“Hot Seat: The CEO Guidebook” by Dan Shapiro

No Comments

This book just came out and I loved it. If you are starting a company, or thinking of it, you need to read this book. Period.

Dan covered a whole range of topics very succinctly, and in easy-to-follow language. When and how to raise funds. What all those terms mean. Who should (and should not!) be on your board, and why. How to allocate shares and ownership between co-founders. Where to incorporate your company (Dan has strong opinions on this!). How to create (and then also maintain) company culture. A great section on decision making. A section on “Hiring” in the context of the Manhattan project vs the moon shot Apollo project that I think every engineering hiring manager should read before building a team. Several true stories about startups where co-founders mismatches caused company threatening problems (trivia: 6 of 10 startups lose a co-founder in early days). And some good (and bad!) stories of how important trust was.

Some great quotes that resonated with me:

“You have limited resources of time and money. When they run out, you go bankrupt. The important thing is not cost/benefit: it’s opportunity cost.”

(in the context of how much travel was needed for all the in-person meetings with investors when raising funding) “…Alaska Airlines gave me MVP status for my efforts. In January.”

“Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to the resources currently controlled”. Prof Stevenson, Harvard.

In a variation of the “fail fast” mantra in developer circles, Dan notes that “…while it might seem like cold comfort now, the sooner you fail, the sooner you can try again.” Oh, and he’s not just saying it – that was the ending of a chapter where he detailed the failure of one of his startups.

His tolerance for large volumes of coffee and pointer to suggested reading “Coffee, CYP1A2 Genotype, and Risk of Myocardial Infarction” was a great and unexpected tangent for me personally. (More info here Journal of American Medical Association)

“Startups don’t out think their competitors; they out-execute them.”

“If leadership is the forest, then management is the trees. Day to day, it’s what consumes your time, and its imperative that you get it right.”

It takes skill and seasoned-experience-in-the-field to have one person cover all these different topics. Even more skill to do so clearly, and concisely. Putting them all together in a way that makes sense was great. Just great. If you are starting a company, or thinking of it, you need to read this book. Period.

Aside: Having this on my kindle app, on my trusty nexus5 phone was quite a good reading experience. The book was written in short, digestible chapters, which I could quickly complete standing a store line, or in the back of a taxi between meetings. It also encouraged me to think more about the chapter I just finished in the time before I got to stop and read some more. A nice way to digest the many lessons in here. I’m still experimenting with what books I find do work best on phone+kindle vs ink-on-paper, but at least for this book, reading on kindle worked for me.

(Disclaimer: I bought this book because I’m starting my own company, and that is the basis of the above review. As this book is published by O’Reilly Press, it feels important to disclose that I am also currently doing some work with O’Reilly… which did not influence anything I wrote here.)

A new focus

1 Comment

I’ve just added two new categories (“Release Engineering” and “Startup”) to my blog. This reflects the new reality of my life.

Obviously, many of my existing posts are already about Release Engineering, an area I care deeply about, yet somehow I just never flagged them correctly – I’ll fix that. The bigger news is about “Startup”. A few months ago, I decided to take the plunge and actually do what I’ve been talking about for years – start my own startup.

Since then, every day has been really busy, exciting, scary and fun – sometimes even all on the same day! Finding a bug in some AWS API documentation. Reading legal contracts with a highlighter and having to stop to Google some of the terms. Getting phone calls from a stranger that start with “you don’t know me, but I got your name from xxx and I hope you can help…”. Saying “what could possibly go wrong” multiple times a day. Joking about “pay no attention to the man behind the green curtain” while preparing a demo. Politely declining a job offer from a cold call recruiter, hanging up, taking a deep breath, calmly reminding myself that 9 out of 10 startup fail, and then jumping back into the fray. Oddly enough, I find I’m sleeping more, and feeling less stressed!? So far. Oh, and I’m drinking even more coffee then usual (yes, that is possible!).

Things are still under wraps, but as soon as there’s something worthwhile to show or talk about, I’ll post here on my blog.

In addition to the PRODUCT of the startup, I’ll also be blogging about the PROCESS of creating the startup. Technical, business, human aspects… warts and all. I’ve found it really helpful, and encouraging, to read posts from other founders and investors who’ve gone before me, on what they learned while building a startup – not just airbrushed niceties but also the genuine good/bad/funny/horror/irreverent/snafu stories that people have posted about life while building a startup. Some I’ve nodded along with, say “that was obvious”. Some I’ve re-read multiple times carefully and made mental notes. All are honest and helpful – to me and I’m sure many many others also. In that “pay it forward” spirit, I’ll make time to blog about this, and hopefully others starting their own entrepreneurial path will find these posts helpful – in a “oh, that is clever, I should make sure to do that” way… or “oh boy, I need to make sure to *never* do that” way… or somewhere in between!

I have to say I feel incredibly lucky with the support and encouragement of friends, family, former-co-workers and others I’ve bumped into over the years. Not just generic “don’t worry – it will be fine” support. Even with best of intentions, telling people what you think they want to hear, even when you think it may not be a good idea, is not good – it can set someone up to fail. Instead, I’ve been getting really helpful, informed, constructive support and advice like “maybe if you change it to…” or “have you asked xxx, she might have an insight…” or “that was good, don’t change that” or “… ok, that didn’t go well, so how will you do better next time?” Sometimes hard to hear, but always true from the heart and totally honest. This support is priceless, and means a great deal to me, so I find myself listening very carefully and humbly thanking people a LOT.