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Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days (2007)

by Jessica Livingston

Other authors: Sabeer Bhatia (Contributor), Tim Brady (Contributor), Dan Brocklin (Contributor), Paul Buchheit (Contributor), Paul Graham (Contributor)9 more, Mitchell Kapor (Contributor), Joe Kraus (Contributor), Mike Lazaridis (Contributor), Max Levchin (Contributor), Ray Ozzie (Contributor), Steve Perlman (Contributor), Arthur Van Hoff (Contributor), Evan Williams (Contributor), Steve Wozniak (Contributor)

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879918,756 (4.2)None
Now available in paperback--with a new preface and interview with Jessica Livingston about Y Combinator! Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days is a collection of interviews with founders of famous technology companies about what happened in the very earliest days. These people are celebrities now. What was it like when they were just a couple friends with an idea? Founders like Steve Wozniak (Apple), Caterina Fake (Flickr), Mitch Kapor (Lotus), Max Levchin (PayPal), and Sabeer Bhatia (Hotmail) tell you in their own words about their surprising and often very funny discoveries as they learned how to build a company. Where did they get the ideas that made them rich? How did they convince investors to back them? What went wrong, and how did they recover? Nearly all technical people have thought of one day starting or working for a startup. For them, this book is the closest you can come to being a fly on the wall at a successful startup, to learn how it's done. But ultimately these interviews are required reading for anyone who wants to understand business, because startups are business reduced to its essence. The reason their founders become rich is that startups do what businesses do--create value--more intensively than almost any other part of the economy. How? What are the secrets that make successful startups so insanely productive? Read this book, and let the founders themselves tell you.… (more)
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English (7)  French (1)  German (1)  All languages (9)
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Great selection of stories about early days at startups. Jessica Livingston herself knows more about startups than most other authors (she's a founding partner at Y Combinator, has been involved in helping startups for over a decade, and has an investment banking background.) ( )
  octal | Jan 1, 2021 |
As the title of the book itself suggests, this book's completely filled with very long interviews and success stories of successful founders who have founded various different tech companies and have risen to fame in the world of tech by following their goals and making their crazy dreams and crazy ideas come to fruition. If your desire is to become a successful entrepreneur someday or a founder of a large tech company, this book offers a great deal of advice from some of the worlds most successful people, for people like yourself, and it delves deeply into the business structure of a tech company to such an extent you can easily get an idea how to structure and how to pursue your very own business venture. ( )
  Champ88 | Dec 25, 2019 |
A wonderful inside look at how a number of different startups were created. The book reinforced a few interesting trends for me:

1. Very few founders knew what they were doing when they first started; many of the ideas emerged accidentally, after many failures or experiments.

2. You *can* get more done with crazy hours and virtually all successful startups require them.

3. VC funding seemed to be an ingredient in the success if most startups, but was often a double edged sword, causing problems later on.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

"What surprised me most was how unsure the founders seemed to be that they were actually onto something big. Some of these companies got started almost by accident. The world thinks of startup founders as having some kind of superhuman confidence, but a lot of them were uncertain at first about starting a company. What they weren't uncertain about was making something good--or trying to fix something broken".

van Hoff: “Over the years, I’ve learned that the first idea you have is irrelevant. It’s just a catalyst for you to get started. Then you figure out what’s wrong with it and you go through phases of denial, panic, regret. And then you finally have a better idea and the second idea is always the important one.”


Buchheit: “A lot of people seem to be against uncertainty, actually. In all areas of life.

I’m suddenly reminded that, for a while, I asked people, if they were playing Russian roulette with a gun with a billion barrels (or some huge number, so in other words, some low probability that they would actually be killed), how much would they have to be paid to play one round? A lot of people were almost offended by the question and they’d say, “I wouldn’t do it at any price.”

But, of course, we do that every day. They drive to work in cars to earn money and they are taking risks all the time, but they don’t like to acknowledge that they are taking risks. They want to pretend that everything is risk-free.”


Paul Graham: “Practically all the software in the world is either broken or very difficult to use. So users dread software.

They’ve been trained that whenever they try to install something, or even fill out a form online, it’s “not going to work. I dread installing stuff, and I have a PhD in computer science.

So if you’re writing applications for end users, you have to remember that you’re writing for an audience that has been traumatized by bad experiences.”


Paul Graham: I found I could actually sell moderately well. I could convince people of stuff. I learned a trick for doing this: to tell the truth. A lot of people think that the way to convince people of things is to be eloquent—to have some bag of tricks for sliding conclusions into their brains. But there’s also a sort of hack that you can use if you are not a very good salesman, which is simply tell the truth. Our strategy for selling our software to people was: make the best software and then tell them, truthfully, “this is the best software.” And they could tell we were telling the truth.

Another advantage of telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you’ve said. You don’t have to keep any state in your head. It’s a purely functional business strategy. (Hackers will get what I mean.)”


Winblad: “You’d think that everybody would want to have our jobs. We’ve all been handsomely rewarded. The stories are not like, “Hey, we had patrician backgrounds and silver spoons, and we bought our way into this.” We just “thought” our way into these industries. The power of thought “and math and science and computing, you’re given that for free—it’s a choice you can make. You take that choice, and it gives you sort of a magic wand to be a captain of an industry that’s still fairly young, that’s driving the whole world economy”



Spolsky: “These were all marginally good marketing ideas. Unfortunately we spent a lot of time chasing them. The one thing we learned over 5 years is that nothing works better than just improving your product. Every minute, every developer hour we spent on any one of these crazy things—although they had some marginal return on the work that we put into them—was nothing compared to just making a better version of the product and releasing it”

( )
  brikis98 | Nov 11, 2015 |
Reviewed on Computing Reviews.
  gmicksmith | Jul 17, 2015 |
A must read for every entrepreneur, be him a techie or not. Very good real world practical lessons, mistakes and lot's of success. Great read. ( )
2 vote dsheise | Aug 7, 2008 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Founders at Work: Stories of Startups Early Days is one of those books that calls seductively to many web workers. Written by Jessica Livingston of venture capital firm Y Combinator, the book consists entirely of transcribed interviews with founders of high-tech, mainly Internet, startups, all of whom hit it big in varying degrees.
added by mikeg2 | editGigaOM, Mike Gunderloy (Apr 20, 2007)
 

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jessica Livingstonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bhatia, SabeerContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brady, TimContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brocklin, DanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Buchheit, PaulContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Graham, PaulContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kapor, MitchellContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kraus, JoeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lazaridis, MikeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Levchin, MaxContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ozzie, RayContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Perlman, SteveContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Van Hoff, ArthurContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Williams, EvanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wozniak, SteveContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Now available in paperback--with a new preface and interview with Jessica Livingston about Y Combinator! Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days is a collection of interviews with founders of famous technology companies about what happened in the very earliest days. These people are celebrities now. What was it like when they were just a couple friends with an idea? Founders like Steve Wozniak (Apple), Caterina Fake (Flickr), Mitch Kapor (Lotus), Max Levchin (PayPal), and Sabeer Bhatia (Hotmail) tell you in their own words about their surprising and often very funny discoveries as they learned how to build a company. Where did they get the ideas that made them rich? How did they convince investors to back them? What went wrong, and how did they recover? Nearly all technical people have thought of one day starting or working for a startup. For them, this book is the closest you can come to being a fly on the wall at a successful startup, to learn how it's done. But ultimately these interviews are required reading for anyone who wants to understand business, because startups are business reduced to its essence. The reason their founders become rich is that startups do what businesses do--create value--more intensively than almost any other part of the economy. How? What are the secrets that make successful startups so insanely productive? Read this book, and let the founders themselves tell you.

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