At 14, Ben Casnocha founded a software company called Comcate Inc. At 17, Inc. magazine named him “entrepreneur of the year.” As a business professional with more years experience than Ben has been alive on the planet, it is intuitively easy to resent this guy sight unseen, but luckily I have had the pleasure of meeting Ben in person and he is just too darn humble to resent, and on top of it, he has written a really nice first book. You will be disappointed if you are expecting a how-to manual on writing a business plan or on launching a company. But while perhaps not as useful in that way, it is a very interesting story-a memoir of a very young, first time entrepreneur.
My Start-Up Life: What a (Very) Young C.E.O. Learned on His Journey Through Silicon Valley by Ben Casnocha would make an especially good read for those of you with children that you are hoping will grow up to be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates (and buy you that house at Tahoe you have been wanting). Here in Silicon Valley it is fairly common at a young age to be struggling with entrepreneurial leanings. My Start up Life is a good introduction to the reality of starting from scratch. He covers a wide range of topics that anyone who has launched a start-up must face: coming up with seed capital (his parents helped at the earliest stage), the importance of mentors and connections, finding a need and coming up with a prototype solution to fill it, signing up early beta users and dealing with setbacks and failure. And he also talks about some of the challenges particular to the very young entrepreneur such as needing his mom to drive him to business meetings and the struggle to keep up with schoolwork while running his business.
The book is probably equally interesting to teens themselves if they are curious about the realities of “doing their own thing” as entrepreneurs. My Start Up Life doesn’t glamorize the life of entrepreneur. If anything, it might serve as a reality check for those who think being the next YouTube is a piece of cake. But it is clear the author still believes in the dream and has mastered many of the “hard” skills needed in order to build a business such as building a quality product and becoming fluent in finance. But more importantly, he understands the value of the business network and the importance of continuing to grow your circle of friends and mentors. He also possesses two key qualities in a successful entrepreneur: an insatiable intellectual curiosity and a very high work ethic. To find out more about what Ben is interested in, check out his blog-a great resource and a great read.
Favorite Quote: “Fail at little things. Get good at it. Laugh at yourself. Fail with 100 percent effortâˆ’don’t engage in the kind of self-protection that 75 percent effort affords.”
The Yawn-o-Meter (a very personal metric meant to reflect only how easy I found it to read based on a Harry Potter book being a 1 and War and Peace being a 10 or, if your prefer, a Guy Kawasaki book compared to an Edward Tufte): The reading level here is an easy 1or 2. But the book is a bit sneaky-there are a lot of fairly “deep” concepts here about the realities of being an entrepreneur, and even some extremely useful bits of “how-to” tactical advice, many of them highlighted in boxes called Brainstorm throughout the book. But because much of “how to” kind of writing is wrapped up in personal stories-in order get full benefit, you need to pause every so often and compare what the author writes to your own experience in the technology business versus assuming you are looking at a cookbook approach to launching a start-up. If what you need is more along those lines, pick up Stepping Into Magic – A Handbook For The High Tech Start-Up or High Tech Start Up The Complete Handbook For Creating Successful New High Tech Companies. Both are excellent “how to” resources.