Thursday, May 14, 2015

Science fiction and predicting the future | Ramez Naam interview


“Science fiction is really important. But it’s not important because it is right – because it is almost never right. Science fiction is important because it makes us think deeply about what might be.” 
-Seth Godin

What role does human imagination play in shaping the world we live in? How can science fiction help us to wrestle with the issues raised by new technological advances? Can crafting visions of possible futures enable us to better navigate the present?

Few people are more qualified to answer these questions than Ramez Naam. Ramez is the author of the bestselling Nexus Trilogy, an ambitious technothriller series that deftly juggles themes ranging from transhumanism to geopolitics. I'm a huge fan of Ramez's novels and Apex, the third and final book, just launched. Ramez is also a veteran technologist and helped build blue chip products like Internet Explorer and Outlook.

We recorded this interview a few months ago and I'm excited to share it now to coincide with Apex's release. If you like the Uncommon Stock Trilogy, you'll definitely appreciate the world Ramez has envisioned. Here are a few of the questions we tackle:

1. What is the value of science fiction? How does it impact people’s lives?

2. How do you imagine the future in which your books take place?

3. What’s the biggest mistake people make when they think about the future of technology?

4. Have you discovered any counter-intuitive similarities/differences in your career at Microsoft and now as an author?

5. You write both fiction and non-fiction, is there tension there? Do your readers cross over? What’s similar/different about the writing/publishing/marketing process?

6. What's your creative process like behind-the-scenes? Any tips for new writers/artists working to build an audience and make a living?

7. What are the best books you’ve read recently?

Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

What it feels like to finish writing a trilogy

Yesterday I sent the rough draft of my third novel, Uncommon Stock: Exit Strategy, to my editor and first cohort of beta readers. Exit Strategy is the final book in the Uncommon Stock Trilogy which follows a college student who drops out of college to launch a tech startup and gets sucked into an international money laundering conspiracy along the way.

Typing "The End" was a powerful moment of catharsis for me. Obviously there are mountains of work ahead and tides of red ink to wade through before the final version sees the light of day (it will launch in Summer 2015). Nevertheless, getting the rough draft out the the door is a big milestone made more so because it's the ultimate chapter of a three book narrative arc.

I've been living and breathing Mara, James, and all the other characters since I started writing the series in fall of 2012. The themes, settings, and plot twists distilled into an alternate reality in my head. The fabric of the story is always hanging out in the background, skirting the edges of my thoughts and populating my daydreams.

Do you know that feeling when a song gravitates towards its final note? How you intuitively know what the last chord will be even before it's played? That elusive quality of coming full circle hit me when I finished drafting the final scene.

It was quickly followed by anxiety. What if the ending isn't good enough? What if readers are left frustrated and wanting more? What if I'm overlooking a gaping hole in the story or not doing the characters justice? Paranoia is the constant companion of any creative act. I work hard to banish it by just trying to get everything out on paper before starting to edit and optimize. But that evil little elf is never far away.

After getting paranoia back on its leash, I discovered this incredible feeling of lightness. Stories have momentum. Narrative arcs demand satisfaction. Creative people are more like art's slaves than its masters. Ever since 2012, I had been working to complete an unfinished sentence. Having finally hit that last full stop, the Uncommon Stock Trilogy was now an entity in itself, apart from me. It can go off and do whatever it wants now, and so can I. What I want to do is start a new story. I'm not sure about the details yet but I think fans of the trilogy will like it.

Books are slow dances. They're an intimate journey that the reader and writer take together. Stories don't happen on paper. The words are just hints and guides. The real action is in the reader's imagination, that all powerful theater of mind. With help from the many expert hands required to produce the final version, I hope that Exit Strategy will mature into a conclusion that makes fans stay up all night turning pages, think, feel, and reflect.

Now, please excuse me. I'm going to go open a beer...

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Anatomy of a book launch

Uncommon Stock: Power Play, my second novel, launched on December 3rd, 2014 from FG Press. I've tried to capture some of the results from our launch efforts below to share with fans and provide insight to other authors. I continue to be amazed by the outpouring of reader support for the series. All of our success so far has come from grassroots word-of-mouth!


Highlight reel:


Uncommon Stock: Power Play currently has a 5 star average rating on a base of 42 Amazon reviews. It was featured in Amazon's "Hot New Releases" list and debuted in the top 100 in its category.

Book Review: Uncommon Stock, Power Play. The infamous Jeremy Shure pens the first review for Huffington Post Books.

A ridiculously bad idea. We serialized all of Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0 and published it in ten parts on Medium. To my knowledge, this was the first novel to ever be published this way.

Interview with the Elusive Mozaik Founder Mara Winkel. Industry blog Tech Cocktail runs an exclusive "real" interview with the protagonist of the Uncommon Series, Mara Winkel. This complemented the "real" website we built for her fictional startup, her "real" Twitter profile, and her "real" Series B investment from Foundry Group last April Fool's Day.

We ran a short giveaway of Uncommon Stock: Version 1.0 in partnership with Startup Books, Book Gorilla, and others to coincide with Power Play's release. We hit #1 in our category on Amazon during the giveaway.


Reviews:


The Uncommon Eliot Peper. Bestselling science fiction author William Hertling gives his review. I'm a huge fan of Will's books so this meant a lot to me.

Book Short: Internet Fiction, part II. Return Path CEO Matt Blumberg shares his perspective as a veteran venture-backed entrepreneur. Matt wrote Startup CEO and knows more about building companies than anyone.

This Page Turner Turned a Page in Me. Franco Faraudo writes how the story made him think even while it kept him entertained.

The Rise of Startup Fiction. Ian Eck predicts the rise of a new genre pioneered by the Uncommon Series.

Entrepreneurial Lessons in Fiction. David Nikel publishes a review on Technoport all the way from Norway.

Book Review: Uncommon Stock. Aanarav Sareen calls the book a must-read for startup founders.

Book Review - Uncommon Stock: Power Play. Techstars Ventures' Partner Ari Newman shares his perspective on the story.

Book Review: Uncommon Stock Series by Eliot Peper. Boulder entrepreneur Sarah Brown gives an inside view as a woman CEO based in Boulder.

Uncommon Stock: Power Play by Eliot Peper. Eric Walker shares his two cents on the Uncommon Series.

An enterprising early reader even posted the book to Product Hunt:


Interviews:


Eliot Peper's New Startup Thriller: Uncommon Stock, Power Play. Serial tech entrepreneur Lucas Carlson digs deep into the backstory behind the book.

Disrupting the Publishing Industry. Michael Sacca picks my brain about how technology is changing the business of books for the popular Rocketship Podcast.

Startup thriller Uncommon Stock: Power Play is written by an entrepreneur for entrepreneurs. Startup community organization, Built In Colorado, asks me some great behind-the-scenes questions.

How You Should Be Launching Your Books in 2015. I give the inside scoop on what I've learned about being an author to the founders of Reedsy in this interview.

Optimizing For Discomfort. Jon Nastor, host of top entrepreneurship podcast Hack The Entrepreneur, interviews me about perspectives on life and business building.

The Emotional Impacts of Entrepreneurship. Fred Williams asks me about what's inside the hearts of entrepreneurs on his Breaking Biz podcast.

Broadswords, hot tubs, and giant killer robots. Leading VC Brad Feld and I experiment with a Twitter interview.

Uncommon Stock. AuthorMBA's Matt Gartland grills me on how to launch a book like a startup launches a product.


Other fun stuff:


Eliot Peper's Uncommon Stock: Power Play is here! Dave Heal, my editor and friend at FG Press, shares the publisher's perspective and reveals that I'm a *difficult* author.

Behind-the-Scenes of cover design. Kevin Kane, FG Press's indefatigable designer, describes the ridiculously cool efforts they made to create such a beautiful cover (see above photo).

A Heretical Holiday Gift. We partnered with serial entrepreneur Pascal Finnette to share the story with his fans and readers.

Gifts Made with Passion. Passion Co CEO Jessica Semaan included the book in her 2014 holiday gift guide.

A View from the Crossroads: an interview with Ricardo Fayet of Reedsy. Reedsy CEO Ricardo Fayet names Uncommon Stock his standout book of 2014.

My 34 Favorite Books of 2014. Entrepreneur and author Lucas Carlson includes both Version 1.0 and Power Play in his top books from last year.

Books on the beach. Arnold Waldstein recommends Power Play for waterfront reading.

Fiction books I've read in 2014. Alan Mendelevich recommends the books for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Boulder startup PivotDesk recommended the series in their holiday OOO email autoresponder.

Friends and readers initiated a social media maelstrom around the launch. Everyone from college buddies to leading CEOs and bestselling authors got in on the action. Check out one of my favorite moments:


Events:


The Tech & Startup Mixer asked me to lead a panel with the inestimable Eric Schweikardt (CEO Modular Robotics), Jessica Semaan (CEO The Passion Co.), Cammy Houser (Cofounder Given Goods), and Ryan Orbuch (Founder Basil, Designer Finish).

We partnered with TechCrunch to share Version 1.0 with attendees at their Disrupt SF event.

San Diego startup accelerator EvoNexus invited me to do a talk on storytelling for startups. They also gave copies of Version 1.0 to all of their resident founders. Techstars bought a site license to the book and made it a permanent part of the package they distribute to new founders.

I joined fellow startup fiction author Michelle Miller to in a salon-style dialogue about following you passion.

The JAAMM Festival had me give a talk on startup life at Galvanize in Denver. While in Colorado, I visited FG Press and we recorded a series of videos about the Power Play production process.

The School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at UC San Diego (where I went to grad school) invited me to sit on a panel of alumni entrepreneurs. I'll also be doing talks at a few business schools later this year.

I was a guest on two Silicon Valley talk radio shows.


Blurbs:


"I read Uncommon Stock: Power Play in one sitting. Actually, three sittings because I needed bathroom breaks, diaper changes, and coffee. Shady venture capitalists? Desperate founders? World-changing technology? The entrepreneurial roller coaster threw flaws into sharp relief and left no character's life untouched. I highly recommend it."
-Huffington Post Books

"The perfect book for anyone who wants a thrill ride through the world of tech startups." 
-David Cohen, Founder and Managing Partner at Techstars 

"A Michael Crichton style page-turner."
-Franco Faraudo, angel investor

"If you liked the first one, then this is a no brainer - buy it!"
-Jason Mendelson, co-founder and Managing Director at Foundry Group

"Everyone's favorite iron-willed, iron-bodied, rock-climbing startup CEO is back. Only this time she has a gun holstered underneath her blouse."
-Ian Eck, freelance writer

"It's rare that a sequel really ratchets up the story and takes the things you loved about the first book to a whole new level. Power Play does so brilliantly!"
-Josh Anon, founder and CEO at Visioneer Studios

"Must read. But be prepared to stay awake until finished. Eliot's first book was a one-session page-turner, now this second installment is, if anything, even better. Somebody should pick up the rights and turn this into a House of Cards style series."
-Keith Teare, founder at Chat Center, Partner at Archimedes Labs, co-founder at TechCrunch


Take aways:


I've learned a few things from the Power Play launch:

  • Launches are exciting but real success comes when stories resonate with readers over time. 
  • Improving someone's life is always more powerful than increasing the volume.
  • I only want to cultivate long-term friendships, not transactional relationships.
  • Word-of-mouth recommendations are the way that good books find new readers.
  • The most important thing I can do is write my next story.

Authors write alone, but books succeed only with the helping hands of friends and readers. I owe you all this and so much more. To summarize:



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Friday, January 30, 2015

Broadswords, hot tubs, and giant killer robots

Leading venture capitalist Brad Feld gets real on the future of finance, defeating bad guys, and Foundry Group's investment in Mozaik.










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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What's the most important trend nobody is paying attention to?

Welcome to the Good Question Series where I ask the most interesting people I know a single question that they are uniquely qualified to answer. It's interview haiku, short and thought provoking. I'm out to prove that brevity and depth can coexist.



Marc Andreesen is the co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, a leading venture capital firm. He also co-founded Opsware and Netscape and sits on the board of Hewlett-Packard, Facebook, eBay, and several other private companies.


Join the 700+ friends and readers in my Inner Circle newsletter to get the inside scoop and stay in touch. I’ll hook you up with my new books, recommendations, insights, and adventures.



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What's the hardest part of raising a seed round?

Welcome to the Good Question Series where I ask the most interesting people I know a single question that they are uniquely qualified to answer. It's interview haiku, short and thought provoking. I'm out to prove that brevity and depth can coexist.

The hardest part of raising a seed round is aligning serendipity, investor education, and timing.

Whether or not you're in Silicon Valley, just getting in front of active investors is challenging. Cold emails are rarely the ticket, so I've had to become a professional networker in order to gain access to capital. For angel or institutional investors who aren't professional venture capitalists, ensuring they understand seed investment structure and the dynamics of early stage investing can be challenging and time consuming. All investors look to their own experience when making investment decisions. If an angel only has experience with other areas like real estate or biotech, you can expect to spend hours with them explaining how everything works. Confusion over standard parts of a startup term sheet can kill a deal as easily as trepidation over the company or product in question. Just like anything else in life, timing is everything. It's always better to raise capital when you don't need it and strike while the iron is hot to ensure you're adequately capitalized in the face of future uncertainty.


Stefan Martinovic is the Co-Founder and CEO of Create, a real estate data platform for investors and the construction industry. Like SimCity for the real world, Create is built around an immersive 3D map of the entire city that is packed with building and property data including structural, ownership, residential and commercial market, construction cost, tenant, financing, transit, zoning, city planning, environmental, and demographic data sets which are constantly updated through live feeds from 3rd party partners.  


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Friday, January 16, 2015

What's wrong with the Internet?

Welcome to the Good Question Series where I ask the most interesting people I know a single question that they are uniquely qualified to answer. It's interview haiku, short and thought provoking. I'm out to prove that brevity and depth can coexist.

The Internet is not the answer.

Firstly, it is compounding the already gaping inequalities between rich and poor and contributing to the hollowing out of the middle, both in cultural and economic terms. Secondly, it is undermining many of the jobs of the industrial economy without offering equivalently secure or viable jobs in the digital economy. And thirdly, it has created a surveillance economy in which we, its users, have been packaged up as the data product.


Andrew Keen is the author of The Internet Is Not the Answer, Digital Vertigo, and The Cult of the Amateur. He's the executive director of the Silicon Valley salon FutureCast and a columnist for CNN. He's a provocateur to the core and will disagree with you on anything.


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