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Insights on the Xerox Story From Bill Gates’s Favorite Business Book

When he met Warren Buffet in 1991, Bill Gates asked what his favorite book was. The legendary investor replied that it was Business Adventures, a collection of twelve business articles written by John Brooks for the New Yorker and originally published in 1969 [1]. Buffet lent his copy to Gates, who promptly read it, and recently declared in The Wall Street Journal that it was also his favorite business book.

The article alone has shot the book, which was previously out-of-print, up to number seven on the Amazon Kindle list (at the time of this printing) after Brooks’s son found a publisher to quickly release an ebook version. Who doesn’t want to glean business insights from a book praised by the two most wealthy men in the world?

Gates gives special praise to an article on Xerox, calling it one that “everyone in the tech industry should study”. Having read it, I found so many similarities between the company’s humble beginnings and disruption of the copier / office products industry as the tech startups of today. So without further ado, here are some of the timeless lessons learned from “Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox”, part of Business Adventures by John Brooks. Continue reading…

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12 Enterprise SaaS Startup Lessons Learned in 120 Days at Percolate

Four months ago, I joined the marketing team at Percolate, a marketing technology platform. We work with brands like GE, Mastercard, Unilever to help them plan, create, publish, and analyze their marketing content — with a big vision to transform marketing through technology.

It’s been a blast. I’m responsible for the company blog and lead many of our content marketing efforts (whitepapers, case studies, video, etc). I love my team (we’re hiring) and there’s a lot of great momentum at the company.

Having worked primarily in consumer or SMB software companies in sub-10 person teams in SF, I’ve already seen a lot of differences in how a successful post-Series B enterprise software company based in NYC operates. Just like I did when I moved from SF to DC, I’ve tried to capture some useful ideas here (some big, some small) that might be interesting to you as well.

1. Adopting / switching software is a major decision at bigger companies.

It can affect the workflow of dozens, hundreds, potentially thousands of people in various departments and even external organizations. There might even be changes in power dynamics (ex: maybe with the previous software, finance had total visibility but now they need to wait for a report to get exported by the head of marketing). Making the wrong choice could really screw things up and hurt your career — that’s why people often go with the “safer” big corporate option like Oracle or Adobe or Microsoft. Continue reading…

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Highlights from Startup School NYC 2014

I recently attended Y Combinator’s first Startup School in New York City. It was held at the Best Buy Theater near Times Square and was MC’ed by Alexis Ohanian (who told us there were in fact 28 YC co’s in NYC now!), featured talks by great founders and investors, live office hours with Sam Altman and Garry Tan, and a good turn out of several hundred tech-oriented people.

I remember sneaking into my first Startup School at Berkeley way back in 2009.

My friend (and later roommate-turned-cofounder) Kalvin couldn’t make it and I tried to claim I was him. I’m not sure the person at the door fully bought it, but she let me in anyway. It was an eye opening experience as I had just started working at my first startup gig at isocket. I don’t remember anything about the talks but I do remember feeling a general sense of inspiration and excitement about doing a startup.

Of course, I went on to do a Y Combinator startup and learned many of the lessons those founders shared first-hand. But I think if I was a newbie all over again, Startup School NYC would have delivered that same feeling.

I wrote about the most memorable parts of Startup School 2012 at Stanford and thought I’d again try to share the experience of this event.

I did a lot of live-tweeting so I’m going to try embedding them in the blog post. Let me know what y’all think. Continue reading…

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How Has Your Perspective Changed? (My 28th Birthday Question Giveaway)

A few years ago, I started a birthday tradition on this blog, where I ask readers to respond to a question, and give away a sweet prize.

When I turned 26, I asked “What’s one thing you wish you knew when you were 26?” When I turned 27, I asked readers to tell me about an important decision they had made.

Last week I turned 28, and it’s time for a new birthday question giveaway!

One random commenter will win a hardcover or Kindle copy of Think Like a Freak, a really rad book by writer/economist duo Stephen Dubner and Steven J. Leavitt (authors of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics). I’m about halfway through and really loving it.

This year’s question is:

What’s something you’ve changed your perspective on as you’ve gotten older?

So to be fair, here’s my answer to the question:

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate the need to “play the game” [1]. Continue reading…

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How Startup Ideas Can Be Modeled Like Chemical Reactions

I’m sometimes envious of people who studied subjects in college that correspond to their actual careers. Finance majors who become bankers. Computer Science majors who become software engineers. Must be nice to actually *use* the knowledge you spent four or more years studying. As a guy with two biology degrees, a career in marketing and (non biotech), startups is a fairly orthogonal direction.

However, I have discovered a few ideas from my academic studies that come in handy when thinking about startups. One of them is how a chemical reaction is a great model for a startup idea. But let’s first take a step back.

The Four Key Points Needed to Discuss a Startup Idea

I was recently in a conversation with a coworker about some of her startup ideas. She had one idea around revitalizing musicals that, while not her main startup idea, got me thinking about the best way intelligently discuss these types of ideas. [1] It boils down to four major questions / answers. Continue reading…