I finally finished reading Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston and overall thought it was a very good read. There was enough variety in terms of the stories, challenges, and businesses that there ought to be at least one or two stories that resonate with anyone interested in how technology companies get started. After reading the book, I have a few quick thoughts:
There are a lot more start-ups that got their start as side projects or off-hours activities for folks who had day jobs at the time. I was shocked by the number of folks who started fairly significant companies while being otherwise gainfully employed. I was also surprised at the relatively minor number of cases where this overlapping led to real problems for the founder and his/her ability to commercialize the innovation.
The larger the innovation, the longer you should plan to work on it. This sound really obvious, but when you read about folks like Ray Ozzie and Steve Wozniak working on projects that took a decade (or several decades) to bring to fruition. It’s a refreshing point to remember in the current environment.
Given the amount of sacrifice involved, I can’t imagine starting a company without having an idea about which you are passionate or a team with whom you really want to work (or ideally both). Starting a company is hard work and there are going to be some dark days as you go through the process. The recurring question for a lot of the founders was whether or not they ever contemplated quitting and many of them did — if you don’t really like the team and/or the idea, I’m not sure how or why you stick it out.
This is not related to the book so much as it is to a larger point about Silicon Valley. While not all the companies in the book were started in Silicon Valley, many of them were. And in most cases, the people who got together to found these companies were co-workers, had met through business, or were connected through some other social or affinity group that was local. Despite the expense of living in the Bay Area, it’s tough to recreate the density of people that you find here.