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.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert — book review

Each week on Monday morning, a bunch of bloggers set out with the noble intention of making people hate themselves and their work by telling them it is the best time to be an entrepreneur/author/rockstar and they should just quit their jobs to pursue their passion. It does not matter that the majority of the population have no clue what their ‘passion’ is. Living a life of creativity and art is the new hip thing. If you have a stable job which you reasonably like and provide for your family, you are not living your ‘true calling’ as per the new age lifestyle gurus.

I agree I have clicked on several of these articles — 7 questions to find out your inner passion, 5 reasons you should quit your job this week, etc. The vast majority of working population do not ‘love’ their jobs 24*7*365. Every job sucks at some point of time. Period. I sometimes envy my parents’ generation. They were not filled with such crap on a day to day basis. They seem to have done well. Just because my dad did not start a unicorn startupor my mom did not ‘lean in’ does not make them jerks. Law abiding citizens raise a good family is not a headline I would click open.

In the book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talks extensively about leading a life filled with creativity and art. Nowhere does she urge the readers to quit their job or backpack across the world to find their hidden talents. The author draws upon several experiences from her life making it feel like part-memoir. At the same it does not get too preachy. Several nonfiction inspiration books tend to fall into failure porn or ‘hey I did it, so you can do it too’ genre. Big Magic is not about finding the magic in the big bang but rather in the little things we do each day.

The world adores a troubled artist who does drugs, drinks a lot and has a premature death. Because we like to attribute art as something that arises out of deep pain, anguish and demands a blood sacrifice. Liz quotes her own life and that of many other artists who lead a ‘normal, healthy’ life creating art that inspires millions each day. Art should not be put on a pedestal but rather something that arises out of joy when you let the magic of the universe work through you.

Reading a book that does not criticize me for having a job was quite refreshing. Liz speaks about her mother who grew vegetables and made pretty much anything the family wanted on her own. It was her mother’s way of being creative. Once the obligation to cash in a paycheck is removed, art blossoms at its own pace.

My takeaway from this book is if you want to write, then write. If you want to sing, then sing. Nobody is going to stop you. Do not put undue pressure on yourself to prove your worth to the world. Trust me, no one cares. If you want to make a career in arts, then by all means do. But start small. Hold on to your day job. Experiment on the side. Sometimes more often than not, people like their existing jobs and all they need is a hobby to blow off some steam. Quitting a job and then later figuring out that the muse was just a hobby all along can be quite painful.

So think. Do. Be. Create for your own pleasure. Have fun. Screw your passion. Get a job.

The Rise of Hastinapur – Book Review

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Image credit: Amazon

I picked up this book with a lot of expectations as Indian mythology is one of my favourite genres. The Rise of Hastinapur is based on some of the events that happened in the Indian epic, Mahabharata. Specifically the story revolves around the lives of three women – Amba, Pritha, and Gandhari. This book is the second in the Hastinapur series by the author, Sharath Komarraju. I have not read the first one, The Winds of Hastinapur and hope maybe had I, things might have been clearer.

The book is divided into three sections and the first one dedicated to Amba, the princess of Kasi. She is a princess wronged by several men in her life. Bhishma, the warrior prince of Hastinapur ‘wins’ her for his brother. Amba’s father lets Bhishma take her even though he was not invited for the Swayamvar. Her lover Salva, refuses to take her back when she returns from Hastinapur. Such a premise should have made the reader connect emotionally with Amba and back her plans for revenge. Strangely I could not connect with the character. Amba is as flawed as the men in her life and perhaps the characterisation is not strong enough. Amba becomes a priestess and sired a girl child who she hoped would kill Bhishma. While I do understand that this story is fictional, I do find it hard to accept some facts like a priestess sleeping with a king to ‘cure’ his infertility.

The second part of the book chronicles the life of Pritha, the princess of Kunti. Her brother Vasudev marries Devaki, Kamsa’s sister. But they are imprisoned by Kamsa after their marriage. Furious over this fact Pritha enlists the help of Surya, the celestial god of light. But Indra has plans of his own. Though he promises to help free her brother and sister-in-law he fails to do so. Instead, he blesses her such that her sons would be celestial beings and they would destroy Kamsa. Heartbroken but left with no other choice, Pritha hopes Surya’s words would come true some day.

The final part of the book revolves around Gandhari, the queen of Gandhar. She is a young maiden losing her eyesight each day. She finds out that her kingdom has been looted for years by Bhishma, the prince of Hastinapur right under their nose. Her brother Shakuni goads her to launch an attack on Hastinapur. But she knew that Gandhar’s army was not strong enough to win a war. Also having lost a lot of their gold, they did not have the resources to recoup an army. Help arrives in the form of Kubera, another celestial being from the mountains of Meru. But like Surya he too has plans of his own and uses Gandhari to achieve them. Decimated by Hastinapur’s army, Gandhari is no longer a queen. She concedes to Bhishma’s offer to marry his blind brother, Dhridrasthra. She does so with the intent of destroying Bhishma and Hastinapur.

The one problem I noticed in the book was some portions of the story zips through so fast it takes a while to connect the dots. For instance, there are elaborate discussions about the war in the last part of the book. But the actual war is described in less than page and lacks a coherent connection. The book is interesting in some parts and has some sudden pitfalls that sort of mars the flow of the story. I hope the loose ends are tied up in the next book in the Hastinapur series.

 

You can find the reviews for this book on Goodreads page. Do check out my reviews for other books as well!

The book will be available on December 9th and you can pre-order it on Amazon via this link.

P.S: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.