Optimal Number of Embarrassing Shock Experiences

I remember standing in the parking lot outside the offices of potential client several years ago before a big presentation. I was shaking with nervousness. Palms sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy. I was nervous about how I'd win over a group of skeptical managers. I was nervous about not being taken seriously due to my age (14). Nervous about being mentally outmatched.

I remember arriving at a business networking function in San Francisco. I surveyed the room of strangers standing around small tall circular tables holding drinks and chatting. My muscles tightened as I contemplated having to penetrate seemingly closed circles, insert myself into conversation, and then make small talk with all the formally dressed men and women with many more years of experience.

So I made a bee line to the bathroom, went into a stall, locked the door, put the cover seat down, and sat on the toilet for 30 minutes. Eventually I left my self-imposed bathroom stall imprisonment and chatted with the other attendees at the event, but it was not easy-going. The whole while I asked myself questions like, "Am I saying the right things? Do they think I'm dumb?" This happened at most business social functions I attended.

I remember countless phone call screw-ups. One time I called a guy as part of a sales pitch. He was a big deal and I wanted to nail the call. I reached his voicemail, and started leaving a message, and when I was done with my bit I realized I didn't know how to close. I stumbled through a few "OK well look forward to hearing back from you" lines before saying: "thanks so much again Richard, talk to you soon, take care, thanks, thanks thanks." Then I hung up. I literally said "thanks, thanks thanks" three times in a row before hanging up the phone. Man, did I feel like an idiot and not at all on the level of the guy I was courting.

These were shock experiences. Two reflections:

First, as I experienced these embarrassing moments I did not attribute my missteps to social inexperience or immaturity but I instead concluded that I was less intelligent than the other people at these events. This may explain my drive to keep learning and improving so as to avoid this kind of embarrassment in the future.

Second, there is such a thing as an optimal number of embarrassing / failure experiences. Too many too young and it can destroy foundational self-confidence. Too few, and arrogance reigns.

There is such a thing as an optimal level of insecurity in a person.

Japanese and Korean Editions of My Start-Up Life

The Japanese and Korean editions of My Start-Up Life are available for sale. Here’s the link to the Korean edition. Here’s the link to the Japanese edition on Amazon.com Japan. Below are the covers of each. Apparently the Japanese edition has several manga drawings of me and of other scenes, which is pretty amusing.

Koreamslcover Japancover

The Gritty Reality of the Publishing World

I contributed a post to the Los Angeles Times Jacket Copy blog. It’s a brief caution to the many, many people who are considering trying to write a book. Opening graf:

Do you have a book in you? Imagine: Late nights pecking furiously on the keyboard with a glass of red wine by your side, animated conversations with your editor and agent and, eventually, the final, beautiful product: a hardcover book with your name on the cover. Then your publisher sends you on a book tour where you sign books, do readings, hobnob with literary types and generally feel very writerly. Dream on, baby!

I go on to say that while there are still good reasons to write upon dead-trees, the publishing process is much grittier than advertised.

I got extremely lucky with my book and publisher. So this sentiment is based more on what I’ve observed in the industry over the past year while meeting and brainstorming with dozens of authors. It can be a tough slog, and people ought to know this before committing themselves to the particular medium of book.

From Jakarta, Indonesia

My friend Shawn Powers — who I met randomly a year and a half ago in a laundry mat in Dresden, Germany, and then re-connected when he pursued his PhD at USC — just sent me this photo of My Start-Up Life in a small bookstore at the Jakarta, Indonesia airport. Second row from the front, on the left. Discover Your Inner Economist is also there. Thanks to the proliferation of English language bookstores around the world, authors who sell worldwide rights to a big publisher will find their book in all sorts of cool nooks and crannies.


Semi-Finalist for Best Biz Book of 2007

Like every other author out there, I must humbly remind you to consider My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young CEO Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley as a gift this holiday season. Have a friend who’s thinking about starting a business? Have a teenager at home who’s restless? Just want to support this pajama-wearing blogger? Get it on Amazon today.

I was excited to see 800-CEO-Read, the premier business book outlet and reviewer, name My Start-Up Life as a semi-finalist in the "Small Business / Entrepreneurship Category" for Best Book of 2007. We’ll find out the final winners in January.

Economist Arnold Kling named the book one of the best of 2007 in the business category.

Hedge fund manager Jason Wood, in a holiday gift list, called it "worth buying for your favorite geek."

Professor of entrepreneurship Jeff Cornwall called it "worth your read over the holidays…a good read for entrepreneurs young or old."

Every Cold Call Can Be Warm (Cont.)

More than a year ago I wrote a post titled "Every Cold Call Can be Warm":

I get about a couple requests a week from strangers asking me to take some action (look at something and give feedback, talk on the phone, meet for coffee). It’s astonishing the variance in quality of such cold calls. For anyone who has a blog (like me) there is an abundance of material that can make a cold call more meaningful.

Since my book came out the number of random emails I get (which I enjoy, by the way — keep ’em coming!) has increased. What’s also increased is the body of material from which a cold caller can draw to find a common bond.

Last week I got a random email from a guy named Akshay Kapur. Saying he was trying to embody the spirit of "every cold call can be warm," his email had six bullet points:

  • a link to a fun article about the California fires
  • an offer to help explain health care (in response to a post I did saying I was clueless)
  • a link to a post by my good friend Ramit which cited him — credibility through endorsement
  • flattery — he said he finds page 132 in "My Start-Up Life" so motivating he reads it every day
  • a book recommendation responding to another book I had reviewed
  • request to talk on the phone about entrepreneurial ideas

I love this. I will enthusiastically talk with Akshay on the phone. When you don’t have a personal introduction to someone, the next best thing is to show you’ve done your homework.

If you do your homework and are persistent after the initial outreach (ie, don’t give up after one unanswered email), I think you can meet with just about anyone. I know I’ve done this myself with pretty good success.

Book Excerpt: Doers vs. Talkers

Below is an excerpt from my book My Start-Up Life. It’s about how entrepreneurs harbor a bias toward action. Please buy the book on Amazon.com or pick it up at Barnes & Noble / Borders!

Given two ambitious, intelligent people, both of whom have some big ideas, why does one start getting things done while the other one stays stuck in the dreaming stage? What’s the difference between two people whose success is premised on executing tasks across a variety of disciplines — as is the case in most start-ups — and one seems to be able to do more quicker, while the other person spends excessive time fretting, planning, dreaming, or consulting people? Here are some differences I see:

* People who get stuff done maintain a high commitment to themselves. They don’t want to let themselves down. The chief motivation to achieve comes from within, not externally. It is easy to not keep promises you make to yourself ("Gee, I think I’m going to stop smoking" or "Gee, I’m going to join the gym this month").

* People who get stuff done strive for "good enough." Good enough is a key principle in entrepreneurship. If your aim is "perfect," the future is so far away it may be hard to get going.

* People who get stuff done think about the short-term future. At the end of meetings, they ask, "So what are the next steps?" It’s easy to analyze the present or dream about the distant future, but actionable tasks over the next 2-4 weeks is most important for keeping the ball moving.

* People who get stuff done "dream" and "talk" as much as the next guy, but they share these dreams and ideas with others. By sharing your intentions with others, you introduce yet another accountability mechanism.

* People who get stuff done begin. Taking that first step can be the hardest. Act now! As Taoism founder Lao Tzu said, "A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step."

What mindset allows me to be productive? I’m fortunate not to have many onerous projects that I loathe to work on. Loving what you do is key to getting stuff done and not simply talking about it. If something is difficult, I break it down into parts and organize its related tasks on my computer. When I’m effective and productive, I treat myself by going to the gym, eating a Clif Bar (ha!), or making time to do a blog post.

Do you want to be known as a doer or a talker? Do you want to start businesses or just talk about starting businesses? The answers to these questions—and others like them—are better indicators of your future success in business than the slickness of your b-plan, the extent of your funding, or who you know. Get going!

Amazon Price Drops to $16.47

No one in the publishing industry really understands Amazon.com. All anyone agrees to is that it’s a huge force and moves millions of books.

How Amazon prices books is one of the many unknowns. Bryan Kaplan once speculated about what it means when Amazon discounts a book further after pub date. If you read his post and the comments, you realize that there are compelling arguments on both sides (whether demand is increasing or decreasing), especially given the last comment that all economic theory should be called into question for Amazon.

In any event, Amazon.com just slashed the price of my book to $16.47. If you read this blog, I’d really appreciate it if you could pick up the newly discounted book now on Amazon or at your local Barnes & Noble or Borders.

"My Start-Up Life is the best memoir I’ve yet seen on the start-up experience."
Shel Israel, veteran Silicon Valley figure

"If you like business, you will like this book. It’s written in a style that is engaging and easy to read. It embraces the emotional paradoxes that entrepreneurship can bring – the moments of self-doubt, the triumphs of self-confidence, the pain of failures, and the realization that those failures are only temporary. It’s filled with great advice, and avoids any kind of magic bullet hocus pocus business thinking"
Rob May, BusinessPundit.com

New York Times Book Review

7,000 business books are published each year. The New York Times reviews about a dozen of those in their "Off the Shelf" column in the Sunday business section.

I would love to be able to explain why they chose to review my book today. I can’t. I had no inside track. All I can say is that I got really, really lucky. Again. It’s even more of an honor to be reviewed by Harry Hurt III, an amazing writer who I’ve read for years.

The review is eminently fair, pointing out both strengths and weaknesses in the book. Hurt would have liked to have seen more financial information about Comcate — as he notes, I’m reticent because unlike other books in this genre, Comcate is still around, still fighting competitors for deals, still forming partnerships, still hiring. In this sense, it can’t tell all. Hurt also says the book lacks socioeconomic / political context, a fair complaint. (On a side note, Hurt inaccurately says Inc. Magazine named me Entrepreneur of the Year; not true.)

All in all, though, I think it’s a positive review: "Very much worth reading" and "informative, precocious, and entertaining" are two phrases which jump out in this spirit. He calls some of the entrepreneurial how-tos "insightful and inspirational".

I’m sure in the coming days some people will take shots at me, some people will roll their eyes, some people will think I’ve self-promoted my way into the New York Times. I’m still learning to deal with these kind of sentiments which automatically come (truthful or not) with higher profile.

But hopefully, some people will read the review and the book and feel inspired to start their own entrepreneurial journey. They will feel more ready to be CEO of their own life. And they will pick up some practical advice — not from the world’s most successful entrepreneur, not from the world’s most successful young entrepreneur — just some musings from a guy who’s accumulated a bunch of unique experiences, loves to write, and tried to deliver his thoughts in a way that would provoke thinking, spark laughter, and inspire action.

Thanks again to Harry Hurt and the New York Times for choosing to review my book.

Speaking Monday on Mentors and Advisors at SD Forum

I’ll be speaking Monday evening at SD Forum’s Start-Up SIG. The topic is mentors and advisors and how they can help you build your company and career. I will also be signing books. Hope to see you there!


Monday, June 18


SAP, Southern Cross Room, Building D
3410 Hillview Avenue
Palo Alto, CA, 94304


$15 at the door for non-SDForum members, no charge for SDForum members.