Founders at Work certainly lives up to expectations. If you’re looking for inspiration on how people bootstrapped themselves in the tech sector to wild success here it is. Now, as a chronicle of the nascent IT sector at this point in history, there are a lot of people who were at the right place at the right time, think early 90s computer science majors. You can dismiss them as one hit wonders, trying to extend that last hit by becoming venture capitalists or dreamers now working at smaller web shops like the rest of us, looking at smaller payouts. However, you can’t deny the fact that they did it and succeeded.
There’s not much you can learn from one hit wonders. Just remember that if you ever get in a position where you find yourself out of your league with a wild streak of luck, you have nothing to lose but to run with it as hard as you can take it and cash out quick but not too quick. However this book is littered with gems. One story that stood out to me the most was the story of Max Levchin, the co-founder of PayPayl. He originally set out to offer encryption software for the palm pilot which evolved into payments (the most direct application of the technology). Paypal was more of a demo rather than the end goal. What stood out to me was the fact that as the service grew traction, he focused on fraud prevention more than anything else and even dedicated his full attention with the help of a brilliant intern to track down common patterns and flags to prevent it. The versatility to see the true deal breaker of a service and tackle it effectively, that’s not luck.
James Hong of HotorNot (since sold off) was another funny one. What started off as a lark soon grew into a business but what caught me was the approach he took, like stopping some random guy on the street and asking him, “dude, did you see that new site ‘hot or not’, you need to check it out” or hosting images off of Yahoo! geocities to scale and finally convincing a hosting company to sponsor their infrastructure in exchange for publicity. That’s true entrepreneurship.
All these people rose up to the challenge and didn’t give up. They came up with some weird and unique solutions. It’s a story of inspiration and character. It makes you want to jump out of bed and start a company.