Billionaire or Basement Dweller?

4 books your college grad needs to read

After all those years of hard work and sacrifice — both yours and theirs — your college-educated kid finally graduated this year. Congrats!

If you want your new grad to make a living instead of a new home in your basement, each of these four books is worth having around the house, or slipping to your college grad when he or she needs something to do this summer:

‘Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future’

by Peter Thiel

Thiel and his mates are responsible for the creation of seven billion-dollar businesses, including PayPal, Facebook, Uber, Tesla, SpaceX and YouTube. In this extraordinary book, Thiel reveals why it’s better to be a billionaire and dominate a marketplace than compete in any aspect of the marketplace.

Thiel calls companies that created something from nothing “0 to 1.” For example, PayPal offered, for the first time, a system of payment that didn’t involve cash, credit cards or checks. That’s 0 to 1 — and the kind of idea a billion-dollar business needs.

By contrast, “1 to n” refers to creating a new business in a space filled with existing businesses. Thiel distains such enterprises and suggests they’re highly unlikely to attain billion-dollar status. “1 to n” companies face competitors — and to Thiel, competition is bad. The more you compete, the more you have to lower your prices. The more competitors you have, the lower your margins will be. No fun.

Thiel just sees the world differently from the rest of us. This book is your kids’ roadmap to making the elusive first billion.

‘The Hard Thing About Hard Things’

by Ben Horowitz

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Perhaps the most enviable and glamorized position today is that of CEO or venture capitalist of a high-tech startup. But it’s not all rainbows and IPOs, according to Horowitz.

The highly respected Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor makes the critical distinction between peacetime and wartime CEOs. A peacetime CEO has lots of money in the bank, terrific profits, an expanding team and seemingly limitless markets. A wartime CEO, by contrast, faces stiff competition, diminishing profits, the necessity of laying off loyal co-workers, and other trauma.

If you want your graduate to understand exactly what it’s like to run a company in good times and bad, this book is revelatory.

‘Alibaba’s World: How a Remarkable Chinese Company Is Changing the Face of Global Business’

by Porter Erisman

Lest your graduate thinks that all the froth about technology only spills out of Silicon Valley, this book will inspire them to think globally about their careers.

Erisman went to China to make his fortune and lucked into a meeting with Jack Ma, the energetic founder of Alibaba, China’s equivalent of Amazon. Erisman was along for the ride as Alibaba went from straggler to world-beater.

One of the most entertaining moments in the book is when Erisman describes how arrogant Google came to call on then-tiny Alibaba. Google kept the Alibaba group waiting in a conference room strewn with pizza boxes, finally showed up — and then barely paid attention to anything they said. Within a few years, Alibaba owned the China market. Oops. Erisman’s humility and sense of adventure will inspire young people to expand their horizons in every sense.

‘Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth, and Change the World’

by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Creator of the X-Prize, a range of multimillion-dollar contests to solve technology or societal challenges, Diamandis shows readers how to use today’s new communication and information technologies to their best advantage — to change the world, create a profitable business, or build a platform powerful enough to solve a major world problem.

The book is a mix of practical and powerful. It shows readers how to take that ubiquitous thought, “I’ve got a great idea,” to a much more uncommon, but wildly successful, conclusion. It’s a fascinating book for idealists, capitalists and everyone in between. (Don’t want to miss ‘Abundance,’ the co-authors’ first book, either.)
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