Upscale by James Silver: BOOK REVIEW

upscaleUpscale by James Silver must have taken a long time to research and write, but that makes it one of the better reads when it comes to the ecosystem of startups and investors.

As somebody who has written widely on technology and knows the effort it takes to write an article, let alone a book on the subject, this is a seriously impressive piece of work.

The Upscale accelerator ‘powered by’ the UK’s Tech Nation wants to increase the success of startups companies and, er, upscale, the chances of investors in receiving serious returns on their capital.

There have been numerous success stories, not least FinTech company The Accountancy Cloud that has scaled considerably due to the programme, but others further down the line such as Monzo and Ometria.

However, this is a book review and not an accelerator review, but it’s difficult not to refer to the great companies that have resulted from this initiative. Silver has been granted exclusive access to the programme and he speaks to many of the UK’s successful entrepreneurs.

These include Saul Klein, Brent Hoberman, Wendy Tan White, Suranga Chandratillake and many others. If these names mean nothing to you, then this probably isn’t the book for you. However, if they do, you will love their words and inspiration.

Written by founders for founders, Upscale is the type of book everybody can learn from whether that is investing, scaling, marketing or making the right decision when that market turns in another direction.

There are few platitudes in this book, just smart advice from smart people who have been through the mill, have been shredded by the mill but have come out spotless and cleansed.

I’m not a fan of business books, especially when allied with a commercial venture, but I’ll make an exception in this case. Well-researched, very well-written and extremely topical. Buy it.

BOOK REVIEW – Chasing Black Unicorns by Marek Zmysłowski

Marek Zmysłowski is an amazing entrepreneur who has written a real-life thriller based on his career in Poland and, most intriguingly, Africa.

Zmysłowski

I have met Marek Zmysłowski twice in Africa and, more recently, in London. The nights we had in Johannesburg and Lagos were legendary, but a gentleman never tells.

He is a Polish firebrand and whirlwind, driven by entrepreneurial zeal and loves life almost as much as I loved his book, Chasing Black Unicorns.

They say that there is a book inside every journalist… and that’s where it should stay. I would also say that there’s a book inside every entrepreneur and that’s where it should be buried, but not in this case.

This story is more like a Robert Ludlum African-based thriller and it rolls and rolls like an exciting rollercoaster.

It begins slowly with a young Zmysłowsk dreaming of big things in a small Polish town. His ambition knows no bounds as he chases the zloty and dollar by working in finance and, memorably, in the funeral business. He spends what he earns and he loves spending as his internet pioneering makes him a Polish player.

Then an opportunity arises with Rocket Internet to set up the ‘African equivalent of Expedia’ in Nigeria. Zmysłowsk takes up the challenge and heads to Lagos and in the next couple of years does the almost-impossible in doing exactly that.

Then the problems begin. Agent provocateurs, dissembling investors, strategies-from-above and all of the above magnified by the chaos of Nigeria mean trouble for Zmysłowsk. Not only is he ousted from the business he built up, but his new venture is seen as a threat.

Before he knows it, he is on Interpol’s most wanted list and endures prison after being arrested at Warsaw airport expecting to be extradited to Nigeria.

I won’t spoil the ending because there is much to read and admire here. His writing is crisp and he never loses faith even when the Gods seem out to screw him over. His book is a hell of a ride, I recommend you join him. A really excellent story.

BOOK REVIEW: The Emoji Revolution by Philip Sergeant

Emoji are part of today’s language and this book explains them wonderfully.

emoji

I promise I will not use emoji to illustrate this article. I promise I will not use emoji to illustrate this article…

… but it’s not going to be easy.

This really is a wonderful book, a fantastic guide and a fascinating exploration of language, gesture and how we call communicate.

There are those who think emoji are symbols that children use, but their importance stretches out in the world and probably as far back as cavedwellers who used to like writing on walls.

Like many, I use these strange symbols and I find myself doing that more often as social networks begin to proliferate, but I usually use the same ones without any real idea what I’m trying to say. After reading this book, I now know how much detail and subtlety is needed when using them.

On first look, I didn’t think I’d feel this way. The cover was underwhelming, the pages were as shiny as the heaviest of academic books and the text was, bizarrely, unillustrated apart from black-and-white emoji. I expected a stodgy read.

My experience was the polar opposite. Coming in at just under 200 pages, the book is not a quick read, but the information therein is delivered with aplomb, beautifully written and full of old and future knowledge.

From the weird control of the 12 Western people who sit on the board of the Unicode Foundation to Marcel Duchamp to Moore’s Law to the etymology of obscure words such as ‘snollygoster’, this is a work that loves words as well as symbols.

As a person who loves books and words, I learnt more here than I ever would in three Malcolm Gladwell novellas and with enough emoji knowledge to hold my own at a dinner party… or children’s tea party.

After years of reviewing books, this was the greatest surprise of them all and if you were wondering what snollygoster meant, it was an early 20th Century word, favoured by Harry Truman, describing a shrewd, but dishonest person, especially one involved in politics.

Sound familiar? Perhaps we could bring it back… and without an emoji in sight.

BOOK REVIEW – Civilized To Death – Christopher Ryan

Civilized (To Death) may be spelt with a ‘z’ and not the correct ‘s’, but this intriguing book makes up for it.

civilized

Civilized To Death will not be published until October 1st, but the wait will be worth it. This book is smart, timely and well-written.

Christopher Ryan is a psychologist and author who was previously the co-author of the New York Times best-selling book Sex At Dawn.

I read the book in three sessions and while it did preach to the converted and I naturally had writer-envy while digesting it, there is a lot here.

Not only to ‘enjoy’, but also to remember, not least Ryan’s obvious love for when foraging was the world we were… and seemingly all the better for it.

Unfortunately, my relationship with UK foragers is difficult after overhearing a conversation last year at the very entitled Port Eliot festival and a very entitled (and clearly) wealthy woman talking about her upcoming foraging weekend, but even so I learnt a lot of things about this type of civiliSation.

Civilized To Death is scrupulous and researched in a way that only journalists know how to and repeats what most of the good ones know… we are going to hell in a fucking handcart unless we change all of our habits. Ryan seems to think we can only do this by dissolving civiliSation.

Good luck with that one, mate, but he may have a point. It was Albert Einstein who said he did not know how World War III would be won, but he knew how World War IV would be won… and that would be with sticks and stones.

That world will probably come with foraging, and as long as there’s not too much radiation hanging around and I can still find a decent Porn Star Martini, then I’m there with Ryan. I liked Civilisation To Death, but please, next time, spell it with an ‘s’.

BOOK REVIEW: Lifescale by Brian Solis

Lifescale (How to life a more creative, productive and happy life) is a life-affirming and fabulous read by a great writer and friend.

Lifescale
The first to be said about this book is that it is a very, very heavy book and by that, I mean it’s heavy by weight, not by content. I have never read a hardback that is so heavy to tote around, but that is the only criticism I can make from this gloriously upbeat book.

The content is light and pithy, fun and important. I read it while on a tour of NE England, channelling George Orwell on the road to Scarborough in 2019, not Wigan Pier in the 1930s. These were not glamorous locations, not least the Grimsby hotel where I finished Lifescale.

I also have a disclaimer to make because the author Brian Solis is a great friend of mine and somebody who I meet regularly on the global speaking circuit. We met three years ago in Beirut when I interviewed Steve Wozniak and we went drinking afterwards in a huge amphitheatre; truly glorious days.

But I had never know what all the fuss was about. Whenever I’ve put pictures up on social media of Brian and I on stage or at events together, so many of my friends in the business express amazement that I know Brian. To me, he’s just a great bloke, not any type of hero or visionary… or anything like that.

However, now that I’ve finally read one of his books, I DO see what all the fuss is about. He has the greatest knack of sharing information that not only increases the reader’s knowledge, but is done in such a way that it is seamless from page to brain.

He is smart with quotations, images and displays, the prose is as fresh as poetry and, most importantly, he makes the reader feel that they are listening to a friend, somebody who really has their interests at heart.

This truly is a feel-good book, even for an old cynic such as me. I implore you to buy or download it, but if you’re feeling a little weak in the upper arm, perhaps one to download. This book is light, not heavy… no need to carry the load. Recommended.