WHAT WE'RE READING
What We're Reading
One of our favorite ongoing team activities at Azafran is Book Club, where every month our team reads and
meets multiple times to discuss important lessons and learnings we can bring to our portfolio companies.
Together, we read and discuss 4-6 books per year.
Current: Think Again - The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know
Author: Adam Grant
Highlights from Think Again, Megan Burns will be leading this discussion:
Intelligence is usually seen as the ability to think and learn, but in a rapidly changing world, there's another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn. In our daily lives, too many of us favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt. We listen to opinions that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard. We see disagreement as a threat to our egos, rather than an opportunity to learn. We surround ourselves with people who agree with our conclusions, when we should be gravitating toward those who challenge our thought process.
The result is that our beliefs get brittle long before our bones. We think too much like preachers defending our sacred beliefs, prosecutors proving the other side wrong, and politicians campaigning for approval--and too little like scientists searching for truth. Intelligence is no cure, and it can even be a curse: being good at thinking can make us worse at rethinking. The brighter we are, the blinder to our own limitations we can become.
"Renowned Wharton professor Grant spotlights one of the most important and impactful themes of our time: questioning one's own deeply held beliefs. Grant frames true knowledge as not knowing everything, but rather, listening as if we knew nothing at all in this intrepid book that is what our present moment requires."
- Newsweek, "Our 21 Favorite Books of 2021"
The High Growth Handbook
Author: Elad Gil
Highlights from The High Growth Handbook from teammates Megan Burns and Jeremy Baksht who are leading this discussion:
When we meet our potential portfolio companies they typically have 3-10+ people. There is a lot of attention given to founding a company, fundraising, team building and exiting / IPO'ing. However there isn’t a lot of real focus on the most important part…the messy middle. The hard work of actually taking preliminary traction and scaling a company to thousands of employees. Understanding company dynamics and potential is the job of the research & investment teams.
We are reading the High Growth Handbook as a team so that we have a better understanding of our founders and their journey towards scale and growth. We meet them as they have interesting technology, they are preparing to scale and the timing aligns with our focus of post seed initial investment with an eye towards growth and successful exit in 5-7 years.
"You do not want to preserve culture; you want to collectively steer the right evolution of the culture.”
- Patrick Collison, quoted in the High Growth Handbook
Past: The Business of Platforms
Author(s): Michael A. Cusumano, Annabelle Gawer, David B. Yoffie
Highlights from The Business of Platforms from teammates Megan Burns and Zubeyda Tebra who led the discussion:
Trio of experts on high-tech business strategy and innovation reveal the principles that have made platform businesses the most valuable firms in the world and the first trillion-dollar companies.
Managers and entrepreneurs in the digital era must learn to live in two worlds—the conventional economy and the platform economy. Platforms that operate for business purposes usually exist at the level of an industry or ecosystem, bringing together individuals and organizations so they can innovate and interact in ways not otherwise possible. Platforms create economic value far beyond what we see in conventional companies.
The Business of Platforms is an invaluable, in-depth look at platform strategy and digital innovation. Cusumano, Gawer, and Yoffie address how a small number of companies have come to exert extraordinary influence over every dimension of our personal, professional, and political lives. They explain how these new entities differ from the powerful corporations of the past. They also question whether there are limits to the market dominance and expansion of these digital juggernauts. Finally, they discuss the role governments should play in rethinking data privacy laws, antitrust, and other regulations that could reign in abuses from these powerful businesses.
Their goal is to help managers and entrepreneurs build platform businesses that can stand the test of time and win their share of battles with both digital and conventional competitors. As experts who have studied and worked with these firms for some thirty years, this book is the most authoritative and timely investigation yet of the powerful economic and technological forces that make platform businesses, from Amazon and Apple to Microsoft, Facebook, and Google—all dominant players in shaping the global economy, the future of work, and the political world we now face.
A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think
Author: Viktor Mayer-Schönberger
Highlights from Big Data from teammate Kristina Ivancic who led the discussion:
What makes our era different is that many of the inherent limitations on the collection of data no longer exist.
Technology has reached a point where vast amounts of information often can be captured and recorded cheaply. Data can frequently be collected passively, without much effort or even awareness on the part of those being recorded. And because the cost of storage has fallen so much, it is easier to justify keeping data than discarding it.
All this makes much more data available at a lower cost than ever before.
Data - companies that have the data or at the least have access to it. But perhaps that is not what they are in the business for. The best example is Twitter, which obviously enjoys a massive stream of data flowing through its servers but turned to two independent firms to license it to others to use.
Skills - Consultancies, technology vendors, and analytics providers who have special expertise and do the work, but probably do not have the data themselves. In the case of Walmart and Pop-Tarts, example: retailer turned to the specialists at Teradata, a data analytics firm, to help tease out the insights.
Big Data Mindset - For certain firms, the data and the know-how are not the main reasons for their success. What sets them apart is that their founders and employees have unique
ideas about ways to tap data to unlock new forms of value.
Example: Pete Warden, co-founder of Jetpac, makes travel recommendations based on the photos users upload to the Site.
Big data enables us to experiment faster and explore more leads. These advantages should produce more innovation. But the spark of the invention becomes what the data does not say. That is something that no amount of data can ever confirm or corroborate, since it has yet to exist.
If Henry Ford had queried big-data algorithms for what his customers wanted, they would have replied “a faster horse” (to rephrase his famous saying). In a world of big data, it is our most human traits that will need to be fostered—our creativity, intuition, and intellectual ambition—since our ingenuity is the source of our progress.
The Lightning-Fast Path to Building Massively Valuable Companies
Authors: Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh
Highlights from Blitzscaling by teammate Kristina Ivancic, who led the discussion:
Prioritizing speed over efficiency and uncertainty over certainty. The three basics of Blitzscaling are:
Blitzscaling is both an offensive strategy and a defensive strategy
Blitzscaling thrives on positive feedback loops, in that the company that grows to scale first reaps significant competitive advantages
Despite its incredible advantages and potential payoffs, Blitzscaling also comes with massive risks.
Growth Strategies Amid Turbulence
STEP 1: SET UP YOUR DEFENSE
Avoid running out of money.
Understand how much capital you have, and how much cash burn
STEP 2: CAPITALIZE ON IMMEDIATE, DIRECT OPPORTUNITIES OF GROWTH
2020: Most of the world working from home during COVID-19
Zoom’s engineering and operations team were able to accommodate their
extreme 30X growth in record time, and since the pandemic started
Zoom’s base of paying customers has tripled, and its 2020 revenue has
more than doubled
STAGE 3: FIND NEW OPPORTUNITIES (FAIL FAST, ITERATE)
Blitzscaling opportunities open up when major systems change occurs.
Usually, change comes from one or more technological innovations that
open up new markets and new possibilities.
Opportunities for first-mover advantage
The Hard Thing About Hard Things
Author: Ben Horowitz
Highlights from The Hard Thing About Hard Things by teammates Zubeyda Tebra and Kristina Ivancic, who
led our discussions:
Keys to Business Survival:
Seek advice - now
Improve your offer
Explore alternative business models
Timing - ‘The idea matters a lot. But timing matters more.‘
Observe customer and market needs
Stop doing things that don't make money
Get full support - the more brains working on the hard problems, the better
Forward thinking approach
Leadership Lessons in Tough Times:
At board meetings, put strategy center stage
Be transparent with employees and investors
Build and protect the culture
Keep faith with the future