February 2011 Archive

To Russia In Russian With Love

Good news! According to my publishers we have the first translation deal for Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky. It's Russian, which is ironic because that's the only BRIC country I didn't write about in the book. Doh.

I would like to go to Russia sometime in the next year, maybe I can do an event when the book comes out in Russian. Hopefully Chinese and Portuguese aren't too far behind!

More Reviews: A Trio of Nice Words

More good reviews for "Brilliant Crazy Cocky" are coming in. The most stunning may have been this simple Tweet from Rafat Ali-- a blogger who has spent years writing some of the most cruel, vitriolic things about my work. If Ali had anything nice to say about this book, it must be good. Thanks, dude.

I woke up this morning to two more exciting mentions. Milo Yiannopoulos of the Telegraph wrote an amazing piece that praises the book at the same time it takes down a lot of tech journalism in the world today. (In defense of those reporters, most don't get to do this kind of reporting, because it's insanely expensive. If my husband and I hadn't invested most of our savings in the book, one publisher hadn't been crazy enough to agree to publish it and the Kauffman Foundation hadn't given me a generous grant, I wouldn't have been able to either.) A snippet:

"The tech blogosphere, so goes the current thinking, is descending into an interminable racket characterised by ridiculous fights over preposterous non-stories.

Um, no. Because, on the other side of the divide, there are some who still believe that the readers deserve better. Who think that even though we're writing about the internet, we should still make an effort to be entertaining and erudite. Who do their homework, value their readers and - if you'll forgive the expression - "add value". It might take a little longer to find them - and there is no single publication of consistently good quality in this regard - but they are out there.

Sarah Lacy is one of those writers. She recently wrote the best post on TechCrunch for months, a fascinating survey of Silicon Valley "mafias", and her latest book, Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky, is the result of forty weeks travelling around Asia, Africa and South America, conducting an exhaustive survey of entrepreneurialism in emerging economies.

The results are gripping: a fabulous paean to hard-core entrepreneurial spirit, the sort of lunacy, hubris and naked ambition that characterises the Valley, that Lacy so obviously admires and that the entrepreneurs she discovers on her travels have by the bucketload. Whether she's stabbing virtual bunnies in China or exploring the consequences of aid for African start-ups, Lacy always has an eye out for courageous stories of those mildly insane people who want to reshape the world around them."

Equally as exciting was some East Coast Media love. I made this week's Approval Matrix for New York Magazine, between "highbrow" and "brilliant." Thank God I'm across the matrix from Heidi Montag and Charlie Sheen. I'm really grateful for all of the kind words.

Obesessing Over the Poor? Yeah, I'm OK Being Accused of That.

A week ago, Vivek Wadhwa wrote up this review for Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which focuses on the policy implications for the book. A snippet:

"In her new book, Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky: How the Top 1% of Entrepreneurs Profit from Global Chaos, former BusinessWeek staff writer Sarah Lacy shows how similar entrepreneurs in Brazil, Indonesia, and Rwanda are to their kin in India, China, and Silicon Valley. She vividly illustrates how the American Dream has become America's most significant cultural export. Each of these countries faces different obstacles and is taking a different path to economic success. But in every case, it is the entrepreneurs who are propelling their nations forward."

I got to know Vivek during the reporting of this book and like him a lot. We agree on issues like immigration, but fervently disagree on most other things. I even convinced him to start writing guest posts for TechCrunch. Our audience loves them and hates them, but they always drive traffic.

I was grateful for his amazing review and kind words to me about the book, but I was a little taken aback that he wrote this about the book in his weekly newsletter days later:

"In her book, Sarah is overly critical about India. She mocks the Silicon Valley execs who told her that India “is getting better every year”; Indians who take pride in their country; and even the U.S. government for wanting “India to be a super-power…badly”. She obsesses over India’s slums, poverty, and pollution.

I was with Sarah on her first trip to India and witnessed her state of shock on landing in New Delhi; her delight at riding camels and elephants in Jaipur; and amazement with Naren Bakshi’s 10,000 sq. foot vacation residence in Jaipur (Naren is a good friend of mine). That’s India. A country of extremes."

I know Vivek read the book quickly to get the review out, but I was shocked that anyone would think I "mock" anyone in the book, least of all people who showed me their country. I do try to make sense of the clear disconnect between people saying things have gotten better, who also complain bitterly about India's problems. And this isn't subjective. I cite hard statistics that show the quality of life across most metrics in India is improving at just 1% per year, while more than 2/3 of the country lives in villages with no access to basic roads, water or electricity and less than 1 million people-- out of $1.1 billion-- benefit from high paid R&D and call center jobs.

Those are just facts, Vivek, I didn't make them up. And Indians and India's American boosters have to face them if India is going to unlock the economic potential of its huge population. Just talking up the good of India would have been highly dishonest as a reporter and wouldn't help the entrepreneurs trying to create real change in the country.

Vivek was with me for a few days, but he didn't witness anything of my "state of shock" because my time with Vivek was spent mostly with the privaledged, in nice restaurants and in cars with drivers-- not how I normally travel by any stretch. It was later in that trip, once we'd parted ways, and on subsequent trips to India that I spent time in villages and slums, taking rickshaws not chauffered cars to meetings.

Spending time with people in villages who feel cut off from their country because of the non-existant infrastructure and spending time with people in urban slums who are pushed to the point of suicide because of a lack of safety net was eye-opening. Spending time with entrepreneurs like Ravi Ghate and Rajiv Mehrotra who have devoted their lives and in some cases their fortunes to helping those people were some of the most inspiring days I spent on the road, and I think some of the most inspiring passages of the book. Sweeping their mission under the rug in a mantle of blind patriotism disrespects what they've accomplished.

And, frankly, if Vivek thinks it's possible to "obsess" too much about India's poverty, I wish he'd been with me for that portion of the trip. Given how many Americans only see the Eat-Pray-Love touristy side of India and look away from the rest, I'm happy to be accused of that any time.

As a side note, it's interesting that Vivek's reaction is the polar opposite of Michael Arrington's, who was shocked at the conditions in many of the places I write about. Either way, I'm glad it's sparking these kinds of discussions.

OK, There's Stuff I Love about the Valley Too...

If you read this blog regularly you probably know all the reasons I love traveling to emerging markets, landing in a new place knowing no one and spending a few weeks digging around, finding some of the greatest entrepreneurs the world has ever heard of.

So you might be wondering how my adjustment back to life as a reporter in Silicon Valley has gone. It's hasn't all been easy. One morning I was fresh back from a particularly inspiring trip to Brazil trying to stretch a coffee-bandaid over my jetlag headache, when I overheard two people in a heated argument. The great debate: Whether or not Farmville was the most important development of our lifetimes. These were professional adults working for startups. I was drained, exhausted and my bank account was running on fumes, but I almost hopped another plane that day.

There's an element of entrepreneurship in the Valley that's about flips and cash outs and playing a game that doesn't interest me. But the longer I've been back, I've been reminded of the things that I love about the Valley, the things that make me never want to leave permanently, and the reason that the Valley will always be an important hub for technology and venture captial no matter where the bulk of economic growth is happening. It's the deeply engtangled, intertwined community of people doing something real. To wit: I just wrote this story for TechCrunch about "mafias," specifically Facebook's surprisingly strong one that's behind some of the more exciting companies in the Valley right now.

This was not a typical blog post. I spent several weeks reporting in and about three days writing it.I hope I'm able to do more stories like this. Like being back in the Valley, being a full-time blogger has been a challenge too. I'm trying to find a way to report the way I have in a lower-volume, old media world and still produce enough content to be relevant for this platform. But after spending two years consumed in one project, it's a nice new challenge.

Paul Expresses Unhealthy Love for Toilet Paper and Petting Zoos

Paul badgered me into doing an interview for TCTV about the book last week. Frankly, it was such a big week for the book, I was a little concerned there might be a backlash if TechCrunch pimped it more. But I'm glad he talked me into it because it was one of the more fun shoots he and I have done in a while.

Paul and my friendship is at least 75% rooted in our author-mutual-respect. That's how we got to be friends to begin with-- in 2008 we both had a book coming out about Web 2.0 and soon started on each of our second books that loosely had to do with travel and how technology was uniting the world. Of course, that's about where the similarities in the books end. Paul writes about himself, and I write about other people. Paul's skill is in his poignant and hilarious writing; mine is really in the reporting.

But that's part of what we like about each other: He writes books I never could, and I write books he never could. And both of us are --without a doubt-- at our best when writing books. It's torture for a lot of journalists. For us, we're tortured when we're not doing it. And other than my husband, the only person I talked to regularly while I was on the road was Paul. Indeed, more than two years ago when I came up with the idea, Paul was pretty much the only person who thought I should do it. (To be fair to Mr. Lacy, your friend leaving for forty weeks is a lot more palatable than your wife leaving for forty weeks.)

With so many of the reviews focusing on the message of the book, Paul wanted to do a video talking about the larger-than-life entrepreneurs I met, who are so aptly described the book's title.


Entrepreneurship for the World We Have, Not the One We'd Like

Today has been a flurry of activity, thanks mostly to TechCrunch's review of the book. To some this may seem a lay-up for a positive review, but Michael Arrington was writing it. Nothing is a lay-up with Mike, and in many regards this is a book he should naturally hate.

He's the center of the Valley's startup ecosystem, which the book talks about global trends  disrupting. Mike is also a believer that most of the best and the brightest find their way to the Valley-- this book argues that's changing in part because of our policies around immigration and in part because of the huge opportunties in the emerging world.

So I was expecting Mike to take issue with something. But what he took issue with surprised me. An excerpt:

"Lacy is right that entrepreneurship is spreading around the world in ways that it never did before. And she’s right that Americans need to, and in many cases are, taking note and making investments in these non-U.S. entrepreneurs.

And she’s right that we are not holding on to enough immigrants, which are a crucial part of many of Silicon Valley’s most successful startups....

...But here’s what I think people, particularly governments, should really be taking from the book: Shame on you. Shame on you that in Rwanda Jean de Dieu Kagabo chose to make toilet paper instead of starting the next multi-billion dollar tech company. Or that a brilliant kid in Brazil needs to worry about getting shot by drug dealers. Or that Indian entrepreneurs need to worry about electricity and water. Or that Chinese entrepreneurs live in nearly perfect economic freedom but ignore the elephant in the room – an oppressive government that occasionally shuts down businesses on a political whim.

Yes, people like Jean de Dieu Kagabo and Marco Gomes and all the rest will always find a way to make their lives better through entrepreneurship. War, poverty, hunger and oppression won’t keep them down.

But it sure does stifle them. ...

...Sarah’s book opened my eyes. But not to the risk that Silicon Valley can be toppled. Rather, she opened my eyes to the untenable constraints that people around the world have to work with. And damnit, that needs to change."

I've been thinking about this a lot, because it was always important to me to give a pragmatic, unsugarcoated and yet non-judgemental view of life in these countries. The reason I spent so much time on the ground was to get a sense of the day-to-day reality these entrepreneurs go through trying to build their companies. Doing business in these places isn't for everyone, and people should know what they are getting into.

I read more than 40 books about these countries over the course of my reporting and I frequently found that there was an agenda behind them. I don't mean that in a negative way; agenda isn't the same as "bias." This is incredibly hard reporting and you don't usually get paid well for doing it. Most people would not do it without a case to argue.

For instance, Thomas Friedman has frequently said he's "guilty" of making China look better than it is and the US look worse than it is, because he wants China to be "his Sputnik" that wakes America up to its shortcomings. Likewise, in "The Post American World" I felt like Fareed Zakaria was not nearly as hard on India as other countries, which is natural. I would always defend my home too, and would probably see a better side of it than someone with fresh eyes. And while "Start Up Nation" is one of the best books at decoding what Israel did so right in the late 1990s-- its authors completely ignore the decade after where returns fell off a cliff.

But as a white American with no nationalistic horse in the race, whose bar for great entrepreneurs had been set by the likes of Larry Ellison and Mark Zuckerberg, I just wanted to report what I saw without preference or judgement. I expected as a result there would be something for everyone to hate in the book: That many Americans would criticize me for not grandstanding more about the moral issues in China, that Indians would say I was too harsh on the infrastrucutre failings and crippling poverty of the subcontintent, and that Israelis would find the criticisms of how their entrepreneurs have performed over the last decade as overly harsh.

So as someone who didn't take pains to excoriate countries for thier local conditions, Mike's reaction was surprising to me. Perhaps I spent so much time in these countries, I began to take some of the conditions as a given. But it might also say something about me. I grew up in Memphis, TN when it was one of the poorest and most violent cities in the country. Only two other kids in my highschool lived in midtown Memphis, and not a safer suburb.

I bartended through college in Downtown Memphis, routinely stuffing tips into socks, underwear and different pockets, since getting mugged on the way to my car was likely and I didn't want all my wages taken.  There was the time theives pilfered through our house while my family slept, loaded our car with our stuff and drove away. There was the time a friend named Rose left a bar at 2 am and was held at gun point. There was the time a man broke into my freshman dorm and started trying each door until he found an unlocked one with only one girl in it. It was my friend Sally, who woke up to scissors against her throat and a man trying to rape her. Amazingly, she fought him off. Had he started at the other end of the hallway, that first door would have been mine.

Memphis was in many ways a failure of a city, and there were plenty of reasons to hate it. But I loved it and still do. Somewhere in that raw chaos there's also the city's soul and beauty. That's the reason I live in the Mission, San Francisco's own emerging market, and that's why I'd rather vacation in Central Africa than Western Europe. That's what spoke to me in each country, as painful as the things I was seeing were. There's something about chaos that as Mike says is deplorable and holds back the human race, but I also think it's where you find some of the most beautiful stories of human triumph as well. And, when it comes to entrepreneurship, the more backwards a place is the more local opportunity.

Good News for Neville

My husband found this review on someone named Neville's Tumbler. At the end he says:

"This, “Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky…” book is Sarah’s third and it’s served to make her name synonymous with technology, venture capital and savvy entrepreneurs. Now on a global scale. Let’s hope she writes another, this time about smart and inspiring entrepreneurs in Russia, Scandinavia, Mexico…"

Indeed, I'm hoping the book does well enough I can do a sequel. If not, I'll keep traveling and writing about global entrepreneurs for TechCrunch. It just so happens, two of the countries I'm most interested in going to next are Russia and Mexico.

Anyway, thanks for the nice review, Neville.

I'm Always Shocked When Nice Things Are Said About Me Online...

I've had a long, draining week, and this nice post on why people should follow me on Twitter made my friday. It'd be too insufferable to repeat the nice things Liz said about me, but here's the five-questions-with-Sarah part:

"Laughs at: My husband’s corny jokes

Hopes: Everyone in the US reads my new book — less for royalties and more to raise awareness about the amazing entrepreneurs in the emerging world.

Thinks: About work 24/7

Reveals: I had a weird dream where George Clooney was helping me poison Hitler last night

Dream Coffee Date: Pony Ma (CEO of Tencent, the third largest internet company in the world), Larry Ellison, Margaret Atwood or Paul Kagame (president of Rwanda). A weird range I know…

Is Inspired By: Truly great entrepreneurs — that’s why I travel the world to find them"

I've always hated Follow Friday because there's no sense of why you should follow someone, and frequently it feels out of obligation because someone said it about you. This is a nice feature I'll definitely check out every week.

Quick USA Today Review of the Book

Jon Swartz of USA Today did a quick mention of the book on the USA Today Blog.

An excerpt:

"Lacy, a senior editor at TechCrunch.com, writes that this brand global entrepreneurship is changing lives and helping lift thousands out of poverty. She spent 40 weeks in Asia, South America and Africa to get the story.

Several examples stand out: Roy Ho, a businessman in China who created a cell-phone company that is doing $1 billion in annual revenue; Ravi Ghate, who is fashioning an eBay- and Google-like service throughout rural India; and Sidnei Borges dos Santos, whose construction company has built a 1,600-house village in the Amazon.

Lacy, whose previous book Once You're Lucky, Twice You're Good: The Rebirth of Silicon Valley and Rise of Web 2.0, offered an up close-and-personal look at the origins of Facebook, has a knack for getting inside the heads of idea people.

Her second book has accomplished that task again."

Jon is a great journalist and author himself so, coming from him this is a big compliment.

Sarah Lacy’s entertaining and informative tour of the world’s fastest growing economies undeniably proves what we’ve known at Endeavor for more than a decade: that impressive and inspiring Entrepreneurs can truly come from anywhere! In taking us on a whirlwind journey bursting with frenetic energy – matched only by that of the amazing entrepreneurs she meets – Lacy gives us an important glimpse into the future of the global economy – a place where the craziest, high-impact entrepreneurs from anywhere and everywhere set the pace.
Brilliant. Crazy. Cocky.

New Book

An unforgettable portrait of the emerging world's entrepreneurial dynamos Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky is the story about that top 1% of people who do more to change their worlds through greed and ambition than politicians, NGOs and nonprofits ever can. This new breed of self-starter is taking local turmoil and turning it into opportunities, making millions, creating thousands of jobs and changing the face of modern entrepreneurship at the same time. To tell this story, Lacy spent forty weeks traveling through Asia, South America and Africa hunting down the most impressive up-and-comers the developed world has never heard of....yet.

Excerpt »

Buy it from these sellers

Srah Lacy

Sarah Lacy is an award-winning reporter who has covered high-growth entrepreneurship for more than fifteen years. She is the founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of PandoDaily.com, the site-of-record for the startup ecosystem. She lives in San Francisco.

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