At the beginning, a startup is only people, a group of friends who share a passion to change the world in some way. There is no product, no brand, no management team, no PR, no swag, no internal processes, no hierarchy.
Over time, by virtue of all the effort of the people within the company, startups evolve into semi-autonomous machines; machines that acquire and serve customers with a great product in exchange for revenue.
Once the machine is operational, most of the conversations about the company shift from the people building the business to the machine they have assembled. While understanding the machine is important, the personal stories of the individuals architecting and operating the machines fascinate me much more.
Unlike most startup histories which focus on the machine, In Startupland, Mikkel Svane, the founder and CEO of Zendesk, chronicles the creation of one of the most efficient business machines ever by concentrating on the human stories.
Throughout the book, Mikkel shares his perspectives on the softer parts of business - not how to build a great customer acquisition engine - but how his team’s perspective on the company changed with time:
Our goal was to build not a big company, but a great product…But soon the honeymoon ends. The idea becomes a reality, and you discover that even though you never really wanted to build a company, all of a sudden you are doing just that. And the reality is that building a company is hard—it’s no longer about just pursuing an idea. The idea has taken off, and it becomes all about executing and scaling…Before you know it, you have all these real customers who need real attention, and you need to start building the beginnings of an organization.
Startupland is one of the most genuine and candid articulations of the human side of startups. He writes about the dynamics of the founding team (Alexander and Morten) through the challenge of financing the business in its early days (who to trust?), the strain of relocating the company not once, but twice (with families in tow), and his personal trials as he evolves into the CEO of a publicly traded company (particularly when firing people).
Every founder should read it.