Uncommon Stock : Version 1.0 by Elliot Peper – Book Review

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Uncommon Stock : Version 1.0 is a riveting piece of fiction by Elliot Peper. Mara Winkel and James are students at The university of Colorado, Boulder. Mara is a law major and James is studying computer science. James comes up with a pattern recognition algorithm nicknamed Mosaic that can identify fraud in accounting. Being childhood friends, James asks Mara to be his partner in building a company. Bored by the idea of being stuck behind a desk, Mara took the plunge. Trouble arises when James hacks into the Center for Mathematics and Society’s systems to gather data for testing his algorithm. Mara is furious at James for putting the company in jeopardy. Together they decide to bury the issue. Craig, Mara’s boyfriend decides to investigate the discrepancies flagged by Mosaic. Things take an ugly turn. How James and Mara go on raise funds and keep the company going while the perpetrators try to get back at them forms the plot.

An interesting character in the story is David Grossman. He is a successful entrepreneur and an angel investor. He mentors Mara and guides her through choppy waters. His interactions contain profound revelations about starting up a company. These are some of the best ones.

The Team

  • Founding a company with someone is like a marriage. You’re going to have to dig through mountains of crap together and it’s a long-term commitment. It can be one of the most rewarding relationships out there but, like a marriage, it needs to be based on a strong foundation of trust.
  • Most startups fail because their teams implode, not because their products sucked.

Worth the pain

  • Hold on to that fear. That’s an important feeling. That fear is part of what will drive you to figure your shit.
  • It’s not an easy life. It breaks you down, builds you up again, and crushes you flat. Great works require great sacrifice. It can be addicting as all hell and I can’t imagine anything more satisfying.

Venture Capitalists and hostile takeovers

  • Don’t worry, they always have a way to justify themselves to themselves. They’ve got good reasons. In their own minds, they’re benevolent conquerors, not malicious raiders.

Business plans

  • Don’t spend your time dicking around. Wordsmithing and number crunching is about as useful to a startup as theoretical physics to a newborn baby.
  • Guesses and plans don’t matter in business; results and outcomes are what count.What you need to do is figure out how you can validate what you’re working on. What are the specific milestones that will prove that what you’re doing is valuable and that people will pay for it? If you focus on that, you’ll end with a successful business as an outcome.

Fail fast and pivot

  • It is dangerous to start chasing different verticals at the same time when you’re just getting started.

Vision

  • Realising a dream isn’t easy, so it better be a dream you really fucking care about.

The explanation of several terms related to raising funds such as pre and post-money valuation, lead investor, etc are quite useful to budding entrepreneurs. The tiff between Mara and James when he insists he should hold the majority stake in the company because he is the technical founder highlight the common cause of contempt among co-founders.

People do not buy algorithms, they buy products. Running a business and crunching numbers is no less than important than technical prowess.

The Uncommon Stock feels like a primer on startups disguised as a novel. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Job Escape Plan by Jyotsna Ramachandran- Book Review

page-0I came across Jyotsna Ramachandran‘s, The Home Entrepreneur show podcast recently on iTunes and found it quite interesting. It was then I knew about her book The Job Escape Plan. It is a step by step manual of how to start a home business. There is a difference between being a freelancer and a home entrepreneur even though both have the luxury to work from home. The former earns by the hour while the latter’s business makes money even while sleeping. This book is based on the author’s journey from a desk job to an entrepreneur. She speaks about finding meaning in her work and avoiding the mistakes first-time entrepreneurs tend to do.

Everyone’s definition of freedom varies. Some prefer a flexibility in time or location. While some just need a vacation to recover from a burnout. Not everyone wants to quit their job and start their own business. A fair bit of self-introspection is required to figure this one out. Besides if everyone became entrepreneurs, then who would work for them? Jyotsna  goes on to bust many myths surrounding entrepreneurship such as having no time, money, experience and so on. The digital economy has made it infinitely easier to start a business as compared to 20 years ago. Sure starting a pharmaceutical company and an internet based business are different ball games, but it is still possible to start small.

Some of the business ideas pointed in the book are – blogging, podcasting, making youtube videos, Kindle publishing, Amazon physical products, Udemy courses and creating mobile apps. Jyotsna  has profiled various entrepreneurs who have made a mark in each of these areas. They share their war stories, business models, how to get going and other insider tricks. The Q & A format keeps the narration brisk.

It can be noted that this book is more of a guide to start and run an internet based business from the comfort of one’s house. The only possible exception would be being a seller on Amazon. While it does involve internet expertise, but the crux of the business involves finding and sourcing the items to sell. Dealing with manufacturers half way across the globe in China is not always an enjoyable experience.

Creating and selling information products allows the flexibility to work from any location as long as there is a reliable internet connection. The section about preparing for the niche chosen is quite informative and gives the initial kick needed to step out of the comfort zone. The instructions about setting up a home business like managing a virtual team are similar to The 4 hour workweek by Tim Ferris. It contains detailed information to remotely manage a business and is quite an informative read.

Starting a business is tough because there a million things to juggle. If it were easy, everybody would do it. We can read a hundred books about entrepreneurship and startups but nothing works until we do the work. All said and done, a desk job is no way inferior. If you find satisfaction in it, then by all means continue. If you wish to escape the desk, know that the escape velocity is definitely lower now. So strap on your seat belts and get, set, go.