The timing for Sarah Lacy’s book couldn’t have been luckier. It was published today, the same day that a host of acquisitions confirm the book’s central points: It’s better to sell out than IPO, and the ties between web 1.0 and web 2.0 run deep — in fact, they’re not all that different after all.
The book, which Wired magazine gave a rave review to, should be on the required reading list for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and wannabe entrepreneurs.
Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web 2.0 is part of that rare subset of business books that actually aim to tell interesting stories about people in business.
As a result, you’re likely to learn more about what it takes to start a company in Silicon Valley from Lacy’s book than any highfalutin’ business tome with a headscratching title like The Death of Money or Metanomics.
Lacy, a BusinessWeek columnist and Yahoo Finance video personality, spent many months with the Web 2.0 entrepreneurs she profiles: Max Levchin, Kevin Rose, Jay Adelson and Mark Zuckerberg. Her cozy, flirty interviewing style may not work well onstage, but in this book, it delivers. Lacy has details about these men’s lives (and they are nearly all men) that provide real insight into their personalities as well as the businesses they have founded. For example:
- Max Levchin, Slide’s founder, was a sickly child who learned to speak fluent English by watching Diff’rent Strokes on a TV he salvaged from a Dumpster after his family emigrated to the U.S. His early life, Lacy writes, has contributed to Levchin’s fiercely analytical mind and his drive to succeed.
- Digg CEO Jay Adelson felt burned by the venture capitalists who backed his first startup, Equinix, an experience that led him to adopt an anti-VC motto,"Fuck the sweater vests," when he joined Digg.
- Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is an ambitious kid whose business instincts were shaped by a close association with Silicon Valley wunderkind/bad boy Sean Parker, whose history also gave him a deep mistrust of VCs.
Lacy also provides lots of detail on how these young, "web 2.0" upstarts have been helped out by successful members of the dot-com generation, especially PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel and Netscape cofounder Marc Andreessen.
The lesson: If you’re young, smart and ambitious, it pays to have a powerful friend.
Not that these guys had anything handed to them on a platter. Lacy’s stories make it clear just how much hard work, smarts and sometimes luck go into making a successful startup — and just how hard it is to make decisions like whether or not to sell your company for hundreds of millions of dollars.
Her writing style is light and unlikely to win many style points. But she gives her stories a vividness and an immediacy that makes this book a fast and rewarding read.
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