Pictured left: Uncommon Stock: Power Play; Eliot Peper's second book. The first book in the series, Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0, is free on Amazon December 4-5.
Eliot Peper may be pioneering a new genre. Despite all the news and non-fiction books written about the tech startup world, few authors have dared to take on tech culture within a fictional book. As such Peper, who is now on his second book about entrepreneurship, is well ahead of the pack.
Peper’s second book Uncommon Stock: Power Play came out Dec. 3rd and picks up with entrepreneur Mara Winkel not far from where she left off in his first book Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0. Winkel is a CU college student who drops out to co-found a tech startup in Boulder with her best friend. Their company, Mozaik, develops software that uses algorithms to find fraudulent irregularities in bank data. However, their work might be a little too good, for just as Mara and her team are getting going, they are caught in a money laundering conspiracy at the heart of a large international bank. Danger, dysfunction and crooked venture capitalists pull the story forward as Winkel and her team fight for their company’s survival and, perhaps, their very lives.
Published by FG Press, the publishing arm of Boulder-based Venture Capital firm Foundry Group, Uncommon Stock: Power Play is a book about Colorado tech entrepreneurs by Colorado tech entrepreneurs. As it is so close to home and is one of the first in this genre we thought it was important to speak with its author to learn more about the book and what inspired him to write it.
The startup world is often thought of in overly positive terms, but the book’s characters face intrigue, failure and dysfunction. Why is it important that we see this side of the startup world?
Companies big and small put on a good public face. Tech media and the blogosphere are chock full of top ten lists, rosy profiles, and upbeat interviews. The reality is that life inside the sausage factory is often confusing, painful, and full of angst. Starting a company is an endeavor that requires great sacrifice, and I've never known sacrifice to be easy.
Fiction is a very special medium for engaging with the human problems that are so central to startup life. Instead of canned "lessons-learned" you actually get to experience the roller coaster alongside the characters. The story gives you a window into their lives, hearts, and minds. What I find inspiring in fiction and in real life is not sterile success, but people digging deep within themselves to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Does that come from real-life experience?
Hah! You bet. I've been a founder and early employee at multiple startups. I worked as an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at T2 Venture Capital accelerating their portfolio companies. When I'm not hacking away at my next novel, I work with entrepreneurs and investors to build new technology businesses. I've failed more times than I can remember. I've occasionally succeeded. Along the way I've experienced quite a bit of the human drama inside the insular world of startups and venture investing. I've seen friends get acquired, others get investigated by the FBI, and countless relationships forged and broken. It's a wonderful world full of amazing, flawed people.
Lawyers have John Grisham and spies have John le Carre, why do you think it was time entrepreneurs had a fictional novel?
The startup world is such a rich canvas: big bets, bigger personalities, world changing technology, expensive craft-roasted coffee. What could be better? Seriously though, the emotional texture of life in startups is simply a perfect setting for adventure. I wanted to read a startup thriller. When I couldn't find one to read, I finally decided, "Screw it, I'll write one." That's how this whole thing got started.
You previously were an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at T2 Venture Capital. In what ways did authoring a book require similar skills to that work? In what ways different skills?
I've always sought out discomfort. I'm happiest getting off a plane in a new country where I don't speak the language. Working as an EIR for T2 Venture Capital gave me the opportunity to do that every day. I'd dive into a new problem one of our portfolio companies was tackling. I'd immerse myself in a new market to evaluate an investment. I'd scramble to put our fires when they inevitably erupted.
Being an author is very similar. My best writing comes when I pour myself into the process completely. The more emotionally invested I am in the story, the more resonance it ends up having for readers. The more scared I feel when I hit "Publish," the better the results. I spend more time in Word then Excel, but in the end it all comes back to one thing: delighting customers (or, in this case, readers!).
It seems more than other professions, writing has become a past-time for many entrepreneurs in the forms of blogs, op-eds, and books. Why do think that is so?
Writing and entrepreneurship have a lot in common. They both require relentless creativity, bullheaded execution, and a flagrant disregard for putting everything on the line. The best entrepreneurs are also master storytellers. How else do you think they recruit talent, close investors, woo partners, inspire teams, and attract customers? At the very beginning, the only thing you have is a story. I'm thrilled that so many entrepreneurs are starting to share their own journeys.
You’ve now written two books about entrepreneurs, should we expect a third? If so, what do you think the premise will be?
Absolutely. The Uncommon Series is a trilogy and I'm already working on book three. We're planning on a Summer 2015 release. I don't want to spoil anything, but I can tell you that Mara and Mozaik are in more trouble than ever as they try to build the hottest new tech company in the country and simultaneously unravel an international conspiracy that haunts their every step.
The first book in Eliot Peper's series, UnCommon Stock: Version 1.0, is free on Amazon December 4-5, 2014
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