Episode 44 | Our Top 6 Book Recommendations

Show Notes


Mike Taber:  [0:02] This is Startups for the Rest of Us, Episode 44. [music]

Mike:  [0:19] Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that that helps developers get awesome at launching software products. Whether you’ve built your first product or just thinking about it. I’m Mike.

Rob Walling:  [0:20] And I’m Rob.

Mike:  [0:25] And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s going on this week, Rob?

Rob:  [0:50] Well, I just got back from Vancouver. I spoke at a Lean Startup Conference and that was a lot of fun. I find the Lean startup crowd is kind of divided into a couple of groups. There is the half of it, that’s really gung ho for it, and they’re all about it, and they know about it. And in the other half are people who are like, they either don’t really understand it or they’re very skeptical of it. I think the latter half might be larger than the first half, at least up at the Vancouver conference. [1:01] It was a good crowd, honestly. Just a good mix of people and some very knowledgeable both speakers and attendees at the conference. It was about 150 people. I had a great time and met some good contacts and stuff.

Mike:  [1:01] Cool.

Rob:  [1:02] I had a lot of fun.

Mike:  [1:08] I think I probably fall more into the latter half. To be perfectly honest.

Rob:  [1:10] Yeah, you know some stuff about it and you’re a little skeptical, right?

Mike:  [1:26] Yeah. I heard Eric talk about it at the Business of Software. I have to be honest, I do like some of the fundamental ideas. One of the ones that struck me was having build machines that, if your code passes all the tests, just go ahead and push it live.

Rob:  [1:28] Right, the continuous deployment. Yeah.

Mike:  [1:38] Yeah, that seemed interesting to me. I think from an engineering standpoint, it probably scares me a lot more than it probably should, I guess.

Rob:  [1:40] I don’t know, it’s pretty scary.

Mike:  [1:42] OK. [laughter]

Rob:  [1:59] You have a lot in place in order to do that. They talk about having all these metrics built into your site so that you know if sales suddenly were to dip. [unintelligible 01:52] sales were suddenly to dip, then you know something’s wrong. But, boy, at some companies I’ve worked at, it would be too late.

Mike:  [2:00] Yeah.

Rob:  [2:05] I worked at a credit card company and it was catastrophic if monetary things went wrong.

Mike:  [2:06] Yeah.

Rob:  [2:33] So I agree. I think it’s an interesting approach. I learned so much about it at the conference. It was cool to hear the other speakers. They all spoke on Lean topics. I was the one guy who didn’t. I spoke about my experience, and kind of the micropreneur approach, and finding a market first, and that kind of stuff. I talked a lot about the failures I’ve had. I dug a few more up for this talk. So I was not talking about Lean stuff at all and, as a result, I got a really good education in it. [3:02] I would agree with you. I think parts of it are really cool and ingenious and I think other parts are really kind of academic, in the sense that I don’t know if they’ll work. It might work for certain types of companies and certain scenarios, but to think they can be applied across all, or even most, software development start up scenarios, I don’t know. I’d have to be convinced. I think I tend to be more of a skeptic, though, in these things. I remember when Agile came out, I kind of felt that way.

Mike:  [3:03] Yeah.

Rob:  [3:04] I think it’s probably…

Mike:  [3:30] I don’t know. I would want to insert an artificial step in there that says, “OK, you can go ahead and go through all those things,” and then give me a button that says, “Everything’s passed, are you sure?” Then I have to click the button. I would probably feel a lot more comfortable about that than I would about, “Oh, well, anybody can check something in and, as long as it passes all the tests, then go for it.” What happens if they forgot to check in the test for everything they just checked in?

Rob:  [3:34] Sure. Well, this process is supposed to catch that and blah, blah, blah.

Mike:  [3:35] Well, yeah.

Rob:  [3:42] But, no, I do think that if there was a button, that that would actually… I bet Eric or… I would guess that they would say that’s a good thing. [4:05] Because you would put a button in there, and you would click it, and it would work. Then you’d click it again the next day, and the next day, and then, after a while, you’d be like I’m tired of clicking this button, it always works, and you’d eventually just get rid of the button. Then it would work, it would be continuous deployment. To me, it’s like a perfectly reasonable step to have in there, temporarily. Until you comfortable enough to really jump off the bridge and go with the Lean startup stuff.

Mike:  [4:05] Right.

Rob:  [4:17] In any case, I definitely think there’s some things to be learned from it. I’m speaking again this week in Michigan, Grand Rapids, at another Lean startup thing and Eric Reese will be speaking there. So I hope to learn a little more.

Mike:  [4:19] Cool. That’s awesome.

Rob:  [4:21] How about you? You said you’ve been doing some dev work.

Mike:  [4:50] Oh, yeah. I took a couple weeks off and just kind of dove headfirst into working on AuditShark and it’s coming along really well. I had a meeting with Microsoft last Wednesday, I believe it was. They brought me into their Cambridge office. So I went in there and talked to one of their architects for, I don’t know, probably two or three hours. Just kind of explaining what the products I had was and then talking about, I spent maybe five minutes explaining what it was and how it addressed a problem in the market. [5:15] I spent the next two hours talking over the architecture and explaining all the different pieces. He was kind of floored, to be perfectly honest. [laughter] There’s a lot to it and it leverages a lot of different technologies. I think I’ve told you before, it’s got its own built in scripting language and it’s extremely flexible. A lot of the complexity is just abstracted away from the user. They don’t need to know all stuff that goes into it.

[5:33] So far, the stuff that I’ve put together, it just kind of works. So it’s coming along well. I’ve still got a couple of major pieces that are left that need to be put in place, but I’m kind of hopeful that I’ll still be able to put it out next month before my deadline of, what did I say, the 27th of June.

Rob:  [5:34] Something like that.

Mike:  [5:57] So yeah. I still got a little bit of time left to work on it, but I’m hopeful I’ll be able to meet that and, at the very least, I want to have an alpha or beta version out there. I’m kind of reining things in a little bit at this point, but I don’t think it’s wise to push something out there and say, “OK, well, I finished with the dev work and I’m just going to start trying to sell it.” I think it needs to be beta tested first. Just because of the fact of what it does.

Rob:  [6:04] Right. Well, good work. At least you’re making progress on it. Well, when this goes live actually, we will be at MicroConf.

Mike:  [6:05] Oh, yeah.

Rob:  [6:09] Yeah. Hopefully it will go live on a Tuesday and that will be second day of MicroConf.

Mike:  [6:10] Yep. [music]

Rob:  [6:22] We have, I think, a fun topic today. It’s pretty much off‑the‑cuff, much less outlined then a lot of our other podcasts are. But this one is basically called “Our Top Three Book Recommendations.” [6:52] So you and I decided to grab… I don’t know, kind of go over to our bookshelf. That was the thing, it’s easy to get grandiose with this, right, and say, “Mike, what are your top three books of all time?” and you’re like, “Well, one is the dictionary and the other is the Bible.” You get really grandiose and it’s like Mike and I said, “Let’s go to our bookshelf and look.” Because to me, it’s an indicator. If you have a book on your bookshelf, or on your Kindle, that it has value to you. If it’s within reach of where you’re working, that I think it’s worth recommending.

[7:07] So we basically said, “No technical books.” I don’t want to recommend ASP.net book because it just doesn’t apply to a lot of our audience. It didn’t have to be about business or what marketing, but we did want it to, somehow, be related to our personal or entrepreneurial growth over the past 10, 15 years.

[7:16] So that’s it. So we each chose books and then came together. Coincidentally, we did not choose any of the same books, which I think is kind of cool.

Mike:  [7:16] Yeah.

Rob:  [7:18] These are in no particular order.

Mike:  [7:27] The first one that I picked was “Crossing the Chasm” by Jeffrey Moore. I picked this up… God, I don’t even remember when I picked this up. It was a long time ago.

Rob:  [7:31] It was probably in the ’90s, right? That’s what I remember first reading it, or reading parts of it.

Mike:  [7:56] I think it was probably the early 2000s. But I picked it up and I read through it. It was very enlightening. To me it seems more like a book about how to sell to technology companies. That was more the way I interpreted it than anything else. It wasn’t necessarily its primary focus. But the basic idea was how to take a product that you’ve developed and… [8:25] You’ll get to a certain point in your marketing strategies, and you’ll get some early adopters who are essentially running into some problems or issues. They’re experiencing so much pain that they are willing to pay any price to have whatever it is that you’re offering to solve pain point. They’re willing to take the risks on your product as opposed to trying to buy something from a major vendor, like IBM or Microsoft, that is probably not going to work, but it’s a safe buy, I’ll say. Even though they know it is not going to solve all their problems.

[8:49] But it takes you through the process of what the four different stages of the selling process are and then shows you that a lot of companies have problems at that point. Where there’s this chasm, where you’re trying to get to the people who are a little bit more conservative. You’re trying to get to the, essentially, what is the mass market of those people who are going to be your core audience, which are going to take your business to the next level.

[9:06] But that’s where a lot of companies fall short. That’s where you try to get to those people, and you try to reach them. Maybe you’ve got some sales under your belt and you’ve done OK. You probably haven’t done great, but you’ve made some sales, and that’s kind of the important part. You’ve got to get your feet wet in order to get rolling.

[9:20] Then, you get to a point where you just can’t, you don’t seem to be making any progress. That’s where this book really comes into play and it kind of shows you how a lot of different companies have made the leap across that chasm and started taking their sales to the next level.

[9:31] It uses a lot of illustrations from different industries and different products that should, largely, be familiar to most people. It was just very enlightening in the way that it presented all that information.

Rob:  [10:01] Right. This book has that famous diagram that I’ve seen in so many presentations since then. It talks about your technology enthusiasts… It’s basically a bell curve. It has the technology enthusiasts, who are probably the first people who will adopt your technical product. The visionaries are after that. Then there’s this big chasm and making it from visionaries to pragmatists, as Jeffrey Moore calls them, that’s the chasm. That’s really what the book is about, getting across. The pragmatists is a huge market. It’s like you’ve said, it’s the mass market. [10:31] But I actually don’t know that I’ve ever read the entire book. I read the first half of it. A friend of mine worked for Palm back then they were still owned by 3Com, this is likely ’90s, early 2000s. Every Palm employee, at the time, was given a copy when they started. The company was probably several hundred or couple thousand at the time. It was pretty small compared to where they grew. But that’s why he got it for me and it was pretty enlightening for me at the time. Pretty eye‑opening to think that this is how you think about a market. I still think it applies, frankly.

Mike:  [10:50] Yeah. I think that’s the best part, is that it’s so non technology specific that it really can apply to any technology. The fact is, that it can also apply to a lot of other industries. For selling software, it’s really beneficial to kind of see what this book has to offer.

Rob:  [10:59] Right. Cool. Well, just as a side note, Geoffrey Moore spoke at 2009 Business of Software and I think his talk is online or video.

Mike:  [10:59] Oh, is it?

Rob:  [11:06] Highly recommend it. Super, super smart dude and his talk is awesome. We’ll try to link it up in the show notes if we can.

Mike:  [11:06] Very cool.

Rob:  [11:21] Alright. So my first book is “Eric Sink on the Business of Software.” This is a classic. I’m sure this is in the library of many developer entrepreneurs. Funny thing is, every time I pick this up, I look at the copyright. What year do you think this was published?

Mike:  [11:25] 2007.

Rob:  [11:35] Oh, man. It’s 2006. I always think, I don’t know why, but I always think it’s earlier. I always think it’s 2002, 2003.

Mike:  [11:44] Well, I think that, and I haven’t read that to be perfectly honest, but isn’t it a lot of what you find on his blog?

Rob:  [11:48] It is. I think you could read, probably, everything in here on his blog.

Mike:  [11:49] Got it.

Rob:  [12:07] It’s just so much nicer that it’s collected like this. So back in the day, I’ve been reading “Joel on Software” since early 2001, like really, really early on. I didn’t think there was anyone else in the world that was writing about this stuff and I found Paul Graham and Eric Sink within a couple years of that. [12:19] And so I followed those guys and I read each of their books. Paul Graham, obviously, had “Hackers and Banners,” which is more, it’s more entrepreneurial and less practical, I guess. It’s a cool book, but it’s different.

[12:36] And then Joel’s book was… Well, I liked it a lot as well. But Eric really hit the nail on the head for me. This book is broken up into four parts. The first part is entrepreneurship. The second part is about people, so it’s about managing and hiring. The third part is about marketing, which resonated with me. And the last part is about sales.

[13:04] The interesting thing is I went back and reread this book maybe a year ago. With a classic like this, I find that, on the reread, it wasn’t as unique anymore. Because so much has been built on top of it. So many people have written, have kind of stood on the shoulders of giants, essentially. Stood on the shoulders of Eric Sink and have built things that are now, I’d say they go beyond what this book does. It felt very rudimentary to me.

[13:14] Which, I think, is probably a good sign. It’s like, “Oh, I’ve progressed.” That means if I look back and I say, “Oh, this is basic stuff,” well, it wasn’t basic to me when I first read it five years ago.

[13:17] Anyways, that’s my pick. I know you’ve read this, Mike. Right? What do you…?

Mike:  [13:18] I haven’t, actually.

Rob:  [gasps] [13:20] Mike!

Mike:  [13:35] I know. Like I said, I thought it was just mostly a collection of the things on his blog, and like you, I’ve been following Eric Sink’s blog since the early 2000s. Unless there’s something in there that’s not on his blog, chances are good I’ve probably already read it.

Rob:  [13:41] Yep. That’s a good point. Kind of cool. That’s funny, I thought you’d read it. I’m sure you have read all or most of it. [13:59] I think one of… There were some essays in here, one is called “Marketing is Not a Post‑processing Step,” and the ad’s from 2003. That’s why I think of this from being back then. But that one article just totally blew me away, and that’s why I think, today, marketing starts before development and goes all the way through it.

[14:24] So some good stuff in here, man. If you haven’t read this… If you’ve never read it, I do recommend it. There’s still a lot of gems in here, even though, like I said, people have built on it and some parts of it may seem… I don’t know. It’s like going back and watching a good “Blade Runner,” like a good sci‑fi movie that you’ve never seen that’s old. You kind of say, “Oh, well, this is cliché.” And it’s like, “Well, it was… It’s clique because everyone copied it. It was the original,” and that’s what this book is to me.

Mike:  [14:28] It’s really funny that you mention “Blade Runner,” because I just saw it for the first time two years ago. [laughs]

Rob:  [14:31] Yeah? You thought it was lame, probably?

Mike:  [14:56] No, because I looked at it from the perspective of knowing that it was first made 20‑some years ago, so I knew that that was the first, that was kind of the stepping stone for a lot of these other movies that have followed after. And I also knew that the special effects were not going to be stellar. I walked into it knowing that. But I looked at it for more from a story perspective than anything else. So I didn’t think it was a bad movie at all.

Rob:  [15:05] Yeah, it was made in ’82, man. The effects for 1982, it was pretty impressive. The movie was epic when it came out.

Mike:  [15:06] So almost 30 years ago.

Rob:  [15:09] Yeah. Really impressive when you think about it.

Mike:  [15:23] But yeah, I thought, from a story perspective, definitely top notch. There were certainly some questions that it brought up. One of them was, “Was this person actually a replicant?” or something like that.

Rob:  [15:40] You’re giving the end away. That’s the interesting thing. It’s based on a book by a sci‑fi author, Phillip K. Dick. So that’s why the story’s so good, probably. It’s based on a book. In the book, there’s a lot of questions about whether Harrison Ford’s a replicant. Decker. [16:00] It depends. If you look at the director’s cut, it copied the book, but if you look at the theatrical release that was the only release out there for about… probably until the mid ’90s, almost 15 years, it had nothing. It did not question Decker’s humanness. It just didn’t have those. There’s a couple scenes that it didn’t have.

[16:02] So anyway, you probably saw the director’s cut.

Mike:  [16:08] I think so, yeah. That’s a little off topic, but that’s OK.

Rob:  [16:09] I think people are interested in “Blade Runner.”

Mike:  [16:10] Maybe.

Rob:  [16:12] All right. What’s your number two?

Mike:  [16:29] The number two that I have is “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” by Al Ries and Jack Trout. I flip this one open, and I just love the very first one. It says, “Number One: The Law of Leadership. It’s better to be first than it is to be better.” [16:55] Every single one of these laws have this little one, possibly two, line quote at the very beginning that summarizes a fairly large topic. The book itself is only 125 pages, 130 pages, something like that, but it summarizes what they call these 22 immutable laws of marketing. They help provide insight into marketing from a non‑developer standpoint.

If you’re a developer and you’re pretty technical, and you start getting into marketing and trying to figure it out, and say, “I’m a developer. I’m a pretty smart guy. Marketing can’t possibly be that hard.” And then you try it, and then you fall completely flat on your face because you have no idea what you’re doing. You say, “Hmm. Well, either one: [17:19] I’m not as smart as I thought I was,” which nobody really wants to think that, “or the marketing guys aren’t nearly as dumb as I thought they were.”

[17:31] So there’s a lot of things in here that are eye‑opening, that really kind of help improve your perception of what marketing really is, and why certain things work and why certain things don’t.

Rob:  [18:05] Yeah, I’ve read this book as well. I think this was another one where I’ve read it after I had read other books. And so it seemed pretty rudimentary to me, but realistically, it’s the immutable laws of marketing, so they’re going to be really general and foundational things. So I can’t say that I took anything away from this book that I went and applied to any of my products. That tends to be my measure of things. Am I putting a to‑do list, or at least a vision list of some things I want to do down the line. This book didn’t do that for me, because it was so general. [18:18] It’s more academic that practical. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It’s a very short book, which totally makes it worth an hour… I think it took me 90 minutes or something to read. So I definitely think it’s worth taking a look at.

[18:39] The other thing that you and I were discussing before this is that Eric Sink did, but it’s basically a series of blog posts that he later put into a PDF. It was Eric Sink’s take on the immutable laws of marketing as applied to software marketing. I was fascinated by that, because it’s a really smart guy applying these other really smart guy’s principles to what we do.

Mike:  [19:01] Yeah. I mean, he actually calls it “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” as a blog post from ‑‑ I’m looking at it now ‑‑ it’s Tuesday, June 1st 2004. He lists these 22 laws, and he says he’s going to summarize the main point and draw a connection to the software industry. He does have a PDF version. I do have the link. We will link it up in the show notes. [19:19] It is interesting to not only read the book, but then to also see Eric’s take on it and how exactly a lot of these things can apply to the software industry. If you haven’t read either one of them, definitely read the book and then take a look at Eric Sink’s post on how it applies to the software industry. It’s very enlightening.

[19:42] And like you said, the entire book is very generic. It’s very foundational. If you don’t have very much marketing experience… This is one of the first marketing books that I had ever picked up, and it taught me a lot. It really did. I look back on it now and say, “Oh, yeah. That stuff’s pretty rudimentary,” but at the time, I was just starting out and said… Yeah, it was inspirational, I’ll say.

Rob:  [20:04] My number two is called “The Ultimate Sales Letter.” It’s a book by Dan Kennedy, and of course I need to hedge my bet here, because Dan Kennedy… I have a love/hate relationship with this guy. Mostly he’s a very talented copywriter, and he knows how to push buttons. He knows the psychology of marketing, so he’s very knowledgeable. [20:24] At the same time, a lot of what I hear him do, and when I have heard him speak… I’ve never seen him live, but when I’ve heard an audio of him speaking, he seems just like a guy who I don’t want to emulate. He’s one of those marketers that you’re like, “Ugh.” He just seems a little slimy or a little over the top. He does some stuff that I personally wouldn’t do.

[20:33] I’m not saying he’s unethical or illegal or anything like that, but the feeling that I get from some of his sales letters is that icky feeling that you’re getting sold to really hard type thing.

[20:47] So he wrote this book. What I did, reading through it, is… There’s some genius stuff in here. Bottom line, this guy knows what he’s doing. He’s been doing it for years. He’s a multi, multi‑millionaire from doing it. I learned a ton about copywriting.

[21:09] In it, he looks at how to write a sales letter. Sales letters are the things that direct response marketers used to print out on paper and mail using direct mail, and so they have to make a sale in one sitting while someone’s sitting over the wastebasket getting ready to throw their mail out. And so they’re quite pushy and they use a lot of specific tactics.

[21:26] Now what I took away from it, since, of course, I don’t market that way… But he goes into how to write headlines and how to craft them. This information has been invaluable to me, even when writing emails to people that I want to get read, to think more about what the subject should say, because that’s your headline.

[21:46] It’s totally taught me to think twice about how I title my talks at presentations, at conferences, and how I title my blog posts. As well as when I’m creating a sales website for a new product, or revamping one. A lot of what I do, and the tactics, and my thought process deals with things that Dan Kennedy points out in this book.

[22:00] I definitely recommend it. Even though everything doesn’t apply, it’s pretty fundamental to understanding how people make buying decisions and what triggers you can focus on that your product fulfills, essentially.

Mike:  [22:11] Does he describe in there…? I believe I read someplace, and maybe it was something by him, but there’s a number of different emotional triggers that you can use.

Rob:  [22:12] Yep. So that…

Mike:  [22:13] Does he talk about that?

Rob:  [22:35] He does. Now, the one you’re thinking of is Cialdini’s “Influence,” the one that actually goes on this specific… It’s Robert Cialdini, and he wrote a book called “Influence” back in the ‑‑ it was a long time ago ‑‑ 60s, 70s probably. Since then, it’s been… There’s some updated versions and new interpretations of it. But yes, Dan Kennedy does talk about them in the context of writing a sales letter.

Mike:  [22:35] OK.

Rob:  [22:48] It’s basically like, “There are six motivators for why people do stuff. One is fear. Two is the possibility of gain. Three is…” You know, and those are just the basic human motivators. So that’s my number two.

Mike:  [23:13] My number three is called “Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It.” It’s by Al Reis, who is also one of the co‑authors of “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.” In this book, he expands upon one of the immutable laws of marketing, but he basically goes to talk about if you’re running a company, you really should focus on one narrow thing. [23:47] So, for example, BMW owns driving and FedEx owns overnight, for example. He basically takes those and uses them as examples to illustrate how if you are trying to grow your company, you should focus on some of your core products and get rid of things that are kind of side businesses, things that you’re not really focused on, but maybe they’re making money so you keep doing them. But, at the same time, by doing that you’re actually dividing your attention from what your core focus is, or what it should be. In doing so, you’re actually reducing the profits from that core venture.

Rob:  [24:12] I’ve never read it. Is it a marketing book? Is it about positioning and focusing in your marketing, or is it about how, once you start marketing to… If BMW focuses their marketing on driving, then it ripples through the whole company? You know what I’m saying? Is it both of those things, or is it more of a marketing book? Not just, but is it more of a marketing focus?

Mike:  [24:39] It’s more of a marketing focus. It has a bazillion examples in here. It talks about working through implementing those changes into your company. What it takes, why you should do these different things, and how to justify it to, for example, your employees, or your investor, or what have you. How to define yourself within a particular product category so that when somebody says X they think of you as opposed to whoever the next competitor, possibly, is.

Rob:  [24:41] Sounds interesting.

Mike:  [24:44] It’s kind of long, to be perfectly honest.

Rob:  [24:44] Is it?

Mike:  [24:45] Yeah.

Rob:  [24:53] I was going to ask you, because it sounds to me like you could kind of, just by the way you described it, because I haven’t read it… I’ve probably never even seen it.

Mike:  [24:55] I’m vastly oversimplifying it.

Rob:  [24:59] OK. I was like, “It sounds like I could get that from 50 or 100 pages and a few examples.”

Mike:  [25:09] It’s 250 pages. They do have a summary at the very end. You might be able to get by and get a lot of the gist of it out of just reading that. [25:29] But like I said, this thing is jam packed with examples. Every single… Even on a single page, there’s anywhere from one to 10 or 15 different examples per page. It’s ridiculous, the number of places they point to, all these different ways that people have made money, and how they’ve changed their industries.

[25:49] So, for example, they talk a little bit about Jack Daniels. They talk about Blue Jeans. They talk about White Castle, Wendy’s, Taco Bell. All these different industries that people are well acquainted with. They talk about how they got there and where they made missteps along the way and then refocused what they were doing to get back on track.

Rob:  [26:03] Do you think it applies to smaller companies, because all the companies you named are larger? I imagine those are all the case studies they give, because they’re the ones that are well known. But do you take anything away from it that could be applied to AuditShark or any of our apps?

Mike:  [26:11] You know, I did. I don’t think that that was really the core focus of the book itself. I think that the book was more targeted towards those larger companies. [26:37] What I took away from it was that in order to take business away from a larger company, what you need to do is you need to focus your marketing efforts on a small subset of their customers. So if you’re going after ‑‑ and this would be kind of a ridiculous example ‑‑ but let’s say you’re going after the operating system market, you don’t want to compete against Microsoft. They own the desktop. There’s no way you’re going to win there.

[27:07] But you might be able to compete on servers. Obviously Linux has had a lot of success there and if you look at the distribution of operating system licenses on servers versus desktops, on desktops, Microsoft’s got like 90‑plus percent penetration there, and on servers it’s a lot lower. Granted, they still probably have a dominant number, but I’m guessing here maybe it’s 50/50. I’m not real sure. But Linux actually has a pretty sizable market share when you think about what its roots were and where it came from.

[27:27] If I were to try and go into the operating system market, the desktop is probably a bad bet. Servers would be a bad bet. What about mobile devices? And if you take a look at Apple, for example, you’ve got OSX, which they’ve kind of repositioned. Now you’ve got the iPad, you’ve got the iPhone. That right there is just an example off the top of my head that I came up with.

[27:40] Could I personally do it? Probably not because the operating systems are… you need a lot of people to build an operating system. But if you’re going to build a much smaller piece of software to go after invoicing software, or you’re going to go after…

Rob:  [27:45] Hey wait, are you suggesting people compete with me? [laughs] You were seeing if I was awake, huh?

Mike:  [28:13] I don’t know. Maybe. I was talking for a while. But you know what I mean, something that would be significant enough for one person to actually build and market effectively on their own or in a small team, something along those lines that is definitely worth your time and effort to think about, “OK, well, what sub‑segment of the QuickBooks market could I go after which they’re not going to care about, but at the same time I could have some good success at?” [28:30] Because chances are good that if you’re building any product that has any sort of size to it, you’re going to be competing with one of those people. And if you can build a product that is going to have some stripped‑down pieces to it that’s going to specifically apply to them, then you’re going to do quite well.

[28:43] One example that I’ve seen in the past was there’s a piece of software out there that is specifically designed for writing research papers and it’s not Microsoft Word, and they sell it for several hundred dollars and they do extremely well with it.

Rob:  [28:46] That’s totally my example. You read my book, haven’t you?

Mike:  [28:47] Is it? Did I?

Rob:  [28:51] Yeah, I use it in my book. Thank you, everyone. Finally we have proven that Mike read my… Yeah, Nota Bene.

Mike:  [28:56] Yup, yup. All right. Well, maybe that’s where I read it. I did look at it.

Rob:  [28:57] “I accidentally read your book,” is that what you were…?

Mike:  [28:57] Damn.

Rob:  [29:00] Mike always tells me, “I don’t read your stuff.”

Mike:  [29:01] Rob paid me to read it.

Rob:  [29:08] Yeah, yeah, exactly. Cool. So that’s the power of focus. “Focus: The Future of Your Company Depends on It.”

Mike:  [29:08] Yup.

Rob:  [29:14] Excellent. And for my last book, cue the hate mail, it is “The 4‑Hour Work Week.”

Mike:  [29:15] I did that.

Rob:  [29:41] So yeah, so this book is “The 4‑Hour Work Week.” I think again I need to couch this. I really liked some of the concepts in the book. I also think the book has some serious flaws and some things that I did not take away or would not personally do. There’s just some things where it’s kind of like how to be a bullshitter ‑‑ how to bullshit. I think that’s what the section is called. It’s how you have confidence and approach people. So I could see some people doing it. [29:56] Obviously I imagine Tim Ferriss gives examples of him doing it and getting a better… getting upgraded to first class on an airplane or whatever and it’s just kind of being really a little pushy for my taste. That’s not my DNA. But at the same time I can see this really fitting with people.

[30:15] But anyways, back to what I did take away. When I read this, I think it was 2007 when it came out and there are some downright revolutionary things in this book. He talks about not putting off retirement. He says people put off retirement until they’re 65. They work their whole lives and then they retire and they get really bored and there’s nothing for them to do.

[30:32] And he’s basically like, “Try to figure out how to work less now,” and he goes through all these approaches of doing it. You’ve probably heard this concept so many times since he’s written the book, but before then it was like, “Oh, is that even possible?” And then in the book he goes through examples of himself doing it and a bunch of other people.

Now, he also goes through some really cool time‑saving tricks. This is where the first time I had ever heard this and most people have ever heard it, was to only check email once a day or twice a day, to stop checking it all the time and to not check it first thing in the morning, to check it at like 11: [30:55] 00am and 4:00pm so that in the morning, you knock something out real quick.

[31:05] So he has a bunch of tips and tactics like that that I started applying pretty quickly. And of course I go in and out of doing them, but I do find that when I’m at maximum productivity, I’m doing these things.

[31:07] He also teaches you how to speed read.

Mike:  [31:11] Quick question. Do you not check your email until like 11:00?

Rob:  [31:35] No. I have a tough time doing that. I have gone months where I have done that, but I’m not currently doing that. I find that when I have a project that I am working on, I’m into, I will not check it until mid‑morning. But I just haven’t been doing that lately. That’s why I’m saying I do it sometimes, and I wish I could do it all the time, but the lack of discipline allows me slip back into old patterns. [31:53] But I did shut off, after I read this book I shut off… I had the Google Toaster that would pop up whenever a Gmail arrived. He goes into how to eliminate tasks. That’s the first time I had ever heard of virtual assistants and outsourcing to the degree that I now do really came from this book.

[32:17] Then there’s entire sections that are totally not worth it to me or totally just did not speak to me. Some about being salary employees and trying to outsource your work and trying to work from home. There’s an entire section on basically becoming an information marketer and doing stuff online. It didn’t particularly resonate with me as much as probably half the book, which just hit it right on the head for me. Then the other half, it was like, “OK, I’m going to skip this part.”

[32:41] All that to say just the half that he talked about was really quite revolutionary for me and it really changed my focus from… This was the seed that started changing me from the venture‑backed startup mentality of want to go huge and just thinking that’s the only way to go to starting to think, “Oh, I can actually have smaller products in smaller niches and go from there,” which is basically what I’ve done today and helped me developed my approach to it.

Mike:  [32:42] Cool.

Rob:  [32:44] And you’ve never read it, right?

Mike:  [32:55] It’s funny. I’ve never read it, but I actually have it. I bought it, I forget when, but it was after I bought my iPad. I haven’t had a chance to sit down and actually read it, but I do have it.

Rob:  [32:57] Do you have it on Kindle?

Mike:  [32:57] Yeah.

Rob:  [33:01] And you have the newer second version, right? Because it’s got a bunch more stuff in it.

Mike:  [33:01] Probably.

Rob:  [33:04] Yeah. Have you bought it last year or so?

Mike:  [33:04] Yup.

Rob:  [33:18] OK, good. Because the first version, it is weaker. There’s not nearly as many case studies just because he was writing it when he wasn’t famous, and then once he got famous and blew up, then all these people came out of the woodwork and said, “I’m doing this stuff, too,” basically. [33:33] One thing that I’ve really kind of wanted to speak of for a while is he focuses a lot on the automation and the outsourcing, which I think is cool. But I think like you and I have talked about, Mike, it’s like you have nothing to automate and outsource until you’ve build that business.

[33:57] The hard part is building a business that brings 10, 20, 30 grand a month. I think his business was bringing 40 grand a month at the time. But he was just working so much. He was working like 80 or 90‑hour weeks. Well, that was the hard part, was getting that business to 40k. The outsourcing and the other stuff is actually, in my opinion, in my experience now, is much easier once you have that thing in place.

[34:13] And I don’t think he spends enough time going through practical steps of how to get to that point, and so I think that’s probably one of the reasons that I really started doing that in my blog and why you and I connected because we’re both on that side of it, of how do you build that business in the first place?

Mike:  [34:27] Right. Well, I think that you also have to keep in mind that different books are targeted towards different people. So I think that his book, with the title alone, hits the nail on the head in terms of getting eyeballs. [34:45] But unless you’re actually at that point in your business where you’re making $30,000 or $40,000, heck, even until you’re at the point where you’re making $10,000 or $20,000 and completely self‑sufficient, automation doesn’t do a whole heck of a lot for you until you have something to automate. That’s just going to be a basic fundamental problem.

[35:02] A lot of the other books that we talked about tonight have the same sort of thing. We already discussed it a little bit in terms of you and I looked at different books. I looked at the “22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” and I said, “Wow, this is really eye opening.” And you looked at it and said, “Yeah, this is pretty rudimentary stuff.”

[35:21] But the reason is because you looked at it after you had already educated yourself to a certain point. It was one of the first books that I had read, so to me it was a lot more eye‑opening than it was to you. It’s the same exact material, it’s just we read it at different points in our career trajectories.

Rob:  [35:22] No, that’s col.

Mike:  [35:28] I recently read “Rework” as well. I don’t know if you’ve read that yet. It’s from 37 Signals.

Rob:  [35:31] I skimmed it in the bookstore. It’s pretty short.

Mike:  [35:32] It was short.

Rob:  [35:37] Yeah. Did you get anything out of it that was practical that changed the way you work?

Mike:  [35:52] No. I don’t think that I saw anything that was earth shatteringly eye opening or anything like that, but I didn’t feel like it had information in it that was not valuable either, that wasn’t important for people to understand and know.

Rob:  [35:56] Sure. It was worth your time to read it and you felt like it expanded your…

Mike:  [36:02] Yeah. At no point did I feel like it was a waste of paper, and it was on my Kindle.

Rob:  [36:10] Nice. But no, it’s less important if it’s a waste of paper. It’s more important if it’s a waste of your time. Did you feel like it was a waste of your time?

Mike:  [36:23] I don’t think so. At the very least, it was entertaining. I have to be honest. I really liked the fact that what they did at some point was they went through the book and they said, “This is way too long,” and they basically chopped it in half.

Rob:  [36:24] Yeah, I heard that.

Mike:  [36:56] And if you look at what’s left, it’s short. A lot of it doesn’t explain itself very well and they kind of leave it up to you to, I’ll say recognize, or at least feel like they’ve done the research behind it. I think there’s definitely a couple of places where it probably falls short on that because I’m still skeptical of certain pieces of the information that I found just because of that. But at the same time, I value my time highly so I’m appreciative of the fact that they kept it short intentionally. They were conscious of that.

Rob:  [37:26] Yeah. I also felt the book was entertaining. I think it’s probably pretty revolutionary for people who aren’t totally engulfed in the tech startup world. As I read through it, I was like, “Yep, knew that, knew that, knew that.” It was either I’ve either read that from 37 Signals already or just kind of know it from experience or have already heard it. It wasn’t anything new that I didn’t take anything away from that changed my perception or my work flow at all. [37:46] However, they were not aiming it at me. It was aimed at the New York Times Bestseller list. It was aimed at the mass market. And I would guess, and from what I’ve heard people talk about it, who I know, just at meetups and such who are just like, “Oh, that book just blew my mind. It’s totally new stuff.” I think they probably nailed it for that demographic.

Mike:  [38:12] Yeah, definitely. Like I said, they take these real small bullets and they break them down into a couple of pages and they basically write a very well written essay about that one thing, picking fights, for example, in order to help validate your market and make sure that you have something to fight for with your product. It’s just interesting the way that they’ve put all that stuff together. I think they did a really good job with it. I’ve got to give them props for it.

Rob:  [38:19] Yeah, that’s cool. They’re definitely phenomenal marketers and excellent writers. Good communicators.

Mike:  [38:27] I also liked at the end of each chapter they had some references. So if you really wanted to go through and do some of the additional research and stuff, you could.

Rob:  [38:29] Yeah, that’s cool. Yeah, I didn’t see that. [music]

Rob:  [38:41] I think that wraps us up for today. And I’m not going to read the traditional outro because I’ve had a couple people say, “When the outro spins, I just turn the podcast off.” So we’re not going to do that now.

Mike:  [38:42] Oh, what are we going to do?

Rob:  [39:02] I don’t know. We’re going to just kind of say that if you want to get in contact with us, you can email us at Questions@StartupsfortheRestofUs.com. I definitely have to say that our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Out of Control” by Moot. That’s used under creative commons. And if people want to read a transcript… Do you think anyone reads the transcripts? Should we keep doing that?

Mike:  [39:03] I read the transcripts.

Rob:  [39:07] You read the transcripts? Wait, you are the guy talking, you’re not supposed to read your own…

Mike:  [39:09] I know. But I don’t want to listen to you.

Rob:  [39:38] That’s awesome. Just gets better and better. So they can come to our website, StartupsfortheRestofUs.com, and we actually would love to get some reviews and some comments in iTunes because that dramatically impacts how we rank in iTunes. If you just go to iTunes and search for “startups” then you’ll find us. And please, give us a good rating and a good comment, and if you have negative things to say, please don’t post them there; email us directly. And that’s about it. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next time.

Transcription by CastingWords

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9 Responses to “Episode 44 | Our Top 6 Book Recommendations”

  1. The TechZing vibe seeps into this episode when I listen to the fun banter going between you two :). Certainly fun to listen to.

    Am interested to hear from both of you about your reading habits and approaches. Like when would you usually decide to stop reading a book, what criteria do you use to determine the next book to pick up, how many books do you read on a monthly basis etc. This question came to me as Rob mentioned reading only the first half of Crossing the Chasm and I’m pretty sure Rob doesn’t read most books from cover to cover.

  2. Egon Hilgenstieler June 1, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    Please keep the transcripts :)

    I seldom listen to the podcast when I’m able to take notes (I usually listen to it when I’m driving or jogging). So when I remember something important (“oh, Rob talked about the X tool in some episode”) I just quickly search the transcripts. They are invaluable.

    Keep up the good work guys! I’ll buy some books now ;)

  3. Thanks for doing these transcripts. It help when I can’t get pen to paper to take notes on ideas, or books in this case.

  4. Please keep transcripts. Some of you listeners are not English speakers :). and it is very helpful to clarify. also as Egon said transcript is the only way to return back and check something

  5. Your Blade Runner analysis is a bit off. The Director’s Cut did not copy the book at all. In fact, the book was completely different (except the character names and a few general aspects of the plot), its more of a story that was ‘inspired’ by a book, not based on it. I’m pretty sure Phillip K. Dick made it clear Deckard wasn’t a replicant, even having him taking (and passing) the VK test himself. And in the original movie, there were indications that Deckard was a replicant, they just weren’t as strong (Harrison Ford apparently really didn’t like the idea of his character being a replicant, it was Scott who was pushing that idea).

    • You’re right – thanks for the correction. I’m not sure why I mis-remembered the book like that. I would argue that the in the theatrical release there was no indication Deckard was a replicant…at least I didn’t notice it the first 50 or so times I watched it.

  6. Please keep the transcripts. If I don’t listen to your podcast I could at least read the transcript.