My Startup Life: The Story of a Teenage Entrepreneur


The first and last thing demanded of genius is the love of truth. — Goethe

Ben Casnocha is a genius. Seriously. When he offered to send me a copy of his book for review, I was expecting a bit of a "rah-rah 19 year old superstar" story. Most business biographies read that way. Not this one. Ben stuck to the truth. He showed the whole story and the result is a fantastic book – the kind that, when you sit down with the intention of reading one chapter, you lose track of time and end up reading five.

To summarize the story, Ben's 7th grade class did a web project that was meant to improve the local community. Ben enjoyed it so much that he kept working on it after school was out. Eventually, it transformed into Comcate, a company that sells software to local governments. The book is Ben's story about building a tech company in The Valley while still in high school.

The thing that I found so interesting is that Ben, who is currently just 19 years old, has already figured out many things about life and business that many people never figure out. For example, by the third chapter, Ben says he learned that talk is cheap. Contrast that with the dozens of people you know who do nothing but talk, and never take any action.

The book is filled with small boxes called "brainstorms." My favorite is this one:

I have a strategic plan. It's called "doing things"…In the early days of any new business, it's easier to plan than to act. It's easier to strategize than to actually do stuff.

In my own endeavors, I've always preferred to err on the side of too much action because it gives you feedback that you can never get from planning alone. It also causes you to waste money and feel like a failure, but like other new and scary experiences, you get used to it and learn to take it in stride.

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By chapter eight, Ben has learned that some people are long on platitudes and short on substance. He also acknowledges that entrepreneurship isn't as glamorous as the media makes it out to be.

Contrary to the typical media fantasy of yacht-cruising millionaires wheeling and dealing their way to the next big technology fortune, most entrepreneurship happens in quite ordinary circumstances. Dorm rooms, garages, kitchens, cafes… even bedrooms. Ordinary people, ordinary circumstances, ordinary conversations, but unusual passion.

Ben also has a brainstorm box in which he points out something that few people ever understand, or if they do, they don't acknowledge it. Luck Plays An Important Role in Business. To quote Ben "In my view, luck is the single most underrated component of success." But to his credit, he has also figured out that there are ways to maximize your luck, such as exposing yourself to as much randomness as possible.

Throughout the rest of the book, Ben writes about the struggle of work/life balance, the struggle of being a high schooler in a world of adults, the importance of core skills like selling and networking, the importance of writing (starting a blog really will help you clarify your thinking), and the financial struggles of a young growing business. This is the first book I've read since Starting Something that really tells the good and bad sides of an entrepreneurial experience.

If you like business, you will like this book. It's written in a style that is engaging and easy to read. It embraces the emotional paradoxes that entrepreneurship can bring – the moments of self-doubt, the triumphs of self-confidence, the pain of failures, and the realization that those failures are only temporary. It's filled with great advice, and avoids any kind of magic bullet hocus pocus business thinking.

Pick up a copy, check out Ben's blog, and let him know what you think. It's a great view of what life as an entrepreneur is really all about.