It's that time of the year when market news is slowing down and many people are focusing more on vacations than anything else.
On this episode of Industry Focus: Tech, Motley Fool analysts Dylan Lewis, Jason Moser, and David Kretzmann share some of their favorite investing reads and podcast picks to fill up the slower months of summer. From biographies about some of the biggest names in tech to podcasts about managing your finances and the ins and outs of launching a small business start-up, this episode has you covered.
A full transcript follows the video.
This video was recorded on July 7, 2017.
Dylan Lewis: Welcome to Industry Focus, the podcast that dives into a different sector of the stock market every day. It's Friday, July 7, and we're going to be talking about some summer reading and listening recommendations. I'm your host, Dylan Lewis, and I'm joined in the studio by Fool premium analysts Jason Moser and David Kretzmann. What's going on, guys?
Jason Moser: Hey.
David Kretzmann: What's going on, Dylan?
Lewis: I don't have to tell you that we're kind of in the dead point of the summer here.
Kretzmann: A little slow around here.
Moser: It's the calm before the storm.
Lewis: Yeah. Earnings will be kicking off a little bit next week, but a lot of the big tech names won't be reporting for a couple of weeks. I think at this point in the summer, people are thinking a little bit more about vacations than anything else. What do you guys have planned for this summer? Any big trips?
Kretzmann: Got a couple trips. My mom is going to be coming up, so I'll be going up to New Hampshire to see her and my grandparents, and hopefully make it out to California in August. But, in the meantime, just taking it easy at Fool HQ.
Lewis: Enjoying the lull?
Kretzmann: That's right, absolutely.
Lewis: What about you, Jason?
Moser: Yeah, I'm going to be that boring guy. We just moved at the beginning of the year to a new house, so it's going to be a lot of stuff to do around the house over the coming summer and beyond, so I have a feeling I know what I'm going to be doing, it's not going to be a lot of traveling.
Lewis: Yeah, I'm not going to be doing too much either, maybe a couple weekend trips here and there, but I'm kind of with you where I'm just going to enjoy a couple staycations, relax. I might have a move coming up sometime soon, so I have to save my energy for that.
Kretzmann: Nothing wrong with that.
Lewis: Well, with things being kind of slower, I figured we would take today's show and spend some time talking about our favorite books about the tech space, some leaders and companies that we really like and love to follow, and maybe give some of our listeners that will be taking beach vacations some recommendations to help them pass the time. Just to kick things off, David, what are some of your favorite books about tech companies or tech leaders?
Kretzmann: Well, I'll throw out a couple books from Brad Stone, the longtime writer at Bloomberg who really does some great stuff with the Decrypted podcast that Bloomberg has, and his regular columns over at Bloomberg are a really nice way to keep a pulse on what's happening in the tech world. His two books are books that probably our listeners are familiar with. The Everything Store came out a few years ago, talking about the rise of Jeff Bezos and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) up to about 2014. His most recent book that came out earlier this year is called The Upstarts, which covers the relatively young histories, but powerful histories, of Airbnb and Uber. And really, with both of those books, you could write a new chapter every month with everything that's happening with Amazon, Airbnb, and Uber. But, those books are very well-written. I'm not necessarily the best reader. I get distracted very easily, but those two books by Brad Stone, really fascinating entrepreneurial histories. I think they're entertaining and worthwhile reads for anyone interested in tech.
Lewis: Any particular nuggets about those companies from the books that you remember, or anything that really stuck out to you?
Kretzmann: Really, with Jeff Bezos and The Everything Store, just how voracious of a competitor he is, and how much he likes to disrupt himself with an Amazon. I think a really interesting quip from Amazon's history is when he put the former head of Amazon's book operations in charge of the new Kindle operation, when it was still a fledgling project, and he said, "I want you to operate as if you're trying to put your former book business out of business." That really gives you a sense of how he thinks about the business within Amazon, and I think why Amazon has so successfully gotten so big and continues to remain so innovative, it just permeates the culture. That would be one point that sticks out to me.
Lewis: I think that's the theme with a lot of these books, where you're getting the backstory of the business -- and some of these podcasts, too -- where you find out how obsessive some of these CEOs can be about their companies, and some of the early failures they had, and some of the things that maybe they didn't expect success from and wound up getting success from. I know you're also a fan of the Elon Musk biography by Ashlee Vance. I know that book is riddled with that type of stuff.
Kretzmann: Oh, yeah. Really a similar approach to Brad Stone's books. Elon Musk is obviously such a high-profile entrepreneur these days, he's someone worth following even if you're not an investor in Tesla. Yeah, that book is one that I read when I was on vacation in March, and that, again, for me, was just a quick, fascinating read, and well worth taking the time to learn more about Elon Musk and his vision for the world, and how he's using these multiple businesses, and now even more businesses that he's started since the book came out a couple years ago. Just a fascinating read.
Lewis: Yeah, I guess he'll probably need to do a volume 2 at some point.
Kretzmann: Like I said, you could really write a new chapter at least every month with these guys. It's just such a fast pace within the technology world, especially when you're talking about entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or the folks over at Uber and Airbnb, which continue to have their fair share of dramas lately.
Lewis: Yeah. I would love to see either of those companies on the publicly traded markets. But, for folks who feel the same way, you might have to settle for the backstory right now.
Kretzmann: At least for now. It looks like Uber is bracing to go public sooner than Airbnb at this point. Hopefully we'll get a chance to learn more about those companies and potentially invest in those companies within the next year or two.
Lewis: Jason, what about you? I know there's some companies in the social sphere that you like to follow, namely Twitter (NYSE:TWTR). Any books about them that you're particularly interested in?
Moser: Yeah. To me, that's a fascinating space, when you look at the direction that social media has taken us just over the past decade. It all started with Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). The Facebook Effect, which is a book by David Kirkpatrick, I think is a really great look at the history of the company, how it started, giving you an idea of the very early stages of Zuckerberg, what he was thinking as he was developing this platform back when it was thefacebook.com or whatever. You think about how quickly it went from this novel website to what it is now, a predominant mobile technology.
Lewis: They just hit 2 billion monthly active users.
Moser: Yeah. Zuckerberg, not only did he do a very good job of getting good people behind him, I think any good leader, one of their qualities is going to be getting good people on their team, and he's done a very good job of that, but also having the wherewithal to recognize the real value in this space, the strength here beyond just the scale of the business and the number of users is having that arsenal of apps, that portfolio of apps. It's not just Facebook. It's Facebook, it's Instagram, it's WhatsApp, and who else knows what it's going to be as it continues to grow up. But The Facebook Effect, the funny thing was, I left reading this book conflicted. On the one hand, it's really neat to see the profound impact, the implications of a network like this. On the other hand, it's like, I don't think I want a Facebook account, because it seems like there's a lot of shady stuff going on. We just stepped into this new realm in the 21st century where privacy takes on a much different meaning than perhaps it did, at least when I was growing up. Granted, when I graduated college the internet was literally just taking hold. But, to me, The Facebook Effect tells a great tale of what has obviously been a very successful story thus far, and I suspect it'll continue to do pretty well.
Lewis: I guess that's one of the dangers of learning how the sausage gets made. [laughs] Once you get that look behind the curtain, it's tough to go back to living normally.
Moser: Yeah. You mentioned Twitter -- I think Twitter is another important name in this space. I think it's less socially driven and more network-driven, more content-driven, perhaps, sort of a bit of a different purpose. But, if you look at what has gone on with Twitter from its days as a private start-up to today as a publicly traded company, we've had this thing under the microscope ever since it went public, Facebook as well, but, a book called Hatching Twitter, which is written by Nick Bilton, is another very good one. I think it's a great insight into this massive soap opera that was going on behind the scenes. I don't think anyone really knows about what has gone on with this company unless they've read this book. I'm not saying everything said in the book was true. I'm sure there are some embellishments here or there. But the point is, we often talk about that companies are only going to be as good as their leadership, and Twitter, to my mind, at least, up to this point, has suffered from a massive failure of leadership in virtually every capacity. Now, I do believe that since Jack Dorsey came back on, I think that's the right move. He's the co-founder of the business, and I think he's a long-term thinker that trying to implement some long-term decision making there. And what I think is really neat to follow here is, now that Biz Stone is back in there as well, I think he's trying to help develop the culture of the company, it would be easy to say, "These are a couple of the co-founders back in the game. This is really going to be good for them." And I hope it is, but let's also remember that they were a very pivotal part of the story before it went public. If you read Hatching Twitter, you realize there was a lot of infighting going on before these guys went public. So, that's a big risk there, as well. They didn't necessarily make it work the first time around. It's going to be very interesting to see if they can make it work this second time around. I'd like to think they've probably grown up a little bit since then. I think they probably know a little bit more about existing as a publicly traded company, and I think we've seen that Twitter is not necessarily going to be disrupted, as I think some thought it would have been. But, will they be able to actually turn that into a good investment story? The jury is still out there, time will tell. But, a very interesting read, to see how this thing started, and all of the infighting going on, it's just unreal.
Lewis: I would think with the experience of now running two publicly traded companies that Jack Dorsey would be able to right the ship and figure it out, and to maybe be a little bit more of a grown-up with things. He has experience on his side in that sense.
Moser: I'd like to believe. If you read interviews with Jack and you read about how he handles his day to day, he seems to have a very level head on his shoulders. I think he's done a lot of learning about himself through the years to try to become that leader, and I know he holds Steve Jobs in high regard, and he's tried to model a lot of things in his life after what Steve Jobs did. Again, he surrounds himself with people that really want to be there. And I think these are two very important companies. Facebook and Twitter are really not just social media companies. These are the media companies of the 21st century. This is where the eyeballs, the attention is going. It's on these Facebook platforms, Instagram, Twitter, and all of these apps, this mobile technology. These are the media companies of the 21st century.
Lewis: It's where people are getting their news, it's where people are getting their information. I know one other book that you wanted to touch on was Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX).
Moser: Sure. This is one where, to me, it was a bit backward-looking, because this is after all of Netflix's success and pivot to streaming. Gina Keating wrote this book, Netflixed: The Epic Battle for America's Eyeballs. Again, a very neat story of the very beginning of this company, Reed Hastings, the people that he worked with, a little bit of the infighting that went on there. Obviously, Netflix has become a major powerhouse in our media space here, another very powerful app probably on everyone's TV and phone at this point. But, a very neat story, if for nothing other than the entertainment value alone, but I'm certain you would also take a good investing lesson out of it.
Lewis: We're going to hit some of the recommendations that I have, including a couple podcasts that I like to listen to when I'm not listening to the Fool's excellent family of shows.
Of course, I could not put you guys in the hot seat and not name a book that I really enjoyed. You talked a little bit about the early days of Facebook, and someone that was involved in that was Peter Thiel. And I have to say, I'm a big fan of his Zero to One book. It's a pretty quick read. I think you can probably get through it in a half a day or something like that if you really wanted to. But, he's someone who's just a titan in Silicon Valley, and someone who is very followed. He is a founder of PayPal, he's now involved in the data analytics firm Palantir, and really this book is a rundown on his views on capitalism, philosophically, and his ideas when it comes to building a business. One quote that really stuck out to me was, "The perfect target market for a start-up is a small group of particular people concentrated in a group, but served by few or no competitors." You think about the early days of Facebook, and them starting out simply serving Harvard, and what it's grown into. There are a lot of little pieces of wisdom like that in this book that I think can be a blueprint for people who are looking to either start businesses or identify really successful traits of soon to be public or already public and disruptive companies.
Moser: Seems pretty simple, just find out what people want and give it to them. [laughs] If you do that, you should probably do well.
Lewis: Yeah, it's not hard. I don't understand. What are we doing here? [laughs]
Kretzmann: Let's start a business.
Lewis: On the podcast side, I don't know about you guys but I will highly recommend to our listeners, outside of the Foolish shows, the StartUp podcast from Gimlet, and How I Built This from NPR. I don't know if you've listened to either of those shows.
Moser: I have. How I Built This, I have, but not the other one.
Lewis: Yeah. How I Built This is an incredible show. The guy who hosts it, Guy Raz, basically just chats with founders and entrepreneurs, talks about how they started these massively popular businesses. I just listened to the episode with Tony Hsieh from Zappos recently. I think something that was really cool in that one was, he basically said, "Zappos could be an anything company, we're a customer service company that just happens to sell shoes." So, when you listen to these types of podcasts and read these types of books, what you get is this lens into management philosophy and really what guides these businesses that you may or may not be investing in. I always think that's helpful.
With the StartUp podcast, since neither of you guys have listened to it, I will evangelize to you about it. Alex Blumberg, the guy behind Gimlet Media and the podcast itself, he was at This American Life and he did some work for Planet Money, and he basically decided, "I think I can go out and build my own private podcasting company." The first season of the StartUp podcast is him documenting going about doing that. So, he winds up going on VC pitch walks, and he's talking with Chris Sacca about this business he wants to found, he's doing equity negotiations with employees, he's talking about, what is the right rate to grow at, all of these different things that you typically don't get to see with an early stage business. I think it's a very honest and candid look at how difficult it can be to start a business and get something off the ground. He had the benefit of having the podcast basically create all this buzz for Gimlet Media and it wound up being this runaway success. But, if you're like me and your kind of a media nerd and a business nerd, it's a great overlap there, so I will highly recommend that. Anything that you guys are listening to right now that you particularly enjoy?
Kretzmann: Sort of along those lines, I don't know if you've listened to This Week In Startups with Jason Calacanis. He's a really successful angel investor, he was an early investor in Uber and a bunch of other companies. Several times a week, he'll interview different entrepreneurs, VCs, investors, really people all across the board and just talk about what's going on in the start-up world. Again, a nice way to keep a pulse on what's happening there. Season 2 of Revisionist History with Malcolm Gladwell is out, that's a great podcast just for someone who thinks differently about the world. You won't necessarily agree with all of his conclusions, but he's someone who looks at the world in a fundamentally different way than just about anyone else, and for me that's always a fascinating thing to listen to. So, those are two that I've been listening to lately.
Lewis: I listened to the episode where he revisited the Toyota brake scandal. That was an incredible episode, very well done.
Kretzmann: Yeah, essentially saying that it wasn't Toyota's fault. It was actually, people, instead of slamming on the brakes in the moment where they were trying to find a brake, they ended up slamming on the gas pedal, but it still blew up into this huge scandal, which I never would have thought of.
Lewis: Yeah, Malcolm Gladwell is not shying away from controversial opinions on this podcast, I think we can say that. Jason, what about you? What are you listening to in the car, or anything like that these days?
Moser: I'm a big sucker for Freakonomics. It's always interesting. They never fail to tell you a neat story, an interesting way to look at any given situation. They pretty much don't limit themselves. I think the Freakonomics podcast is always a really good one. And then, another one, it's much in line with what we do here in regard to financial education and literacy, helping people take care of their own money, there's a podcast called Manage Your Damn Money, best podcast title ever. Ben Carter is the gentleman behind it. Ben actually came to visit us a couple weeks ago in the studio to sit in with a taping of Motley Fool Money. That's another good one. If you're looking to find something similar to the stuff that we're doing, but a little bit different, Manage Your Damn Money is a very, very good podcast to consider.
Lewis: Hot tip. Well, listeners, there you go. You should be occupied on the beach, in the car for the rest of the summer with all of those recommendations. Thank you so much for hopping on the show, guys.
Moser: Always a pleasure.
Kretzmann: Any time.
Lewis: That does it for this episode of Industry Focus. If you have any questions, or you just want to reach out and say, "Hey," you can shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet us @MFIndustryFocus. We love getting ideas for shows -- it makes my job a lot easier. If you're looking for more of our stuff, subscribe on iTunes or check out The Fool's family of shows at fool.com/podcasts.
As always, people in the program may own companies discussed on the show, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against stocks mentioned, so don't buy or sell anything based solely on what you hear. Thanks to Austin Morgan for all his work behind the glass. For David Kretzmann and Jason Moser, I'm Dylan Lewis, thanks for listening and Fool on!