflict. This was just one of the many points in the book that had me thinking deeply about my purpose in my life. 

It was a few months after finishing the book, reflecting on it, and working with a coach that I crystallized my mission: to transform the world through innovation and entrepreneurship. 

Here’s where this review becomes an actual review. The book is about the systematic erosion of the middle class in America, and how the opportunity to achieve “American Dream” is being destroyed by everything from bi-partisanship, to corporate influence over government, and ultimately the widening of the wealth gap. All of this is told through a reporter’s investigative lens in a narrative style that pulls you in page after page (or minute after minute). 

I believe I can make a difference in the American Dream and returning the middle class to prominence, but it sure as hell is an uphill battle. If you need some inspiration to join me on this quest, start here. 

Genre: Economics, Non-Fiction
Subjects: Rich's Reco's