Tales From Silicon Valley: Must-Read Tech-Biz Books (Part II)

You might have seen Part 1 of this feature, where we spoke about our first set of favourite technology-business books. Here’s the second part, with more books that are in the same vein.

The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison, by Mike Wilson

‘Larry Ellison started the high-flying tech company Oracle with $1,200 in 1977 and turned it into a billion-dollar Silicon Valley giant. If Bill Gates is the tech world’s nerd king, Ellison is its Warren Beatty: racing yachts, buying jets, and romancing beautiful women. His rise to fame and fortune is a tale of entrepreneurial brilliance, ruthless tactics, and a constant stream of half-truths and outright fabrications for which the man and his company are notorious. Investigative reporter Mike Wilson, with access to Ellison himself and more than 125 of his friends, enemies, and former Oracle employees, has created an eye-opening, utterly fascinating portrayal of a Silicon Valley success story, filled with the stuff that dreams and cultural icons are made of,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘In this biography, Wilson does a solid job of punching holes in the myths that surround Ellison. It turns out that his subject [Ellison] didn’t grow up on the streets of Chicago, as he has led some to believe, nor does he have a college degree, let alone the graduate degrees attributed to him. As for the rest of Wilson’s take on Ellison, who agreed to be interviewed for the book, the title tells close to all. This ‘update’ of the Citizen Kane legend makes it clear no one is going to accuse Ellison of being self-effacing,’ says Publishers Weekly. ‘While the title is the funniest line of the book, this is an engaging, humanizing look at a Silicon Valley megalomaniac,’ adds Kirkus.

The TCS Story and Beyond, by S Ramadorai

‘In 2003, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) set itself a mission, ‘Top Ten by 2010’. In 2009, a year ahead of schedule, TCS made good on that promise. In fourteen years, the company had transformed itself from the $155 million operation that S Ramadorai inherited as CEO in 1996. Today it is one of the world’s largest IT software and services companies with more than 240,000 people working in forty two countries and annual revenues of over $10 billion. The TCS story is one of modern India’s great success stories. In this fascinating book, S Ramadorai, one of the country’s most respected business leaders, recounts the steps to that extraordinary success, and outlines a vision for the future where the quality initiatives he undertook can be applied to a larger national framework,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘Ramadorai, who was with TCS for 40 years, has not only given an account of his personal journey and the strategy that TCS adopted but also provided a deep insight into the Indian IT industry, and the beginnings of the offshoring model that has made India’s software exports an over $60 billion industry, and TCS an over $8 billion company,’ says Business Standard. It’s a very well-written book, with interesting accounts of Ramadorai’s battles within and outside the company, the early years of tech in India and the shaping of one of India’s finest tech companies. An absolute must-read.

Marissa Mayer And The Fight To Save Yahoo!, by Nicholas Carlson

‘From her controversial rise and fall from power at Google, to her dramatic reshaping of Yahoo’s work culture, people are obsessed with, and polarised by, Marissa Mayer’s every move. She is full of fascinating contradictions: a feminist who rejects feminism, a charmer in front of a crowd who can’t hold eye contact in one-on-ones, and a geek who is Oscar de la Renta’s best customer. Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! tells her story. Back in the 1990s, Yahoo was the internet. It was also a $120 billion company. But just as quickly as it became the world’s most famous internet company, it crashed to earth during the dotcom bust. And yet, Yahoo is still here, with nearly a billion people visiting it each month. Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! tells the fly-on-the-wall story of Yahoo’s history for the first time, getting inside the board room as executives make genius calls and massive blunders,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘Dan Loeb, a tough-talking hedge fund manager, set his sights on Yahoo in 2011. He grew up idolising the corporate raiders of the 1980s, building a career being more vicious than any of them. Without Loeb’s initiative, Marissa Mayer would never have been given her chance to save the company. This book tells the tale of how Dan Loeb spotted the real problem inside Yahoo – its awful board – and tore it apart, getting two CEOs fired in the process. When Marissa Mayer first started at Yahoo in 2012, the car parks would empty every week by 4.00 p.m. on Thursday. Over the next two years she made plenty of mistakes, but she learned from them. Now Yahoo’s culture is vibrant and users are coming back. In Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! Nicholas Carlson also explores what may be the Internet’s first real turnaround,’ it adds. We don’t know about “the Internet’s first real turnaround” bit – Yahoo hasn’t really turned around, has it? And Mayer is now on the Board of Directors of… Walmart. But the book, without a doubt, is excellent.  

Hatching Twitter: A True Story of Money, Power, Friendship, and Betrayal, by Nick Bilton

This is the story of Twitter from the time before Elon Musk had anything to do with it. ‘The San Francisco-based technology company Twitter has become a powerful force in less than ten years. Today it’s everything from a tool for fighting political oppression in the Middle East to a marketing must-have to the world’s living room during live TV events to President Trump’s preferred method of communication. It has hundreds of millions of active users all over the world. But few people know that it nearly fell to pieces early on. In this rousing history that reads like a novel, Hatching Twitter takes readers behind the scenes of Twitter’s early exponential growth, following the four hackers – Ev Williams, Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone and Noah Glass – who created the cultural juggernaut practically by accident.  It’s a drama of betrayed friendships and high-stakes power struggles over money, influence, and control over a company that was growing faster than they could ever imagine. Drawing on hundreds of sources, documents, and internal e-mails, Bilton offers a rarely-seen glimpse of the inner workings of technology startups, venture capital, and Silicon Valley culture,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘The strength of his book is that it does an excellent job of depicting the emotional atmosphere at West Coast start-ups: a cycle of exhilaration and hopelessness shadowed by the persistent fear of missing out. There’s no other way to put it: This is a gossipy book. Bilton prefers personal drama and embarrassing stories to strategic or technological details. The focus on personalities, conflict and resolution is borrowed from the scriptwriter’s manual, and it makes for a good read,’ says The Washington Post.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, by John Carreyrou

‘In 2014, Theranos founder and CEO Elizabeth Holmes was widely seen as the next Steve Jobs: a brilliant Stanford dropout whose startup ‘unicorn’ promised to revolutionize the medical industry with its breakthrough device, which performed the whole range of laboratory tests from a single drop of blood. Backed by investors such as Larry Ellison and Tim Draper, Theranos sold shares in a fundraising round that valued the company at more than $9 billion, putting Holmes’s worth at an estimated $4.5 billion. There was just one problem: The technology didn’t work. Erroneous results put patients in danger, leading to misdiagnoses and unnecessary treatments. All the while, Holmes and her partner, Sunny Balwani, worked to silence anyone who voiced misgivings – from journalists to their own employees,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘I recently found myself reading a book so compelling that I couldn’t turn away. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou details the rise and fall of Theranos. The public didn’t know about Theranos’s deception until Carreyrou broke the story as a reporter at the Wall Street Journal. Because he was so integral to the company’s demise, Bad Blood offers a remarkable inside look. [The book] tackles some serious ethical questions, but it is ultimately a thriller with a tragic ending. It’s a fun read full of bizarre details that will make you gasp out loud,’ says Bill Gates.

Dealers of Lightning: Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age, by Michael A Hiltzik

Dealers of Lightning is a fascinating journey of intellectual creation. In the 1970s and ’80s, Xerox Corporation brought together a brain-trust of engineering geniuses, a group of computer eccentrics dubbed PARC. This brilliant group created several monumental innovations that triggered a technological revolution, including the first personal computer, the laser printer, and the graphical interface (one of the main precursors of the Internet), only to see these breakthroughs rejected by the corporation. Yet, instead of giving up, these determined inventors turned their ideas into empires that radically altered contemporary life and changed the world. Based on extensive interviews with the scientists, engineers, administrators, and executives who lived the story, this riveting chronicle details PARC’s humble beginnings through its triumph as a hothouse for ideas, and shows why Xerox was never able to grasp, and ultimately exploit, the cutting-edge innovations PARC delivered. Dealers of Lightning offers an unprecedented look at the ideas, the inventions, and the individuals that propelled Xerox PARC to the frontier of techno-history, and the corporate machinations that almost prevented it from achieving greatness,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘This is a top-notch business page-turner. Unburdened by any gee-whiz jaw-dropping, yet fully appreciative of the power of creative minds, it is informed by a sure understanding of the complex relationship between business and technology,’ says Publishers Weekly.

No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram, by Sarah Frier

‘The extraordinary inside story of how Instagram became the world’s most successful app. In just 10 years, Instagram has gone from being a simple photo app to a $100 billion company. The journey has involved ground-breaking innovations, a billion-dollar takeover and clashes between some of the biggest names in tech. But it’s a story that has never been told – until now. In No Filter, Bloomberg’s Sarah Frier reveals how Instagram became the hottest app in a generation, reshaping our culture and economy in the process. With astonishing access to all the key players – from Instagram’s co-founders to super-influencers like Kris Jenner – Frier offers behind-the-scenes glimpses of every moment in the company’s life: from its launch, to its unlikely acquisition by Facebook, to its founders’ dramatic disputes with their new boss, Mark Zuckerberg,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘But this is not just a Silicon Valley story. No Filter explores how Instagram has reshaped global business, creating a new economy of ‘influencers’ and pioneering a business model that sells an aspirational lifestyle to all of us. And it delves into Instagram’s effects on popular culture, rewiring our understanding of celebrity and placing mounting pressure on all of us to perform online – to the point of warping our perception of reality. The resulting book connects one company’s rise to a global revolution in technology, culture and business. Facebook’s decision to buy Instagram was the best investment it ever made. But we’re still learning about what it has cost the rest of us,’ it adds.

‘A riveting read. Frier doesn’t apply any filters to her story. It is non-judgmental and non-partisan. She presents Instagram’s success story as one of great timing. As a former Instagram executive put it, ‘Everything breaks at a billion.’ Instagram’s post-billion story is yet to be told. For everything else about the app, this is by far the best read,’ says The Hindu. ‘If you read technology and startup books regularly, the familiar elements are all there. Starry-eyed founders launching an app not sure it would work, small changes becoming defining later on, jealousy and rivalry among peers, dizzying growth and a truckload of money for everyone in the journey,’ says Moneycontrol.

Billion Dollar Loser: The Epic Rise And Fall of WeWork, by Reeves Wiedeman

The inside story of the rise and fall of WeWork, showing how the excesses of its founder shaped a corporate culture unlike any other. Christened a potential saviour of Silicon Valley’s startup culture, Adam Neumann was set to take WeWork, his office share company disrupting the commercial real estate market, public, cash out on the company’s 47 billion dollar valuation, and break the string of major startups unable to deliver to shareholders. But as employees knew, and investors soon found out, WeWork’s capital was built on promises that the company was more than a real estate purveyor, that it was also a technology company. Veteran journalist Reeves Weideman dives deep into WeWork and Adams’s astronomical rise from the marijuana and tequila filled board rooms to cult-like company summer camps and consciousness-raising with Anthony Kiedis for a character-driven business narrative that captures, through the fascinating psyche of a billionaire founder and his wife and co-founder, the slippery state of global capitalism,’ says the publisher’s note.

Billion Dollar Loser may appear to be a common tale about rags to riches, but the personality of Adam Neumann dispels that instantly. Author Reeves Wiedeman captures a spirited individual who thought big, spent even bigger and was humbled when his company was taken from him. The narrative offers the best and worst of capitalism and unchecked ambition. A riveting cautionary tale,’ says Manhattan Book Review.

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, by Brad Stone

‘Amazon started off delivering books through the mail. But its visionary founder, Jeff Bezos, wasn’t content with being a bookseller. He wanted Amazon to become the everything store, offering limitless selection and seductive convenience at disruptively low prices. To achieve that end, he developed a corporate culture of relentless ambition and secrecy that’s never been cracked. Until now. Brad Stone enjoyed unprecedented access to current and former Amazon employees and Bezos family members, giving readers the first in-depth, fly-on-the-wall account of life at Amazon. Compared to tech’s other elite innovators – Jobs, Gates, Zuckerberg – Bezos is a private man. But he stands out for his restless pursuit of new markets, leading Amazon into risky new ventures like the Kindle and cloud computing, and transforming retail in the same way Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing. The Everything Store is the revealing, definitive biography of the company that placed one of the first and largest bets on the Internet and forever changed the way we shop and read,’ says the publisher’s note.

‘The meticulously reported book has plenty of gems for anyone who cares about Amazon, Jeff Bezos, entrepreneurship, leadership or just the lunacy it took to build a company in less than two decades that now employs almost 90,000 people and sold $61 billion worth of, well, almost everything last year [‘last year’ is a reference to 2012],’ says The Washington Post. Indeed, The Everything Store is the most detailed, interesting, well-written book there is for anyone who might be interested in the phenomenon that is Amazon. Essential reading for anyone who’s ever been intrigued by Jeff Bezos’s incredible success and Amazon’s world dominance.

Also See: Tales From Silicon Valley: Must-Read Tech-Biz Books (Part 1)

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