Archive for October, 2006

Ethical Consulting

Posted in Daily Entries on October 26th, 2006 by Mike Taber – 3 Comments

I stumbled across this link on earlier today called “Is Ethical Consulting Possible?“. It discusses an ethical concern for consultants.

“The basic ethical challenge of consulting is that the acting in the client’s best interest is often in conflict with the consultant’s business goal of maximizing revenue and profit from the engagement. It is in the client’s best interest to receive the most cost-effective IT services possible – to spend the least amount of money possible to obtain the best return on investment – while a consultant’s revenue and profit depend on maximizing the money spent by the client and minimizing the effort spent in obtaining this money. This conflict of goals is normal in any business transaction between two parties, but for consultants it frequently leads to an ethical conflict-of-interest situation whenever the consultant influences the work being done or to be done by themselves for the client.”

I don’t think this is any different than taking your car to the dealership and asking if anything is wrong with it. They have the expertise, they have the parts, and they will charge you to do the work. We all know that there are some disreputable car dealers out there, just as there are disreputable consultants.

My suggestion is that the consultant needs to change what his goals are. His goal should not be to maximize revenue. His goal should be to meet the customer objectives and if that is to save as much money as possible, then so be it. Obviously this doesn’t mean you should do the job at a loss unless there’s a guaranteed future upside. But if you do what the customer wants instead of trying to drag them over the coals, you might get repeat work and if you do a good job, you might get referrals to other clients who need work done.

What’s more important? Making a few extra bucks on in the short term, or a long term relationship that you might be able to tap into if things get tight?


SubText upgrade

Posted in Daily Entries on October 25th, 2006 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

Well, last night I took the plunge and upgraded my blog engine to version 1.9 from version 1.5. This was only supposed to be an update from ASP.NET 1.1 to 2.0, but it seems that Phil Haack and his team decided to go crazy. After the upgrade, a bunch of things didn’t work, for example the Feedburner feed no longer worked properly, and none of my links showed up.

Both of these fixes were relatively straightforward once I figured out how to do them, but the Wiki page on the SubText Project site applies to version 1.5, not 1.9. Basically, the libraries that it uses in web.config are different than they were before, but once I set them properly, it worked fine.

As for the missing links, on the SourceForge site there’s a discussion of the bug and instructions on how to update the database and the stored procedure to fix the problem.

There are a few other issues as well, but mostly in the administration pages. For example, the paging doesn’t work properly for numbers of links that border on the page size. Basically you don’t get the pagination until you add another link and disable it so it’s not visible to users. Talk about a pain in the neck.

The worst part is getting to the source code through Subversion. It’s not like classic ASP where all the source code can be changed on a whim and is readily available. I downloaded the full source tree last night and it was more than 300Mb. Sheesh. All that for a blog engine? You’d think it wouldn’t be so much.

And this is my first post after upgrading, so hopefully it doesn’t break my feedburner feed.


Job opening

Posted in Daily Entries on October 24th, 2006 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

To celebrate the fact that today is the one year anniversary of hiring its first employee, Moon River Software is hiring again. If you’re interested, here are the details of the open position. If you have any questions, please get in touch via the email address on the job listing.


The Single Founder Myth

Posted in All Articles, Bootstrapping a Business, Business on October 23rd, 2006 by Mike Taber – 30 Comments

My previous article, Startup Myths Debunked, seemed to attract quite a bit of attention in the developer community. In particular, people who left comments seemed to agree with “Myth#3: I need a partner”. Paul Graham who is one of the more influential voices in the startup community recently wrote an article titled “The 18 Mistakes That Kill Startups” and apparently thinks otherwise. Weighing in at mistake #1 on his list is “Single Founder”.


I hope that Paul reads what I have to say and rethinks his stance, or at the very least clarifies that what he means does not apply to all startups. Let’s take a look at this.

Have you ever noticed how few successful startups were founded by just one person? Even companies you think of as having one founder, like Oracle, usually turn out to have more. It seems unlikely this is a coincidence.

To recap where the Oracle reference comes from, in my article I had pointed to Oracle as having one founder, and one of the first comments on my blog was a correction. Paul Graham alluded to the same correction, having probably read the article himself. I did some further research, and it turns out that I was incorrect. Larry Ellison did indeed have a partner named Bob Minor. In fact, my research showed that Oracle had four co-founders: Larry Ellison, Bob Minor, Ed Oates, and Bruce Scott. My apologies.

After finding that I had been incorrect, I delved deeper to make sure that my other examples of Michael Dell and Thomas Siebel still held true. Thus far, they have held up to additional scrutiny. If anyone else has corrections to these examples, please let me know via comments or the contact page.

In any case, I agree with Paul that given the statistics, it seems unlikely that this is a coincidence. So why are so few successful startups founded by just one person? My examples seem to indicate that it is possible to succeed, but why is the figure so lopsided with multi-founder companies holding the lion’s share of the success stories?

One Word: Funding
I believe the answer lies with where these companies get their funding. Paul Graham’s Angel Investor group called Y Combinator refuses to work with individuals. I suspect that most VCs probably feel the same way and refuse to fund a company with only one founder. Neglecting their reasons for operating this way, the most popular way to fund a startup, historically, is through Angel Investors and VCs. If Angels and VCs requirements for funding a company also require co-founders, then it stands to reason that the majority of startups will have more than one founder. This only perpetuates the myth that it cannot be done, or is excessively rare.

It’s not an absolute fact that angels and VC’s refuse to fund single founder companies, but is generally accepted as such. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule in other angel groups, but Y Combinator flat out refuses to work with individuals and they are arguably more well known to developers than any other angel investor group. Paul has such a wide reach with his writing, that it’s difficult to believe that he has less market share than anyone else. So on one hand, Paul asks the question as to why so few successful startups are founded by one person and on the other, he and his Angel group refuse to fund single founder companies. I would think that the reason there aren’t more single founder companies would be self evident.

A contributing factor to this phenomenon is the fact that single founder companies are forced to find alternative forms of funding.Thomas Siebel was lucky enough to be on the sales team at Oracle from 1984 to 1990. After that, he was the CEO of Gain Technology and after only 3 years, the company was sold for $30 million. I’m told by a serial startup executive that CEOs of startups take in around 5% of the sale price when a company is sold. That means Siebel made somewhere around $1.5 million when Gain was purchased. Even after taxes, that’s plenty of cash to fund your own company and fast track it in the early stages with employees rather than co-founders.

Most single founder companies are not quite so fortunate. They have to fund their company using much more creative means. Without hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank, they must watch their spending far more than well-funded startups do and can’t hire on a whim. Having started three different companies myself and worked for three more “conventional” startups (startups with Angel or VC funding), let me clue you in on the difference. Conventional startups have money to burn and are willing to burn it, trading dollars for fast growth. As Paul Graham points out in Mistake #13, VCs want their money to go to work, and that means spending it. On the other hand, self funded companies have all of their eggs in one basket and cannot afford to burn money indiscriminately because they need to be sure the steps they are taking are going to pay off, both short and long term. This means that unless the founder had money to begin with, the self funded company is forced to grow in a much slower, much more controlled fashion unless they’re willing to take substantial risks.

Contrast a startup company that hires dozens of people within the first few months with a self funded company that adds employees only when the current business can support that growth. The result is another condition that contributes to the seemingly skewed statistics whch appears to indicate that single founder startups can’t make it or are far less often successful than multi-founder companies. Angel and VC funded startups are given X dollars to get the company going, ramp it up as quickly as possible and sell it (or have an IPO). Self funded companies don’t have wads of cash in the bank to trade for the ability to build the business faster without accepting the significant risks that operating at a loss every quarter entails.

Guess who else noticed this fundamental difference between highly funded companies and self funded startups? Joel Spolsky. He wrote a fairly detailed analysis of this phenomenon back in 2000 with his articled titled “Ben and Jerry’s vs Amazon“. (If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so. It’s a very good read.)

Reasons You Might Wind Up Doing It Yourself

Let’s dig further into what Paul says about single founder companies.

What’s wrong with having one founder? To start with, it’s a vote of no confidence. It probably means the founder couldn’t talk any of his friends into starting the company with him. That’s pretty alarming, because his friends are the ones who know him best.”

Hmmm… Perhaps sometimes this is the case, but certainly not always. I can think of half a dozen other reasons why a company might have only one founder. All of them are plausible and I don’t see any reason why they would be uncommon for single founder startups.

1) The founder already had enough money in the early stages, thus enabling him to hire employees instead of trading equity for co-founders.
2) The founder might have had a bad experience in the past with a partner, or seen someone who did.
3) The business is making enough money to support the founder (and thus his family) but not enough to support another founder.
4) The founder has no interest in taking on partners because his aspirations are not to build a huge company.
5) None of the founders’ friends or former co-workers are qualified to be a part of the company.
6) The founder is contractually bound to not solicit former co-workers.

In fact, with the exception of the first reason, every one of these reasons applies to myself and Moon River Software. It has absolutely nothing to do with having friends I couldn’t talk into joining my company. I’ve considered hiring two different developers who I knew on a personal basis and declined to hire both of them, for different reasons. I have a friend who has an MBA, was best man at my wedding and I was best man at his, yet I would not hire him at this time because he doesn’t have experience in the software field.

Number 1 is beyond the control of most people unless they inherited wealth to begin with or managed to sell off a previous company, as in the case of Thomas Siebel. I would imagine that numbers 2 and 3 are probably very big issues for many single founders and are probably more common than some of the others. Number 4 is not as atypical as it might sound. Look no further than Thomas Warfield for someone who is extremely successful, has only one employee who basically helps with support and order processing, and who has publicly stated he has no intentions of growing bigger. I read somewhere that during the Super Bowl one year, he didn’t get an order for 15 minutes, which was the worst he did all year. Let’s see, $25 X 4 copies/hour X 24 hours/day X 365 days/year = $876,000/year. Not bad for a single founder if you ask me.

Number 5 is a sticky point, and can be a bit subjective. Are these friends not qualified because the founder is too arrogant to think they can do a good job, or are they really not qualified? For me, an additional wrench is thrown into the equation. Because of my somewhat older age, even if I knew someone who I thought was qualified it would be difficult for me to convince my friends, who are of a similar age, to move their families to Massachusetts. In addition, having only moved to Massachusetts in 2003, I have virtually no friends in the state outside of the acquaintances of my wife, former co-workers, and fraternity alumni (most of whom already own their own businesses, I might add).

Number 6 is an issue for any founders who worked in startups recently, including myself. Sure I’ve lived in Massachusetts for the past several years, but during that time I only worked at Pedestal Software, since acquired by Altiris and with whom I’m contract bound to not solicit for employees.

Going it Alone

But even if the founder’s friends were all wrong and the company is a good bet, he’s still at a disadvantage. Starting a startup is too hard for one person. Even if you could do all the work yourself, you need colleagues to brainstorm with, to talk you out of stupid decisions, and to cheer you up when things go wrong.

I’m not going to be too hard on Paul for this one. I believe he has good intentions and is doing his best to talk some good developers out of trying to make a go of it alone because it really is hard to do everything yourself. That’s important to remember - it’s really hard to do it yourself. But for Paul to say “Starting a startup is too hard for one person.” is incorrect and misleading. I’m doing it now. Is it hard? You betcha. In fact, you could say that I’ve failed twice in the past both with and without a partner. But I learned a lot during those failures and learned a lot as part of the success of Pedestal Software. Having been in the situation before, I’d prefer to have no partner and have to do all of the work than have a partner who isn’t pulling his weight.

Paul acknowledges that even if you could do all the work yourself, there are other reasons for needing co-founders. Some of the things he mentions may be true, but do you need a co-founder to provide them for you? You can brainstorm with friends without forking over equity in your company. You can hire salaried or contract employees to work for your company, thus providing you with brainstorming partners. If you talk to friends and take time to gather information before making decisions, you can help prevent stupid decisions. Just remeber that having more people involved in no way prevents people from making stupid decisions. I’ll refrain from pointing to any number of failed companies *cough* Webvan *cough* as examples where an entire executive team blew spectacular amounts of money.

Staying cheerful when things go wrong is incredibly important in any startup company and is arguably where Paul has his most valid point. But again, thinking that the only place you can find this positive reinforcement is in co-founders is also inaccurate. As developers it is in our nature to solve problems, and treating your morale as a problem to be solved is no different, whether you’re a single co-founder or whether you’re a multi-founder company. In either case, you will find it helpful to know in advance what sorts of things affect your morale and how.

Personally, I do a couple different things to keep my morale up. Due to the fact that my business is doing well enough financially, I keep track of my financials every single week in Quicken. It shows that the things I’ve done that week have made an impact on my corporate bottom line, and I can quickly see how much of an impact. Every time I’m able to show my cash on hand increasing, it’s a morale booster.  And when things get tough or don’t seem to be going my way, I’ll treat myself to a few video games which are challenging, but winnable. One of my favorites is to play Command & Conquer: Generals on an 8 player map playing 3 vs 5 with myself on the lean end. It turns out to be challenging enough that a victory shows that I’m not a strategic moron and should get back to work. After reviewing my failures to help me avoid them in the future, I focus on my victories, no matter how small and the things that I’ve learned from the experiences.

Not letting people down is definitely a significant motivating factor, but it is easy to replace a co-founder with someone else to obtain that motivation. As a married man, not letting my wife down would be more important to me than not letting down the co-founders that I don’t have. By staying in business I stay happy, and my wife is happy that I have a career I enjoy.

The one person that drives me to succeed more than anyone else is me. I’m more afraid of disappointing myself and not reaching my goals than anyone else. And guess what? My goals keep changing and increasing. Eventually I’m going to have to lower my sights because I keep raising the goal, which drives me even harder. My wife describes me as the most driven lazy person she knows.

With my business I’m driven to the ends of the earth to succeed. If Moon River Software fails, it will be because I’m dead. On the other hand, I’m too lazy to mow the lawn, clean the house, do laundry, fix things around the house, etc. I pay people to do that stuff so that I can work on my business instead. And you know what? It’s well worth the money. The value of my lawn will not increase nearly as much as the value of my business over any period of time. This principle is described in the book “The Millionaire Mind”. It’s a matter of priority and being able to get ahead. It’s not a matter of laziness.

On another weblog, I debated the topic of single founder companies with someone who claimed that you couldn’t run a company alone. After arguing a little bit, we realized that what the author had really meant was that you can’t truly run a company alone without delegating any of the tasks or hiring employees. While I don’t discount the difficulty of running a business without delegating anything, I don’t believe it would be impossible. It would just be far, far more difficult and time-intensive to do so. This is entirely different than being a single founder.

I hope that you’re now convinced that it is not only possible, but reasonable to become a single founder of a startup and be successful at it. If not, I invite you to leave feedback and comments.

Special thanks to Rob Walling for reading drafts of this article.

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Update: One of my readers contacted me and pointed out that Siebel Systems had another cofounder named Pat House and cited not one, but two references to back that up. Direct from the first link to

“The company, funded entirely by its employees, launched its first application suite in 1993. By 1997, revenue was $206 million, and many of its original competitors–companies such as Brock Control Systems and Sales Technologies–had disappeared.”

It would seem that they were entirely self funded, which fits with the first of my six reasons for starting a company without a partner. Still, labelling Pat House as the cofounder of Siebel Systems bothers me. If she was really a cofounder, why is the company named after only Siebel? It would seem that it wasn’t an equal division of ownership, which doesn’t particularly surprise me. My best guess would be that Siebel had the money and asked Pat House to leave Oracle and take a chance with him so that Siebel could keep up on what had been going on at Oracle the previous three years.

In my eyes, this begs the question of what exactly constitutes a cofounder? If a cofounder defaults to your first employee, then by definition, no company of more than one employee can have a single cofounder. What if the “cofounder” owns less than X% of the company, where X is a number between 0.000001% and 49.999999%? Where is the line of being a cofounder drawn? Using that as a basis for the argument, one could say that I was a cofounder of Pedestal Software, since I was granted stock options and thus held some ownership of the company. To me that doesn’t make sense.

Similarly, if we base it on time with the company, if you hired an administrative assistant on day one, that hardly qualifies as a cofounder of the company.

Unfortunately, this starts to take us down the path of defining what a cofounder is and is not, which is not the path I wish to explore. I still maintain that it is possible with a lot of hard work to be a single founder and be successful. Perhaps not with Angel/VC funding due to their requirements for cofounders, but it is still possible.


Comment spam

Posted in Daily Entries on October 19th, 2006 by Mike Taber – 3 Comments

When I was first implementing SubText as my blog engine, I had run into problems with ReverseDOS and ended up ripping out the entire configuration for it. How much comment spam could I possibly get?

It turns out a lot. So today I went back and set up my ReverseDOS configuration file. Hopefully that will curtail the worst of it.


Digg Front Page

Posted in Daily Entries on October 13th, 2006 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

Late last night, someone Digged my article on Software Startup Myths Debunked and it landed on the front page of both the Digg Technology section and the Digg homepage. My poor business class DSL connection is probably still crying. To help alleviate the pain, I went through my style sheets and removed some of the larger image references. All told, I probably cut about 50k from the page size. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you multiply that by a few dozen visitors per minute, it cuts back on the bandwidth usage a lot. It doesn’t look nearly as good, but traffic is flowing again, so I can’t complain.

I’ll be calling the colocation facility that I made some inquiries to a few months ago to see if I can move my rackmount server into their facility in the very near future. I’ll have to mostly configure it remotely I think. Moving it in there today would be great, but I doubt that’s going to happen and if it doesn’t, then it’s going to have to wait for another week because I’ll be out of town.

Even if I get the server over there today, it’s going to take me some time to get everything set up plus a few days for all the DNS changes to propagate. Things could certainly be worse. At least I didn’t get slashdotted.


A nod from Paul Graham

Posted in Daily Entries on October 12th, 2006 by Mike Taber – 1 Comment

About two weeks ago, I published an article called “Startups for the rest of us” where I criticized Paul Graham’s Y-Combinator program as not being a viable option for the somewhat older crowd of developers and explained some of the downfalls of the program. It would appear that Paul read my article at some point and I got an anonymous nod in his latest article.

Someone wrote recently that
the drawback of Y Combinator was that you had to move to participate.”

Paul, any chance of a direct link? *wink* *wink* *nudge* *nudge*

In any case, I’ve given some thought to a reply because I think Paul is missing the point I was making.


How to avoid losing $40,000

Posted in All Articles, Business on October 11th, 2006 by Mike Taber – 2 Comments

Let me tell you a little story

When I started working for

Moon River Software
time I thought my first consulting job was unbeatable. I was doing
subcontracting for a local consulting company (referred to hereafter as

The Company
“) and they needed help for 3-6 months for a specific client (referred to hereafter as “
The Client

The pay was decent, and I felt it would be a great way to get my feet
wet. I could also save some money to help me through any rough patches
after the gig was finished because the pay rate was higher than what I
needed to make ends meet. To top it off, the net payment terms between
The Company and The Client were net 15, which I’ve said in the past are
quite unusual. My agreement with The Company was that I’d be paid
within 7 days of The Company being paid by The Client. The Company
offered The Client discounts for early payment and were billing The
Client on a weekly basis. With me so far?

To summarize, billing was done
every week, and I was getting paid in under 15 days because The Client
accepted the discounts from The Company, who issued me my checks within
24 hours of their payments clearing the bank.

Everything went well for 6 or 7 weeks. The work was difficult, but it was interesting and
I was paid regularly
I worked out of my basement almost the entire time and everyone
involved was comfortable with that. Then it all started to come apart.

than two months into the start of my new business, The Client made a
late payment, thus The Company paid me late. “No big deal.” I thought.
I’d been saving money for the first few payments, and could meet my
payroll for another week. I was in “Catch up mode“, but one missed payment wasn’t a big deal.

The following week they didn’t make a
payment either. Two more weeks. No payment. The Company called The
Client and were told there were scheduling problems because the CEO had
to sign off on checks over a certain size. I wasn’t the only consultant
whose work was going on the invoice to The Client, so this was
understandable but still annoying, as it hadn’t been a problem for the
first month and a half. Near the end of December, The Company finally
wrangled a check from the Accounting department of The Client, nearly
five weeks past when I had expected it.

Years came and went. I did another two days worth of work and received
an email late Tuesday night saying The Client had cancelled the project
and I was out of a job. Not only that, The Client was disputing the
work it had been billed for, stating it was out of scope and they would
not pay. “Hello Creek. I’ve got no paddle.”

The situation
been six weeks and I’ve received just one check. The Company isn’t
going to pay me because our agreement, that seemed fair in the
beginning, is that Moon River Software isn’t paid until The Company is
paid. While they had indicated that they wouldn’t mind paying me if
they could, The Client owes them a lot of money in addition to what
they owe me. In fact, nearly four times what I’m owed. The Client has
indicated they have no intentions of paying. Contract terminated, end
of story, end of job. I’m in much the same place as when I started the
business, except I’ve gone six weeks without being paid and no longer
have a client or income.

What to do?
first thing I did was network my tail off. I called and emailed
everyone I knew to see if I could land another consulting job as
quickly as possible. And when I say everyone, I really mean everyone.
Fortunately, I had a taker. Two interview sessions and two weeks later, I was
working again. Net terms of 15 days, and the accounting department did
me favors by getting my first check paid within a week. But the money
owed to me lingered out there like an ill favored smell over a rotting

My legal options were zero. I had never signed anything
with The Client directly, and the agreement I had signed with The
Company clearly indicated they were not required to pay me anything
until they were paid. When I started the job, the risk I thought I had
taken was that I might not be paid when I expected to be paid. I hadn’t
counted on the risk that I might not be paid at all.

With no
other options in front of me, I began to slowly dig my way out of the
hole in which this job had left me, somewhat poorer and wiser for it.
The money owed me was the difference between being solid in the black,
or being solid in the red. On paper, I was in the black, in my checking
account, I was barely in the black. But if I was never paid, I would need to write all that money off, taking a huge hit to my bottom line.

For the next five months I worked
constantly for a couple of different clients, eventually going solid in
the black both on paper and in the checking account without that
invoice being paid.

Several months later
in May, I received a phone call from The Company saying that things had
started to turn around and it was anticipated that I would be paid
shortly. I wasn’t going to believe it until I had a check and it cleared the bank, but in early June, I cashed my check for those six weeks of work I
did in December. Start to finish, I was paid approximately 180 days
after I completed my work.

Morals of the story
Leaning too heavily on a single client is asking for trouble. Don’t
make the same mistake that I did. The more clients you have going at
one time, the better. If you’re worried about being able to do the
work, raise your rates, hire additional help or both. Supply and demand
will regulate how much you charge. Keep raising your rates until demand
tapers, then drop them a little bit to keep the demand high.

I learned that I would never again work in the position of a
subcontractor where I would not be paid until the contracting company
was paid. It may seem fair, but if things go terribly wrong, you may
not have any legal recourse. I had dinner with a colleague of mine who
used to run a consulting business. He had agreed to a similar deal and
was screwed to the tune of nearly $40,000. He never saw any of it. I
was lucky. You might not be.

The fact is that I should have
had my attorney thoroughly review the contract I signed with The
Company. Although the terms of payment seemed fair to me, an attorney
has seen more contracts than we have and can alert you to potential
caveats in the contract or terms that are unreasonable. Think of this
as contract insurance. For a $250 fee, your attorney can review a three
month contract. Assuming the contract is worth $5,000/month, that’s
only 1.67% of your income for the contract. If the contract is worth
more than that or over a longer time period, the percentage is even less.

3) Never burn
bridges. I’ve said this in the past, but I can’t stress this enough. No
matter how bad things get, do your best to maintain the relationships
you have built. Consulting is all about maintaining beneficial
relationships between your company and another. And while I did consult
with my attorney about the situation, I was told I had no legal
recourse against either The Client or The Company. I had initially
thought that if I sued The Client as well as The Company that they
might be willing to pay instead of face two lawsuits over the same
deal. Since I couldn’t do that, I maintained regular contact with The
Company, offering to help in any way that I could.

Eventually, maintaining this relationship netted me another
consulting job with The Company. Of all the ironies, the new consulting
job was also for The Client through a relationship that they had
rebuilt with them and involved having me provide 8 hours of training on
the software that I had written the previous December. This time, I was
paid before lunch on the day I provided the training. I was paid before
I even got back to the office to print an invoice. Never burn bridges

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Bad Router, No Packets

Posted in Daily Entries on October 6th, 2006 by Mike Taber – Be the first to comment

I had a router go bad today on me around 7 am this morning. No real reason for it I don’t think, but my server was unavailable most of the day. Pretty soon, I’ll be moving the server into a colocation facility and won’t have to worry about router issues. More on that later.


The Personal MBA

Posted in Daily Entries on October 4th, 2006 by Mike Taber – 2 Comments

I stumbled across this link to The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman on the other day and put it on my ‘toread’ list. The idea of a Personal MBA program is one that I started on my own months ago with what I was going to call “Mike’s Bookshelf”. His name is much cooler though.

The concept I came up with was simple. Read a bunch of business books, and post reviews of them so that people don’t waste their time on the books that suck. There are literally thousands of business books out there. How do you separate the wheat from the chaffe? So that was my goal, and having not yet made it through all 12 books that I purchased, I didn’t think I had a good enough base of information to implement that section of my website so that it was usable.

Having looked through Josh’s list, I have to say that I think there are some gaping holes. ie: Crossing the Chasm, You can negotiate anything, etc. Crossing the Chasm is one of the best books I’ve read to date, yet it’s not on the list. Seems strange to me. Yet, if you look at his list, it’s really not that long.

Fog Creek designed it’s own management training program to help educate the managers of tomorrow using a list of books and applying their fundamental principles in the workplace as on the job training. This was an incredible idea, and one that will be very successful for them and other companies in the long run.

I think Josh’s list could use a few more entries though. As it is, there are 37 books in the list. An MBA program is roughly 2 years long, consists of probably 20 classes total, with anywhere from 1-6 books per class. Using middle of the road numbers, there should probably be about 80 books there. More than double Josh’s list. Fog Creek’s list is 75 books, which is in the right ballpark.

Josh’s list is a great start, but not every book should be used as a complete reference, nor is the whole of every book useful. Take the Negotiation section for example. Only one book. I’m fairly sure that’s not an objective view of negotiation tactics. In Crossing the Chasm, the usefulness of the book has dramatically fallen off after the first half of the book. If Josh expanded his list to be a bit more comprehensive, it would be far more useful because it actually talks about the content of the books, as opposed to the Fog Creek list, which merely lists the books themselves.

I went back to school for a Masters degree in Computer Engineering back in 2001 and near the end, I thought to myself that I wish I had gone for an MBA instead. No longer. I’m glad I spent the money on a Masters degree that made me even more technical and learned the business side on my own. Trial and error is the best form of teaching. Not the most efficient, mind you, but you certainly retain more by reading and then applying those principles than sitting in a classroom all day.

Most of these business books are fairly inexpensive, and you can pick up several of them for under $50, especially if you look for used books through or on eBay. If you’re really trying to save money, go to the local public library and request copies of them. That’s what they do. The only disadvantage of that is that you can’t reference them as easily.

If you haven’t started your own personal MBA program, I highly suggest that you do so. The rewards I’ve received in the past few months have been well worth the time and monetary investment.