Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez

Rating: 7/10

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High-Level Thoughts

Half of why this is so good is the author’s own hubris. It’d be a dull story without it, but with it, you get an entertaining look at the inner workings of startups and silicon valley tech giants.

Summary Notes

“The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another. – Adam Smith”

“In all my experience in both startups and large companies, including and especially at Facebook, I would always prefer— a hundred times prefer— being subject to the rigors of the market, the fickleness of luck, and the whims of users than to navigate the popularity-contest politics of a large company, surrounded by the mediocre duffers who’ve succeeded in life through nothing more than guile and appearances. Scott Weinstein’s unfortunate example was the best advice he (or anyone else) has ever given me, and one that I ignored to my extreme peril.”

“One week into my new Silicon Valley life, and the lesson was this: if you want to be a startup entrepreneur, get used to negotiating from positions of weakness. I’d soon have trickier situations to negotiate than convincing a cop to let me take a cab. And so will you if you play the startup game.”

“The first sign of trouble was an externally visible one, a symptom that any suitably experienced startup practitioner could have detected: nobody from the early days of the company was still around other than Murthy.”

“As Vonnegut wrote in Bluebeard, never trust the survivor of a massacre until you know what he did to survive.”

“If you consider yourself a Gates or a Musk but aren’t seen as one, then you enter the realm of felt injustice. You assign yourself a certain value, but society ranks you at another. That difference between society’s perception and your own is the gap of injustice you feel. Multiply that gap times your ego, and you get the total balance of rage you’re to expend in your startup quest.”

Miracles:

  • “Most successful startups depend on one miracle only. For Airbnb, it was getting people to let strangers into their spare bedrooms and weekend cottages. This was a user-behavior miracle. For Google, it was creating an exponentially better search service than anything that had existed to date. This was a technical miracle. For Uber or Instacart, it was getting people to book and pay for real-world services via websites or phones. This was a consumer-workflow miracle. For Slack, it was getting people to work like they formerly chatted with their girlfriends. This is a business-workflow miracle.”
  • “The classic sign of a shitty startup idea is that it requires at least two (or more!) miracles to succeed. This was what was wrong with ours. We had a Bible’s worth of miracles to perform:”

“As PG told us all: Have a leader! Accept that he or she is a dictator. Don’t like it? Think you can make a better captain? Then get the fuck out and find your own startup ship to run. If you think this is primitive, wait until we get to how the most successful tech companies, worth billions of dollars, choose their leadership.”

“No, every real problem in startups is a people problem, and as such they’re the hardest to solve, as they often don’t have a real solution, much less a ready software fix. Startups are experiments in group psychology. As CEO, you’re both the therapist leader, and the patient most in need of therapy.”

“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough. —Mario Andretti, Formula One driver”

“As Sun Tzu informs us, no matter how cowardly by nature, anyone fights to the death when his back is against the wall. A wise combatant always allows his opponent a way out,”

“Here is a key insight for any startup: You may think yourself a puny midget among giants when you stride out into a marketplace, and suddenly confront such a giant via litigation or direct competition. But the reality is that larger companies often have much more to fear from you than you from them.”

“In one of PG’s essays on desirable founder qualities, he had this to say about Sam: “You could parachute him into an island full of cannibals and come back in five years and he’d be the king.””

Traits for good startup founders:

  • “First, the ability to monomaniacally and obsessively focus on one thing and one thing only, at the expense of everything else in life. I lived, breathed, and shat AdGrok.”
  • “Second, the ability to take and endure endless amounts of shit. I was raised under the sadistic care of a sister ten years my senior who delighted in unleashing endless taunts and abuses.”

“Incidentally, it helps to have enemies. While love is a beautiful emotion, far more empires have been built, books written, wrongs righted, fights won, and ambitions realized out of vengeful desire to prove some critic wrong, or existential dread of some perceived enemy, than all the love in the world. Love is grand, but hate and fear last longer.”

“Murthy passed on to the oblivion he deserved. The only chapter in Silicon Valley history he’ll ever have is this one, the one I’ve written for him.”

“Walking into any meeting, you should know every goddamn thing there is to know about the other person; if you don’t, you’re failing.”

“They won’t hold it against you if you’re a no-show at their wedding, and they’ll step right over a homeless person on their way to a mindfulness yoga class. It’s a society in which all men and women live in their own self-contained bubble, unattached to traditional anchors like family or religion, and largely unperturbed by outside social forces like income inequality or the Syrian Civil War.”

“Faster, faster, faster until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death. —attributed to Hunter S. Thompson”

“He didn’t get to that Porsche by turning down all-in challenges. Neither will you, gentle reader.”

“The human need for immortality projects— those ends that dole out meaning and purpose beyond ourselves— hasn’t changed since the pyramids.”

“By itself, genius can produce original thoughts just as little as a woman by herself can bear children. Outward circumstances must come to fructify genius, and be, as it were, a father to its progeny. —Arthur Schopenhauer, “On Genius,” The Art of Literature”

“Sometimes you don’t finish a product, you merely abandon any hope of presently improving it, and out the door it goes.”

“You realize you’ve been living in a different world from most people for the past few hours, and now you’re in a world that . . . moves . . . as . . . slow . . . as . . . molasses. This is what it feels like to go from a startup to a big company.”

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. —Edward Abbey, The Journey Home”

““Three, Antonio! It’s like the movie 300. You’re Spartans, man. Spartans! You can do it.””

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