Billion or Bust!: Growing a Tech Company in Texas received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.
Following find an interview with author Lanham Napier.
What is the name of the book and when was it published?
Billion or Bust!: Growing a Tech Company in Texas, published May 2019, by Braun Ink as part of its Braun Collection, which is a suite of executive memoirs and biographies for business students and professionals as well as people who like business stories and biographies.
What’s the book’s first line?
“The phone rang.”
What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”.
Billion-or Bust is an action-packed memoir detailing the real activities and decisions of today’s CEOs. From 2001-2014, I led a cloud company, Rackspace, in San Antonio as CFO and president and then as CEO. During my time, we had a blast, and we grew the company from $5 million to over a billion in revenues, $5 billion in market value, and thousands of jobs. But, you know, I’m a lifelong Texan and it was really important to me to grow jobs in Texas, outside Silicon Valley, which we did.
In the book, I write about how at Rackspace, we differentiated ourselves from the rest of the tech industry by offering gold-standard customer support (Fanatical Support); how we converted an abandoned mall into new headquarters in San Antonio; how we tried to take the company public once and only succeeded the second time we tried; and then about how Microsoft, Amazon, and Google entered the industry, and changed everything, including our ability to think long-term and my relationship with Rackspace executives and its board. You’ll have to read the book to see how that worked out.
What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event?
Connecting with Becca Braun of Braun Ink. She was trying to create a suite of case studies by CEOs about their experience, for the benefit of business professionals and students. Meanwhile, I was sitting around in my backyard drinking Shiner Bocks, thinking about how I wanted to tell the story of growing Rackspace well, and authentically, and in a way that respects readers. After I left Rackspace, and I recovered from the loss of leaving Rackspace, I did think there must be business people who could take the lessons I learned and use those to do better things with and at their companies, especially outside of Silicon Valley.
That goal of telling stories that resonate with business people and students is exactly what Becca was trying to do through her company’s soon-to-be collection of business biographies and memoirs. I was psyched to collaborate with her on that. She’s also trying to launch a small business, in the Midwest, and I thought it’d be cool to be part of that and support it.
What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?
People should read this book because it’s a good story, like an action story but about a business, and it offers great mini-case studies about situations students and managers will eventually face in today’s business world. By reading the book, people can become familiar with important business topics, decisions, and issues, and maybe enough such that they will handle these types of issues and opportunities more deftly than they otherwise would have. The issues and opportunities I tell stories about in Billion or Bust! include:
- Declining relationships with other executives
- Motivating a team to deliver outstanding customer service day after day for years
- Finding, supporting, and developing tech talent in a locale that isn’t super well known for its tech talent
- Creating physical work space that honors employees
- competing against Microsoft, Google, and Amazon, which were more-than-800-lb-gorillas in our industry and which we really struggled to do
- Creating jobs that have meaning and real value to people in our community
- Engaging employees; taking a company public, including doing the road show and using a Dutch auction technique (which we tried, to our detriment)
- Compromising and communicating with your spouse regarding who will be the cash-earner and who will be the equity-person in the couple (spoiler: I was the latter)
- And more.
If they made your book into a movie, who would you like to see play the main character(s)?
Will Ferrell. I probably shouldn’t say that, but that’s who it’d be. I think life is a comedy more than a tragedy, and he embodies that.
Is this the first book you’ve written?
Yup, first and only.
What do you do for work when you’re not writing?
Trying to open up investing to small, non-wealthy investors so they can invest in companies, and using artificial intelligence to do this. I am very passionate about allowing people who aren’t seasoned investors to invest in private companies that might one day generate big investment returns. The key here is that these small, non-wealthy household investors definitely need to be able to put very small amounts of money into a business, since investing in start-ups is rewarding but also very, very risky (financially).
How much time do you generally spend on your writing?
Not much and not enough. I’m more a business person than a writer, and I know that, and I am not trying to become a writer of more than one book. I have ADHD, so I bounce around all over the place and can’t focus on writing. I’m better at face-to-face, phone calls, and those types of things. But writing a book was a huge challenge for me, and it was a huge challenge for the publishers, Braun Ink. I’m glad I did it, though. I probably won’t write another book. One and done, baby!
What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie?
There’s not much hard about it. It’s fun, but the big caveat here is that I don’t need to earn a living from writing–being a content creator is noble work, but, man, trying to make a buck in writing is hard if it’s your main source of income. I guess the primary stress point, if you can call it that (which you can’t), has been that not having been put through the paces of the writing life like so many writers have—which is a noble endeavor, by the way–I have no idea if the story I’m telling for the audience I want to read the book is any good. I don’t know if it’s a fit. I don’t know if it helps anyone, or entertains them. If I were with a big publishing house, they might know better than I do about that. Then again, I’m told by my author friends that even the big publishing houses don’t know.
Would you go traditional if a publisher came calling? If so, why?
I don’t think so. I like independent thinkers, writers, people. I competed against Amazon, Google, and Microsoft when I was CEO of Rackspace, and I know very well the impact of the big 800-lb gorillas. Look, I did well professionally and financially, so I’m not an underdog in life; as a bald white dude, I never have been an underdog. But as a business, we at Rackspace were total underdogs. I really appreciate the underdog feel, and I like people who are underdogs. So, probably not.
Is there something in particular that motivates you (fame, fortune, more sex)?
My wife motivates me every day. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I love that woman to death. And if saying that gets me more sex, then that’s pretty cool too. My kids motivate me, too! Cade and Avery are part of our next generation in the world, in America – and I think the next generation is so cool. Texas motivates me. I love Texas. Helping regular people get jobs and job security is a passion of mine, and helping them have access to investments that my friends at Harvard Business School and other places have and had really gets me up in the morning these days.
Which book do you wish you could have written?
Anything funny. It’s hard to write funny. I like funny.