Category Archives: Founders at Work

Founders at Work: Stories of Startup’s Early Days by Jessica Livingston

Accidental Empires by Robert X Cringely

How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can't Get a Date by Robert X CringelyLast night I finished Robert X Cringely’s  Accidental Empires: How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date (published in the 1990s).

I much preferred Founders at Work: Stories of Startup’s Early Days by Jessica Livingston (published in 2007).

I think what I liked about Livingston’s book was that since it was in interview-format, it was straightforward.

But Cringely’s book felt very gossipy.

Of course, Livingston had the benefit of writing her book a decade.

My opinion, don’t read this book — it’s more reflective of the time the book was written than of the computer industry.


Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston

Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.

-Howard Aiken

This was quoted by Jessica Livingston in the introduction of Founders at Work: Stories of Startup’s Early Days, which I recently read (click here to read all my posts on this book).

I found this quote both humorous and fascinating and it makes me wonder how much truth there is to it.

I would guess that with early-stage technology, which the companies featured in Founders at Work were known for, terrific life-changing ideas would easily be dismissed by critics.

But in other situations, I would guess that the inventors’ and founders’ fear that someone might steal their idea isn’t that far off.

Another quote that got me thinking in this book was the idea that “Companies take shape based on the personality characteristics and human interaction characteristics of the founders” — Ray Ozzie said this in Chapter Seven but the idea was echoed throughout the book. Just one chapter back, in Chapter Six, Mitchell Kapor said, “These types of companies tend to reflect the personalities and interests of their founders. Microsoft is very much cast in Bill Gates’s images; and Apple, Steve Jobs; Borland, Phillippe Kahn.”

I wonder how accurate this observation is.

Anyway, lots to think about after having read this book. No interest in starting a tech company, even after reading the success stories from this book.

In case you’re curious, here’s the Table of Contents:

Foreword ix
Acknowledgments xi
Introduction xiii

1 Max Levchin: Cofounder, PayPal 1
2 Sabeer Bhatia: Cofounder, Hotmail 17
3 Steve Wozniak: Cofounder, Apple Computer 31
4 Joe Kraus: Cofounder, Excite 61
5 Dan Bricklin: Cofounder, Software Arts 73
6 Mitchell Kapor: Cofounder, Lotus Development 89
7 Ray Ozzie: Cofounder, Iris Associates, Groove Networks 103
8 Evan Williams: Cofounder, Pyra Labs ( 111
9 Tim Brady: First Non-Founding Employee, Yahoo 127
10 Mike Lazaridis: Cofounder, Research In Motion 141
11 Arthur Van Hoff: Cofounder, Marimba 153
12 Paul Buchheit: Creator, Gmail 161
13 Steve Perlman: Cofounder, WebTV 173
14 Mike Ramsay: Cofounder, TiVo 191
15 Paul Graham: Cofounder, Viaweb 205
16 Joshua Schachter: Founder, 223
17 Mark Fletcher: Founder, ONElist, Bloglines 233
18 Craig Newmark: Founder, Craigslist 247
19 Caterina Fake: Cofounder, Flickr 257
20 Brewster Kahle: Founder, WAIS, Internet Archive, Alexa Internet 265
21 Charles Geschke: Cofounder, Adobe Systems 281
22 Ann Winblad: Cofounder, Open Systems, Hummer Winblad 297
23 David Heinmeier: Hansson Partner, 37 signals 309
24 Philip Greenspun: Cofounder, ArsDigita 317
25 Joel Spolsky: Cofounder, Fog Creek Software 345
26 Stephen Kaufer: Cofounder, TripAdvisor 361
27 James Hong: Cofounder, Hot or Not 377
28 James Currier: Founder, Tickle 387
29 Blake Ross: Creator, Firefox 395
30 Mena Trott: Cofounder, Six Apart 405
31 Bob Davis: Founder, Lycos 419
32 Ron Gruner: Cofounder Alliant Computer Systems; Founder, 427

Index 447

Don’t be surprised if I post about this book again. I might even buy myself a copy.

More Library Books

I went to the library today to return a few books and as usual I left with six more.

Yup, after a three month hiatus, I’ve gotten back into reading business books.

I plan on skimming the last two books — they seem more like how-to / reference books than like books worth reading for their literary value (click here to read the table of contents for The Art of Project Management and click here to read the table of contents for Persuasive Business Proposals and you’ll see what I mean). Though Persuasive Business Proposals does seem like it’ll have some practical advice.

The first book, The Wild Trees, is by the author of The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story (click here to read an excerpt of this dramatic true story of an Ebola virus outbreak in a Northern Virginia laboratory), one of my favorite books growing up. The Wild Trees is about the California Redwood Forest (with trees taller than 350 feet and some of them thousands of years old) and the primeval kingdom of plants and animals that only a handful of people have ever seen. Click here to read an excerpt or check out the author’s website for more.

As for the remaining middle three, The Opposable Mind was published by the Harvard Business School Press (for what that’s worth), the author of If at First You Don’t Succeed (click here to read an excerpt) was the New York Times small business editor, and Founders at Work tells the story of startups like Firefox, TiVo, WebTV, Craigslist, Hotmail, Adobe, and others.

Of those, The Opposable Mind seems the most interesting — with research from psychologists and profiles of several companies that have been successful in utilizing integrative thinking — including Four Season Hotels, Procter & Gamble, and Red Hat.