This is yet another tongue-in-cheeky business guide from the trio that brought you the "The 100 Best Companies to Work For In America" and "Everybody's Business: An Almanac," two very witty -- and very successful -- books.
Like so much pop journalism nowadays, these books seem more assembled than written, but such a clever balance is struck between whimsy, fact and anecdote that they are a genuinely smooth read.
"The Computer Entrepreneurs" -- with the subtitle shrieking "Who's Making It Big and How in America's Upstart Industry" -- hustles true to form. The 481 pages are stuffed with 65 bright and quickie profiles of individuals/entrepreneurs/characters who qualify as movers and shakers in the breakneck world of personal computerdom. The tone is appropriately smart-alecky, and little nuggets of information -- such as each profilee's mode of personal transportation and first dollar earned -- make the book a tasty data snack.
In keeping with the world-as-a-series-of-lists reportage, the book has all kinds of Trivial Pursuits data: a list of "Spiritual Pursuits" for personal computer moguls (did you know, for example, that Sat Tara Singh Khalsa of Chicago-based Kriya Systems was influenced by the Sikh faith, or that Lotus founder Mitch Kapor was into Transcendental Meditation? Of course you didn't); a list of "high-tech layoffs" in July 1984; as well as a list of what people really want to know: How wealthy can a computernik be? FYI, K. Philip Hwang, founder of Televideo Systems, had a paper worth of $610 million the morning after his company went public. Andrew Kay of Kaypro was worth $245 million.
Despite a taste for fast-food journalism that makes USA Today seem like The New York Times, the profiles themselves are actually quite entertaining. Piled together one after the other, you have one of the neatest bits of sociology on the subculture of the computer industry.
The bios cover everyone from Atari founder Nolan Bushnell to Commodore founder Jack Tramiel to Apple Computer cofounder Steve Jobs to Regis McKenna-founder Regis McKenna (hey, some computer industry people are less modest than others). McKenna is a press relations hotshot whose major claim to fame was helping guide Apple on its meteoric rise through corporate America.
Each profile seems to be culled from what must be one of the most comprehensive clipping services in the United States (and, to their credit, the authors cite the magazines they excerpt from), but, with the exception of a few gushers, they are all tight, to the point and about as revealing as you can get in a couple of thousand words.
For example, Apple founder Steve Jobs' "La Pomme, c'est moi" arrogance is neatly captured in a quote from one former employe who said that Jobs "would have made an excellent King of France."
Similarly, the profile of Harvard MBA-encrusted Fred Gibbons, a cofounder of the fairly successful Software Publishing Corp., offers a nice view of how a structured and disciplined approach to entrepreneurialism can pay off.
The venture capitalists and the top computer magazine publishers and computer-show mavens are in here as well. The result is a work that turns out to be comprehensive enough to claim that it's a solid portrait of today's industry. But unlike a classical portrait with a strong theme and a sweeping brush, it's more like an impressionist painting with each individual profile and list adding up to a conceptual picture of an industry that, for all its weirdness, is one of the most exciting in the history of commerce.
Of course, in an industry that moves as fast as this one, parts of the book will soon be out of date. Still, you can't tell the players without a scorecard and, like "The 100 Best Companies To Work For. . . ." and "Everybody's Business," this book certainly has listed the players.
At $19.95, this a stiff price for a scorecard. On the other hand, if you're interested in how many nuts and flakes you can find making their living off silicon chips, it's a fun buy. There's a lot in this book. Browse through it the next time you're in a bookstore. You'll know immediately whether you'll want to buy it.