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A Truck Full of Money: Coding, Mania, Love, Genius, the Life of an American Entrepreneur

A Truck Full of Money: Coding, Mania, Love, Genius, the Life of an American Entrepreneur
By Founders Podcast • Issue #15 • View online
Here is how the book is described on Amazon: 
The book tells the story of Paul English, a kinetic and unconventional inventor and entrepreneur, who as a boy rebelled against authority. Growing up in working-class Boston, English discovers a medium for his talents the first time he sees a computer. As a young man, despite suffering from what would eventually be diagnosed as bipolar disorder, he begins his pilgrim’s journey through the ups and downs in the brave new world of computers. Relating to the Internet as if it’s an extension of his own mind, he discovers that he has a talent for conceiving innovative enterprises and building teams that can develop them, becoming “a Pied Piper” of geeks. His innovative management style, success, and innate sense of fair play inspire intense loyalty. Early on, one colleague observes: “Someday this boy’s going to get hit by a truck full of money, and I’m going to be standing beside him.” Yet when English does indeed make a fortune, when the travel website Kayak is sold for almost two billion dollars—the first thing he thinks about is how to give the money away: “What else would you do with it?” The second thing he thinks is, What’s next?
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:  
  • Paul was a creature of the New Economy, but he was also an old American. He was a carrier of a strain in the American character that refuses to be encumbered by the past. It’s an ethos that says you don’t have to do what your father did, that indeed you don’t have to do what you yourself were doing six months ago — or even yesterday. Consistency doesn’t matter. Only invention matters.
  • When Paul had told them how uncomfortable he felt about his Kayak fortune, several had replied, “You shouldn’t feel that way. You worked hard for your money.” The implication Paul heard was that poor people wouldn’t be poor if they weren’t lazy. But I didn’t actually work that hard, Paul thought. I’m just good at something that makes a lot of money.
  • “None of us is going to read romance novels on the beach.” For himself, he told them, starting companies was like a drug. “I want to keep doing it.”
  • In one of his lectures to students, Paul said: “A lot of successful companies’ products are created not with a business plan but instead from how much the person is irritated. And those people just say, I don’t care, or This makes me so angry I’m going to dedicate a year to doing this, and then if the product is really good and people start using it, then they figure out how they can make money on it.”
  • Paul knew some of the history and would entertain guests with it, drawing a moral: No matter how wacky, an idea can succeed if it aims at a big market and if there are technologies to execute it.
  • Paul’s greatest luck, his purest, in which he had no hand at all, came on September 11, 2001. He and some colleagues had booked the doomed flight from Boston to Los Angeles, but at the last minute they switched to a less expensive itinerary. 
  • After taxes, Karl’s share from the sale of Boston Light amounted to about three million dollars. Paul urged him to invest some of his winnings in his start-up Mancala. Karl thought, Who am I to say no? That company failed, a fact Paul brought up for years afterward, in the spirit of a monk studying a skull. Paul lost two million dollars. Karl lost a hundred thousand. But then, not long afterward, Paul told Karl he should invest another hundred thousand in Intermute, and when that company was sold, Karl’s investment turned into a million. He was amazed and a little dismayed. He told the accountant he shared with Paul, “There’s something wrong here. I didn’t do anything. I wrote a check. This system is not sustainable.”
  • Can people reinvent themselves? Many must believe they can. Otherwise, the great self-improvement library of America wouldn’t keep on growing. Paul had never felt a need for self-help books, but he had a quality of mind that was open to their sort of promise, a quality more generative than reflective, a childlike innocence about impossibility, or at least, as his old friend Karl had noticed, a straightforward way of facing difficulties: “You see the problem, you solve the problem.”
  • “One rather curious thing I’ve noticed about aesthetic satisfaction is that our pleasure is significantly enhanced when we accomplish something with limited tools.”
  • “I feel bad leaving you guys,” Billo told them. But he was going to follow Paul. Fifteen years later, he remembered his words exactly: “Someday this boy’s going to get hit by a truck full of money, and I’m going to be standing beside him.”
  • “An angry customer is a passionate customer,” he’d tell his team. “And if you can win them over, then you have a passionate advocate.” He figured that if his engineers answered the emails and the phone, they would hear firsthand about problems, maybe problems that they themselves had created, and if they got yelled at by customers now and then—or, even better, had to listen to some customers cry—they would likely feel determined to find the guilty bugs as soon as possible and fix them.
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Talk to you next week, 
David 

 

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