I’ve never thought of comparing a book to a shopping experience, but that’s really what Sramana Mitra’s “Entrepreneur Journeys” reminds me of.
It’s a book of interviews of famous entrepreneurs that you can pick and choose from.
It’s not the shopping mall or Macy’s experience where items are displayed for you in a “Garanimals” kind of way; where all you have to do is mindlessly pick out the things you want or need — all pre-packaged and safely color-matched. Entrepreneur’s Journey is more of a “flea market” or “bargain shopping” experience. It’s the kind of reading experience where you go through the process and wonder if you’ll ever find anything — and then BAM! — there is something really valuable there.
This is a book for the “analytical entrepreneur” who wants to read, listen and learn from another’s experience. In other words, if you’re the type of person who has to have your own experience and learn your own lesson — this book may not be as enjoyable for you. On the other hand, if you learn best by listening to stories and using a case study method, you will enjoy this “fly-on-the-wall” read.
Before I get into the details about the book, let me tell you a little about Sramana Mitra. Mitra is a renown strategist for the technology industry in Silicon Valley. She has a master’s degree in electrical engineering from MIT and is a columnist for Forbes Magazine. She is brilliant and insightful, analytical and engaging. Her goal in writing this book was to share her conversation experience with some of the best technology entrepreneurs in the world. As you read the book, you can literally picture yourself across the table from these individuals.
The book is written in what I call an “interview” Q&A format. And this is why I had that “bargain shopping” experience. You have to read the whole interview to get those good nuggets. In the following sample, Sramana is talking to Steve Havner, CEO of Kayak.com. Kayak is a travel search site that allows travelers to search over 140+ travel sites for the lowest fares.
“SM (Sramana Mitra): What gave you the idea for Kayak?
SH (Steve Hafner): Orbitz was a great company, but it never fulfilled its original mission which was to help consumers find great airline and hotel deals. Half of all consumers were just doing a search and then booking directly because they did not want to pay an additional fee to Orbitz none of the companies fulfilled the vision of a one-stop shop .”
This is just one example of seeing how an entrepreneur thinks. There are several others which show exactly how these “solution providers” took their own experiences and used them to identify a need which then grew into a real venture. Several of these stories and interviews get into the details of how they found investors (or bootstrapped until they did) and takes you on their ups and downs toward success.
The interviews are arranged according to the primary theme of the entrepreneur’s story:
Taking on Giants,
Disrupting Business Models,
Addressing Unmet Needs, and
Tackling Planet Scale Problems
– all standard issues for entrepreneurs.
The challenge for those of you who are NOT thinking about going after venture capital or aren’t in the technology industry is that you will have to extrapolate the lessons from these interviews. Don’t expect to be spoon-fed. You will have to read each story and see in what ways it relates to you and how your business challenges resemble those of these successful people who all started out as small business owners.
So here are 3 lessons I’ve picked up from the book:
- Bootstrapping is the way to success. Jerry Rawls from Finisar survived the Dot Com boom and bust by boostrapping. When he and his team started Finisar, they actually took on consulting projects to support themselves and new product development.
- “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This is another nugget from the Jerry Rawls interview. He talked about how Finisar’s culture is based on focusing on the customer, treating each other well and holding nothing sacred. The lesson here is that it is key to understand who you are and who you serve and not get caught up in the eventual muck. He sites an example of AT&T literally handing their company over to consultants and losing themselves in the process. That’s a great lesson.
- Find out what the giants are missing and provide it. My other favorite lesson comes from Steve Hafner from Kayak. Instead of “defending” or rationalizing how Travelocity, Orbitz or Expedia’s model worked, he was open-minded enough to see that consumers’ mis-use of the technology was actually an opportunity.
There are many, many more lessons in this book. But you will have to read for yourself and find them.