Tag Archives: Reading

The Hard Thing About Hard Things

“As a start-up CEO I slept like a baby. I woke up every 2 hours and cried.”

Ben Horowitz

Today, Ben Horowitz is the billionaire co-founder of a16z and one of the most important people in tech. But 20 years ago, he was the CEO of a penny stock startup called Opsware.


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By persevering through layoffs and withering criticism, Horowitz built his company into a colossus. In 2007, Opsware sold to HP for a cool $1.65 billion in cash.

Horowitz’s most important lesson: no matter what happens, don’t give up!

“Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say, “I didn’t quit.'”

How to Lead

Horowitz often had to bet the company’s future on a decision made with limited information. As a founder, that’s all you’re ever going to get.

He also didn’t shy away from getting involved in details. Companies tend to stand still unless someone forces them to move.

“…when you are a startup executive, nothing happens unless you make it happen.”

Above all, a leader has to put the company and his people first. If you take care of your customers and employees, success will follow.

Finding the Right People

Horowitz dedicates much of the book to how to find and train the right people.

Horowitz favors team-oriented hires. He looks for people who rarely say “I” or “me,” even when discussing their own accomplishments.

Once you have those great employees, Horowitz urges you to invest in them:

“Training is, quite simply, one of the highest-leverage activities a manager can perform.”

In fact, no one at Opsware could even start looking for an employee until they had a training plan ready for that person.

Layoffs

Many startups are facing layoffs today, as Opsware did.

Horowitz advises CEOs to first speak to the entire company, making clear that the company has failed. Then, managers must lay off their own people.

Be sure to treat the departing staff well: the rest of your employees will be watching closely.

Lessons for Investors

When he started a16z, Horowitz wanted to change one icky thing about venture capital: forcing founders to wait forever in the lobby.

Horowitz made a simple rule.

Anyone late to a meeting with a founder would be fined $10. A minute.

“We wanted the firm to respect the fact that in the bacon-and-egg breakfast of a startup, we were the chicken and the entrepreneur was the pig: We were involved, but she was committed.”

I’m instituting this rule in my own meetings with startups, with the fines going to charity.

Horowitz also provides some great guidance on finding promising founders.

He notes that successful CEO’s he’s met all have different styles. There’s no one type to look for.

But one thing all great leaders share is a desire to improve. So I’ll be asking “How could you improve as CEO?” a lot more frequently.

Horowitz’s memoir is a window into what life as an entrepreneur is really like — at turns, nerve-wracking and exhilarating. It makes great reading for founders and investors.

What do you think of Horowitz’s advice? Leave a comment and let me know!

More on tech:

Zero to One

The Power Law (Part One)

Amp It Up

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PandoMonthly – June 2012 – Sarah Lacy interviews Ben Horowitz” by thekenyeung is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

My 2022 Reading List

Whenever I walk into the library, I think “How can I ever read all these books?”


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For me, finding the right books is hard. And something tells me you might be struggling too!

So here’s a quick review of everything I read this year! If something piques your interest, pick up a copy!

Top Pick: Nonfiction

The Power Law by Sebastian Mallaby. This is on every VC’s list this year for a reason.

Mallaby does an amazing job recounting key moments in the history of venture capital. I found the story about Accel staking out Facebook headquarters to win its Series A fascinating.

If you’re in the technology industry, this is a must read! I wrote a series of posts about it here:

THE POWER LAW (PART ONE)
THE POWER LAW (PART TWO)
THE POWER LAW (PART THREE): ANGELS AND VC’S
THE POWER LAW (PART FOUR): THE FIRST VENTURE DEAL

Top Pick: Fiction

Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg. Ginsberg is my favorite poet, so a friend gave me this slim volume as a very thoughtful gift!

I find the Sunflower Sutra particularly beautiful. Ginsberg tells us “we’re all beautiful golden sunflowers inside.” This reminds us to value ourselves and not get too caught up in the day to day!

The Rest of the List

Playing for Keeps by David Halberstam. An excellent account of how Michael Jordan came to dominate the NBA.

Jordan was intensely competitive and hard working. But he was also unusually coachable.

I’m never going to rival Jordan on the court, but his example is instructive in any field.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. The classic text on launching an MVP and iterating your way to success.

Little did I know that later in the year, Eric and I would wind up co-investors in the same startup!

More on The Lean Startup in this post.

Amp it Up by Frank Slootman. The Snowflake CEO provides great insights on leadership in this engaging and brief volume.

He includes tricks for increasing intensity like asking why a task can’t be completed tomorrow instead of next week. More in this post.

The Founders by Jimmy Soni. A deep dive into the founding of PayPal, one of the most iconic tech companies of our time.

Soni includes fascinating tidbits like how PayPal was originally designed to beam money between Palm Pilots. More in this post.

Hunting the Unabomber by Lis Wiehl. Ted Kaczynski is the mirror image of many of the successful founders profiled on this list.

Like many of them, he was precocious and Harvard educated. But he despised technology and its effects on society.

He also showed early signs of being disturbed, laughing as he tried to scald his mother with spaghetti sauce as a child. Perhaps some people are just born with problems.

Into the MIrror by Norman Mailer and Lawrence Schiller. Robert Hanssen was the highest ranking US official ever to become a spy for the Soviet Union.

This is the fascinating story on how he went wrong, and how the government caught him.

Founder by Amos Elon.

Mayer Amschel Rothschild founded the Rothschild banking dynasty. It became one of the most powerful families in Europe.

But the first Rothschild was born in a dank Jewish ghetto. He was orphaned at 13 and faced extreme discrimination throughout his life.

Rothschild grew his business by going out and finding customers, unlike most bankers. Once he had them, he was a loyal partner, always putting their needs first.

I’ve read this book four times now — it never gets old!

Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction by Jack Goldstone. This book covers revolutions from the ancient world to today, digging deep into their causes.

One surprising insight was that poverty alone doesn’t produce revolutions. A destitute populace is no match for a government’s armaments.

Elites also need to withdraw their support from the regime.

Zero to One by Peter Thiel. In contrast to The Lean Startup, Thiel advises founders to create a highly differentiated product 10x better than alternatives rather than a barebones MVP.

I’m not sure who I agree with. But Thiel’s book is a must for any entrepreneur or investor.

More in this post.

Touching the Void by Joe Simpson. I’m almost done with this one!

Simpson tells a fascinating story of breaking his leg on a descent from a massive Andes peak. How he survived this impossible situation makes for a riveting read.

Before a big climb, Simpson told himself “we can do it!” repeatedly. If it works for scaling some of the toughest mountains on Earth, it might work for us too!


It strikes me how few books I read this year. I’d like to get that total up to around 20 next year, perhaps with some of your recommendations!

What was your favorite book this year? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on books:

The High Growth Handbook: Scaling Startups from 10 to 10,000 People

Liftoff: How Elon Musk Built SpaceX

What I Learned From an Investor Who Turned $100,000 into $100,000,000

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Photo: Author Sebastian Mallaby

The Power Law (Part Three): Angels and VC’s

In the world of venture capital, there are two species: great white shark VC’s and goldfish angel investors. They dwarf us in size and power as we wiggle about looking for an insect to eat.

So I was surprised to learn that in some of the hottest deals, angel investors actually have the advantage.


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In his superb new book The Power Law: Venture Capital and the Making of the New Future, Sebastian Mallaby recounts how the greatest tech companies found their first supporters. Time and again, the hottest companies rejected entreaties to meet from the top venture firms.

Instead, they went to angel investors to raise money quickly and easily with a minimum of oversight.

Mark Zuckerberg refused to meet with Accel early on. He even showed up at the offices of heavyweight Sequoia Capital in his pajamas!

Sequoia founder Don Valentine recognized the stunt for what it was: a provocation. Zuckerberg wanted the princes of Sand Hill Road to know he didn’t need them.

Instead, he turned to Peter Thiel and other angels for his first funding. Unlike the slow moving investment committees of venture firms, they could write a check on the spot.

But Zuckerberg was not the first great entrepreneur to shun VC’s. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin had every firm in the Valley breathing down their necks.

Instead, they met angel Andy Bechtolsheim on their front porch.

After a brief pitch, Betcholsheim raced back to his Porsche and returned with a checkbook. He invested $100,000 when the company wasn’t even incorporated.

Along with angels, lesser known venture firms also back many of the greatest companies. As Mallaby notes:

“…the idea that venture capitalists get into deals on the strength of their brands can be exaggerated. A deal seen by a partner at Sequoia will also be seen by rivals at other firms: in a fragmented cottage industry, there is no lack of competition. Often, winning the deal depends on skill as much as brand: it’s about understanding the business model well enough to impress entrepreneurs; it’s about judging what valuation might be reasonable. One careful tally concluded that new or emerging venture partnerships capture around half the gains in the top deals, and there are myriad examples of famous VC’s having a chance to invest and then flubbing it.”

I was very surprised to learn that being at a top firm isn’t the advantage it may seem. No wonder Sequoia still cold messages founders!

In this competitive environment, I look for ways for us to cooperate.

VC’s can benefit if angels bring them great early stage deals. Angels benefit by being able to help their portfolio companies.

In the end, if we can work together to build the greatest companies of the future, everybody wins!

What are your experiences raising from angels and VC’s? Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech:

The Power Law (Part Two)

The Power Law (Part One)

Managing a Crisis the Sequoia Way

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Photo: Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. “File:Google page brin.jpg” by Ehud Kenan is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Power Law (Part Two)

“When in doubt, take the shot.”

Doug Leone, Managing Partner, Sequoia Capital

The partners from prestigious venture firm Accel stood outside an office in Palo Alto, waiting to take theirs.

These were the offices of a young startup called thefacebook.

Most startups would’ve killed to meet them. But thefacebook’s young founder gave the Accel partners the cold shoulder.


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This didn’t stop them. They lurked outside and buttonholed any thefacebook employee they could find.

Eventually, they got the meeting with founder Mark Zuckerberg. And they won the deal, a $10 million check into the company’s Series A round.

To this day, it remains one of the greatest investments in the history of venture capital.

As an angel investor, I always assumed that the prestigious firms like Accel or Sequoia had it easy. The best founders must be falling all over themselves to meet them!

Nothing could be further from the truth. As Sebastian Mallaby chronicles in his superb new book The Power Law: Venture Capital and the Making of the New Future, the greatest firms are also the scrappiest.

Sequoia Capital, perhaps the greatest VC firm in history, wrote their own code to find the most downloaded new iOS apps. One day, it flagged a small program called WhatsApp.

Sequoia partner Jim Goetz sent e-mail after e-mail to WhatsApp’s founder. For months, he never heard a word.

Finally, Goetz was able to get a meeting with WhatsApp’s founder, Jan Koum. In time, Sequoia won the deal.

The investment made Sequoia $3 billion, and WhatsApp is now ubiquitous throughout the world.

So what does this mean for small fries like me?

Even the greatest have to vigorously pursue deals and handle rejection, so don’t give up on an awesome company! If Sequoia isn’t too cool to cold-message a founder on LinkedIn (psst: they’re not), neither am I!

And when I find that rare, incredible startup, I’ll be repeating Leone’s words to myself: “take the shot.”

More on tech:

The Power Law (Part One)

Managing a Crisis the Sequoia Way

Talking Startups and Today’s Fundraising Pullback

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Photo: Doug Leone, Managing Partner, Sequoia Capital. “_SJP1148” by TechCrunch is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The Power Law (Part One)

“Reasonable people…routinely fail in life’s important missions by not even attempting them.”

The Power Law

Every day for the last 15 months, I’ve sat down in front of my computer and tried to find the next great tech company. Being immersed in the daily details of e-mails and deal memos made me wonder about the history of this most unusual of industries, venture capital.


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So I grabbed a copy of Sebastian Mallaby’s excellent new book The Power Law: Venture Capital and the Making of the New Future. Mallaby traces the history of venture capital from its first deal to today, and explores the principles that drive its success.

The fundamental principle of venture capital is the power law — a small percentage of winners generate almost all the returns:

“Anytime you have outliers whose success multiplies success, you leave the domain of the normal distribution for the land ruled by the power law — from a world in which things vary slightly to one of extreme contrasts. And once you cross that perilous frontier, you better begin to think differently.”

Since just a few companies drive most of the returns, the entire business becomes about finding and investing in those very few companies:

“…each year brings a handful of outliers that hit the proverbial grand slam, and the only thing that matters in venture is to own a piece of them.”

So how should investors identify those rare businesses? Arthur Rock, who was arguably the first venture capitalist, liked to ask open-ended questions like “Who do you admire?” or “What mistakes have you learned from?”

Rock looked for founders who were realistic and determined. He avoided those who were prone to wishful thinking or who tried to please instead of being honest.

Rock’s inquisitive style led him to back Fairchild Semiconductor in the 1950’s in what was the first modern-style venture capital deal.

Founder traits are important, but hard numbers also matter. Google, eBay, Facebook and YouTube all had staggering growth figures early on.

Andy Rachleff, Benchmark partner and early investor in eBay, looks at an even more sophisticated growth metric:

“‘When companies grow exponentially, they don’t suddenly stop,’ Andy Rachleff observed later, adding that it is the ‘second derivative —the changes in the rate of growth of a company’s sales — that really tell a venture investor whether to back it.’”

Once an investor finds that diamond in the rough, he needs to own a piece, even if the price is high. Mallaby notes that Google’s seed round valuation was around $10M, high for its time.

Prone as I am to analysis, I often undervalued actually meeting investors and founders. This book taught me a lot about the importance of networking to the venture industry.

Don Valentine, founder of Sequoia, went to a Silicon Valley bar every Wednesday and Friday to chat with engineers about the next big thing. In the world of startups, investors are the specialists in connecting people with each other.

The more interesting people we meet, the better we’ll be at our job!

Mallaby provides so much great information that I’ll save the rest of the book for another post soon. In the mean time, if you’re interested in startups and venture capital, I urge you to grab yourself a copy!

More on tech:

What I Learned From an Investor Who Turned $100,000 into $100,000,000

Amp It Up

Managing a Crisis the Sequoia Way

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Photo: “Don Valentine, Sequoia Capital” by jdlasica is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Amp It Up

“Only the government can print money; the rest of us have to take it from somebody else.”

Frank Slootman

Frank Slootman has been the CEO of three companies: Data Domain, acquired for $2.4 billion, ServiceNow, market cap $94 billion, and now Snowflake, market cap $52 billion. His track record has few parallels.

But Slootman wasn’t always a big success. As a teenager in the Netherlands, he cleaned toilets for a living. When he moved to the United States, he had his heart set on joining IBM.

They rejected him. 12 times.

So how did Slootman go from obscure Dutchman to one of the biggest names in tech? By bringing a warrior’s mentality to business.


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Slootman focuses like a laser on destroying the competition, on breaking their will to fight. And the most powerful weapon in his arsenal is growth.

When you grow much faster than your competitors, it demoralizes them. And as you become the winner, you can begin poaching their best people, causing the rest to lose all confidence.

The importance of growth to Slootman’s approach is impossible to overstate. It’s also born out by data:

“‘Grow Fast or Die Slow’ is the title of a 2014 McKinsey & Co study that examined thousands of software and services companies between 1980 and 2012. It concluded that growth trumps everything else as a driver and predictor of long-term success. ‘Super grower’ companies, which McKinsey defined as 60% or more annual growth, had five times higher returns than medium growth companies (which had less than 20% annual growth). Super growers also had an eight times greater likelihood of reaching $1 billion in annual revenue. “

So how do you grow fast? Slootman recommends focusing on one key thing.

Many priorities means no priority.

You should also push everyone to move faster at all times:

“Leaders set the pace. People sometimes ask to get back to me in a week, and I ask, why not tomorrow or the next day? Start compressing cycle times.”

Frank Slootman

But not just any team can achieve this. Finding the very best talent will make or break your business:

“Hire more for aptitude than experience and give people the career opportunity of a lifetime.”

Frank Slootman

This talented group of people also must be motivated by an important mission. Snowflake is making data queries 10-100x faster, leading to a total revolution in how humans use data to make decisions.

That’s the kind of mission that will put pep in your step!

Slootman also has some interesting info for investors in startups, such as myself. The way he spotted “super grower” companies to take the helm of was by looking for a fast growth track record, a huge market, and extremely happy early customers.

We can use the same criteria to find great investments.

Slootman’s book is energizing, exciting, and a true page turner. That’s rare in the world of business books.

I strongly recommend getting this slim volume for yourself! After reading Slootman’s words, I felt ready to run through a wall.

You will too!

Let’s close with a great quote from Frank:

“Only in hindsight will you truly realize what your experiences have meant. That is why it’s okay to embrace your inevitable challenges and setbacks as part of your journey. They are there for a reason.”

Frank Slootman

What do you think Slootman got right, and did he leave out?

Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know what you think.

Have a great day everyone!

More on tech:

Hedge Fund Giant Tiger Global Losing $28 Million an Hour

The Startup Pitch Checklist

The Lean Startup

Photo: “Frank Slootman” by Thomas Hawk is marked with CC BY-NC 2.0.

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I’ve used Misfits for years, and it never disappoints! Every fruit and vegetable is organic, super fresh, and packed with flavor!

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How the Bulls Dominated the NBA

Michael Jordan plays basketball better than anyone else in the world does anything else.

Scott Turow, quoted in Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made

The Chicago Bulls dominated their league like no other team in no other sport during the 1990’s. They won 6 NBA championships, an astounding record. 

I just finished reading the outstanding book Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made. It’s an insightful look into what made Jordan and his Bulls so special. 

Here are some of their secrets:

1) Hard work. Jordan came to practice before anyone and left last. This got him from being rejected for the high school varsity to dominating the pros. 

2) Coachability. Anyone who coached Jordan, even in baseball, said he was unusually coachable. His willingness to learn from others, rather than think he knew everything, set him apart. 

Consider that for a player of his stature, it would be easy to dismiss a coach’s suggestion! But he didn’t. 

Even the quirky Dennis Rodman listened carefully to coach Phil Jackson’s lessons.

3) Love of the game. Both Jordan and Scottie Pippen stood out for truly loving basketball. 

Jordan even had a highly unusual clause in his contract. He could stop at any basketball court in the world, any time, and play a pickup game.

And he did so, frequently! I like imagining Jordan pulling up at a playground in a fancy car, lacing up his sneakers, and heading out onto the court.

I just wouldn’t want to have to guard him!

This type of clause is highly unusual due to the risk of injury, but Jordan insisted on it.

It’s hard to work at something so intensely for so many years if you don’t love it! And that’s what it takes to excel. 

4) Ability to see others strengths, not just their weaknesses.

Jackson was upset when Pippen refused to play at the end of the Eastern Conference Finals.  But he didn’t let that incident sour him on Scottie as a player.

Instead, he viewed it in the context of all of Scottie’s great work over the years.  Even the exacting Jordan became more aware of his teammates’ strengths over time.

This is an area I struggle with. If someone does one thing wrong, I tend to view them negatively, forgetting all their great work. 

I plan to take a lesson from Coach Jackson on this in the future! 

5) Never giving up. Jordan was famously cut by his high school team. 

Rodman didn’t even make the team at all. And Pippen started college basketball at a no-name school as the team equipment manager. 

These are not people you would think would’ve ever even made it to the NBA, much less won 6 championships. 

Their perseverance made the difference!

Check out this excellent book along with the addictive Netflix series The Last Dance. Even if you’re not a basketball fan, you can learn a lot from the Bulls about excellence in any field! 

More on leadership:

From Anticommunist to Navy SEAL: “I Owe Everything to America”

Jocko on Leadership: “Ownership Is the Most Valuable Compensation”

The Best Motivational Speech of 2021

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The High Growth Handbook: Scaling Startups from 10 to 10,000 People

Elad Gil is a Silicon Valley legend. After selling his startup to Twitter, he helped the company scale from 90 to 1500 people in under 3 years.

He’s also had enormous success as an angel investor, investing in startups like Airbnb, Coinbase, Square and Stripe.

So I was very excited to dig into his book, The High Growth Handbook. In it, Gil lays out his best tips for scaling a company at warp speed, along with interviews with a who’s who of tech.

Here are some of the best pieces of advice I found:

How to Hire

“Hire only after there’s a burning need for that person.”

Naval Ravikant

Gil’s approach to hiring is carefully structured. He suggests writing a job description for every position and asking each interviewee the same questions.

But even better than questions are actual tasks. The best way to assess someone’s skills is to have them complete a task similar to what they’ll do on the job.

He also counsels interviewers to write down their opinion of the candidate before speaking with other interviewers, to avoid groupthink. This is the same process used at Amazon.

And when you do find the right person, move fast!

How to Lead

So you’ve got your ideal employees. Now what?

In an interview with Sam Altman, Altman says that setting the company’s direction is just 5% of a CEO’s job. The other 95% is making sure it happens.

“Delegation is not abdication.”

Gil also recommends holding skip level meetings with junior employees that don’t report to you. They tend to have their finger on the pulse of the market and are closer to the customers.

How to Rest

Gil used to work every weekend and even on “vacations.” But now, he tries to fully unplug.

This is something I struggle with! I was meeting with a company founder at nearly midnight on my vacation in Barcelona while my wife waited patiently upstairs.

We have to remember that if someone as successful as Gil can unplug for a few days, we can too!


In all, I found this book a very practical guide to building startups. My only criticism is that with the mix of interviews and Gil’s writing, and the jumping between topics, the book feels disjointed.

I think it would be more effective if it followed a company from birth to IPO, examining the challenges it faces on the way.

Nonetheless, if you’re interested in startups, Gil’s advice will help you. Check it out!

More on tech:

What I Look For in Startups

How Startup Founders Turn Investors Off

The Top 3 Startup Pitch Mistakes

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Amazon Business American Express Card

You already shop on Amazon. Why not save $100?

If you’re approved for this card, you get a $100 Amazon gift card. You also get up to 5% back on Amazon and Whole Foods purchases, 2% on restaurants/gas stations/cell phone bills, and 1% everywhere else.

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Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. 

Liftoff: How Elon Musk Built SpaceX

At 1310 East Grand Avenue in El Segundo, just south of Los Angeles, sits a large white building. In 2002, it housed only about a dozen people. There wasn’t even a receptionist.

Deep in this building was a small group of cubicles, staffed by about a dozen men. This tiny group had an audacious goal: sending the first humans to Mars.

Their leader was a young internet entrepreneur named Elon Musk. He had just made $180 million from the sale of PayPal. Many men in his position would buy an island and relax, or perhaps begin a career in philanthrophy. But Elon toiled away in this nondescript warehouse instead, building the future.

This is the subject of an outstanding new book I just finished called Liftoff: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX.

From this tiny team, Musk built SpaceX, which now does two thirds of all commercial satellite launches in the world and owns the most powerful rocket on earth, the Falcon Heavy. That small group of employees has mushroomed to nearly 10,000.

To go so far so fast, Musk needed the best people in the business, and he focused like a laser on finding them. One engineer’s wife got a job at Google in the Bay Area, which meant he couldn’t accept Musk’s offer to work at SpaceX. Undeterred, Musk called the CEO of Google and got the engineer’s wife a transfer to Los Angeles. Sure enough, he got the engineer he wanted.

Musk went so far as to personally interview the first 3000 people SpaceX hired. Musk paid less and his company was unproven, but he excelled at inspiring people to join him to revolutionize space travel.

Even with Musk’s drive and a superb team, SpaceX faced many struggles. By 2008, they had three failed flights and barely a month’s worth of cash left. Even Elon’s considerable fortune had run dry supporting both SpaceX and Tesla. But Musk and his team stayed focused and successfully launched a rocket into orbit in the nick of time. This achievement won them a NASA contract that kept the company alive.

SpaceX questioned everything about how business is normally done in aerospace. Most companies buy parts from established suppliers, but SpaceX built almost everything itself, substantially lowering its costs. For the parts it did buy elsewhere, SpaceX ignored common practice as well. Instead of paying in 30 days, SpaceX paid in as little as 24 hours. This got their orders prioritized, which helped them move faster than other rocket companies.

Today, only one other private company, Rocket Lab, has reached orbit. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, despite all his money, has never reached orbit. Indeed, SpaceX is so dominant that customers sometimes spread around a few of their orders, just to make sure its competitors don’t all go out of business.

If I had seen Musk in that empty warehouse twenty years ago, I would never have believed what SpaceX would become. But Musk saw it, and stopped at nothing to get there.

When the first man steps on Mars, will it be Musk?

Dig into these posts for more on Elon Musk and space:

Photo: “SpaceX Dragon Propulsive Descent Landing Test” by NASAKennedy is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been good so far. More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days. With their 1% management fee, this could save you $250 on a $100,000 account. I will also get a fee waiver for 90-365 days, depending on what type of account you open.

iHerb

The only place I buy vitamins and supplements. I recently placed an order and received it in less than 48 hours with free shipping! I compared the prices and they were lower than Amazon. I also love how they test a lot of the vitamins so that you know you’re getting what the label says. This isn’t always the case with supplements.

Use this link to save 5%! I’ll also get 5% of however much you spend, at no cost to you.

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me. Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor. I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy! I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. I’ll also get $10.

Amazing Drugs Are Going from the University to the Graveyard, While Patients Pay the Price

Was the cure for cancer invented in a university, only to be shelved for a lack of funding?

University labs are creating incredible drugs on a regular basis. Unfortunately, most will never get to the patients that need them so desperately. This is the conclusion of an intriguing book I just read, Preserving the Promise: Improving the Culture of Biotech Investment, by Scott Desain and Scott Fishman.

The problem is that universities don’t have the massive funds it takes to bring a drug candidate through clinical trials to FDA approval. What about Big Pharma? Well, they’ve been cutting their R&D budgets drastically for years.

This leaves early stage biotech investors to fund much of the commercialization of new drugs, and there simply aren’t enough of them to fund all the good candidates. Indeed, the number of investors specializing in this area is shrinking. This doesn’t surprise me given that most early-stage investors focus on software startups and have a software background themselves.

This does leave the few angel investors who specialize in biotech in an enviable position though: more great companies out there than there are angels to fund them means big slices of great companies for less money, and thus higher returns. This is an area that I may be branching out into in the future. Being even a tiny part of creating a new lifesaving drug or medical device would be incredible.

University policies also hinder the effective commercialization of research, the book notes. Technology Transfer Offices own the patent, but sometimes are hesitant to license it unless they can get lots of revenue for it right away, which is hard for a fledgling company to provide. In other cases, they bury the patent, thinking it unpromising. And university conflict of interest policies can often stop the inventor from continuing to work on the research with company funds. This separates the technology from the person who is best positioned to advance it.

In all, this seems like a neglected area with a lot of problems. That we rely on it for virtually all new drugs is scary. But investors like myself should eye the area with interest, especially given rich valuations in software startups.

For more posts on biotech, check these out:

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Photo: The co-founders of BioNTech, a biotech success story. “Forschungszentrum der Biotech-Unternehmen BioNTech AG und Ganymed Pharmaceuticals AG” by MWKEL-RLP is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0