Field Notes from the Climb.
Written by Irfan Khan, CEO & Founder of Circuit Clinical
Every time I’m tempted to tell another founder what they should do, I’m reminded of the adage my mentor, Dr. David Rosenbaum, lived by:
“Free advice is generally worth what you paid for it.”
With that paradox noted, I’d like to share some resources that proved useful to our Team as we built Circuit Clinical. It’s not a comprehensive list, but everything below has been helpful on the journey. If other great content has inspired or guided you, please share it in the comments.
Thanks to audiobooks, I listen to a book on startups almost every week. The habit has been a serious commitment of my time, but it’s had a huge ROI as it helped me level up faster and avoid many classic founder pitfalls. Some startup mistakes are near–universal and well documented – reading allows you to benefit from other founders’ catastrophes and successes, which is both efficient and much easier on your nerves.
Even with all that reading, I still make my share of mistakes as CEO – but they tend to be smaller in scale, more specific to our work, and easier to recognize, learn from, and adapt. When I meet founders who don’t read regularly, I am equal parts impressed (“how do they know how to do all this stuff?!”) and concerned. We would’ve been cooked years ago if I was always treating each “new” challenge as something unique to Circuit, rather than recognizing the deep structure of the problem and knowing what the best founder/CEOs have done in these situations.
So, in the hopes I can save you some time through curation, I present the mental models, content libraries, and skill builders that most impacted us as we built Circuit from whiteboards through our Series C. We’re still navigating Mt. Everest right alongside the rest of you, so what follows are just a few field notes from the climb.
Blogs & Videos:
Paul Graham’s essays are founder brainfood
“Do Things That Don’t Scale” is his all-time masterpiece and absolutely speaks to where every early–stage team lives and breathes.
YC’s Startup School
YC’s Startup School is a chance to learn from the best of the best in Startupland. YC’s content shares are proof that in the era of the internet, you are only as ignorant as you choose to be.
NFX is the startup strategy blog that will help you think deeper and better thoughts about your MVP, your product as a platform, and your defensibility. Not to mention lyric essays on network effects, VC mentalities, and the game theory of high scale. Their Founder’s Library is amazing – this site is really smart people writing for other smart people and well worth the time, energy, and yes, the headache it sometimes give you.
I admit I have a strong bias to reading/listening to books over spot content engagement, as over time they are more memorable and provide an expert framework to hang new knowledge on. This is probably just a holdover from my days in Medicine, but I’m not convinced social media shares alone can create depth and nuance of thought. They take more time, but books definitely do that to our minds.
Here are the two best books I’ve read on Product Development:
Sprint by Jake Knapp of Google Ventures
I think EVERYONE should read/listen to “Sprint” before writing their first line of code – this book teaches you how to prototype lean and when to meet your customers (hint: before you build).
Inspired by Marty Cagan – Silicon Valley Product Legend
“Inspired” is the kind of book that makes you yearn to build beautiful things that people talk to their friends and family about.
Here’s the best book I’ve read on Marketing:
Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis of GrowthHackers.com
If you’re in a conservative industry, I am convinced that nearly every concept Sean Ellis lays out would be lightning in a bottle for your startup.
This Content Pyramid blog by Gary Vaynerchuk
This Content Pyramid blog by Gary Vaynerchuk deserves an honorable mention for its ahead–of–the–curve approach to Omni Channel Marketing:
Here’s the best book I’ve read on Sales:
Traction by Gabriel Weinberg, founder of duckduckgo
This book is so practical and actionable – it’s at the heart of how we think about growth and sales.
Here are the two best books I’ve read on Culture – both from Netflix:
Powerful by Patty McCord – she created the famous Netflix Culture Deck
Circuit’s culture leans heavily on Patty McCord’s ethos of Freedom and Responsibility and in five years we’ve been named to four different Best Places to Work lists – including Inc. Magazine and Fast Company.
The “No Rules” Rules by Reed Hastings – Co-founder and CEO of Netflix
If “Powerful” is the philosophy, this book is the User’s Manual for how a CEO deploys this culture – together the two are a masterclass.
Here’s the best book on decision-making in startups – by FAR the most useful book I read in helping me survive the experience of starting and leading Circuit.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, Founder of OpsWare and Co-founder of the VC firm Andreesen Horowitz
This incredible book will lay out what’s waiting for you with “success” – more complexity, more losses, more very hard calls that will likely make very few people happy – but it also lays out how to keep your humanity, your empathy, and your sense of humor. It has to be said that the recommendation comes with a Parental Explicit Lyrics label given his fondness for starting chapters with quotes from Hip Hop legends.