Why Every Entrepreneur Should Write: Lessons of Paul Graham, Jeff Bezos, Jason Fried, Fred Wilson

Inspiring entrepreneurs Jason Fried, Paul Graham, Jeff Bezos, and Fred Wilson, all have discovered one thing that makes a difference; Writing.

They believe clear writing is a critical entrepreneurial skill. One that would help you generate new ideas, clarify your thinking, hire the right people, inspire the direction of your company, or even find your stride.

But writing can be hard. It takes time. So why not spend that precious time on building actual software, pulling hours from consulting, or running your company?

If writing in fact is today’s currency for good ideas, it should help you become better at all the above–a better programmer, a better marketer, a better leader–or more importantly, a more interesting human being.

Here are five insights on why writing matters for entrepreneurs, and beyond.

From Rework by Jason Fried:

Clear writing is a sign of clear thinking. Great writers know how to communicate. They make things easy to understand. They can put themselves in someone else's shoes. They know what to omit. And those are qualities you want in any candidate. Writing is making a comeback all over our society...Writing is today's currency for good ideas.

 

From Writing, Briefly by Paul Graham:

I think it's far more important to write well than most people realize. Writing doesn't just communicate ideas; it generates them. If you're bad at writing and don't like to do it, you'll miss out on most of the ideas writing would have generated.

 

Jeff Bezos in a 2012 interview with Charlie Rose:

When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences and complete paragraphs, it forces a deeper clarity of thinking.

 

From Writing It Down by Fred Wilson:

I toiled in the VC business for close to twenty years before I hit my stride and the reason I found my stride was my adoption of blogging. As all of you know, I write every day. It is my discpline, my practice, my thing. It forces me to think, articulate, and question. And I get feedback from it. When I hit publish, I get a rush. Every time. Just like the first time. It is incredibly powerful

And another one from Jason Fried in Why Is Business Writing So Awful?

If you care about your product, you should care just as much about how you describe it.  In nearly all cases, a company makes its first impression on would-be customers or partners with words -- whether they're on a website, in sales materials, or in e-mails or letters. A snappy design might catch their attention, but it's the words that make the real connection. Your company's story, product descriptions, history, personality -- these are the things that go to battle for you every day. Your words are your frontline. Are they strong enough?.

Bottom line: Writing should be part of any entrepreneurial training. Whether it involves writing dissertations, essays, or class notes, it is one reason why entrepreneurship education and academia in general is useful. But you don't need to enroll to get started. All you need from here on is pen and paper. Or a blog.

For more on writing for entrepreneurs, you should check out one of my most popular posts 7 Proven Templates For Writing Value Propositions That Work.

Goodbye Minimum Viable Product, Hello Maximum Value Proposition

In wake of Peter Thiel's rant about the lean startup and minimum viable product betraying a lack of ambition, never mind. Every startup should want to make the world a better place, even lean startups.

Key to minimum viable product – your value proposition is about more than iterating your product on customer feedback. It is very much the big idea you'd use to guide your grand vision and ambitious long-term plan.

Because in new markets there are few or no other products that users can compare you to. It's simply too early for users to understand how you are different. Hence, your value proposition should communicate a vision for what could be.

Still, your value proposition brief is probably the earliest and minimum-ist viable product you'd develop as a lean startup.

Ranging from an one-liner to a couple of paragraphs, it is the messaging you attach to whatever medium—it be an email, a news article, a website, a poster, a Google ad—that serves your minimum viable product strategy. That version of your product which allows for maximum amount of validated learning with the least effort, according to Eric Ries.

Discovering and cramming your true north into a MVP, however, is no simple task. So, you might be asking; what to include and what not to for 'the Peter Thiels' (he's not alone about his argument) to embrace my idea?

Here are three ways to make your ambition and minimum viable product go hand in hand.

1. Understand the job your customer want's to get done

HBS-professor Clayton Christensen argues that a successful customer value proposition begins with genuinely understanding the customer's jobs-to-be-done -- the higher purpose for which customers buy your product. Out of the functional, social, and emotional types of jobs, the latter might be the most powerful one. Inform your user research accordingly.

2. Start With Why

Simon Sinek developed his very own movement by teaching us how to create movements through inspiration. His key argument is, “People don’t buy what you do; people buy why you do it.”  When getting started at your value proposition brief, start with why.

3. Create a sentimental bond

Don Draper of Mad Men famously said; "Technology is a glittering lure. But there is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product." In delivering your value proposition, have the courage to touch upon feelings.

What these videos—fiction or not—have in common is, they want you to emotionally connect with your audience and get to know who your audience really are and what moves them. In other words, you'd want your story to be about them, not about you.

The best value propositions dare to be incomplete. They leave room for imagination. They focus on the bigger picture; problem, purpose, passion, love. Because, early on, you don't know what your customers want. Even your customers might not know what they want.

Whether it is in website copy, advertisements, slide decks or in good old fashioned elevator pitches, minimum viable product is not just about the product. It is an approach to finding product-market fit. For that you'd want a value proposition for what could be - a reason to exist.

Make sure to check out the 7 proven templates and examples for writing value propositions or let me know what you think on Twitter.

The Truth About Who Really Funded The Tech Behind Apple

Apple should recognize that the technology on which its success has been built can be traced back to government investments, reports Mariana Mazzucato and colleagues in a research article studying Apple's changing business model.

By now everyone should know about Steve Jobs' legendary visit to Xerox PARC in 1979. Sure, Jobs discovered the mouse, cursors, menus, movable and resizable windows. But apparently these were not his only inspirations.

In fact—as illustrated in the graphic above—the authors argue that virtually every technology in an Apple iPhone, iPad, and iPod originated in a government-run or -funded investment project.

This rises an important question; whether more of Apple's profit should be returned to taxpayers and the government to further help fund future technology innovation.

Although Apple's universe is very much a closed system, isn't this what we all want from scientific research - having it realized and made available for public good?

Maybe we're all standing on the shoulders of giants.

The Cheater’s Guide to the Top Entrepreneurship Books of 2014

New books for entrepreneurs and startups 2014There is no shortage of listicals picking up any number of books-every-entrepreneur-should-read. But every once in a while, new titles packed with inspiration and actionable advice arrive. And so it turns out, 2014 was a year of excitement and experimentation.

Following his Steve Jobs bio, Walter Isaacson partly crowdsourced his latest title, The Innovators. Peter Thiel's new book Zero to One builds upon class notes collected by a former student of his. There's a Playboy anthology blowing dust off old interviews with some of the most celebrated minds in business, and a free collection of essays curated and self-published by a venture capital firm.

Here's a cheater's guide to the most interesting entrepreneurship books of 2014, including reviews, teasers, and freebies.

The Playboy Interview: Moguls, by Playboy is an ebook anthology featuring interviews with legendary business minds such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Lee Iacocca, David Geffen, Malcolm Forbes, and Ted Turner. For a sneak peek, see the Steve Jobs interview freely available on Longform.org.

To celebrate the interview’s 50th anniversary, the editors of Playboy have assembled 13 compilations of the magazine’s most (in)famous interviews—from big mouths and wild men to sports gods and literary mavericks. Here is our collection of 12 interviews with the most lucrative executives.

Amazon Digital Services. 289 pages. Via Amazon.

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, is Walter Isaacson, author of the Steve Jobs blockbuster biography,-s latest title, and it is nominated for 2014 National Book Award. Isaacson went online to crowdsource the early editions of the book, making the early Adam Turing and Ada Lovelace edits available on Scribd and LiveJournal. Prior to mainstream media's reviews – The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal – Salon.com published a behind-the-scenes interview with the author. Isaacson even published an excerpt and essay drawn from the book on Medium.com.

Isaacson begins with Ada Lovelace, Lord Byron’s daughter, who pioneered computer programming in the 1840s. He explores the fascinating personalities that created our current digital revolution, such as Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John von Neumann, J.C.R. Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Robert Noyce, Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Tim Berners-Lee, and Larry Page. This is the story of how their minds worked and what made them so inventive. It’s also a narrative of how their ability to collaborate and master the art of teamwork made them even more creative.

Simon & Schuster. 544 pages. Via Amazon.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters. I've been following Blake Masters' blog notes from Peter Thiel's CS183: Startup classes at Stanford University. It is a must-read filled with clever entrepreneurial advice and creative inspiration. And now it is all packed into a 200-pages book. Both The New Republic and The Atlantic published their reviews. In the latter, Derek Thompson wrote that Zero to One "might be the best business book I've read".

Thiel begins with the contrarian premise that we live in an age of technological stagnation, even if we’re too distracted by shiny mobile devices to notice. Information technology has improved rapidly, but there is no reason why progress should be limited to computers or Silicon Valley. Progress can be achieved in any industry or area of business. It comes from the most important skill that every leader must master: learning to think for yourself. Doing what someone else already knows how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. Tomorrow’s champions will not win by competing ruthlessly in today’s marketplace. They will escape competition altogether, because their businesses will be unique.

Crown Business. 256 pages. Via Amazon.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horowitz. Sarah Lacy called Horowitz's new book "the most valuable book on startup management hands down". And after reading the reviews of Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and The New York Times, I would understand why. For a behind-the-scenes look at the book, Inc. published an excellent interview with Ben Horowitz here.

While many people talk about how great it is to start a business, very few are honest about how difficult it is to run one. Ben Horowitz analyzes the problems that confront leaders every day, sharing the insights he’s gained developing, managing, selling, buying, investing in, and supervising technology companies. A lifelong rap fanatic, he amplifies business lessons with lyrics from his favorite songs, telling it straight about everything from firing friends to poaching competitors, cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality to knowing the right time to cash in.

Harper Business/HarperCollins. 304 pages. Via Amazon.

Creative Entrepreneurship, curated by the kbs + Ventures team, is a collection of articles from some of today's finest tech entrepreneurs, investors, and writers. Among the contributors are Tim O’Reilly, Paul Graham, Sarah Lacy, Felix Salmon, Mark Suster, Steve Blank, Fred Wilson, Charlie O’Donnell, Chris Dixon, Andrew Chen, Seth Levine, Babak Nivi, Dave McClure, Dan Shapiro, Adam Penenberg, among others. Here's a Forbes interview with Taylor Davidson from kbs+ Ventures – the co-curator along with VC partner Darren Herman.

"Creative Entrepreneurship” was born out of the desire, want, and curiosity of kbs' staff to understand the crazy world of entrepreneurship. “Creative Entrepreneurship” curates the perspectives of leading entrepreneurs and venture capitalists as a guide for people interested in learning more. Each writer graciously contributed their work to create a curated resource for creative entrepreneurs. This book is the teaching and inspirational aid for our kbs+ Ventures Fellows - a highly selective group of kbs+ staffers from all levels and areas of the agency - who go through a six month educational program to immerse themselves in the startup and venture capital world.

Download the book for free here via kbs+ Ventures.

What are your experiences reading these books? Are there any other must reads? Let's chat on Twitter.

What Everybody Ought to Know About Social Entrepreneurship

From Entrepreneurship by Meltwater founder and CEO Jørn Lyseggen (edited):

I think the term “social entrepreneurship” is misleading. It is belittling the contributions to most entrepreneurs out there while singling out others in an awkward way.

Entrepreneurship is in my opinion actually a way to express oneself. Much in the same way artists express themselves in making paintings or other pieces of art, entrepreneurs express themselves by building companies producing new and improved solutions.

At the core is a desire to contribute and essentially make the world a tiny bit better.

For this reason I am not so fond of the term “social entrepreneurship”. I believe any or at least the vast majority of companies aspire to impact the world positively. At least they did so when starting out. Pharmaceutical companies are obvious examples, but if you think about it companies in any industry are trying to make the world better by improving the status quo in their way. Better communications, better solutions, better something.

To learn about the stories of Nordic tech entrepreneurs and innovators you'd sign up for my upcoming book Startup Vikings.

The Distorted Perception About Startups

From The myth of the overnight success by Chris Dixon:

Angry Birds was Rovio’s 52nd game. They spent eight years and almost went bankrupt before finally creating their massive hit. [..]

You tend to hear about startups when they are successful but not when they are struggling. This creates a systematically distorted perception that companies succeed overnight. Almost always, when you learn the backstory, you find that behind every “overnight success” is a story of entrepreneurs toiling away for years, with very few people except themselves and perhaps a few friends, users, and investors supporting them.

Truth is, entrepreneurship is not very romantic. But it is rewarding in every sense.

Sign up for the Startup Vikings book to learn more about Angry Birds and the real stories of Nordic tech entrepreneurs.

It Might Take 100 Ideas Before One Pays Off

From The Code Book by Simon Singh, quoting Martin Hellman, one of the inventors of public key cryptography:

You have idea number 1, you get excited, and it flops. Then you have idea number 2, you get excited, and it flops. Then you have idea number 99, you get excited, and it flops. Only a fool would be excited by the 100th idea, but it might take 100 ideas before one really pays off. Unless you’re foolish enough to be continually excited, you won’t have the motivation, you won’t have the energy to carry it through. God rewards fools.

Remember "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish" from Steve Jobs' commencement speech at Stanford University? The Lean Startup?

Diffie [co-inventor] and Hellman spent month after month attempting to find a solution. Although every idea ended in failure, they supported each other and persevered. Diffie often went through long periods of barren contemplation, and on one occasion in 1975 he became so frustrated that he told his wife Mary that he was just a failed scientist who would never amount to anything. He told her that she ought to find someone else. Mary told him that she had absolute faith in him, and just two weeks later Diffie came up with his truly brilliant idea.

In other words, entrepreneurship–invention as well as innovation–is very much about learning from failure and keep going until you connect the dots.

How Nordic Leadership is Different from Silicon Valley-style Leadership

Mårten Mickos, former CEO of MySQL and Eucalyptus, here answers to What makes Scandinavian leadership different from say "Silicon Valley" style leadership?

I talk about Scandinavian-inspired leadership, but I must start by noting that it is nothing uniquely Scandinavian. You find it all over the world.

There is a notion of “people first” and a principle of egalitarianism. We are all human beings, we should be respected for our opinions, and we all have something valuable to contribute. For practical purposes, we specialize and we are given various job titles such as “assistant”, “developer” and “CEO”. We also have different salary and bonus levels. But we are still just a bunch of people who are trying to accomplish something together.

We speak up. It’s OK for one in a senior role to be wrong, and one in a junior role to be right. It’s OK to contradict someone and it’s OK to challenge an authority. At the end of the debate, we all need to align behind a decision. But before such a decision, dissent is welcome.

What’s not specifically defined as closed will be open. There are always pieces of information that need to be kept secret. But there is a ton of things that can be shared. We need to be as open as we possibly can. We must share the true state of affairs with our employees. We must have a fully open dialog with our customers, not hiding or obscuring facts.

We are not victims and we don’t put blame on others. We know that success is up to ourselves. We know that we may live in a harsh climate and that we may have to work a little harder than the rest. If we fail, we pick up ourselves, learn from the experience, and have a new go at it.

We take broad responsibility. Perhaps we were hired just for one task. Perhaps we are paid a bonus just for specific accomplishments. But we all need to think about the company as something that we are collectively in charge of. For that reason, we must step up and step in whenever the situation calls for it. The CEO must be ready to answer the door bell. The accountant must be ready to answer the phone and engage with customers. We are “us”, not “me”.

I've been fortunate enough to interview Mårten Mickos for my upcoming Startup Vikings book. And, of course, he shares inspiring approaches to not only to building category leadership but also on leading by open source culture.

Unbundling, The Next Big Thing in Innovation?

This neat "tweetstorm" story from Marc Andreessen teaches us a lesson in design thinking, showing how reduction–rather than adding features–is a fruitful avenue of innovation.

P.S.
[1] Fred Wilson did a Tweetstorm about Tweetstroming. That explains it, but basically it's about turning Twitter into a live blogging platform.
[2] Sumukh Sridhara built Tweetstorm.io to better view and create Tweetstorms. It lists all of Marc Andreessen's Tweetstorms.
[3] Dave Winer built Little Pork Chop for Tweetstorming