My friend Dave just published a new book, and it’s become my favorite entrepreneurship reading in a while. The one that previously held the distinction had been Ben Horowitz’s Hard Thing About Hard Things, which told of the experiences of the “wartime CEO”, drawing contrast to the “peacetime” variety.
Dave Balter’s book, resembling the other in its honesty, transparency, and attention to the human factor, may be understood as the perspective of the CEO in hybrid state – which is perhaps to say, peacetime on the surface while war is raging down below. And maybe that is after all the truth behind all startups. Nowadays, perhaps, this relevance extends much farther out than that.
The title grabs you right away – it grabbed me in any case – with its refreshing candor. Both the title and the book could only be the product of one who’s been there, many times.
Between the front page and final sentences that relate the author’s encounter with a prospective hire, “[w]ith so much thankfulness for [a near-death] experience [that he described] – and so much humility – that he was hired on the spot”, the essay collection brings together a series of reflections from the trenches, from the road, from the office and the home, alone and in the company of assorted others: teammates, investors, board members, competitors, customers, distantly back or in a recent moment, always right there in the thick of it.
In a post ahead of the book’s publication – Why My New Book is Destined to Fail – the author explains his intention and guards against an anticipated reaction from some readers. Many will wonder about the scope of an essay collection that doesn’t run a conventional narrative thread. “Often times that thread is thin,” he says. “Only upon reflection does the silk shed its translucence, becoming visible in the light of day. Sometimes it takes years for that to happen. Sometimes it never does. But, taken as a whole,” he says, “[such] books convey countless meanings.”
Taken as a whole, the seemingly unthreaded mix is truer, by far, to the entrepreneurial experience than any linearly standard version can convey. With a beginning, a middle, and an end, a book about entrepreneurship might in fact miss the point entirely; or, if not the point, then certainly the truth.