Book of the Year: 2015

It’s a rare book, particularly in the realm of non-fiction, that imparts a lesson you don’t expect to learn.  Particularly in the business category, by the time a book goes “primetime”, most authors have already summarized their teachings in interviews, fireside chats and so on.  Choosing my next read mandates the consumption of all these materials — yes, all of them — so when I actually crack the spine on a new business / entrepreneurship book, I’m pretty convinced I know what I’m getting into.  But what a pleasant surprise when this is not the case.

About a third of the way into The Entrepreneur Roller Coaster by Darren Hardy, I realized I was knee-deep in such a book.  In fact, it’s the best book I’ve read all year (the next six weeks won’t matter, nobody is touching this guy).  Hardy has written an honest, cogent, compulsively readable book that attempts to drag the would-be entrepreneur, the Starbucks residing visionary, the Evernote brainstorm mogul, out of their comfortable (but action-less) hovels into the adventure they spend so much time dreaming about: becoming a successful entrepreneur.

What’s great about The Entrepreneur Rollercoaster is that it’s really not a business book.  In fact, I don’t think the back cover designation of “Small Business / Entrepreneurship” is really accurate either.  This is not a book about growth tactics or money raising strategies or product iteration; this is a book about emotion.  About the feelings you’ll encounter and wage war upon as you land your first customers, build a positive culture, hire and fire, and become the leader of your team.

And what a refreshing area of focus this is!  Did we really need another book on the “right” way to build a business?  The abundance of advice on becoming a successful entrepreneur is, at this point, overwhelming to the degree of being unintelligible.  Books, magazine articles, podcasts, conferences, seminars, TED talks — all of them compete for our attention, promising that THIS is the way to scale a business; THESE are the ten characteristics of the next Steve Jobs; HERE are the five things you must do to build the next unicorn.  By not entering into this contest, Hardy has done something so much more valuable.  He’s given us a book about focus, about self-trust, about coming to terms with fear (which, as it turns out, is a fabrication).  It accurately points out that the entrepreneurial journey is actually a journey within…and that success in the former requires success in the latter.

“The abundance of advice on becoming a successful entrepreneur is, at this point, overwhelming to the degree of being unintelligible.”

Why is this so helpful?  Because there simply isn’t a proven formula for entrepreneurial success.  Go ahead, read the other books I have so far this year and see if you have a different opinion.  For further validation, go read some excerpts from Zero to One.  Peter Thiel himself argues that successful businesses are based on secrets even though “we are drawn to the reassuring nature of the crowd, to do things that lots of other people are doing.”  Success is never guaranteed, and imitating / implementing the tactics of successful entrepreneurs that have come before won’t change this harsh truth.

Hardy uses a roller coaster ride as his recurring analogy, but I like to imagine the entrepreneurial “ride” as a treacherous journey into the unknown with only the most basic of resources (think Manifest Destiny).  To expect that the path to entrepreneurial success will be well tread, firmed, readied for our rickety entrepreneurial wagon to pass safely is naive.  Of course this isn’t the case, and any author that claims to crack the code on success, to offer THE answer…can only provide THEIR answer.  How did they slay the beast?  How did they carve a path to outlier success?  Can we realistically expect that we’ll simply rinse and repeat for the same results?  Technology, communication, the business climate in general is simply changing too fast for this to work.

Hardy’s book is so refreshing because it only seeks to advise you on proper management of your primary raw material…namely, emotional fortitude.  The path you’re about to pursue is unmapped, muddy, perilous, and lonely — there will be nobody behind you and nobody in front of you.  You’re the first to tread this dirt, and you’ll be the last.  All you can hope to do is attempt the journey.  It’s up to you when and where you choose to abandon your wagon.

Book of the Year: 2015