Book review: Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days

I’m fascinated by startup founders. These guys decided to jump in the unknown, with an idea, and they battled through adversity. They don’t always succeed, but enough do so that we think “what if I had an idea?”.


I will not talk about each individual startup testimony, it would be too long (there are around 30 of them), so let’s talk about the general content. Not all the discussions are the same. For instance, the one with Steve Wozniak is very long, but filled with fantastic technical details about what it took him to build his machine, and the financial struggles Steve Jobs overcame. This defined Apple first success, and it’s all because of the Woz’s technical expertise.

We also have the testimony of Craiglist’s founder, who never took any VC money which, for a startup, is quite amazing), and definitely is the counterpoint of all the other founders that did take money. We have TripAdvisor, which started as selling its database to other companies and ended up directly talking to users like me, and there are plenty of other stories where the original product morphed into a new product, sometimes simpler, that achieved tremendous success.

Some of the startups have been absorbed into bigger giants, or just shut down. Lots of the discussions show that the founders wanted to create and sell fast (which is probably what people, 10 years after the book has been published, might have remembered of this book, when you see Facebook, Google, Amazon and Microsoft buying anything that starts having some value), but there are many stories of people that had a cherished idea and they sticked with it until today. That’s beautiful.


Yes, not all companies in the book survive today, not all of them are references that we should follow (yes to the Woz, probably not to Adobe, despite what they achieved back in the days). But the book was about testimonies of what it took for these guys to succeed. They didn’t fare all in the same way, but the book achieved its purpose: let’s get my next big idea (or a friend’s) and start a startup.

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