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Business Books
Monday, January 01, 2007

Amazon These books are the essential reading on business and investing in Silicon Valley. Order directly from Amazon.com by clicking on the title, author link. Also be sure to check out our humor books as well as the "Valley of the Geeks" book.  

Effective Executive

Ultramarathon Man, Dean Karnazes

Strictly speaking, Ultramarathon Man is not a business book.  But it does have a lot of lessons for business about accomplishing the impossible.  This is the story of ultramarathon runner Dean Karnazes (sounds like "Onassis") about what drove him to undertake such feats as running more than 300 miles non-stop (without sleep), winning the Badwater Ultra (135 miles through Death Valley at temperatures over 130 F) and running the first ever South Pole marathon.  Dean's secret?  He's a regular guy, who just keeps putting one foot in front of the other.  This is truly an inspirational story about how you can accomplish nearly anything if you just keep at it.

Effective ExecutiveThe Effective Executive, Peter Drucker

Peter Drucker, who died in late 2005 at the ripe old age of 95, has contributed more clear thinking on management than any other consultant, writer or CEO around.  His principles are simple, easy to understand and reasonably easy to implement.  It all boils down to understanding that business begins with solving a customer's problem and that management is about doing what's right for the enterprise .  Drucker's classic book is "The Effective Executive" and its a good read for anyone who manages people or aspires to do so.
 

Everyone must failEveryone Else Must Fail, Karen Southwick

If you haven't figured out that Larryland is run like a private empire and the founder has an ego to match his billion dollar bank account, then this book is a good place to start.  Karen Southwick, a former Forbes ASAP editor has written this book without any direct access to Ellison.  Ok, at least it's not the softball co-authored love letter that SoftWar is, but unfortunately, not by much.  The book covers the history of Oracle from its development of the first commercial relational database (written for the CIA based on published articles by IBM) to its present day situation as a multi-billion dollar behemoth that is hated by both competitors and, in Southwick's views, customers.  The book covers the rise of Oracle in the go-go 80's when it paid sales reps in gold coins to sell software that wasn't ready, to its adolescent financial crisis, the unceremonial firing of every known Oracle executive other than Ellison himself, and finally the resurgence of Oracle as a major industry force.  Unfortunately the book has less drama than the average hair-band "Behind the Music" episode on MTV.  Feel free to check out the excerpts on Forbes and  ZDNet.  I admit when I read these, I had high expectations for the rest of the book.  There may be an interesting story about Larry Ellison and Oracle, but this isn't it.  On the other hand, if you're eager to compile a who's-who list of fired Oracle execs (Bennioff, Bloom, Conway, Jarvis, Lane, Nussbaum, Scholes, Siebel, Sumner...) and you want to hear them dish, hey it's only $30.  
 

WowRevolution in the Valley, Andy Hertzfeld

Ok, I admit, I was a long time Mac user many years ago.  I bought a 512K "fat Mac" as soon as they came out, and upgraded it to get a 5mb Hyperdrive internal hard drive before Apple had them .  It was a great machine, lightyears ahead of the competition, but somehow over the last 20 years, the magic that the Macintosh brought the market has been displaced by the commonality of Windows.  The Mac didn't do everything right, in fact it was such a closed and difficult machine to program, it's surprising there was ever any third party software.  But the guys who built the Mac did something that no one else could do at the time.  And if you want to relive those years, there's no better book than the inside treatment from Andy Hertzfeld, one of the original Mac software gurus.  He tells the story of the early 6809 prototypes created by Burrell Smith, how Jeff Raskin got pushed aside by Steve Jobs, how the project fell behind by two years and how they came to build something which has set the standard for computing in the 21st century.  Read it and wonder what ever happened to all the heroes?
 
 

Boom!Dot.Bomb, David Kuo

Admittedly there have been a lot of books with names like Dot Bomb, Dot Con and the likes and most of them are interesting only if you happened to be too young to follow what was going on with the boom and bust of the late 90's Internet bubble.  But this book by former Value America communications VP David Kuo actually tells a good story.  It's his personal inside telling of the rapid growth and failure of one of the country's biggest internet retailers, Value America, that had, in FedEx chairman Fred Smith's words "the best business model he'd ever seen."  Kuo swallowed the hype of CEO and founder Craig Winn making the story that much more compelling as he invites his fiance and in-laws to join the company as the company continues to generate staggering losses from a collossal advertising budget.  Of course, in the end, it's a tragic story of huge ambition, gargantuan egos and even bigger financial losses for the investors.  Kuo recreates on paper the feeling of the go-go years much more effectively than any of the 20-20 hindsight books that have been done.  
 

Landing on the Right Side of Your AssLanding on the Right Side of Your Ass, Michael B. Laskoff

If you've been looking for a job for a while, now is the time to get active again with your search.  A recent book by Michael Laskoff does a great job of taking you through the process from how to manage getting dumped, to how to prepare for the job search and how to handle the search process.  Laskoff has a great sense of humor about it all and the book makes for an easy read. Don't let that fool you though.  Laskoff has gone through the process quite a few times. in fact while reading you'll notice that the guy can't seem to hold a job, but damn is he good at getting the job he's looking for.  The book is written in a straight-forward no-BS style.  Although Laskoff is no psychologist he does talk about how to get past the rejection you feel when getting dumped and how and when to move on.  The most interesting and useful section of the book talks about how to network to find a job.  Laskoff takes you through the process of working your network of friends and contacts to gain access to the people who'll actually be in a position to hire you. Naturally the book discusses the resume and interview process and has some good tips and techniques there for but that kind of stuff there are probably other more thorough books.  The book also has an online companion site www.askyourass.com where Laskoff dispense advice to the job-lorn. 

 

Microsoft secretsMicrosoft Secrets, Michael A. Cusumano

This is a terrific book and I can't imagine why I didn't post it here some months earlier.  Instead of the usual bitching and moaning about how Microsoft is a monopoly, this book actually examines in depth the development practices of what has made Microsoft into the most successful software company in the world.  The book was first published in 1995, shortly after Windows '95 and then revised in paperback in 1998.  So don't look for a discussion of internet applications or hosting, but many of the concepts still apply, especially for those who deliver software to a mass audience.  Cusumano focuses on the key tenets that have enabled Microsoft to build very complex products with good features and predictable dates.  However, he also gets into Microsoft's competitive strategies, hiring practices, and management approach.  Based on two years of on-site research and extensive interviews with developers and project managers, Cusimano reveals that while Microsoft is not perfect, most development organizations could learn a thing or two from the giant. 
 

Just for FunJust for Fun, Linus Torvalds

I had the recent pleasure of meeting Linus Torvalds and he does indeed make a mean capuccino.  In fact he's a pretty shy, unassuming host.  Hard to get him to talk unless you ask him about some of the latest kernel bugs.  Doesn't really understand or care too much about what's going on in "user space."  You wouldn't think he's the guy who would lead an open source revolution.  And that's precisely why he is able to do it.  You're probably already familiar with his story: Nice guy Finnish college student works in his closet sized apartment for a few years, writes an operating system, gives it away free and in the process gets more market share than Unix, Macintosh and OS/2 combined.  But make no mistakes, Linus is not some kind of rabid anti-commercial software communist.  He's a just a very talented and diligent programmer who is doing this for fun.  Not for money, not for fame.  Ok, maybe a bit of fame. And a few stuffed penguins.  And a BMW.  Nonetheless, it's an interesting story and in many ways a nice contrast with the usual egotistical biographies of Silicon Valley technologists.     
 

In Search of StupidityWho Says Elephants Can't Dance? Lou Gerstner

If anyone doubts the significance of Lou Gerstner's turnaround at IBM, they need to get into the wayback time machine and remember what IBM was like in the 1990s.  IBM was a hermetically sealed bureaucratic organization with massive internal politics that made it oblivious to the realities of markets, customer needs and competition.  IBM's strategic missteps in PCs and software, it's bloated payroll and culture of entitlement left the company on the verge of extinction.  Gerstner, a veteran CEO from RJR Nabisco and American Express, joined IBM in 1993 as a hired gun.  While the industry scoffed at Gerstner's emphasis on operations (instead of "the vision thing"), Gerstner's outsider perspective was precisely what IBM needed to shake lose its complacency and change its culture.  Unlike most management tomes, this book is actually a good read; it's neither preachy nor egotistical. Gerstner provides a matter-of-fact insider's perspective of the company (including unintentionally hilarious internal emails and memos that would make a government bureaucrat blush) and some of the strategic bets he made.  He also gives credit where credit is due and identifies mistakes he made along the way.  But there's no denying Gerstner reshaped a company that many had left for dead. The computer industry needs more guys like Lou Gerstner.  Now if only Ed Zander at Motorola and Scott McNealy at Sun would take a page from Lou. 
 

Who Says Elephants Can't DanceIn Search of Stupidity, Merrill "Rick" Chapman

Why did Ashton-Tate mess up so badly in the late 1980s?  And why in God's name did Borland acquire the company?  And why did IBM think that OS/2 could be a better Windows than Windows when Microsoft controlled the codebase.  If you've ever wondered about the real story behind these and other colossal blunders in the computer industry, then check out this book.  Rick Chapman, author of the Product Marketing Handbook gets an inside look at some of the most spectacular flame around ranging from the IBM PC Jr with it's chiclet keyboard to the long slow decline of Novell.  It's not just a cynical historical romp, it's also a tremendous guide to not repeating the mistakes that have been made in the past.  Chapman knows of which he writes; he's been involved in some of the hottest software companies of the 1980s and some of the biggest train wrecks of the 1990s.  And sometimes, it's the same company! 

Chapman's book is an entertaining if sometimes cynical view of the microcomputer industry from its early days in the 1980s up to the dot com and Internet flame outs of early 2002.  He deftly identifies some of the biggest mistakes made by former market leaders like Ashton-Tate, MicroPro and IBM.  In fact some of these lessons on positioning ought to be cast in stone to prevent future product managers and executives from making the same mistakes.  But if there's one thing lacking in the book, it's just that; there's no guide to how to do it right.  Also includes a forward and interview with software design guru and entrepreneur Joel Spolsky, creator of the CityDesk content management system.  Check out excerpts at www.insearchofstupidity.com.  Also, you can get a "Dumb & Dumber" combo pack of the book and a great poster and save 10% by using the digital coupon SMSISOSB at the online store.  
 
 

Your Marketing SucksYour Marketing Sucks, Mark Stevens

Let's face it, most marketing does suck. And high-tech marketing is as guilty as the consumer marketing giants of throwing buckets of money down the drain on branding campaigns that don't help generate more business.  This is a back-to-basics no-BS approach to marketing based on driving revenues.  The examples are typically from the author's consulting gigs, but they are still worthwhile.  If more people took a practical and tactical approach to marketing, we might have fewer super bowl ads, but much stronger businesses.  Read this book if you want to put more discipline into marketing. 
 
  

Soul of a New MachineSoul of a New Machine, Tracy Kidder

Before Silicon Valley, before Apple, Intel, Atari and Oracle in the 1980s, the center of the tech industry was Route 128 outside of Boston.  Dozens of mini-computer companies thrived in this area: DEC, Wang, Data General and others. Award-winning author Tracy Kidder captured the spirit of innovation before anyone else new there was such a thing.  He chronicled a team at Data General and got into the psyche of how a great product is created.
 


Next, Michael LewisNext, Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis has made a pretty good career of understanding and writing about both Wall Street and Silicon Valley. "Next" in many ways, is a derivative follow up on his earlier work "The New New Thing" about Jim Clark and Netscape.  But instead of an account of a single company or person, it is a book about how new technologies come to be used in new, unexpected ways, often by children.  The book profiles half a dozen such events ranging from a sixteen year-old kid who scams Wall Street from his parents house in suburban New Jersey, to the guys at Tivo who are redefining the notion of mass markets.  Lewis is a superb story teller and one of the most insightful writers covering technology.  He never answers the "What's next" question, but he does give some ways to understand how reinvention occurs and the impact it has on building, and destroying, companies.  I just wish I had read this a year ago.

 

The Second Coming of Steve JobsThe Second Coming of Steve Jobs, Alan Deutschman

If you're not sick to death of reading about Steve Jobs, this book actually does a very good job of providing a good behind the scenes look at Jobs and his contributions to Apple.  It also includes a lot of background on his work at NeXT and Pixar, two companies that don't get as much coverage.  He paints a detailed, if unflattering, picture of Jobs as a micro-manager, svengali and manipulator of people.  I'm glad Steve Jobs has had the impact he's had in the industry.  And I'm also glad I've never had to work for him.
 

Dot BombThe Dot Bomb Survival Guide, Sean Carton  

Sean Carton takes the dot com meltdown of broken dreams and turns it into a concentrated MBA course. If you aren't sick to death of self-examination from failed CEOs and stupid business propositions, this book actually gets back to basics about what it takes to make a successful company and why many of the "new economy" companies failed.  It's not always the most exciting read, but if you always had the gnawing sense that something was very wrong, it'll be confirmed. 



Insanely GreatInsanely Great, Steven Levy  

Steven Levy, author of Hackers, reprises his examination of the high-tech industry with a close-up on the making of the Macintosh. Levy retells the story of the Macintosh's genesis, its influence from research at Xerox PARC, the ill-fated Apple Lisa and finally its painful birth. This is not a classic business book and really doesn't cover the rise and fall of Apple or it's CEOs in any great detail. Instead this is a more intimate story of the people who helped make the Macintosh. If you liked "Soul of a New Machine" you'll love this book.
 
 

Piloting PalmPiloting Palm, David Pogue & Andrea Butter 

Here's the fascinating inside story on the birth of the Palm Pilot, and indeed Palm Computing and Hanspring.  Veteran NY Times reporter David Pogue and Palm marketing director Andrea Butter teamed to offer an inside perspective.  You get the full story from before the Palm Pilot all the way through to the creation of the Hanspring Treo including the trials and tribulations of struggling startup, the quest for independence inside of 3COM and the eventual departure of the Palm exec team Jeff Hawkins, Donna Dubinsky and Ed Colligan who reunited at Handspring.  For anyone who wants to understand the difference between building a me-too product and creating a cult product, this is a great book.  Even Palm founder Jeff Hawkins found it to be a page turner!

 

Perpetual MarketingPerpetual Marketing, Patrick Perugini & Jeff Wiss 

Marketing gurus Patrick Perugini and Jeff Wiss have developed a completely repeatable process for achieving success in high-tech markets.  This book offers a blue print of what to do when (and why) in order to get early market success for a new product and how to innovate in marketing as the market evolves.  There's more to it in this book than most books of its kind: practical steps, tools and guidelines that will lead you through the four phases of their marketing lifecycle model.  I highly recommend this book for people who are looking for more science in their marketing. 

 

Setting the PACESetting the PACE in Product Development, Michael McGrath 

If you've ever wondered why some companies seem to be able to get products out the door reliably and others end up having constant battles between sales, marketing and engineering, this book will help clarify the situation.  Not only is building great product on time and on schedule possible, it's a repeatable process.  Even if you don't buy into the entire process of PACE (Product And Cycle-Time Excellence) you can still benefit from some of the concepts around a core team to encourage better communications at each stage of development. 

 

Crossing the ChasmCrossing the Chasm, Geoffrey Moore 

This classic by former Regis McKenna guru Geoffrey Moore was revised in 1999 and is one of the best guides for high-tech marketing.  Includes classic case studies and strategies for early stage companies.  This book is a blue print for achieving market success and then building on it while avoiding some of the pitfalls that come with growing quickly and misjudging your market. Moore has also written a couple of derivative books from his work here including the recently revised "Living On The Faultline".

   

The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever NeedThe Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need, Andrew Tobias 

Andrew Tobias, former financial writer for Newsweek, has written a classic guide to personal finance.  It's not about get rich quick schemes or how to day trade, but rather takes a common-sense look at saving money and investing.  The style is entertaining and informative and includes chapters on tax stratgies, the stock market, and what to do if you inherit a million bucks (and what to do otherwise).  Plus it's been updated in 2002.

   

Horse SenseHorse Sense, Al Ries & Jack Trout 

Ries & Trout have written a number of best-selling business books beginning with the classic "Positioning" back in the 1980s through some of the more recent titles like "The 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding". This book is different from the others, because it's about how to identify a good opportunity, that is, a horse, and ride it to success.  While the idea might sound superficial, I've found the book to be invaluable in my career.

    
 

Rules for RevolutionariesRules For Revolutionaries, Guy Kawasaki 

Guy Kawasaki, CEO of Garage.com, a silicon valley firm that helps high-tech companies get seed capital, has written many excellent books on the high-tech industry including "How to Drive Your Competition Crazy", "Selling The Dream" and "The Macintosh Way."  These should be considered required reading for anyone trying to compete against a much larger competitor, create a new category or otherwise shake up the market.  His philosophy is simple enough: "Create like a god, command like a king, work like a slave."  Guy offers practical insights into building great teams and great products.  He also includes plenty of anecdotes from his years as the "chief evangelist" at Apple Computer. This is the book I wish I'd written!     

  

Only the Paranoid SurviveOnly the Paranoid Survive, Andrew S Grove  

Andy Grove, Chairman of Intel, has been one of the industry's most successful and insightful executives.  He helped found Intel in 1968 and rose to the ranks of President, then CEO, helping to build an entire industry.  This book details Grove's strategies at Intel, the culture of the company, their handling of the 1994 "pentium flaw" crisis, and the identifcation of "strategic inflection points" that can shape your company and your career.  This is one of the best business books ever written. 


   

The Plot to Get Bill GatesThe Plot to Get Bill Gates, Gary Rivlin 

Gary Rivlin's book chronicles the rise and fall of dozens of Silicon Valley companies as they fall into a trap of becoming obsessed with Bill Gates.  Rivlin covers the early days of the PC industry including a very thorough account of how Microsoft beat Digital Research to work with IBM.  Despite the title, it's a very fair account of Microsoft's success and the failure of many of its competitors.  Rivlin covers the rise and fall of Novell, WordPerfect, Netscape and others as the fall into their fatal obsession. 

 

Accidental EmpiresAccidental Empires, Robert X. Cringely  

Cringely is the nom-de-plume of Mark Stephens, a former InfoWorld reporter, now better known for his PBS series, "Triumph of the Nerds."  Back in 1992, he wrote the first thorough inside look at Silicon Valley and the high tech industry.  Although there are some rather dubious accounts in here (Gates claimed he never searched for 50 cent discount coupon when buying ice cream) it's still one of the best introductions to the early days of the computer industry.  Cringely captures the psyche of the early programmers, the business people and the quest for technical nirvana and market domination with subtle aplomb.

    

HighStakes, No PrisonersHigh Stakes No Prisoners, Charles Ferguson 

Charles Ferguson, an MIT PhD, was the founding CEO of Vermeer Technologies, a company that developed one of the first web design tools.  Vermeer sold the company to Microsoft for a boatload of money and lived to tell the tale.  It's a fasinating story of what its really like on the inside of a high-tech startup replete with politics, hard-ball negotiations and strange bedfellows.  Ferguson may be arrogant, but he's smart and tells it like it is.  Anyone thinking of building a startup should read this book.

 

Breaking WindowsBreaking Windows, David Bank 

Wall Street Journal reporter David Bank used court ordered access to internal Microsoft email memos to provide  a unique glimpse behind the scenes at Microsoft in the late 1990s.  Bank reveals the business side of Microsoft's winner-take-all approach to customer lock-in, along with all of the politics and infighting that resulted in a showdown between the Windows camp and the Internet camp.  If you followed the Microsoft antitrust case closely you'll find some of it a bit long, but still fascinating. 

 

The New New Thing, Michael LewisThe New New Thing, Michael Lewis

Lewis, author of "Liar’s Poker", turns his gaze to Silicon Valley. More precisely, this book chronicles Netscape founder and billionaire Jim Clarke. If you’ve ever wondered why it is that Netscape embarked on an IPO before they were profitable, this is where you’ll find the answer. (Hint: someone wanted a bigger boat.)


 

The Millionaire MindThe Millionaire Mind, Thomas Stanley 

If there's one book I recommend to anyone who really wants to make money, it's this one. Or its precursor, "The Millionaire Next Door."  Stanley provides a heavily researched analysis of how the rich really are different and its not what you'd guess.  Find out what the difference between being rich and acting rich.  These books, more than any other, have the potential to change your economic life. 


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