Weekend reflection and reading

Morning all. Happy Easter weekend! Here’s what I’ve been reading and thinking about this week. It’s pretty business and startup-heavy this week, so if that doesn’t interest you, just check back in next week.



  • Serial entrepreneur Jay Samit on the SellPersonal podcast: I’d honestly never heard of Jay Samit until I listened to this interview, but I was blown away. He clearly and concisely laid out how you can look around for problems that need to be solved, and go solve them, and build great companies in the process. I also picked up his book Disrupt You! after I’d listened to this interview.
  • The only entrepreneurship reading list you need: my old boss Tucker Max continued his Asshole to CEO series with a fantastic reading list on startups and entrepreneurship. I’ll give you the Cliff Notes: Paul Graham, good, Guy Kawasaki, bad.
  • Paul Graham on how to get startup ideas: Tucker’s list sent me down a bit of a rabbit hole on Paul Graham’s essays, but this is one of the best. Just like Jay Samit said: look for problems that need solving.
  • The Marc Andreessen Guide to Startups: again, one from Tucker’s list — I hadn’t seen these essays before, but Marc Andreessen (Netscape, Opsware, Ning, Andreessen Horowitz) is basically the best there is when it comes to talking about tech and startups. He talks from a place of huge experience, and this is a great read. Pretty short too.
  • 90 Day Goal Setting and Action Step Planning Template: this is one of the resources from my friend Taylor Pearson‘s book. Hugely useful and practical way to break down your long-term goals into 90 day steps, then monthly, weekly and daily. I’ll definitely be using this.
  • 10 Habits of Unsuccessful People You Don’t Want to Copy: Taleb would call this “via negativa”. Munger would call it “inverting the problem”. Whatever you want to call it, you can really progress by just trying to avoid making mistakes. Here are 10 habits you should stay away from.

My hot streak of writing has continued. Now up to two weeks, every day, without fail. I like it — I like the routine, and I like that it forces me to commit thoughts to paper. I’ll continue with it.

Last week I wrote that I had 3 main goals right now:

  1. Building a repeatable, scalable way to get leads for my copywriting business
  2. Getting back in the gym and in shape
  3. Finding a weekly goal review and tracking system to use

On 1) things are good. I signed three more clients this week, probably for longer-term work, which is great. I think the main channel of growth is going to be word of mouth — and right now, I’m busy enough that the word of mouth engine is in full swing. My plan from here is to basically get enough clients that I’m working full-time, and if people are still wanting to work with me, I’ll slowly increase my rates to manage demand. I know that a lot of people want to do the same, so once I have a little more time (and I’m sure I can turn it into a full-time business) I’m going to write up a full case study of exactly what I did, and the results I got. I’ll include all the emails, spreadsheets, and other resources that I used as well.

I didn’t work out at all this week — again — but I did monitor my weight closely, and eat well throughout the week, so I still lost 1.5 lbs. But that wasn’t the goal: exercise was the goal. I failed. MUST fix this next week, as a matter of urgency.

And finally, I found a great planning and tracking system — Taylor’s90 Day Goal Setting and Action Step Planning Template that I linked above. Not much else to say here other than that it’s fantastic, and I’ll definitely be using it.

Goals for next week:

  1. Get in the gym at least once
  2. Continue to grow copywriting business
  3. Publish on blog every day
  4. Begin 90 day goal setting and action step planning

Notes and quotes from The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

I read The Hard Thing About Hard Things in about a day and a half – it’s incredibly well-written and I read it just as I am transitioning from my nice, comfortable, corporate gig to a much more exciting (and risky) role at a startup, so this book had a lot of relevance to me.

In the book, Ben Horowitz, formerly of Loudcloud and Opsware, and now a leading Silicon Valley venture capitalist, talks about the lessons he learned as a successful tech startup CEO. It’s all here: finding a product, pivoting, building out a sales team, dealing with company politics, coping with your own psychology when the whole company is counting on you, and selling your company. It’s one of those well-written, first-person accounts from someone who has been there and done that, in an area that I’m really interested in (which, incidentally, is why I also love I Am The Secret Footballer).

Below are my notes and quotes from the book.

There are no shortcuts to knowledge, especially knowledge gained from personal experience. Following conventional wisdom and relying on shortcuts can be worse than knowing nothing at all.
Former secretary of state Colin Powell says that leadership is the ability to get someone to follow you even if only out of curiosity.
Looking at the world through such different prisms helped me separate facts from perception. This ability would serve me incredibly well later when I became an entrepreneur and CEO. In particularly dire circumstances when the “facts” seemed to dictate a certain outcome, I learned to look for alternative narratives and explanations coming from radically different perspectives to inform my outlook. The simple existence of an alternate, plausible scenario is often all that’s needed to keep hope alive among a worried workforce.
…until that point, I had not really made any serious choices. I felt like I had unlimited bandwidth and could do everything in life that I wanted to do simultaneously. But his joke made it suddenly clear that by continuing on the course I was on, I might lose my family. By doing everything, I would fail at the most important thing.
In my mind, I was confident that I was a good person and not selfish, but my actions said otherwise. I had to stop being a boy and become a man.

Note: often we ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions, when in fact your actions are what really counts.

During this time I learned the most important rule of raising money privately: Look for a market of one. You only need one investor to say yes, so it’s best to ignore the other thirty who say “no.”
No matter who you are, you need two kinds of friends in your life. The first kind is one you can call when something good happens, and you need someone who will be excited for you. Not a fake excitement veiling envy, but a real excitement. You need someone who will actually be more excited for you than he would be if it had happened to him. The second kind of friend is somebody you can call when things go horribly wrong—when your life is on the line and you only have one phone call. Who is it going to be? Bill Campbell is both of those friends.
“Gentlemen, I’ve done many deals in my lifetime and through that process, I’ve developed a methodology, a way of doing things, a philosophy if you will. Within that philosophy, I have certain beliefs. I believe in artificial deadlines. I believe in playing one against the other. I believe in doing everything and anything short of illegal or immoral to get the damned deal done.”
An early lesson I learned in my career was that whenever a large organization attempts to do anything, it always comes down to a single person who can delay the entire project.
It turns out that is exactly what product strategy is all about—figuring out the right product is the innovator’s job, not the customer’s job. The customer only knows what she thinks she wants based on her experience with the current product. The innovator can take into account everything that’s possible, but often must go against what she knows to be true. As a result, innovation requires a combination of knowledge, skill, and courage.
Note to self: It’s a good idea to ask, “What am I not doing?”
Startup CEOs should not play the odds. When you are building a company, you must believe there is an answer and you cannot pay attention to your odds of finding it. You just have to find it. It matters not whether your chances are nine in ten or one in a thousand; your task is the same.
I thought that it was my job and my job only to worry about the company’s problems. Had I been thinking more clearly, I would have realized that it didn’t make sense for me to be the only one to worry about, for example, the product not being quite right—because I wasn’t writing the code that would fix it.
In business, intelligence is always a critical element in any employee, because what we do is difficult and complex and the competitors are filled with extremely smart people. However, intelligence is not the only important quality. Being effective in a company also means working hard, being reliable, and being an excellent member of the team.
Want to see a great company story? Read Jeff Bezos’s three-page letter he wrote to shareholders in 1997. In telling Amazon’s story in this extended form—not as a mission statement, not as a tagline—Jeff got all the people who mattered on the same page as to what Amazon was about.
Note: The Everything Store is a great book to learn more about Amazon and, in particular, Jeff Bezos, who is one of the best CEOs around.
Some employees make products, some make sales; the CEO makes decisions. Therefore, a CEO can most accurately be measured by the speed and quality of those decisions. Great decisions come from CEOs who display an elite mixture of intelligence, logic, and courage.
If you are a sports fan, you know that world-class athletes don’t stay world-class for long. One day you are Terrell Owens and the next day you are Terrell Owens.
If I was so inclined I could literally have typed out whole sections of this book – how to respond when one of your top execs questions the performance of another, what to say to your company if someone complains about bad language, how to give great feedback to employees – but I’d probably be violating some sort of copyright law. These are just the quotes that I really liked.

What I’m reading

I’ve binged on books over the last couple of weeks – here’s some of what I’ve been reading:

The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More by Chris Anderson. Like I said a week or two ago, I’m a little behind the times with this book, but it was full of fantastic graphs, explanations and theories as to how the internet has changed so many business models for the better, and the important of niches.

The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. Again, I’m hugely behind the times, but I finally got around to reading this, and I thought it was great. I can’t instantly put into practice much of what Tim talks about (in order to escape 9-5 I would first have to find myself a 9-5 job from which to escape) but I really admire what he’s done, and I think it’s inspiring. Your life doesn’t have to be work all week, party on friday and saturday night, rinse and repeat for 40 years: you control it, you can shape it and you can do what you want. There’s some fantastic productivity advice in here as well.

The Game-Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation by Lafley and Charan. This book is a fascinating look at how Proctor and Gamble focus on customer-centric innovation and how every decision is driven by trying to improve the day-to-day life of the customer. I knew P&G were a big company, but I was blown away by the sheer number of brands they own. 21 brands with sales of over $1bn per annum. A lot of P&G’s success comes from hugely extensive market research, immersing themselves in the customer’s world and seeing things as they do, defining what the issue is and then coming up with a way to ‘delight’ the customer.

Being familiar with the ideas

Anyone who’s seen my list of google reader subscriptions or my delicious account can tell that I spend a large portion of my time online. And while my parents may think that that’s a huge waste, I do spend at least some of my time trying to learn new things, new ideas and new concepts. A lot of what I know and what I consider my marketable knowledge, I learned online (either directly from wikipedia or blogs, or indirectly from being told what books to read etc).

One of these books that I’m currently reading is The Long Tail (I know, I’m late to the party), which I was reading on Ryan’s recommendation:

There is not much that needs to be said about this book other than it defines current net economics. There’s the head of the tail which is the stuff you find in Borders, and the tail, which is the infinite inventory on Amazon. You need to be familiar with this theory.

That’s a fair point, but it made me think – what ideas or theories should people be familiar with?

I could think of another two:

What others are there? What ideas should young, smart and ambitious people know to help them succeed?

What I’m reading

Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
Gladwell’s third book, where he looks at what factors determine success, with surprising results (as if we’d expect anything different). I liked this book a lot more than Blink (which is still very good), and it’s definitely a much more mature book than The Tipping Point, but I’m not sure if it’s better. Definitely worth reading, if you haven’t already. Gladwell has a fantastic talent for making non-fiction writing incredibly engaging and entertaining.

Permission Marketing – Seth Godin
Another good book from Seth, who’s blog I highly recommend. This book is a bit outdated, as it was published in 1999, so some of the examples are a bit irrelevant now, but the principles are solid: for a good primer on permission marketing, read this post. I’ve been reading Seth’s blog for a while now so, like Purple Cow, this book was more for supplementing what Seth has published on his blog, rather than introducing me to new ideas.

The Game – Neil Strauss
I’ve probably read this book more than any other, but I’m going through it again and reading it properly. I think I first read this book when I was 17, and at the time it changed my life. I thought I had discovered “the secret” , and that by applying the knowledge in here I would have infinite success with women and live a happy life. In short, I completely missed the point of the book. But, for a while at least, I was quite into the community, and read a lot of self-help books with the intent of increasing my success with women. Strangely, just thinking that I knew more than other people about women made me much more confident, and this confidence actually paid off. As I got a little more mature I grew out of the community, but the confidence I had acquired stayed with me. Now I’ve realised no-one needs all this PUA bullshit to have success with women, which in turn made me a lot more confident in myself. Now, two years after I first read the book, I’m infinitely more confident than I ever have been before. Strange how that worked out. I highly recommend this book, as it is amazing, and Strauss’s honesty about his shortcomings is incredible. Just don’t do what I did – actually listen to what Strauss is saying about this subculture.

I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell – Tucker Max
It’s been a long term at uni, and I needed a break from some of the heavier non-fiction that I read, so I’m reading this again. Hilarious. Although I think my girlfriend is worried (and slightly jealous) about the number of times I’ve read this book.

What if Steve Jobs ran one of the Big Three auto companies? – good article that looks at the problems in Detroit, and how they could learn a lesson from Jobs’ turnaround of Apple back in the 90s.

The High-Res Society – another great essay by Paul Graham.

“Large organizations will start to do worse now, though, because for the first time in history they’re no longer getting the best people. An ambitious kid graduating from college now doesn’t want to work for a big company. They want to work for the hot startup that’s rapidly growing into one. If they’re really ambitious, they want to start it.”

Is effort a myth? – this is one of my favourite Seth Godin posts. I’ve been re-reading it recently and thinking about how to apply it to my own life. I waste far too much time at uni, rationalising it by convincing myself that I’m exposing myself to randomness, when actually I’ve just wasted an afternoon playing video games.

If you have any recommendations for books, articles, essays, blog posts or whatever, email me at andrewlynch88@gmail.com.

What I’m reading

The Virtues of War – Steven Pressfield. This is an awesome book written in the first person from the perspective of Alexander the Great. It’s fiction but Pressfield has obviously done his research – apparently it’s very accurate. I should read more about Alexander the Great. I think I’m going to pick up 33 Strategies of War pretty soon as well.

Purple Cow – Seth Godin. Very good book that calls for businesses to stand out and do something worth talking about. Consumers now have all of what they need, and most of what they want, so you need to do something extraordinary to get their attention. I’ve read Seth’s blog for quite a while now so it was a lot of the same ideas, but still very good. I’m planning to read Permission Marketing and Unleashing the Ideavirus within the next week, too.

The Alchemist – Paolo Coehlo. I first read this book a couple of months ago. I love it. It’s an inspiring tale about following your dreams and fulfilling your personal legend. At times Coehlo gets slightly too spiritual and new-age for me, but I still think everyone should read this book.

Anyone Can Do It: My Story – Duncan Bannatyne. Duncan is a scottish entrepreneur who most Brits will know from the TV show Dragons’ Den. This is his autobiography, where he talks about his various business ventures. It’s a very typical rags-to-riches story, but Duncan mentions a few things that stood out for me. His first million-pound business was a company called Quality Care Homes, a chain of elderly nursing homes in the north of England. Duncan says that he didn’t have first-mover advantage, specialised sector knowledge, or a unique selling point: he just went and did it better than everyone else had. Good read.

Why talent is overrated – very interesting article that says that those who we consider to be very talented aren’t necessarily genetically disposed that way – they just practice a lot more and a lot harder than most.

What You’ll Wish You’d Known – transcript of a high school graduation speech that Paul Graham was meant to give, but didn’t. He talks about a lot of great stuff, and it’s a lot better than the typical graduation speeches of “don’t give up on your dreams”. Charlie Hoehn has a good summary of some of the key points here.

As always, if you think there are any books or articles that I should check out, please email me at andrewlynch88@gmail.com.

Final note: the Book Quotes page is now up; you can access it by clicking the link along the top bar, or by clicking here. And I’ve changed the theme of the site a bit: any feedback or ideas, feel free to email me.

On reading and progress

Ilan Bouchard has a great post up at his personal blog called On Reading and Progress.

I never read anymore without a pen and highlighter. I highlight passages that stand out and scribble notes in the margins; when I finish a book, I set it aside for a month or two. Then I return to it and transcribe all the highlighted passages and notes into a word document, marking their page numbers. This allows me to review the book and fixes its main concepts in my mind. If I want to review a quote, I can search within the word document for a few words or phrases from the passage, and jump directly to the quote in question, even if I can’t remember who wrote it or which book it came from.

I can’t stress how much doing exactly this has helped me. I’ve only done this with maybe 15 books since I started doing it a few months ago, but it’s already helped me massively. If you want to do the same, here’s some great resources:

These are more for learning on your own time, and if you want something a little more structured, MIT’s Open Courseware is awesome as well. They have lecture notes and presentations and recommended textbooks for all the courses that MIT offer, for free. It’s fantastic.

Alexander: The Virtues of War

“As a boy I instinctively understood the ground, the march, the occasion, and the elements. I comprehended the crossing of rivers and the exploitation of terrain; how many units of what composition may traverse such and such a distance, how swiftly, bearing how much kit, arriving in what condition to fight. The drawing up of troops came as second nature to me: I simply looked; all showed itself clear. My father was the greatest soldier of his day, perhaps the greatest ever. Yet when I was ten I informed him that I would excel him. By twenty-three I had done so.”
Steven Pressfield
Alexander: The Virtues of War

This book tells the story of Alexander the Great and his military conquests from a first person perspective, and technically it is fiction, as the author has taken a few creative liberties here and there (as he admits in the first few pages). I bought this book on saturday and started reading it today. It’s brilliant. I plan on getting everything that Pressfield has written over the next month or two – he’s written books about the Battle of Thermopylae and the Peloponnesian War. Add it to the wish list.

Book quotes, Fight Club edition

Here’s the second lot of book quotes. I’m in the process of putting all my book quotes into one static page, rather than a series of blog posts, but until then, here’s my favourite quotes from Fight Club. Brilliant book, fantastic film.

“It’s easy to cry when you realise that everyone you love will reject you or die. On a long enough time line, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero.”

“One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection. You wake up, and that’s enough.”

“Most guys are at fight club because of something they’re too scared to fight. After a few fights, you’re afraid a lot less.”

“This isn’t a seminar. ‘If you lose your nerve before you hit the bottom,’ Tyler says, ‘you’ll never really succeed.’ Only after disaster can we be resurrected. ‘It’s only after you’ve lost everything,’ Tyler says, ‘that you’re free to do anything.'”

“‘Getting fired,’ Tyler says, ‘is the best thing that could ever happen to any of us. That way we’d quit treading water and do something with our lives.'”

“‘You have a class of young strong men and women, and they want to give their lives to something. Advertising has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need. We don’t have a great war in our generation, or a great depression, but we do, we have a war of the spirit. We have a great revolution against the culture. The great depression is our lives.”

“You could be in school working your ass off, Raymond Hessel, or you could be dead. You choose.”

And here’s a great quote from the author, Chuck Palahniuk:

All those people that give you shit and tease you about your book, or art, or music, or whatever… fuck them. Fuck. Them. They aren’t trying to do what you’re doing. They aren’t doing anything creative, or innovative, or challenging. Fuck them and watch how they change when your art succeeds.

Read this book if you haven’t already.

Book quotes, Malcolm X edition

A couple of guys that I read regularly like typing or writing out their favourite quotes from books that they’ve read, for reference, inspiration and the like. I think it’s a good idea, and I’m going to do the same. Eventually I’ll consolidate them all into one page on this site, but for now, here’s a few of my favourites to get started with. These are all from The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

“Malcolm’s life finally demonstrates difficult and perennially unfashionable notion that people are not fixed or closed products of their circumstances.”

“Children have a lesson adults needs to learn, to not be ashamed of falling, but to get up and try again. Most of us adults are so afraid, so cautious, so “safe”, and therefore so shrinking and rigid and afraid that it is why so many humans fail. Most middle-aged adults have resigned themselves to failure.”

“Anyone who wants to follow me and my movement has got to be ready to go to jail, to the hospital, and to the cemetery before he can be truly free.”

“All I had done was to improve on their strategy, and it was the beginning of a very important lesson in life – that any time you find someone more successful than you are, especially when you’re both engaged in the same business – you know they’re doing something that you aren’t.”

“I was going through the hardest thing, also the greatest thing, for any human being to do; to accept that which is already within you, and around you.”

“My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America. Not long ago, an English writer telephoned me from London, asking questions. One was, ‘What’s your alma mater?’ I told him, ‘Books.’”

“‘Don’t condemn if you see a person has a glass of dirty water,’ [Mr Muhammed] said, ‘just show them the clean glass of water that you have. When they inspect it, you won’t have to say that yours is better.'”

My favourite quote in bold. This is a great book, one that I should probably read again some time. I’ll put it back in the ever-growing pile next to my bed. More book quotes to come soon.