Author Archives: Hervé Lebret

The myth of the entrepreneur – Undoing the imaginary of Silicon Valley

A friend mentioned this new book about Silicon Valley to me a few days ago and I quote: “The author’s argument is wrong (but it’s pernicious). […] Indeed, entrepreneurship generates excellence and independent-minded people, while [another view – opposition to liberal capitalism] creates a population of people dependent upon the state.”

I’m not sure I agree with my friend: on the one hand, the relationship between collective and individual is a key topic around entrepreneurship. Does a company create value without “outstanding” individuals? The subject is as old as the world. On the other hand, the distribution of this value is a second subject which belongs among other things to the field of taxation and Piketty has clearly shown that, for several decades, the distribution gap has greatly increased in favor of the richest to the detriment of the poorest.

Marianna Mazzucato has shown this imbalance in The Entrepreneurial State, which she finds all the more unfair as she shows the primordial role of the State in upstream funding (education, research, public services in general) which provides a favorable context for the creation of wealth.

In the beginning of his book, Le mythe de l’entrepreneur – Défaire l’imaginaire de la Silicon Valley (The Myth of the Entrepreneur – Unraveling the Imaginary of Silicon Valley), Anthony Galluzzo explains similar things but it seems different to me. I am only at the beginning and I will see later how closely it joins the criticism introduced above. The author is a specialist in merchant imaginary and the subtitle is convincing, namely that it is necessary to deconstruct the imaginary of this region, based on story-telling around the stars of the region, such as Steve Jobs and Elon Musk (although Elon Musk has largely lost his aura). It shows us that Elisabeth Holmes tried the same approach but succeeded only very partially.

Joseph Schumpeter is quoted extensively in the book at the beginning, in particular it seems to me, for a critique of the role of the entrepreneur and of creative destruction. Galluzzo prefers to use destructive creation to show the chronology of actions. But I didn’t see in the beginning of the book, at least, that Schumpeter adds that capitalism cannot exist without advertising. So without story-telling and imaginary.

This imaginary of Silicon Valley is therefore, I believe, only what allows capitalism to self-develop, to survive, with all the current paradoxes of destructive waste. But behind this imaginary, what is the reality? Galluzzo refuses to oppose entrepreneurs and businessmen. I understand the argument. Creators, stars at least, can make a lot of money. But I don’t know if the main reason is their ability to do business or if they are simply at the origin of a creation that makes it possible to do business. I am neither an economist, nor a historian, nor a sociologist and I find it very difficult to make sense of things, all other things being equal.

Anatomy of the Myth – the Heroic Entrepreneur

So here are a few things that I found interesting in the beginning of the book:

1- The solitary entrepreneur

Steve Jobs was not alone and worse is perhaps not critical to the initial success. The story is indeed quite well known while Jobs is seen as the only genius of Apple.
– Steve Wozniak is the real genius (Galluzzo will not like the term) behind the first computers from Apple.
– Steve Jobs is said to have “stolen” [Page 35] many ideas from Xerox to build his machines. The story is known but the term “stealing” is too strong even if many Xerox employees were shocked. Xerox received Apple shares in exchange for this rather unique deal in history.
– “Mike Markkula can be considered the true founder of Apple, the one who transformed a small, insignificant hobbyist operation into a structured and solidly financed start-up. » [Pages 19-20]
– “Arthur Rock, meanwhile, is one of the most important figures in Silicon Valley, he contributed to the emergence of the largest companies in the region – Fairchild Semiconductor, Intel, then Apple. However, no biography has ever been devoted to him and his wikipedia page is starving”. [Page 20]

I will nuance Galluzzo’s remarks again. Certainly Wozniak, Markkula and Rock have not penetrated the imagination of the general public, but Silicon Valley connoisseurs are not unaware of them and the film Something Ventured (which Galluzzo does not seem to mention in his very rich bibliography) does not forget them at all. And what about this cover of Time Magazine.

2- The war for talent

“The functioning of the labor market in Silicon Valley, however, shows us a completely different dynamic. The industrial concentration in this region leads to significant personnel movements: an engineer can easily change company, without moving or changing his lifestyle. […] This high degree of labor mobility has been observed since the 1970s, when on average IT professionals only stayed in their jobs for two years [Cf AnnaLee Saxenian’s Regional Advantage]. When circulating like this, employees, even bound by non-disclosure agreements, take with them their experiences and knowledge. The propagation of this tacit knowledge is at the heart of the ecosystem, it allows permanent collective tacit learning. » [Page 45]

Galluzzo gets to the heart of the matter here, which makes Silicon Valley unique. Not so much the concentration of talent, which exists in all developed regions. But the circulation of talent. Almost everything is said!

However, Galluzzo adds a significant nuance that I was less familiar with: “Therefore, problems arise for entrepreneurs relating to what has been called in business jargon the “war for talents”. To carry out his projects, he must succeed in appropriating the most precious commodity there is, the work force of highly qualified engineers.” [Page 46]

Galluzzo then mentions the stock options, the aggressive recruitment but also this: “Another court case illustrates well the issues of employee retention. In the 2000s, several Silicon Valley giants, including Intel, Google and Apple, formed a “wage cartel”, mutually agreeing not to attempt to poach employees. This tacit agreement was intended to eliminate all competition for skilled workers and to limit wage increases.” [Page 47 & see Google, Apple, other tech firms to pay $415M in wage case]

3- The invisibilization of the State

The subject is also known and I mentioned it above. We too often forget the role of the collective in the possibility of favorable conditions and context. But Galluzzo shows that too often there is even a certain hatred of the collective, illustrated by the growing visibility of libertarians. It is also known, Silicon Valley is afraid of unions. Here’s another example I didn’t know:

“I want the people who teach my children to be good enough to be employed in the company I work for, and earn $100,000 a year. Why should they work in a school for $35-40,000 a year if they can get a job here at $100,000? We should hire them and pay them $100,000, but of course the problem is the unions. Unions are the worst thing that has happened to education. Because it is not a meritocracy, but a bureaucracy. »

You have to read the entire excerpt and maybe even the entire interview with Steve Jobs. Excerpts from an Oral History Interview with Steve Jobs. Interviewer: Daniel Morrow, April 20, 1995. Computerworld Smithsonian Awards. We are there in the core American culture and the importance given to competition between individuals rather than to the equality of the members of the collective.

So are there geniuses or not? Is there only Darwinian emergence of talents a posteriori among those who will have survived? I don’t know or I don’t know anymore. Probably something in between. Or maybe it is an act of faith, as long as sociology does not have elements that will allow me to have a more convincing opinion…

To be continued…

Optimism and Disillusionment in Silicon Valley. Part 3 : Goomics, the end of Googleyness?

First, it’s important to remember that Aaron Swartz died 10 years ago. He was, maybe, the first casualty of the end of the Internet as we dreamed it, a free or at least easy access to the world information.

What is Googleyness? Laszlo Bock’s Definition of Googleyness is #1 Enjoying Fun, #2 Intellectual Humility, #3 Conscientiousness, #4 Comfort with ambiguity, #5 Evidence that you’ve taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life. In page 134 of Goomics, Manu Cornet mentions “Data-Driven and Transparent, Selfless and Humble, Proactive, with a Sense of Humour & Silghtly Irreverent, Respectful and Fair”.

So what happened between the Volume I of Goomics, (that I had 3 posts about here, there and there) and this second volume, with subtitle Disillusionment? Let us quote the author through a few of his drawings. First of all, Google is an innovative company, as Manu Cornet reminds us through the following and funny quiz, the answers to which you will find at the end of the article.

However, the author has lived his last years at Google with some difficulty. Here are some examples:

His feelings that Google is becoming a normal company with its bad habits of bureaucracy, lack of transparency and even worse bad treatment of harrassment are rather scary.

Let’s end on a refreshing note though, written by a true nerd!

Post-scriptum (before the anwsers to the quiz):

A post-scriptum to close the loop of these 3 articles about disillusionment in innovation. A recent scientific article seems to support some of Michael Gibson’s arguments in Paper Belt on Fire. France Culture in Les publications scientifiques deviennent de moins en moins “innovantes” (see the end of the page) quotes a publication by researchers from the University of Minnesota, Papers and patents are becoming less disruptive over time. An interesting read for those intrigued by the subject.

Answers to the quiz

Postscript (as of August 22, 2023): Page and Brin don’t give many interviews, the latest one I found is this one:

Optimism and Disillusionment in Silicon Valley. Part 2 : Steve Jobs in Playboy

It is the third time I can relate Playboy magazine to technology startups. Strange.

In 1971, Intel went public the same day as Playboy and its co-founder, Gordon Moore, funnily recounts in Something Ventured: And a few years later one of the analysts: “The market has spoken. It’s chips over chicks, 10-to-1.” He did not exactly say that but something similar. I will let you search if you wish…

In 2004, the playboy interview of the Google founders, The Google Guys, America’s newest billionaires, was very controversial. Not because of the publisher, but of the timing. You can read
Google says Playboy article could be costly.

Finally I recently discovered that in 1984 was published a lengthy 13-page interview of Silicon Valley’s newest star: Steven Jobs, a candid conversation about making computers, making mistakes and making millions with the young entrepreneur who sparked a business revolution. Here are some extracts.

About computers

We’re living in the wake of the petrochemical evolution of 100 years ago. The petrochemical revolution gave us free energy – free mechanical energy, in this case. It changed the textures of society in most ways. This revolution, the information revolution, is a revolution of free energy as well, but another kind: free intellectual energy. It’s very crude today, yet our Mackintosh computer takes less power than a 100-watt light bulb to run and it can save you hours a day. What will it be able to do ten or 20 years form now, or 50 years from now? This revolution will dwarf the petrochemical revolution. We’re on the forefront.

Computers will be essential in most homes. The most compelling reason to buy a computer for the home will be to link it into a nationwide communications network. We’re just in the beginning stages of what will be a truly remarkable breakthrough for most people – a remarkable as the telephone.

It’s often the same with any new revolutionary thing. People get stuck as they get older. Our minds are sort of electrochemical computers. Your thoughts construct patterns like scaffolding in your mind. You are really etching chemical patterns. In most cases, people get stuck un those patterns, just like grooves in a record, and they never out of them. It’s a rare person who etches grooves that are other than a specific way of looking at things, a specific way of questioning things. It’s rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s to really contribute something amazing. Of course, there are some people who are innately curious, forever little kids in their awe of life, but they’re rare.

About innovation

What happens in most companies is that you don’t keep great people under working environments where individual accomplishment is discouraged rather than encouraged. The great people leave and you end up with mediocrity. I know, because that’s how Apple was built. Apple is an Ellis island company. Apple is built on refugees from other companies. These are the extremely bright individual contributors who were troublemakers at other companies.

Polaroid did that for some years, but eventually Dr Land, one of these brilliant troublemakers, was asked to leave his own company – which is one f the dumbest things I’ve ever heard of.

About growing

Anyway, one of our biggest challenges and the one I think John Sculley and I should be judged on in five to ten years is making Apple an incredibly great ten- or 20-billion-dollar company. Will it still have the spirit it does today? We’re charting new territory. There are no models we can look to for our high growth, for some of the new management concepts we have. So we’ve to find our own way.

The way it’s going to work is that in our business, in order to continue to be one of the major contributors, we’re going to have to a ten-billion-dollar company. That growth is required for us to keep up with the competition. Our concern is how to become that, rather than the dollar goal, which is meaningless to us.

There may be some imitators left in the $100,000,000-to-$200-000-000 range, but being a -$200-000-000 company is going to mean you are struggling for your life, and that’s not a really a position from which to innovate. Not only do I think IBM will do away with its imitators by providing software they can’t provide, I think eventually it will come up with a new standard that won’t even be compatible with what it’s making now – because it is too limiting.

[Jobs was visionary but could be always right. Look at Dell, Compaq, Lenovo, HP and Intel/Microsoft…]

I used to think about selling 1,000,000 computers a year, but it was just a thought. When it actually happens, it’s a totally different thing. So it was. “Holy shit, it’s actually coming true!” But what’s hard to explain is that this does not feel like overnight. Next year will be my tenth year. I had never done anything longer than a year in my life. Six months for me, was a long time when we started Apple. So that has been my life since I’ve been sort of a free-willed adult. Each year has been so robust with problems and successes and learning experiences and human experiences that a year is a lifetime at Apple. So this has been ten lifetimes.

There’s an old Hindi saying that comes into my mind occasionally: “For the first 30 years of your life, you make your habits. For the last 30 years of your life, your habits make you.” As I’m going to be 30 in February, the thought has crossed my mind. And I’m not sure. I’ll always stay connected with Apple. I hope that throughout my life, I’ll sort of have the thread of my life and the thread of Apple weave in and out of each other, like a tapestry. There may be a few years when I am not there, but I’ll always come back.

About artificial intelligence

The original video games captured the principles of gravity. And what computer programming can do is to capture the underlying principles, the underlying essence, and then facilitate thousands of experiences based on that perception of the underlying principles. Now if we could capture Aristotle’s world view – the underlying principles of his world view? Then you could ask Aristotle a question. Ok you might say it would not be exactly what Aristotle was. It could all be wrong. But maybe not.

Part of the challenge, I think, is to get these tools to millions and tens of millions of people and to start to refine these tools so that someday we can crudely, and then in a more refined sense, capture an Aristotle or an Einstein or a Land while he’s alive.

That’s for someone else. It’s for the next generation. I think an interesting challenge in this area of intellectual inquiry is to grow obsolete gracefully, in the sense that things are changing so fast that certainly by the end of the Eighties, we really want to turn over the reins to the next generation, so that they can go on, stand on our shoulders and go much further. It’s a very interesting challenge, isn’t it? How to grow obsolete with grace.

Post-Scriptum: It is difficult to add anything to this beautiful conclusion and yet I wish to create a (quite artificial) link between these first two parts. I just discovered it while finishing this article and the coincidence is quite beautiful. I didn’t know about this Steve Jobs interview. Much better known, even famous, is the speech he gave in 2005 at Stanford University, for the graduation of students (the “commencement speech” – my first article in this blog)

Coincidentally, Michael Gibson ends his book, Paper Belt of Fire, by analyzing another commencement speech given in 2005 and considered by some to be one of the most beautiful with that of Jobs. This is “This is water” by David Foster Wallace, the entirety of which you will find in This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life.

Here is its conclusion:

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

“This is water.”

“This is water.”

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime. And it commences: now.

Optimism and Disillusionment in Silicon Valley. Part 1 : Paper Belt on Fire

So I asked Gates: “What do you think of the idea that we’re not seeing as much innovation and scientific progress as we should? That the rate of progress has stalled?”
“Oh you guys are full of shit. Total shit…”

This is how Bill Gates reacts on page XI of Paper Belt on Fire, How Renegade Investors Sparked a Revolt against the University to author Michael Gibson’s ideas that he describes in detail in his recent book.

The book is both exciting and frustrating, convincing sometimes and unnerving at others. But let me mention what was questioning [to me].

The central thesis of the book has four parts. The first is that science, know-how, and wisdom are the source of almost all that is good: higher living standards; longer, healthier lives; thriving communities; dazzling cities; blue skies; profound philosophies; the flourishing of the arts; and all the rest of it.
The second is that the rate of progress in science, know-how, and wisdom, has flattened for far too long. We have not been making scientific, technological, or philosophical progress at anything close to the rate we’ve needed to since about 1971. (Computers and smart phones notwithstanding.)
The third claim is that the complete and utter failure of our education, from K-12 up through Harvard, is a case in point of this stagnation. We are not very good at educating people, and we have not improved student learning all that much in more than a generation, despite spending three to four times as much per student at any grade. Our lack of progress in knowing how to improve student outcomes has greatly contributed to the decline in creativity in just about every field.
The last, chief point is that the fate of our civilization depends upon replacing or reforming our unreliable and corrupted institutions, which include both the local public school and the entire Ivy League. My colleagues and I are trying to trailblaze one path in the field of education. We might be misguided in our methods, but our diagnosis is correct.
[Pages XIX-XX]

What are the traits of great founders? [Pages 89-96]

Edge control, crawl-walk-run, hyperfluency, emotional depth & resilience, a sustaining motivation, the alpha-gamma tensive brilliance, egoless ambition, and Friday-night-Dyson-sphere.

Edge control: a willingness day after day, to defy the boundary between the known and the unknown, order and disorder, vision and hubris.

Crawl-walk-run: a founding team needs to have the smarts to build what they are going to build. […] The best way to screen for these traits is to see them at play in the wild. It takes some time to see their evolution.

Hyperfluency: the best founders have the charm of a huckster and the rigor of a physicist. […] They speak with fluent competence.

Emotional depth & resilience: the founders of a company have to have the social and emotional intelligence to make hires, work with customers, raise money from investors, and gel with co-founders. The complexity of this total effort is incredibly demanding and emotionally exhausting.

Tensive brilliance: what we’ve noticed is that creative people tend to have a unity born of variety. That unity may have a strong tension to it, as it tries to reconcile opposites. Insider yet outsider, familiar yet foreign, strange, but not a stranger, young in age but older in mind, a member of an institution but a social outcast – all kind of polarities lend themselves to dynamism. This is in part, I believe, why immigrants and first-generation citizens show a strong productivity for entrepreneurship. They are the same, but different.

Egoless ambition: on the one side there is an intense commitment to do great things. But on the other side is an element of detachment, a footloose, untroubled attitude that treats triumph and disaster just the same.

Friday-night-Dyson-sphere: the physicist Freeman Dyson once imagined a sphere of light-absorbing material surrounding our entire solar system on its periphery. One of the most electrifying moments for us is when a team convinces us, through a series of plausible steps backed by evidence, that they are capable of growing a lemonade stand into a company that builds Dyson Spheres. What’s more, it’s clear this is the thing they’d rather be tinkering on during a Friday night when all the cool kids are out partying.

The 1517 fund [1]

“We’re named after the year Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to a church door in a tiny German town. That began a revolution, the Protestant Reformation. But it all started because he was protesting against the sale of a piece of paper called an indulgence. In 1517, the church was saying this expensive piece of paper could save your soul. In 2015, universities are selling another expensive piece of paper, the diploma, saying it’s the only way to save your soul. Well, it was bullshit then. And it’s bullshit now.” [Page 144]

For one thing, most venture capital funds fail. Blind folded monkeys throwing darts to pick stocks would perform better than the investor who picked the average venture capital fund. The median VC returns about 1.6 percent less than if someone just put their money in an index-tracking mutual fund. [Page 147]

To accelerate progress, we need young people working at the frontiers of knowledge sooner than they have in the past. They also need greater freedom. What that means is institutions that trust them to take risks and demonstrate some edge control with their research. We must hold it as a fairly predictable law of creativity that the unknown must always pass through the stranger before we can understand it.
Universities have served this research function in the past and will continue to do so. But they are plagued by four realities. The first is the slow speed of a formal, credential-based education. It takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree and then another seven or eight to earn a PhD. Second, universities have become hives of groupthink. Third, grant-giving is driven by prestige, credibility, and a cover-your-ass mentality. Fourth, the incentives of academic institutions reward shrewd political calculation, incrementalism, short-term horizons, and a status hierarchy in which demonstrating loyalty earns more reward than advancing knowledge.
[Page 261-2]

About education

The good news is that two cheap, relatively easy to use methods stand out as the most effective at boosting student performance: practice testing and distributed practice. Distributed practice is when students establish and stick to a consistent schedule of practice over time. (Its antithesis is cramming.) Practice is not mere repetition, but a deliberate effort to improve performance in the Goldilocks zone where success is neither too easily gained, nor the challenge too hard. Self-resting as a technique should not be confused with high stakes standardized testing but instead as a way of frequently probing the edge of knowledge in a field. […] Consistent self-testing and distributed practice are the most effective learning techniques, but they are also the most painful, as both of these strategies require discipline, energy, and individual effort.
Then there are the more intangible questions that require our attention. How can we encourage students to pursue the truth, independent of other people’s approval? How do we teach civil disobedience, training our young to fight for what’s right? Or how to practice delayed gratification for worthy long-term goals? Are these even possible to teach? No one has bothered to ask.
[Pages 301-302]

If you are not unnerved and still intrigued, then you may read his final chapter around James Stockdale and David Foster Wallace.

Now what I found unnerving is the huge difference between exceptions, anecdotes in a system and a social statistical problem. I will only quote a great and rather unknown novel: Les Thibault by Roger Martin du Gard: « Je vous avoue que je ne sais plus très bien ce que je lui ai conseillé. J’ai dû – naturellement – l’engager à ne pas abandonner l’école. Pour des êtres de sa trempe, notre enseignement est, somme toute, inoffensif : ils savent choisir, d’instinct ; ils ont – comment dirais-je – une désinvolture de bonne race, qui ne se laisse pas mettre en lisière. L’Ecole n’est fatale qu’aux timides et aux scrupuleux. Au reste, il m’a paru qu’il venait me consulter pour la forme et que sa résolution était prise. C’est justement l’indice d’une vocation, qu’elle soit impérieuse. C’est bon signe qu’un adolescent soit en révolte, par nature, contre tout. Ceux de mes élèves, qui sont arrivés à quelque chose étaient tous de ces indociles. » [Page 754 of volume 1, collection folio and this gives in English “I confess to you that I no longer really know what I advised him. I had to – naturally – urge him not to drop out of the School. For beings of his caliber, our teaching is, after all, harmless: they know how to choose, instinctively; they have – how shall I put it – a good-natured casualness, which does not allow itself to be put on the edge. The School is fatal only to the timid and the scrupulous. Besides, it seemed to me that he came to consult me for the form and that his resolution was taken. It is precisely the sign of a vocation, that it be imperious. It is a good sign that a teenager is in revolt, by nature, against everything. Those of my students who achieved something were all of these rebellious ones.”]

[1] I did not mention until now and will in this footnote that Gibson, in a way, belongs to the PayPal mafia of anarcho-libertarians that include Peter Thiel and Elon Musk. Gibson co-managed the Thiel Fellowship and now the 1517 fund. There are notable Fellows as shown on Wikipedia. Now quoting Peter Thiel did the recipients did better than what he dreamed of: “We wanted flying cars, we got 140 characters instead” or did they really answer his famous question “What’s something you believe to be true that the rest of the world thinks is false?” [Page 60]

A Library of Books about Startups, High-Tech, Innovation

I began this blog in July 2007, so more than 15 years ago. I began my professional activity around startups in September 1997, so more than 25 years ago. So many adventures, so many great moments. And so much book reading! I revisited these pages and did an exhaustive list of the books I could remember reading. Most have a post somewhere in the blog.

I created a little artificially 6 categories:
– About Google and Apple
– Entrepreneurs’ Biographies
– Startup Stories and Analyses
– Ecosystems and Innovation
– Venture Capital
– How to
– Fictions / Thrillers (or close)

Here they are… Enjoy (maybe!)

About Google and Apple

  • Goomics, Google’s corporate culture revealed through internal comics, Manu Cornet
  • In the Plex, How Google Thinks, Works and Shapes Our Lives, Stephen Levy
  • How Google Works, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg
  • Dogfight, How Apple and Google Went to War and Started a Revolution, Fred Vogelstein
  • I’M Feeling Lucky, Falling On My Feet in Silicon Valley, Douglas Edwards
  • The Apple Revolution, Steve Jobs, the Counter Culture and How the Crazy Ones Took Over the World, Luke Dormehl
  • Work Rules! Insights from inside Google that will transform how you live and lead, Laszlo Bock
  • The Google Story, David Vise
  • Return to the Little Kingdom, How Apple and Steve Jobs Changed the World, Michael Moritz


  • Elon Musk, Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for A Fantastic Future, Ashlee Vance
  • Steve Jobs, La vie d’un génie, Walter Isaacson
  • Inside Steve’s Brain, Leander Kahney
  • The Man Behind the Microchip, Robert Noyce and the Invention of Silicon Valley, Leslie Berlin

Startups Stories / Analyses

  • Trillion Dollar Coach, The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell, Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle
  • L’entrepreneuriat en action, Ou comment de jeunes ingénieurs créent des entreprises innovantes, Philippe Mustar
  • Chercheurs et entrepreneurs : c’est possible ! Belles histoires du numérique à la française, Laurent Kott, Antoine Petit
  • Bad Blood, Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, John Carreyrou
  • Bienvenue dans le Nouveau Monde, Comment j’ai survécu à la coolitude des startups, Mathilde Ramadier
  • Les start-up expliquées à ma fille, L’entrepreneuriat vu de l’intérieur, Guillene Ribière
  • Startup, Arrêtons la mascarade, Contribuer vraiment à l’économie de demain, Nicolas Menet, Benjamin Zimmer
  • No Exit, Struggling to Survive a Modern Gold Rush, Gideon Lewis-Kraus
  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Building a Business When There are no Easy Answers, Ben Horowitz
  • Zero to One, Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, Peter Thiel, Blake Masters
  • Startupland, How Three Guys Risked Everything to Turn an Idea into a Global Business, Mikkel Svane, Carlye Adler
  • European Founders at Work, Pedro Gairifo Santos
  • Founders at Work, Stories of Startups’ Early Days, Jessica Livingston
  • The Monk and the Riddle, The Education of a Silicon Valley Entrepreneur, Randy Komisar
  • Once you’re lucky, Twice you’re good, The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and the Rise of Web, Sarah Lacy
  • They Made It! Angelika Blendstrup
  • Betting It All, The Entrepreneurs of Technology, Michael Malone,
  • In the Company of Giants, Candid Conversations With the Visionaries of the Digital World, Rama Dev Jager, Rafael Ortiz
  • Startup, A Silicon Valley Adventure, Jerry Kaplan

Ecosystems and Innovation

  • From the Basement to the Dome, How MIT’s Unique Culture Created a Thriving Entrepreneurial Community, Jean-Jacques Degroof
  • The Microchip Revolution: A brief history, Luc O. Bauer, E. Marshall Wilder
  • The Code, Silicon Valley and the Remaking of America, Margaret O’Mara
  • Loonshots or how to nurture crazy ideas, Safi Bahcall
  • Troublemakers, How Generation of Silicon Valley Upstarts Invented the Future, Leslie Berlin
  • The Rainforest, The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley, Victor W. Hwang, Greg Horowitt
  • The Innovators, How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, Walter Isaacson
  • The Entrepreneurial State, Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths, Mariana Mazzucato
  • Genentech, The Beginnings of Biotech, Sally Smith Hughes
  • Science Lessons, What the Business of Biotech Taught Me About Management, Gordon Binder
  • Le prochain Google sera Suisse (à 10 conditions), Fathi Derder
  • Prophet of Innovation, Joseph Schumpeter and Creative Destruction, Thomas McCraw
  • Start-up Nation, The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle, Dan Senor, Saul Singer
  • Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed–and What to Do About It, Josh Lerner
  • The Innovation Illusion, How So Little is Created by So Many Working So Hard, Fredrik Erixon, Bjorn Weige
  • Un paléoanthropologue dans l’entreprise, S’adapter et innover pour survivre, Pascal Picq
  • Against Intellectual Monopoly, Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine
  • The New Argonauts, Regional Advantage in a Global Economy, AnnaLee Saxenian
  • Regional Advantage, Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128, AnnaLee Saxenian
  • Silicon Valley Fever, Growth of High Technology Culture, Everett M. Rogers, Judith K. Larsen
  • Creating the Cold War University, The Transformation of Stanford, Rebecca S. Lowen
  • Nurturing Science-based Ventures, An International Case Perspective, Ralf Seifert, Benoït Leleux, Christopher Tucci
  • Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Peter F. Drucker
  • The Gorilla Game, Picking Winners in High Technology, Geoffrey Moore
  • Inside the Tornado, Strategies for Developing, Leveraging, and Surviving Hypergrowth Markets, Geoffrey Moore
  • Crossing the Chasm, Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers, Geoffrey Moore
  • The Founder’s Dilemmas, Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup, Noam Wasserman
  • The Innovators Dilemma, When New Technologies Cause Good Firms To Fail, Clayton M. Christensen
  • Accidental Empires, How the Boys of Silicon Valley Make Their Millions, Battle Foreign Competition, and Still Can’t Get a Date, Robert X. Cringley

Venture Capital

  • The Power Law, Venture Capital and the Making of the New Future, Sebastian Mallaby
  • The Masters of Private Equity and Venture Capital, Management Lessons from the Pioneers of Private Investing, Robert A. Finkel
  • The Startup Game, Inside the Partnership between Venture Capitalists and Entrepreneurs, William H. Draper III
  • Creative Capital, Georges Doriot and the Birth of Venture Capital, Spencer Ante
  • The Business of Venture Capital, Insights from Leading Practitioners on the Art of Raising a Fund, Deal Structuring, Value Creation, and Exit Strategies, Mahendra Ramsinghani
  • The New Venturers, Inside the High-Stakes World of Venture Capital, John Wilson


How To

  • The Mom Test, How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you, Rob Fitzpatrick
  • Straight Talk for Startups, 100 Insider Rules for Beating the Odds, Randy Komisar, Jantoon Reigersman
  • Measure What Matters, OKRs, The Simple Idea that Drives 10x Growth, John Doerr,
  • The start-up of You, Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, Reid Hoffman
  • Don’t f**k it up, How Founders and Their Successors Can Avoid the Clichés That Inhibit Growth, Les Trachtman
  • How To Start a Business That Doesn’t Suck (and will actually turn a profit), Michael Clarke
  • The Four Steps to the Epiphany, Successful Strategies for Products That Win, Steve Blank (NB: the book has been updated and renamed as The Startup Owner’s Manual, The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company, Steve Blank, Bob Dorf)
  • The Lean Startup, How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, Eric Ries
  • Business Model Generation, Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur
  • Slicing Pie, Funding Your Company Without Funds, Mike Moyer
  • Getting to Plan B, Breaking Through to a Better Business Model, John Mullins, Randy Komisar
  • Winning Opportunities, Proven Tools for Converting Your Projects into Success (without a Business Plan), Raphael Cohen
  • Start-up, (anti-)bible à l’usage des fous et des futurs entrepreneurs, Bruno Martinaud
  • The Art of the Start, GuyKawasaki


Fiction / Thrillers or close

  • Drop by Drop, Keith Raffel
  • Smasher, a Silicon Valley Mystery, Keith Raffel
  • dead, a Silicon Valley Mystery, Keith Raffel
  • The Ultimate Cure, Peter Harboe-Schmidt
  • The First $20 Million Is Always The Hardest, Po Bronson
  • The Nudist on the Late Shift, And Other True Tales of Silicon Valley, Po Bronson

Startup stories again : Spotify, Gumroad

Twice recently, my colleague Antoine who knows my obsessing passion for Silicon Valley tried in a way to mitigate it with alternative points of view. He first mentioned a new Netflix series, The Playlist, about a European success story, Spotify (here is a post about its IPO a few years ago); and second pointed me to Gumroad through what his founder, Sahil Lavingia, had to say about success and failure.

Sahil Lavingia explains in Reflecting on My Failure to Build a Billion-Dollar Company that success is subjective. Gumroad may not be a unicorn, and the investors are probably frustrated, but Gumroad has created a lot of value. Worth the 10-15 mn read.

The Playlist is as entertaining as HBO’s Silicon Valley and as informative as Something Ventured. The 6-episode series is structured on archetypes of startups, The vision, The industry, the lawyer, The coder, The partner, The artist. More important, it is really well built in its dramatic climax.

I will just extract a few images which illustrate my passion again!

Nothing to add to the subtitles! Except that these are taken from episodes 1 and 5. The scene is shown twice. It must be important to the series’ creators…

The final image requires some explanations. Here one of our “heroes” meets with Peter Thiel and the final handshake (and the full scene) is illustrative of these strange personalities.

I am not finished with the series and will watch the final episode soon. But clearly, this is one of the best accounts and also most truthful of the startup world.

Equal ownership of founders in startups ?

Yesterday I had a short debate about Wozniak and Jobs initial ownership in Apple Computer. It is true that at the IPO Wozniak had much less ownership than Jobs, but this can be explained by the fact that he gave or sold at a low price shares to employees (whom he thought deserved it and Jobs did not). But at the origin, they had equal shares as the extract from the prospectus shows.

So I thought of having a look at my startup database (currently having 890 cap. tables) and I studied the numbers. Here they are:

So what are the lessons?

First majority of startup have between 1 and 3 founders, and 1 founder (contrarily to intuition maybe) is not so rare. Now there is a caveat: the history of a startup is never fully known. Apple had initially (and for 2 weeks) 3 founders! The third one was Ronald Wayne

Second, equal ownership is not the majority but it is not rare. Around 15-20%.

But this does not mean, one founder owns more than 50%. Of course yes with 2 founders. But for 3 founders, this happpens in 41% of the cases. When more than 3 founders, this is 31% of the cases. I did not check (yet) if geography or fields of activities have an impact…

Finally, if you read this blog, you should know that statistics do not say it all. Startups are a world of exceptions (and the statistics are seldom Gaussian but follow a power low, so beware of means of %). Therefore more anecdotally, but still important, here are some famous examples:

Famous startups – 2 founders with equal shares

Famous startups – 3 founders with equal shares

Famous startups – 3+ founders with equal shares

Famous startups – founders with non-equal shares
Sun Microsystems

Figma, a new cap. table and there is much more to Dylan Field’s story

Figma is the latest startup success story. Not an IPO, there are so few in 2022, but a $20B acquisition by Adobe. I did not have much data to build its cap. table so this is mostly tentative. Still it is interesting. So here it is. However there is much more to the story of its founders Dylan Field and Evan Wallace. Read below.

Not much to add to the numbers except the founders (including possibly some earnout shares) & investors stake, 20% & 50% respectively as well as the time it took for all this. A few months for seed, 10 years for an exit.

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

So let us have a look more specifically at Dylan Field. Again the typical even if rare school drop-out in his early twenties who is still the CEO 10 years later. His cofounder is a friend. The rest is history. Well not really. Read his Wikipedia page for more or this article from Business Insider.

First, Field received the $100k that Peter Thiel was offering to young students ready to drop out of school. Field’s parents were against the idea but Field dropped out of Brown University. I have always been intrigued with the idea of pushing people out of school. Will Field ever go back there?

Second, he found some VC money despite the fact that Field recalled that he experienced a “wake up call” when [a potential] investor turned down the chance to invest in Figma’s seed round and said, “I don’t think you know what you’re doing yet.”

Third, he remained as CEO despite his lack of business experience. At one point early into Figma’s existence, Field said he once faced the very real risk of an exodus of disaffected employees. He had to learn, quickly, how to be more open to feedback and to empower his teams, while also hiring experienced managers. “I didn’t know how to manage effectively,” he said. “I didn’t know the basics around how to have good judgment around who to hire. When we were 10 people, I was a year into management. Usually if you are a new manager, you manage a few people. I was trying to do this at the same time and get the product to market.” Apparently he survived a few crises and the VCs let him lead.

There is certainly much more to learn from this unique story, but it is enough here. One final point. I would love to know more about VC performance. I worked at Index in the early days so I learnt that a great success does not guarantee a fund performance. But here Index made apparently more than $2B and made at least a 400x multiple in the seed part of its investment in Figma. But information about VC performance is close to impossible to find…

More (interesting?) data about French unicorns

A month ago, I published data about French startups. I had been surprised to discover that access to data about private companies was finally possible for free in my dear country. So I looked at some (famous) French unicorns with an interest in the shareholder structure and how much money they had raised overall, as well as in their seed and A rounds. You will find the detailed information in a pdf in the bottom of the post.

But before moving on to this analysis, I want to mention an excellent article on seed fundraising, which gives advice and quite rich information. It is in French though and is entitled La levée de fonds seed ou amorçage. So here are the results:

In this first table, I just had a look at their age and fund raising. To give simple rule of thumbs, about the ones which are still private, they are about 5 to 15 years old, they have raised about €200M, with seed rounds of €0.5M and A round of €2-3M. The market capitalization should be (by definition) above one billion euros, but apparently this is not always the case (let us say that the value of a private company is a very volatile metric!) and the ratio of this value to amount raised seems also to be 5 to 15…

I then looked at how much dilution the seed and A rounds correspond to as well as the age of the companies for these rounds. Again, not taking outliers into account, both the seed and A rounds seem to induce a 25% dilution, therefore, with rounds of €0.5M and €2-3M respectively, the value at seed is about €2M and at A round is €8-12M. Finally the startups are less than 1-2 years old at seed and less than 4 years old at A round.

The last table is about the shareholding or equity structure as well as some data about the founders. The founders keep 25-30% of their startups, investors have 60-65% whereas employees have 5-10%.

There are about two founders per startup, they are surprisingly often below 30 with a median and average age of 29 and sadly with not a single woman.

Equity List – French Unicorns

New data about academic technology transfer to startups

Nathan Benaich is very unhappy with technology transfer in the UK and he is probably right to be. For many years I had noticed that British academic institutions often took more than a 25% ownership in a startup in exchange for a license of intellectual property, whereas the standard figure in the USA and continental Europe is more in the 5-10% range. He had published a very interesting article in May 2021, Rewriting the European spinout playbook where he was complaining about a lack of transparency and very frustrating processes.

He is now working on a new set of data provided by founders that he makes freely available on He is asking for help and any interested founder should provide a little if she can. I downloaded his data and provide here my own analysis although Nathan has his own here. You should read it. Here is a first set of tables:

If you do not like tables and even if you do, here are more figures:

And because I had done a similar research some years ago, posted here as How much Equity Universities take in Start-ups from IP Licensing?, I did the exercise of combining his and my data. This is a set of 190+ companies! You will see the equity ownership per domain and per region.

So what are the lessons? The UK is a clear outlier, but what is more striking is the volatility in the numbers. And why is that? Some professional claim each startup is different. I disagree. Strongly! The lack of transparency in the policies is the reason of the volatility. Founders seldom know how they will be treated. This is why I was so happy with EPFL publishing its policy. See my recent post Technology Transfer according to EPFL and Rules for Startups.

I really hope that Nathan Benaich’s effort will help in bringing a much needed transparency in these numbers!