Book Review: The Dream: How I Learned the Risks and Rewards of Entrepreneurship and Made Millions (Kindle)

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I’ve been reading a lot of business and entrepreneurship books lately. I’m especially interested in ones that deal with internet companies. One book that has been sitting in my queue for a while is this one called: “The Dream: How I Learned the Risks and Rewards of Entrepreneurship and Made Millions”. I saw that it was cheaper than the usual 9.99 on the Kindle and immediately bought it. It’s a fairly small book but I literally read it in 3 sittings. i can’t say that with many books.

The book is the story of how Gurbaksh Chahal, who dropped out of school at the age of 16 and at the age of 18 sold his first internet company ClickAgents, an ad network, to ValueClick for $22 million in stock and then at the age of 25 sold his second internet company BlueLithium, another ad network, to Yahoo for $300 million in cash.

Gurbaksh, a Sikh Indian who’s family emigrated to the US when he was 4, was amazed at the opportunities of the Internet from a very young age. His family struggled to provide for him and his 3 other siblings. Both his parents worked double shifts. His story is an inspiring true story of rags to riches.

What is amazing is that while many of the internet companies during the dot com bubble didn’t even have business models, this 16 year old’s company was keeping it real and posting profits. He had over $100,000 in his bank account when he decided to go to his father to ask his permission to drop out of school. If you aren’t from an Asian family, it is probably impossible to understand how hard that must have been and how disappointed his parents must have felt.

His book has a good mix of life story and business wisdom. You’ll also learn a lot about south Asian tradition, especially Sikh. I’ve read many business books a most are pretty dry. This one was a great read and I honestly wish it hadn’t ended so soon. I give it 5 stars.

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Impressions of the Kindle

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I’ve finally had a chance to play with the Amazon Kindle. I won one for my company t-shirt design contest about a month ago. I have to say I was really skeptical at first about owning one. First the price tag was too high. $300 buys me a lot of books so I have better things to do with $300 than to drop it on yet another electronic device which comes with no books. Sure I can download some free public domain books but we’ll get to that. I even bought a leather cover made specifically for it since the Kindle looks like it would get dirty and scratched really easily.

First and foremost, the Kindle is thin. When I first opened the box, I was amazed by how thin it was. I was not expecting iPod touch thin, but that’s about the best I can describe it.

Can’t touch this. My first impression of the Kindle was that it was a touch screen. Maybe it was the clear display or perhaps the vague UI, but somehow I was mislead to try to touch the screen. Of course nothing happened because you are not supposed to touch the screen. You use the buttons provided. There are navigation buttons on the left and right on the screen to go back and forth between pages. There’s a joystick nub to let you go up/down/left/right.

Easy on the eyes. Reports about the refresh rate on the screens are true. The Kindle screen definitely beats staring at the monitor. You won’t even notice reading on it for hours. Too bad they don’t have it in color.

1 Click shopping. I purchased my first e-book on the Kindle today. The process was painless. Almost too easy. All you had to do was search for the book you wanted, navigate to it, and click the buy button and your e-book will be downloaded in the background through WhisperNet. It literally took a few minutes to download the whole book.

Free books. So the cool thing about the Kindle is that Amazon lets you download some public domain books for free. I’ve downloaded some fairy tale classics as well as The Art of War by Sun Tzu. So that’s great right? Wrong. They don’t make it easy for you to find all those free books. At least the iPhone app store sorts by free and paid apps. You get no such thing here. It’s up to you to try to sort through the mess.

The Fine Print.Here’s where they get you. You can also read blogs. However it’s not as easy as putting in an RSS feed. Well, you can read the ones they’ve prescribed for you which are popular blogs. However, it’s gonna cost you. Usually it’s $1 a month subscription for EACH blog. I was surprised to learn that you DO get a cut of the action if somebody subscribes to your blog. However, it’s a measly 30% as opposed to the iPhone app store’s generous 70%. So if I were to subscribe to my 300 RSS feeds that I currently get for free through Google reader on my G1, I’d be paying $300/month on subscription fees. Insane. Yeah, screw that.

The extra stuff. The Kindle comes with an experimental browser. I played with it for a few minutes. It was a painful way to browse the web, from entering the URL to actually perusing websites. We won’t be replacing our iPhones and netbooks anytime soon.

The UX So I decided to give the Kindle a fair shot before I wrote it off, seeing as I got it for free and all. To that end, I’ve bought a book – which I thought could not be made any easier and started reading on it. I’ve read it on the train, on my breaks and on the couch. It’s pretty awesome. There are 3 things about the Kindle that make it a better book.

  • You don’t have to turn the page. It’s much easier to move to the next page by hitting a button than it is to flip pages. You get lost in the flow of reading and not interrupted by page turning.
  • You don’t have to constantly alternate between reading the left and the right page. Again, it’s a subtle change in the way you read, but I like this better.
  • You can read while you eat. If you’ve ever tried to read a thick paperback while eating, you’ll know what I mean. The chunkiness of the paperback forces you to have one hand on the book at all times. If you want to turn the page, then you are forced to use your other hand. Makes reading and eating a bit hard. However with the Kindle, your hands are free to eat.

To sum it up, I like the Kindle because it’s thin and convenient. I don’t have to lug a huge book(s) around. Also, I save a little money since e-books are a bit cheaper. The drawback is that I can’t lend it to my friends of course. I also like to stick post it notes in my books. You can write notes on e-books too but it’s a bit awkward. I probably won’t buy all the books I want to read on here. Some of the price difference between real books and e-books was so small I would rather spend a few more bucks to get something physical and tangible. Plus Amazon can’t decide to later revoke my book. All in all though, I like it. Would I have spent $300 to get it – probably no.

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Iron Gym Total Upper Body Workout Bar Review

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This is my first video review ever. I’ve seen so many late night commercials of this thing, I decided to give it a go. The Iron Gym is a metal bar contraption which allows you to do chinups on your door way. I asked Craig at work about it since he has one and he’s pretty happy with it.

Here’s my 2 cents.

  • The components were pretty sturdy.
  • Assembly took 10 minutes. Take a minute and take a good look at the manual and you could end up spending 5 instead.
  • The bar itself could be a little longer or made so that it’s adjustable in length to fit different size doorways.

I thought the Iron Gym was very easy to use. You can use it to do pushups, dips and chinups, but I’ll probably be using it mostly for chinups. Keep in mind that this thing will most likely only work on standard doorways. If your doorway is too wide or in a weird corner, it may not work. The other thing I have to say is that you are really hanging on your top door frame. That thing better be sturdy. I’m not sure what the maximum weight your doorway and bar will support but I figured that it wasn’t going to be a problem for me since I’m a lot smaller than your average American.

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Book Review: “Buffet – The Making of an American Capitalist”

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As of this moment, Warren Buffet is the richest man in America, surpassing even Bill Gates at a whopping estimated net worth of $62 BILLION dollars. His company, Berkshire Hathaway is currently trading at 113,000 with a market cap of over $175B. He makes Dr. Evil look like a lemonade stand. I wanted to read more about this enigmatic investor from Omaha who is an anomaly by any stretch of the word. Frugal and thrifty doesn’t even begin to describe him. He lives in a small 3 bedroom house he bought over 50 years ago. His car at the moment is a 2001 Lincoln Town Car. He likes hamburgers and Cherry Coke. I wanted to know more about this man. This book however is a biography and in no shape or way did Warren Buffet had anything to do with it. In fact, he told the author when he wanted to write about Warren that he was not going to give him anything.

This book starts off in his early years, covering his family life, his relatives, siblings and their relationship. Even as a child, Warren’s fascination with numbers and his comfort in consistency were apparent. He enjoyed the accumulation of money and did not enjoy parting with it any more than he enjoyed parting with any aspect of his life. Warren was a hard worker even early in life. I think that exemplifies what makes him so great. It was never about luck of fortune with him. It was just honest hard work and an in depth knowledge of the facts he needed to know about what he was interested in. In this case, most of the time it was money and companies. He would be able to regurgitate out the financials of any company he was interested in backwards and forwards. He probably knew more about the companies than the people who ran them. And when the emotional stock market would value great companies that were valued much less than the actual value of the company, he would scoop them up. He’s basically made a living being a bargain hunter of stocks. That’s a gross oversimplification, but it’s the best way I can put it.

This book is chock full of stories of Warren’s life. I especially appreciated learning about his formative years. He started delivering papers at a very young age and took on more and more routes and optimized them so he would make the most money. Before the age of 15, he had 5 delivery routes delivering over 500 papers each morning. In 1945, at age 14, he was earning $175 a month, basically what a young man was earning as a full time wage at the time. In his senior year, he and his buddy Donald Danly invested in a pinball machine that rented out to a barbershop. They expanded their operating adding more barbershops and pinball machines, and soon were making $50/week. Warren was just very entreprenurial from the very beginning.

The book also mentions Bill Graham, Warren’s mentor and his great influence on his investment style – of finding a great value. Bill and Warren were never fad investors but stuck to their guns in long term investment strategies. He prefererred to think of his investments as long term relationships and as such refused to sell much of his holdings. Anybody who didn’t fit his view of investing were discouraged to invest with him.

I won’t say anymore about this book. If you like what you read so far, you definitely should go and get it. I thouroughly enjoyed it. I garnered some insight in to the man, learned a great deal about his life, and took away valuable lessons.



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“Crossing the Chasm” Book Review

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I think this book was recommended reading on a Y Combinator blog post. Described as a marketing book for engineers, I quickly jumped on this one on Amazon. This book aims to help you take your product from the startup phase across the chasm into the consumer phase. The misconception that entrepreneurs must realize is that the early adopters are a different type of consumers than the majority. Success in one market does not necessarily lead to success in the other unless different tactics are employed.

To be honest, the beginning of this book was pretty dry, and I wasn’t sure that I was going to get through the book, but it does get better. My interest in the book quickly increased when the author Geoffrey Moore gives the D-Day analogy of introducing products to the mainstream:

  • Goal is to enter and take control of the mainstream market that is dominated by an entrenched competitor
  • Assemble an invasion force of other products and companies
  • Immediate goal is to transition from early market base to strategic target market segment
  • Between us and the goal is the chasm
  • Force competitor out of target niche market
  • Then move out to take over additional market segments

That pretty much summarizes the points in his book. I really like his analogies. One that comes to mind is his statement that numeric data is like sausage – meaning that once you know how it’s made, you can’t quite every use them again. His belief is that most numeric data is built on assumptions that are built on assumptions like a house of cards built on more houses of cards.

One thing that really resonated with me was – make products easy to buy vs. easy to sell. You are trying to convince the customer of buying, not yourself of selling the product. Seems like common sense, but that’s not how most engineers think.

To Moore, it’s all about positioning your product. The key is to occupy and solidify the space inside the target customer’s head. You have to be just one thing to the customer or else he won’t remember it. By this he means that if you try to be too many things, the customer cannot remember it. Think about all the major brands like Nike, Coke, Apple. Those brands really only embody a few if only just 1 single thing in your mind.

One thing to keep in mind though is that this book is a bit dated. It talks about companies that may or may not have fared so well after the Internet bubble burst, but I think the theories are just as applicable today as they were 10 years ago.

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