5 Great Autobiographies to Read

As you probably know by now, I love reading. Lately, I have been enjoying autobiographies of various flavours. Here are 5 great recommendations. Every one of these books taught me something and made me think in profound ways- surely the hallmark of a successful read.

1. Open - Andre Agassi

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This book surprised me by Agassi’s constant revelation of “I hate tennis”. It’s a deeply personal autobiography that really helped me understand his character, his personal struggles and the good and bad of being a world class athlete picked from a young age. I’m a huge tennis fan and grew up watching him play, so his detailed retelling of important matches was probably much more digestible for me than for the casual reader. But the gold in this book lies in realizing how even the elite among us are only human, how even highly successful journeys can end up being lonely, and why having a great partner is so important.

2. Total Recall - Arnold Schwarzenegger

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I am self confessed Arnold fanboy. After all, I started bodybuilding at a young age and he is a hero among bodybuilders. And I have huge respect for his success in entertainment, business, and politics. Arnold’s recent memoir has not garnered the best critical reviews, but I don’t care. I loved reading this book. Arnold shares surprising facts about his humble youth in post World War II Austria, and works hard to constantly remind the reader of how it was his relentless focus, drive and ambition that propelled him from achievement to achievement. As an avid gym-goer, I appreciated how many pages he spent describing his journey in bodybuilding and deep interest in health and fitness. There were a lot of excellent business lessons here too, one of the most memorable being not to over think things (or you might quit before your start), but rather just take the leap and get stuck in when you really want to do something.

3. Surely You’re Joking, Mr Feynman! - Richard P. Feynman

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Richard P. Feynman had to have been one of the most curious characters of the 20th century. He was a Nobel prize winning physicist, safecracker, amateur artist, professional samba band musician, renowned Caltech professor and quite a Lothario as well. There were a couple of unique things in this book that totally floored me. Feynman had a deep interest in learning things with a desire to fully understand them, working from first principles or inventing his own, and doing work that was meaningful and personally rewarding. He also had plenty of side pursuits and wasn’t afraid to try new things (usually with remarkable success). This strange autobiography is filled with interesting stories and opinions from one of the most fun scientific geniuses I can imagine.

4. Kitchen Confidential - Anthony Bourdain

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A close friend of mine recently adopted a career path as a high end chef, complete with studying at a prestigious school and working at fine restaurants. I was captivated by his stories of the brutal, abusive yet addictive professional kitchen culture. Bordain’s memoir really is a tell-all on the kitchen industry, and it’s brilliant. He shares plenty of tips and insights related to food, but this book is mostly about people, the relationships that make the restaurant industry work, and just how different that world is to that of regular office workers. He’s also an exceptional (if rather vulgar!) writer, and this book had me spellbound from start to finish. 

5. The First Billion is the Hardest - T. Boone Pickens

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Boone Pickens is a helluva interesting guy. At age 27, he started a drilling company that turned into a small oil empire, then changed the corporate takeover landscape in America, and more recently, focused on trading in energy derivatives and equities, with great success. This book chronicles the most recent chapter in his life. What I found astounding is how, in his late sixties, he got kicked out of his own company, got divorced, faced depression and generally hit rock bottom, to turn it all around in a new company and become a billionaire within 10 years. The energy, youthfulness and mental vigour that he gives off in his eighties are truly remarkable. What I enjoyed most about this read though is Boone’s wry wit and salty humour that comes through in his excellent storytelling.

On “The Art of Exceptional Living” by Jim Rohn

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As the first quarter of 2012 draws to a close I find myself reflecting on the months already past, and envisioning what is to come for the rest of the year.

How am I doing? Where am I going? How will I get there? These are some of the questions swirling through my head right now.
When searching for motivation and focus, I believe in following the fundamentals. For me, nobody says it better and more clearly than Jim Rohn. He is the grandfather of the “motivational speaker and author” movement that swept the world, and for good reason. (Actually it’s possible that the original motivational author was Seneca, but I digress). To put his credibility into perspective, Jim Rohn was the first mentor of the considerably more famous Tony Robbins.

Today I took the time to re-listen to Jim Rohn’s excellent audio book, “The Art of Exceptional Living”. It’s under two hours and it will change your life. Rohn’s simple concepts and pointed logic are as powerful and razor sharp as anything I’ve ever come across. If I could only have one audio book, this would be it.
Here are some of my special notes from the reading below.

- Personal philosophy is the cornerstone of your achievement.
- Read, read, read! Build a library with a wide variety of interests and topics. Focus on the best stuff. Avoid the junk. Books allow you to access the wisdom of the world. Read books over again, and extract information carefully. “You don’t hear a song that you like and only listen to it once, do you?”
- Act on your knowledge! Don’t live a life that is 90% under-utilized. Keep pouring out the ideas and actions… more will come in. Rest is a necessity, not an objective. Keep acting. Act with intent, while the energy and emotion are highest. (And avoid diminishing intent).
- Create greater value. The market- i.e. reality- will only reward greater value.
- Share. Sharing (e.g. books, knowledge, ideas, talks) doesn’t only help others, it helps you- especially via repetition.

In addition to my notes, I also took down a few quotes that stood out to me: - “Don’t wish that it were easier, wish that you were better. Don’t wish for fewer challenges- wish for greater wisdom”.
- “Work harder on your self than on your job”.
- “I’ll look after me… for you- if you’ll look after you… for me”.
- “If you wish to be successful, study success. If you wish to be happy, study happiness. If you wish to be wealthy, study wealth.”
- “You may not be able to do all you find out, but make sure you find out all you can do.”
- “It’s not what happens that determines your future, it’s what you do about it.”
- “Everybody has to be good at either of two things: Planting in the spring or begging in the fall.”
- ”Motivation alone isn’t enough. Take an idiot and motivate him and you have a motivated idiot.”

Lastly, here is Jim Rohn’s famous definition of failure and success:”Failure: A few errors in judgement, repeated every day.”
"Success: A few simple disciplines, repeated every day."

5 Practical Book Recommendations for Tech Entrepreneurs

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I’m an avid reader. I read mostly non-fiction books, although well written sci-fi novels are a guilty pleasure.

There are plenty of great business related books out there. But I’ve always found it difficult to find books that are highly practical for early stage technology entrepreneurs. As a founder starting a new company, what I wanted most out of these types of books was a manual of valuable, actionable lessons learned by seasoned startup veterans that I could apply almost immediately to my startup in a useful way.

Business favourites like Good to Great by Jim Collins or Winning by Jack Welsch are excellent reads, but more directly applicable to corporate managers and leaders in large companies. As an entrepreneur, instead of always trying to relate lessons read about corporate business into the startup landscape I found myself often craving that feeling of: ”Hey, this author is speaking to me!”
With that in mind I’d like to share the 5 actionable books for early stage tech entrepreneurs that top my list:

Hard hitting advice over every major area of the startup, from identifying a problem to getting your first customers. Particularly applicable to B2B startups. A lot of lessons Adam’s talks about I experienced the hard way (i.e. made the mistake), so this book made tons of sense to me. A treasure for early stage startups.
A cogent, thoughtful approach to the venture capital fundraising process that leaves few questions unanswered. If you follow (even some of) the steps in this book before raising capital, the VC you’re pitching will thank you—and you will learn a lot too. It’s dense, but worth it. (Hat tip to Justin Stanford for first recommending this to me).

Dr. Cialdini literally wrote the book on persuasiveness. This book brilliantly lays out a few powerful principles for influencing people to become customers. After reading this you’ll realize why freemium works, why products often highlight user testimonials, why biz dev people need to be likable, and much more. That’s just the beginning—this book can be applied to anything that involves people.
Finally, a concisely written book that provides a “How to” manual for getting traffic to your website. This book focuses mainly on SEO related activities, so marketing strategy, branding, paid advertising, PR, buzz generation and viral loop marketing aren’t covered. But the topics it does cover are explained perfectly. 

Eric Ries teaches a way of analyzing and building a total startup business that is something akin to a scientist doing a controlled experiment, or an engineer building a machine piece by piece. His approach demystifies many aspects of startup building, and is especially useful during the early stage. This is more than a great book, it’s a movement sweeping the globe.

What are your favourite books for entrepreneurs?

Why I Love Reading The Economist

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Pictured above is a year’s worth of Economist magazines sitting on my bookshelf. Earlier today I tore off my favourite covers from the last 52 magazines, and threw away the rest. With my annual bookshelf cleaning ritual complete, I look forward to the next year of my subscription starting to arrive in the mail tomorrow.


The Economist offers much more than brilliantly designed covers. It is a thinking person’s newspaper (the term it uses to describe itself), providing timely, engrossing reporting and analysis on international affairs, politics and business. For this reason, it is one of the most popular magazines among corporate executives and technocrats.

In my view, reading The Economist regularly will help anyone to:

  • Stay informed of important world news.
  • Develop a considered opinion of politics and governance.
  • Keep up with big developments in science and technology.
  • Learn how to write effective analytical yet fluid prose.
In addition to the regular sections updated each week, The Economist often has brilliant, in-depth special reports ranging across a fascinating array of topics. 
I far prefer the print version to reading the articles online- it gives me that nice “warm and fuzzy” feeling when flipping through it on the couch or in bed, and in any case, I have enough blogs to get through when reading on my iPad or Macbook.

If you’re thinking of adding The Economist to your reading list, I suggest subscribing - you’ll save a bundle and never regret picking those plastic wrapped parcels out of the mail each week.

New Read: Rework by 37 Signals

I’ve been reading a lot of great things about the new book “Rework” from the guys behind 37 Signals (makers of popular project management software, Basecamp). 

After perusing Michael Hyatt’s glowing post on the book, I couldn’t resist buying a copy for myself.

Billionaire Mark Cuban even wrote this blurb for Rework:
 
"If given a choice between investing in someone who has read REWORK or has an MBA, I’m investing in REWORK every time. This is a must read for every entrepreneur."
 
I look forward to tucking into this one soon!
 
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Wisdom From The Ages - Cicero

History is an excellent teacher. It’s remarkable how many of society’s current problems are destined to be relived over and over again. Yet the cycle could be broken by sound memory, consideration and judgement.
 
A great way to instruct ourselves out of making old mistakes is to be heavily familiar with history, modern and ancient, in the relevant areas of our lives. This applies to business, politics, and everything else right down to personal happiness. To be fair, very few people can do much more than scratch the surface of historical knowledge (and I’m one of them) due to the commitment to learning that it takes, but in this department even a little can go a very long way. Rule number one for the learning process is: read more books
 
One thing I enjoy doing is sharing good quotes. Here’s an ancient one that I really like:
 
"The national budget must be balanced. The public debt must be reduced; the arrogance of the authorities must be moderated and controlled. Payments to foreign governments must be reduced, if the nation doesn’t want to go bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."
- Marcus Cicero, 55 BC - Roman author, orator, philosopher & politician (106 BC - 43 BC)
 
Many thanks to my friend Benoit Brookens for sharing it with me first.