Photo by Tim Green
I don't like Fred Wilson and Brad Feld's entrepreneurial books you should read before you're 21. Actually, I love most of the books they mention, but they're the same list I'd recommend to anyone who wants a positive and fulfilling life. You need a special brand of insanity to be an entrepreneur, and stories from the trenches are a much better introduction to that world.
Read these three books, with all their years of painful struggle, frequent failures and rare shining moments of achievements and picture yourself going through the same journey. For me they're inspirational, but a lot of people seem to run away screaming when confronted with the reality of startup life.
Two MBA students are inspired to turn their business plan of a computer mouse shaped like a golf driver into reality. They start off with no clue how to sell or even make the product, but they spend a year working extremely hard and by the end they finally start to take off. The best part is their honesty about the grueling process of connecting with the right people. They would literally be cold-calling companies from the yellow pages, and if they got someone vaguely sympathetic and knowledgeable, pump them for any help they could.
Wayne McVicker was a founder of Neoforma, a healthcare startup that IPO-ed in the dot-com boom. What marks the book out as something special is his focus on the failures and disappointments that accumulated as he built his company, and his personal run-ins with depression. What kept him going through the dark times was the "hope that someday it would again deliver amazing value to customers", and that shines through his story.
Pinpoint went through multiple near-death experiences to a very successful exit, and David Brown chronicles everything from the early stumbles to the final sale. Despite the title they did have a vision, but it was just to serve their customers incredibly well, and the book shows much work and struggle it takes to turn that simple phrase into reality. The strength of the book is how well the employees are sketched. My favorite part of being an entrepreneur is that if you're successful, you have a massive positive impact on everyone around you. The employees stories show how Pinpoint literally changed their lives, not only giving them a salary but helping them develop new skills and finally sharing in the company's acquisition.