The Cheater’s Guide to The Must-read Startup Books of 2014: The Innovators, Zero to One, and more

New books for entrepreneurs and startups 2014There's no shortage of listicals picking up any number of books-every-entrepreneur-should-read. But every once in a while, new books packed with inspiration and actionable advice arrive. And it turns out, 2014 is an excellent vintage.

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.

So without further ado, I bring to you five new books that will keep you up at night.

1. The Playboy Interview: Moguls 

By Playboy. Amazon Digital Services. 289 pages.

This 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 teaser, see the Steve Jobs interview freely available on

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. 
Via Amazon.
2. The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

By Walter Isaacson. Simon & Schuster. 544 pages.

This 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 his new book, and the early Adam Turing and Ada Lovelace edits are available via Scribd and LiveJournal.

Prior to mainstream media's reviews – The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal – published a fine behind-the-scenes interview with the author. Isaacson even published an excerpt and essay drawn from the book on

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. 
Via Amazon.
3. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

By Peter Thiel with Blake Masters. Crown Business. 256 pages.

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. 
Via Amazon.
4. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers

By Ben Horowitz. Harper Business/HarperCollins. 304 pages.

Sarah Lacy called Ben 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. 
Via Amazon.
5. Creative Entrepreneurship

Curated by the kbs + Ventures team, Creative Entrepreneurship 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.

You can download the book for free here.

"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.
Via kbs+ Ventures.


What do you think of these books? Let's chat on Twitter.

How Elon Musk Survived On The Verge of Bankruptcy

In this interview on 60 Minutes, Elon Musk shares his story of how SpaceX barely survived on the verge of bankruptcy. The whole video is great, but the following quote at 2:30 got stuck in my head.

If something is important enough you should try even if the probable outcome is failure. –Elon Musk


Here's the CBS interview and the YouTube cut.

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.

[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 to better view and create Tweetstorms. It lists all of Marc Andreessen's Tweetstorms.
[3] Dave Winer built Little Pork Chop for Tweetstorming

Amazon: We see Nordics as one of the world’s leading innovation centers

Amazon's head of Web Services in CEE & Nordics, Peter Fuchs, to The Swedish Wire:

We have found that Nordic customers are among the most innovative users of cloud computing in the world and our early experiences with businesses in the region led us to make the Nordics a focal point for Amazon Web Services.


We see the Nordics as one of the world's leading innovation centers, challenging places like London, Berlin and Tel Aviv.

Sign up for the Startup Vikings book to learn more about the Nordic way of innovation.

Warning: Use These 7 Value Proposition Experiments At Your Own Risk

Testing Value Propositions

You've learned how to design stunning value propositions or positioning statements using the proven examples of successful entrepreneurs and inspired business thinkers.

If you're like me, however, you've probably spent hour after hour inside your office, turning every little word of your positioning statement to make it shine. But wouldn't it be nice to find out what actually sticks with your audience and what doesn't, before you invest even more into it?

To get you started, here are 7 super simple ways to quickly test your value proposition in social media.

1. LinkedIn Value Proposition

Your LinkedIn headline is visible in LinkedIn's search results pages, in the "profiles others have watched", in group discussions, and more.

By adding your value proposition to your headline along side a call to action in your profile summary, you could easily measure variations in number of profile views and contact requests, using LinkedIn's built-in stats.

2. Twitter Bio Value Proposition

Add your value proposition to your Twitter bio. Start engaging with prospective customers or users on Twitter. Did the updated bio get you more followers, requests? The high-level pitch template might be a good choice since  the Twitter bio is limited to 160 characters.

3. Tweet Your Value Proposition

Tweet your 140-character (or even better, make it 120 characters so that fellow tweeps can pass it on) value proposition, using a clear call to action in the end. What is the feedback, number of clicks, conversations? Measure and adjust.

4. Blog Your Value Proposition

Blog posts are excellent for testing your problem and solution hypothesis. In doing so you'd use a high-level value proposition for the headline and more detailed version for the head and copy. Further, you’d add your blog post to Hacker News, Reddit etc. or experiment with guest posts depending on where your customer segment lives.

Make sure to make the permalink generic so that you can adjust the headline based on feedback; unique visitors, page views, bounce rate, and more importantly, conversations. Use comments to get feedback from customers. See more under landing page value propositions.

5. Landing Page Value Proposition

Worth a post on its own there is an array of advice for properly doing landing page testing. But you don't need to make it rocket science.

Set up a simple landing page, using WordPress or Twitter bootstrap templates, or tune your existing site to make sure it clearly communicates your value proposition alongside a call to action. Look up Google Analytics or locate a split testing service such as to test for different variations of your value proposition copy.

6. E-mail Value Proposition

E-mail is not only a powerful tool for testing your value proposition, but also for delivering it. Here, your high-level value proposition goes into the subject field while your longer version goes into the e-mail body. Target your customer with validated learning in mind, and measure accordingly.

7. Phone Propostion

Pick up the phone. Just dial up. Now.

Beware vanity metrics

The beauty of testing your value proposition in online and social media is that it allows for quick feedback, quantitative as well as qualitative.

But beware vanity metrics. Because the amount of unique visitors, page views, likes or followers seldom tell you if you're on the right track or not.

Rather, use these techniques to start a conversation and drive actionable metrics that help prove the viability of your business model.

Let's chat on Twitter.

What Innovation Tools Are The Most Popular: Lean Startup, Business Model Canvas, Disruptive Innovation

innovation tools compared

Today, more than ever, companies looking to create new growth have tools at their hand to help reduce risk and increase the odds of success.

The Google Trends chart above shows a selection of "The Fantastic Four" and their relative interest over time.

Historically, Blue Ocean Strategy sees the most interest, but is slightly declining. Disruptive Innovation sees less interest among the four, but is growing. Both Lean Startup and Business Model Canvas are rapidly growing. The chart speaks for itself. But the comparison is only as good as what people search for on the web.

Although the frameworks take different angles on innovation, they are not mutually exclusive. They overlap and complement each other. And in many ways the later frameworks build upon the former, applying similar concepts in new wrapping.

In innovation there is no one-size-fits-all. So rather than looking at what are the popular tools, companies should look at what are the right tools.

Personally I find it useful taking a modular, “lego-like” approach, combining and distilling the methods into tailored frameworks, which is what I will look at in my next posts.

What methods and tools do you use? How do you combine them?

Follow me on Twitter or subscribe to stay tuned.