Founders at Work

by mike on February 25, 2007

I’ve been meaning to pickup Founders at Work for quite a while, but just haven’t had a chance. Well, I finally did yesterday and can’t put the book down. It’s a collection of interviews with founders from tons of companies such as Hotmail, Adobe, Apple, PayPal, Blogger, TripAdvisor and the list goes on and on. Interviews are really nothing out of the ordinary. The book is compelling because it takes you back to the early days of these companies and exposes the reader to decisions that entrepreneurs had to make. It also humanizes the process of starting a company and inspires would-be entrepreneurs to plunge into the unknown.

After reading numerous interviews, commonalities started sticking out. Almost every company had no idea what they doing when they first started. In fact, most teams were nervous about figuring out what would work, but they all were either lucky or smart enough to recognize that early on and adjusted as necessary. We are talking major (e.g. Flickr halting all development on core game product and focusing on photo sharing) changes not incremental. Most startups also struggled with scaling and performance. This isn’t a big surprise. The products and services were usually thrown together quickly and haphazardly just to see what works. Once successful, it was now time to scale. The problem is that your codebase isn’t scalable so it needs to be re-written and hardware must be added. All of this while your site is bouncing up and down from exponential growth. Here’s the catch. If the startup would have designed a scalable infrastructure from the beginning they might not have been successful. Why? Well, it would have taken much longer to roll out the product, thereby increasing their chance of failure. The cost of change is much higher since you’ve invested a great deal of resources to scale the infrastructure. The time you spent focusing on designing and building the infrastructure is time away from customer feedback and market dynamics. Scaling is an important problem that must be solved, but not necessarily in the beginning. First, get something out there, get feedback, iterate and pay attention to the market.

This book is a must-have for any entrepreneur. Check it out.

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