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Wisdom, fast – by Shelftaught

5 must read books from a seasoned silicon valley entrepreneur

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John Girard

With a career in Silicon Valley spanning 20 years, John Girard is probably best known for Clickability, the global SaaS company he co-founded in 1999 used by news sites around the world.

Currently CEO at the sales development firm, CIENCE, John builds managed software services for fast-growth sales companies and is an expert on the intersection of product and business strategies, and the application of novel technologies to business challenges.


We caught up with the self-confessed book junkie to find out which books have helped shape his career and why…

ShelfTaught: Which book have you read recently that you wished you’d read earlier in your career as an entrepreneur?

John: Rework by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried. It lays out their philosophy on creating a sustainable and profitable business, and the reason I think it’s so important and interesting is that it runs very counter, intentionally, to the Silicon Valley narrative about creating businesses.

So whereas the traditional narrative is hyper-focussed on raising venture capital and aggressive growth at all costs, Rework is about generating self-sustaining, long-term profitable businesses. It was an important reset for me, and it’s an important starting place for anyone getting going in business.

ShelfTaught: Great, what other books would you say are required reading for start-up entrepreneurs?

John: Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross would be one. This book’s been around for a while and become a great starting point for anyone thinking about how to build outbound sales.

And the reason that’s important is, of all the sales channels that an early stage company can develop, outbound is probably the most valuable. Unlike other channels, outbound tends to scale in direct proportion to investment, and tends to have a lot of headroom. If I can generate 10 sales by investing $10,000 in outbound, I can likely generate 1000 sales by investing $1,000,000 in outbound. This is a dynamic that growth stage investors love to see – if you can successfully demonstrate the ability to turn sales and marketing dollars into satisfied customers, it’s possible to raise a very large amount of growth capital at very favourable terms.

ShelfTaught: Can you tell us about a book you’d like to read again before you die?

John: A book I keep returning to is Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s written by Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor and psychiatrist who developed a new field of psychiatry called logotherapy.

Frankl’s theory is that if you can find meaning whatever the circumstances, no matter how desperate or awful, then contentment will ensue – and in fact that contentment can’t happen in the absence of meaning. So not only is it an incredibly moving and powerful story, which includes the conditions in which he wrote it, but the message has since been borne out by the current data we have on happiness and contentment. We now know that if we can find meaning in our day-to- day work we’ll be happier – he was spot on about that.

ShelfTaught: Which book would you like your colleagues to read and why?

John: I’d give them The Greatest Salesman in the World, by Og Mandino. It’s an allegory about a boy who sells camels, and it’s thought-provoking because it takes a very interesting view of the nobility of sales – which seems a bit of an oxymoron given the bad rap that sales can have.

The core theme of the book is that, actually, one of the ways to create value in a world with capitalist dynamics is to seek out the people who will use your service or product and who will find it extraordinarily good- value and therefore economically beneficial. By doing that, you help the buyer (who gets economic value from buying), the company that sells it and the people who make it – so you’re creating wealth and creating value, and there’s a true nobility in doing that in an ethical and responsible way.

ShelfTaught: Tell me about the one book that’s changed the way you think the most, what did it change and why?

John: This is a tough one, there are so many! But one that really jumps out is a book of short stories by Jorge Luis Borges called Labyrinths, which I read when I was 18.

Labyrinths was my first exposure to anything resembling surrealism and was completely eye-opening. Back then I didn’t understand that other people also had such unusual ideas bouncing around inside their heads – or that it was possible to articulate those ideas so beautifully! I hadn’t realised it was possible to put these kinds of crazy ideas into words and try to convey them to someone else, so it created a new place in my brain that didn’t even exist before.

ShelfTaught: … and can you recommend one bonus book?

John: Well, there’s a book I read daily which I’ve been reading for eight years – it’s called The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo.

It’s a lyrically written book that talks about meditation, mindfulness, love and kindness in a daily format – it has an entry for every day of the year. I must have personally given that book away more than 50 times over the years!

Still want more? – See all John’s books

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