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A Founder’s Reading List for Uncertain Times

March 23, 2020

I originally intended this to be a simple reading list to share with others that I’ve found useful during uncertain times or even more broadly useful whenever myself or others have some spare time to read.  I promise to get to this list, but I quickly realized that to set up the list properly I needed to make a couple of broad comments on what’s going on across literally the entire planet.

These are certainly strange and challenging times.  I have no idea what to expect over the next four to twelve weeks or probably even longer, but I do think in the long run what we are dealing with as COVID-19 spreads and kills more people will lead to long run, irreversible changes to the ways we structure our businesses and social arrangements.  Many of the changes were already underway prior to this outbreak and this will just accelerate those–think distance learning, working from home, or food delivery services. For me it will be even more fascinating to see what innovations arise that we have not even contemplated yet.

My business partner Tareq Amin and I recently announced the launch of Defiance Ventures to acquire, invest in, advise, and launch new companies.  We had been working on it for about six months before we announced our launch, and a big part of our thesis was that there were hundreds of distressed companies that the two of us had been brought in to advise over the last few years that had fundamentally good products or services but lacked the capital, the team, the capabilities, or the network to achieve their maximum potential.  

I don’t think either of us envisioned as we built this company–even up to just after launch time–just how many companies, and indeed entire industries, are likely to be in serious trouble today and much more intensely over the coming 6 to 12 months.  And not just in our industry, enterprise B2B software, but more broadly restaurants, retailers, movie theaters, tourism, commercial real estate, primary education providers, hotels, events, and even professional sports will all have to dramatically re-think their business models once they try to re-open.  

While our business is quite young, we are very fortunate to be servicing customers and looking for further acquisitions and growth opportunities.  As all prudent business people today, we are very concerned about the coming economic uncertainties. But we also know that when humans overcome this very serious threat there will be massive opportunities to build the next generation of virtually all industries.  

We hope to use Defiance and our growing portfolio of companies to be there while this happens and also to support those companies that do need to drive innovation today to capitalize on business opportunities.  On to the list:

Reading List

I’ve had a number of people ask over the past few years what content I like to consume.  Here’s a list in no particular order of what I’ve been reading and recommending lately, mostly centered around self help, business, technology, non-fiction, and fiction.  I try to split time between these broad categories but don’t always do a good job of that. I included some podcasts in my “reading list” since most of the knuckleheads who bother to read my stuff will always opt for the audio book (I know I have for the past year or so).  There really is little difference between a podcast and a typical informative “read”. I think all of the sources I’ve listed below represent the ones that are most useful in times like right now of what I always like to read/listen to.

 

Stratechery – hands down this is some of the smartest analysis of technologies and emerging business models.  And trust me, pay the small monthly fee; it also gives access to their podcast, which is excellent.

Breaking Smart – This is a little dated but I still highly recommend everybody thinking about building technology products or services should read this from front to back for inspiration 

Own the Day, Own your Life – This book helped me make some small incremental changes in my daily routines that led to amazing results in terms of physical and mental health

Zero to One – a great book by one of America’s top entrepreneurs and investors, Peter Thiel on how the top tech entrepreneurs in the world deliver massive disruption 

The Hard Thing About Hard Things – I recommend this book to anyone who is starting a company and might be only thinking about the romanticized version of entrepreneurship that many “eco-system” players preach.  We all (especially today) need to think about the less sexy reality of entrepreneurship and building businesses because we all will face increasingly difficult choices in our businesses and personal lives

Black Swan and Antifragile – if there was ever a pair of business books that identify and envision the possibilities of game changing exogenous jolts to the system and how to thrive in those situations I’m not aware 

Thinking, Fast and Slow – Tversky is one of my heroes and he summarizes a lot of his life work in this easily accessible explanation of why we make decisions and how to overcome the heuristics that we often unconsciously lean on when making routine decisions

Never Split the Difference – Negotiations aren’t my favorite or strongest aspect of business, but when I do engage in them I find the tactics and strategies outlined in here to be indispensable

Seveneves – I don’t think it’s Stephenson’s best book, but this epic sci-fi of the people of the planet (mostly) overcoming their differences to narrowly escape an extinction event and rebuild across the galaxy probably has some lessons for us all today

Joe Rogan Experience – I probably don’t need to mention this one.  But it is the most widely listened to podcast for a reason, and Joe’s nascent coverage of the COVID virus has been as smart, funny, and pragmatic as we’ve all come to expect.  I hope he can continue to create new content even as California enforces a shutdown of all non-essential businesses. But even if he chooses not to there are almost 2,000 episodes of all different types of goodness to fill your brain with

Making Sense by Sam Harris – Sam is a very smart and deep thinker. Although his last few podcasts haven’t focused exclusively on COVID, the few that he did relatively early into the outbreak in America are a great example of how this new medium is so much more effective than the 24 hour news cycle we live in today and find so completely useless during times of extreme uncertainty

Stuff You Should Know – when I find myself wanting to kill some time learning about a topic that I really don’t know more than the high level on, this is a much better way to kill time than watching ESPN re-analyze Tom Brady’s move to Tampa for the hundredth time

30 for 30 – speaking of sports, if you need your fill and SportsCenter just doesn’t cut it, these are very thought provoking and in depth

 

I hope this list was useful.  I have become a big believer lately that what we feed our brains is as important as what we feed our bodies.  I’m always looking for great new content and would welcome any of you to share what you are reading on social media.