Category: Books

Books that we read and our thoughts about them.

Book Review: Founders at Work

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days (Amazon,) is a collection of interviews of successful, white, men who founded tech startups.

The book is good for two things:

  1. Knowing that start up founders come from a wide variety of backgrounds and walk their own path.
  2. Creating a list of twitter users you may want to follow.

Recommendation: skip.

Book Review: Principles – Life and Work

In Principles: Life and Work (Amazon,) Ray Dalio, a highly successful hedge fund manager tries to write out rules for living one’s life and conducting business.

He should have stuck to managing other people’s money and spared us this tome. It is highly repetitive and completely off the rails. He thinks the world and our minds work like “machines” and that if you can figure out how that machine works, you are all set. The problem is that once you call something a “machine,” your imagination is handicapped by the fact that most machines are deterministic. Real life, business and investing is a system – a complex dynamic system. A system that changes based on how the people in the system behave. Good luck trying to “figure it out.”

The book is gibberish. If you really want to read a self-help book, read the very entertaining The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck (Amazon.)

Book Review: Fragile by Design

Fragile by Design (Amazon) by Calomiris and Haber explains how the banking system of every country is the result of a unique set of starting conditions and how politics and culture shape their overall stability and purpose. They call it the Game of Bank Bargains.

My personal take-away from this is India is screwed. We will never get rid of our public banks who will conspire with our politicians to bleed our country dry. Politicians will find our banks ready and willing to impose an inflation tax on us. Who could blame them when hardly 2% of our population pays an income tax? We seem to have borrowed from the worst elements of US, Mexican and Brazilian banking systems. No Hope.

Read the book!

Book Review: Fantasyland

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire (Amazon,) is about how over the years, Americans have become less rational and more prone to magical thinking.

The author, Kurt Andersen, posits that Americans have self-selected both from a genetic and cultural point of view to believe in fantasies. The rise of social media and the internet has allowed everyone to live in his “own” truth, a fantasy land. He touches upon all weird, non-scientific things that Americans believe to be true, their outlandish religious beliefs, gun ownership and so on.

The main take-away for me was this: a liberal government can keep its populace fed and make sure that the country progresses scientifically and economically. However, it cannot give its citizens purpose. Purpose is something everybody seeks. And if the government cant give it, then religions/cult/tribes will fill the void. And the more vulnerable you are economically, the more you seek out a tribe to be part of.

Read the book!

Book Review: Chaos Monkeys

Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley (Amazon,) is a meandering story about one man’s startup journey. (Excerpts.)

Thoughts

The book is entertaining but it brought little in the way of added insight. The bit that stuck a chord was:

Most VCs are playing a version of baseball in which the only way to score is to hit a home run when you’re at bat. They don’t care if you disgrace or impoverish yourself and strike out, and they don’t care if you get a solid line drive that lands you on second. To them, strikeouts and getting on base are equally pointless, and so they’ll push to proverbially “swing for the fences” no matter the count or the team you’re up against.

The reason for this all-or-nothing approach is how their funds are structured. VCs raise a fund, out of which they’ll provision some number of investments. Barring doubling down on the same company, which they might do if the fund still has money when a company raises again, those investments are effectively “fire and forget.” The fund’s total profit will be calculated from whatever those initial bets return. Unlike, say, a hedge fund portfolio manager, who rolls the winnings from one good bet into the next, compounding a series of returns into something truly huge, VCs do not take liquidity from one company’s exit and pour it into yet another’s. This, at heart, is why the go-big-or-go-home strategy makes the Silicon Valley world turn, and why entrepreneurs push themselves to be either the next Airbnb, or nothing. The entrepreneur who bucks this and creates a long-term business of recurring revenue but relatively slow growth is dismissed as running a mere “lifestyle business,” which is a dirty word among VCs.