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Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  25,289 ratings  ·  259 reviews
Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days is a collection of interviews with founders of famous technology companies about what happened in the very earliest days. These people are celebrities now. What was it like when they were just a couple friends with an idea? Founders like Steve Wozniak (Apple), Caterina Fake (Flickr), Mitch Kapor (Lotus), Max Levchin (PayPal ...more
Hardcover, 456 pages
Published January 1st 2007 by Apress (first published 2001)
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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 ·  25,289 ratings  ·  259 reviews

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Otis Chandler
Feb 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: entrepreneurs
Shelves: business, nonfiction
Loved every second of this book. Each chapter is a different story of a startup founder. I read it slowly so it wouldn't end, and read many chapters twice. My biggest take was that most founders didn't necessarily know what they were doing - or even that they were on to something big. But they were all determined to start a company - that was the only thing they all had in common.

Here are some good quotes from the book:

"I'd say determination is the single most important quality in a startup foun
Sep 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Another great book, so great I decide to write this post even if I have not finished reading it: Jessica Livingston in Founders at Work has interviewed 32 entrepreneurs about their story. The lessons are convincing, fascinating. Without asking for copyright, I copy here some quotes. The book is just a pleasure to read even if sometimes the Q&A are too specific about the start-up, but I assume it is part of the exercise. A Must-Read.

Paul Buchheit, creator of Gmail about Risk Taking

As I say, for p
Dec 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
No structure, no themes, but 30 odd interviews with tech business founders, and yet it worked and made for a great read.

The business media usually distills fundamental concepts such as team building, creating a good product and perseverance to the point where you either get a generic phrase or a string of dull paragraphs where a single generic phrase would do; the effect is that reading about business becomes a boring activity, but Founders at Work was different.

It's not a how-to book but narrat
Yaseen Hamdulay
Jul 10, 2013 rated it liked it
A bit outdated but really inspiring. It's interesting to note the patterns between the different founders stories. The most unexpected being that many were unaware of the importance or enormity of the project they were in the process of undertaking. ...more
Yevgeniy Brikman
Apr 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful inside look at how a number of different startups were created. The book reinforced a few interesting trends for me:

1. Very few founders knew what they were doing when they first started; many of the ideas emerged accidentally, after many failures or experiments.

2. You *can* get more done with crazy hours and virtually all successful startups require them.

3. VC funding seemed to be an ingredient in the success if most startups, but was often a double edged sword, causing problems l
Paul Rivera
Jun 04, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: entrepreneurs
everyone has a bad day/week/month.
Nov 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Jessica does a fantastic job making the stories of founders really pop. These anecdotes will make you laugh, cry, and feel awe inspired. If anyone has any ambition of starting a venture and wants to get the real stories of trials and triumphs, read this book!
Mehran Jalali
I didn't read all the chapters -- I only read the ones that interested me. I didn't read about startups I'd never heard of because they got killed by a late-comer, or startups that dealt with very esoteric subjects like parallel supercomputers. If I'd read those, maybe my rating would have differed.

As a sort of note-to-self, these were the chapters that I read:
33 (the parts that interested me)

I should probably read the questions that interest me from the chapters I haven't
Jan 08, 2016 rated it liked it
Great read. An insightful look into the experiences of successful founders. One thing I learned is that even the best venture capitalists turn down unicorns.
Pranshu Sharma
Dec 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is like a small-time capsule that makes you aware of each and every person who has contributed to the growth of human experiences collectively. The book is about founders but it touches the lives of VC Mafias to Sharks and pretty much everyone involved. Master of Scale podcast by Reid H. will sure takes you back to the stories of people you will find somewhere in this book.
Evgeniy Oleinik
Jan 03, 2021 rated it liked it
Occasionally motivating, but largely outdated, with many mentioned companies already gone out of existence. I also feel that the book needed a lot more editing, as the guests sometimes go too deep into the unnecessary specifics.
Juan Chavez
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2020
one of my all time favorite books. Not a book to read cover to cover. It is a series of interviews so you can pick and choose when and what to read. Nevertheless, I thought this book was so inspirational! So thought provoking. As a tech person and a person trying to start a company, i found this book to be full of lessons. I know I will come back to this book over and over again.


"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's
Oct 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1 Max Levchin Cofounder, PayPal

CHAPTER 2 Sabeer Bhatia Cofounder, Hotmail

CHAPTER 3 Steve Wozniak Cofounder, Apple Computer

CHAPTER 4 Joe Kraus Cofounder, Excite

CHAPTER 5 Dan Bricklin Cofounder, Software Arts

CHAPTER 6 Mitchell Kapor Cofounder, Lotus Development

CHAPTER 7 Ray Ozzie Founder, Iris Associates, Groove Networks

CHAPTER 8 Evan Williams Confounder, Pyra Labs (

CHAPTER 9 Tim Brady First Non-Founding Employee, Yahoo

CHAPTER 10 Mike Lazari
Jun 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
I wish there was a 4.5 on Goodreads. This book came into my hands highly recommended by several people and when I received it as a gift, I devoured it. Most of the advice in this book is timeless, and any fan of Paul Graham's essays will really enjoy this.

However, to me (an 18y old, reading in 2013), a lot of the interviews in the book, while interesting, were a bit dated. Because of how much the VC landscape (how money is raised, how interactions are had with VCs, etc), the cost of technology
Koen Crolla
There's a harmful cult of the start-up centred around—mostly—Paul Graham, and this book is, if not their Dianetics, at least their Battlefield Earth.

I wish I could give it a lower score, but I can't, in good faith, because it's exactly what it promises to be and exactly what I thought it was going to be when I picked it up: a gossip rag in book form.
It's the sort of thing dim, greedy assholes could read religiously, but to the rest of us, it mostly serves to drive home the fact that self-describ
Aug 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This one is a brilliant, brilliant book.
I'm so glad I picked it up and it's worth every paisa of the 450 bucks I paid for it.

If you think you are the entrepreneur kinds, this book is a must read.

If you haven't started your company as yet, it might just push you to do it - and for those who have started it and are getting completely sloshed by the experience, it shines a nice bright light on you - letting you know that eventually everything will work out -- and even the biggest companies today we
Powell Omondi
Jan 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was an excellent book, it gives the reader the right perspective of how some of the unicorns during the dotcom bubble came to be. The insights are precious and would recommend to anyone thinking of building a company.
If you want something and it is not yet on the market, find a way to invent or come up with a way of doing it, you might be into something precious.

Key lesson: Just do it, you don't need to wait to do it
Jul 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Fascinating stories about early days of pre-2008 technology companies like Apple, Blogger, TripAdvisor, etc. Some of them were absolute gems worth a 6-star review, others that got into fine details about uninteresting stuff by today's standards (technical aspects of hardware in early '80s) needed faster page flipping. But all in all a must-read for early stage startup founders. ...more
Max Nova
A great book for bedime reading. It's basically impossible to read this book cover-to-cover in one sitting (a lot like the "48 Laws of Power"), but each piece is entertaining and instructive on its own. It does seem like it gets a bit repetitive about halfway through, but I'd highly recommend this book to anyone starting their own business. ...more
Slavo Ingilizov
Mar 24, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Great value. I've always preferred interviews with real people rather than a subjective opinion. This book not only tries to hit a specific topic, but also intentionally tries to just provide comparison data about some of the most successful entrepreneurs. ...more
Jun 04, 2014 rated it liked it
One of the few books I've yet to finish, while it's great to see the journeys of the entrepreneurs in these stories there is mostly technical and very intricate details and the stories tend to drag on..

probably very helpful for the technical co-founder
Jan 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Best part of this book for me is seeing how much businesses change as they go from idea to reality.
Muhammad Hakim Asy'ari
Jul 03, 2010 rated it really liked it
persistence&perseverance, things never work out right the first time.
Sergey Leschenko
Most stories are interesting as a history of Internet and software industry.
I really like chapter 24, interview with Philip Greenspun (ArsDigita), but the rest is hardly inspiring for me.
Feb 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Sweet! Stories of just ordinary guys risking their time and resources, struggling through years of lack of something and voila - sometimes something good happens!
Lori Grant
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A must-read book on entrepreneurial success stories for the knowledge worker or aspiring entrepreneur.
Tadas Talaikis
Dec 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Why this one is great? I can hear the minds of interviewees as they are, without useless "I know why" abstractions. ...more
Glenn Yu
Aug 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What's really cool about this book is that you really get a sense of the personalities of these people. Livingston edited her interviews for clarity, but she seemingly made the stylistic choice to preserve the intricacies and inefficiencies of each founder's voice. This choice slows and lengthens the book (many of the interviews probably could have been cut by 30+% without losing much informational content), but it also adds a depth that's really cool.

In Ray Ozzie’s interview, he says: “Companie
Hots Hartley
I appreciated the fact that Jessica Livingston didn't filter or censor content, and let the founders speak at length about their experiences. Much of this had the scent of unedited, off-the-cuff interviewing, which makes the authenticity of the advice shine through.

I had three issues with the book, though:

1.) The Selection of Companies: Mostly those I'd never heard of, and mostly faceless in the sense of not having much mainstream appeal. An overt focus on generic technologies like dot-com sites
Benton Turner
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a great collection of insights from some of the top founders. However, since this was obviously conducted through an interview format, the points are not often described in the most digestible, logical way. That said, since it's an interview format, you can get inside the heads of the founders, which can be revealing, and also just a lot of fun.

Antonio Garcia Martinez author of Chaos Monkeys, recommends this book to aspiring entrepreneurs. In the valley, as he says basically, it's a mus
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