Book review: Founders at Work

Founders at workatwork is a collection of interviews with, surprise, founders of tech-sector companies. The goal is to capture their recollections of the early days of their successful ventures, and share stories that were often overlooked.

The interview list is first rate: founders from Hotmail, Adobe, Excite, Firefox, Yahoo! and more than 20 other well known companies are included.

The upside is that these stories read honest: there’s struggle, failure, fear, mis-steps and changes of direction, all the things often glossed over by high level mainstream interviews of success stories. If you’ve wished you could have a chat with some of these folks, you’ll be happy with this book. Livingston does a good job of staying out of the way and tries to cover similar territory with each interview (however it has the minor effect of making the book more readable in separate sitings, as the repetition of questions tires after 5 interviews in a row).

The other risk for those with dreams of entrepreneurship is that the stories come across as ordinary: there are few magic moments, radical breakthroughs, or amazing coincidences: its mostly hard work, and fantasies of what starting a company is like will fade by the 8th interview.

This book is inspiring at times: mostly because it makes the stories of these startups real. These were human beings doing these things, not omnipotent geniuses. Anyone expecting triumphant, and replicable, vision for why these folks succeed will be forced to look elsewhere, or perhaps more to the value of this book, reconsider what it takes to found a successful company.

Buy Founders At Work at

The author, Jessica Livingston, is a partner at Y Combinator, a venture firm for early startups with some novel ideas on what venture firms should do.

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