Book Reviews


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Secrets of Millionaire Moms

Learn How They Turned Great Ideas Into Booming Businesses

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They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and the saying applies literally to Tamara Monosoff’s Secrets of Millionaire Moms: if you can look beyond the shabby cover and the flat, black-and-white inside layout -betraying that the book was originally published in ebook format- you will be pleasantly surprised.

Monosoff draws on her own experience as an entrepreneur and those of 17 other women -all of whom decided to turn their ideas into start-ups and eventually grew them into multimillion-dollar companies- to illustrate the steps needed to create, manage, and grow a business.

The first original aspect of the book is that all the profiled entrepreneurs are women, many of them in their 50’s and beyond -while I think it’s safe to say that the typical image of a self-made, millionaire entrepreneur would be that of a man. And there is a further catch: as the book title suggests, all these women have kids, and have had to work hard at achieving the elusive work-life balance, coming up with ingenious ideas to be able to enjoy their children while they worked hard on their businesses.

The fact that the book focuses on moms doesn’t make it any less of a business book. Apart from a chapter about juggling family and business, all the topics covered are of prime interest to anybody considering starting their own venture: how to turn your life-fantasy into a workable business plan, the importance of understanding the finances, how to raise capital, administer assets, or manage employees.

I think that most readers would define Secrets of Millionaire Moms as female-oriented. Being told from a female perspective, it often touches on issues that are typically considered of more interest to women. For instance, references abound to the internal critic that continuously reminds you of the reasons you can’t do something -it’s usually assumed that this nefarious inner voice is more commonly a problem for women, although I suspect that many men will be acquainted with it too. There’s also a discussion of the guilt factor from being away from your kids which, if the readership of blogs on the topic is anything to go by, is also of greater concern to women than men.

This is not to suggest that men won’t find the book useful and enjoyable. The times when a man could -and would want to- spend all his life working while leaving his wife to take care of the household and the family are long gone. Men entrepreneurs will at some point in their lives come across the difficulty of juggling work with family life, and the fact that a business book tackles this topic head on should be welcomed as a refreshing novelty, in step with modern times.

In the end, the book is extremely inspiring without lacking realism: while it continuously underlines the importance of believing in yourself, it doesn’t hide that being an entrepreneur can sometimes be difficult -you may have to spend birthdays away from your kids, have money troubles, feel anxious and stressed, or be obliged to fire employees. The ultimate message, however, is a positive one. All interviewees agree that the sacrifices they made were worthwhile, and more than compensated by the gains in terms of flexibility, outlets for their creativity, and financial independence.

I loved reading a business book written by a woman who was able to achieve her dreams through hard work. While I cannot stress enough that both male and female readers will enjoy the book, it’s still harder for us women to find entrepreneur role models. Thanks to Secrets of Millionaire Moms, I’ve found several to add to my list.

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double your income

Double Your Income Doing What You Love:

Raymond Aaron’s Guide to Power Mentoring

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The title of Raymond Aaron’s book is misleading. I thought it would discuss strategies to turn your hobby or passion into a profitable business. Instead, it deals with how to set goals and strategies to achieve them -whether the goal is to double your income, give more to charity, or improve your relationship with your spouse, is up to you.

The book introduces a method to systematically analyze your life and set up goals related to different aspects of it -family, work, personal fulfillment. Then you have to work on those goals. Aaron suggests different strategies to help you put a stop to procrastination and start taking steps -however small- in the right direction.

If you’ve read Brian Tracy’s Goals! -or, for that matter, any other book on goal setting or beating procrastination- my summary of Double Your Income may sound familiar. Indeed, the two books share not only the overall theme -how to achieve your goals- but also many of the specific advices -goals should be written down to increase accountability, overwhelming tasks become doable when broken into small steps, etc.

So what’s the unique proposition behind Double Your Income? Unfortunately, the book’s selling point is what I liked least about it: according to Aaron, his method is inspired by the Law of Attraction.

If you’ve seen my post on the Law of Attraction and the ensuing discussion, you know that my main objection to it is the way it presents otherwise sensible ideas wrapped up in a mixture of pop-psychology and mysticism. I agree that clearly defining and thinking about our goals makes us more likely to take a first step and eventually achieve a better life. But I don’t agree this is because thinking about our goals sets the Universe in motion to deliver what we really desire and deserve.

Aaron, however, is a firm proponent of the Law. Every single paragraph of Double Your Income had me cringing with notions such as the following:

  • The Law of Attraction holds the secret to “achieve your goals effortlessly”.

  • It is essential to phrase statements in the positive for the Universe to “deliver [what we] really desire”. Conversely, by making negative statements -and therefore “invoking the Law of Attraction badly”- we become doomed to receive things we don’t want.

  • There is “spiritual proof that you have a life mission”.

I don’t understand the need to contaminate ideas that make perfect sense by themselves with simplistic pictures of a Universe that will deliver our dreams just by the power of positive thought -or, as Aaron puts it, automagically. Let’s be honest: success won’t come without effort. And “the Universe” won’t decide our fate based on our positive or negative attitude -we achieve things not by tweaking our life outlook but through simple hard work.

There’s one more thing I disliked about Double Your Income: every two pages you’re directed to Aaron’s website for complementary material. Once there, you’re asked to provide your email address before you can see the content. Soon afterwards you receive the first email asking you to sign up for Aaron’s expensive 17-month mentor program. This left me wondering whether the book was no more than an elaborate sales letter.

Because of my misgivings, I cannot strongly recommend the book despite all the useful, common-sense techniques it teaches to help define your goals and work on them. Nevertheless, if you’re a Law of Attraction devotee or can cut through all the mystical mumbo-jumbo, you may actually enjoy it. In either case, I’d love to hear your opinion of it -if you’ve read the book, you can leave a comment here.

Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing:

Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business

On the road to $1M rating:

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Crowdsourcing, the fascinating first book of Wired writer Jeff Howe, analyzes the transition currently taking place online from content created by professionals to that created by the community -think, for instance, of the thousands of user-generated videos populating YouTube.

A very recent phenomenon, crowdsourcing is the result of the expansion of Internet, together with the ongoing democratization of the means of content creation: the wide availability and falling prices of digital cameras and blogging or editing software means that an amateur photographer, journalist, or film director can produce content sometimes rivaling professional quality. Moreover, through the Web they can reach an audience of a size previously only dreamt of by the most successful and prestigious authors.

Through sketches of real-life conversations, success stories of Internet companies, and a wealth of data, Howe takes us on an enthralling trip through the origins, the present, and the future of crowdsourcing, raising many thought-provoking issues on the way: will the rise of the amateurs make professionals redundant?; will amateurs be able to maintain the same standards of quality?; does the crowd need a benevolent dictator to organize it?

Crowdsourcing and businesses

Howe is optimistic about amateurs’ ability to coexist with professionals in the long-run and to deliver high-quality products. He reviews several business models that prove that it’s possible to employ what the crowd has to offer -from content-creation to expertise in obscure fields- to create a union that is valuable for all parties involved:

  • Sites like YouTube, Digg or Flickr rely on users not only to provide all the content, but also to organize it -whether by adding tags or voting on its quality or relevance.

  • The website InnoCentive posts projects from Fortune 500 companies such as P&G to a network of 140,000 amateur scientists. This diverse scientific community has sometimes been able to solve problems that had got the companies’ R&D departments stumped for months. Those who come up with a valid answer to a problem are rewarded with prizes ranging from $10,000 to $1,000,000.

  • Established companies with a business model unrelated to the crowdsourcing concept -such as Dell, Heinz, or Amazon– are finding ways to both capitalize on and engage the crowd, from organizing contests to create their TV advertisements to relying on users to rate the products they offer.

  • While the book doesn’t cover this type of businesses, I’d have been interested in an analysis of sites like Zopa, were members of the community lend money to each other, therefore sidestepping the banks as providers of borrowing and investement products.

When the crowd is not so wise

Howe’s optimism is partly justified by the mere existence of the businesses mentioned above, which show that crowdsourcing can be a mutually beneficial exercise for them and the community as a whole. The book, however, doesn’t dwell on the potential problems of delegating decision power to the crowd, two of which I think are particularly important:

  • 10 minutes browsing the videos posted in YouTube are enough to realize that much of the content created by the crowd is of very poor quality. Howe argues that the community itself is best suited to sort through the masses of mediocre videos and come up with the best, but I’m not so convinced. While YouTube has delivered a couple of pop music hits, very often the most popular videos involve naked celebrities or clips of animals doing funny things -amusing but hardly of any artistic value. The same can be said of some of the articles that make it to the front pages of Digg or Reddit.com.

    There is a danger, articulated by Andrew Keen in The Cult of the Amateur -tellingly subtitled “How blogs, MySpace, YouTube, and the rest of today’s user-generated media are destroying our economy, our culture, and our values”-, that we’ll enter an “age of mass mediocrity where the mob replaces experts and we all become collectively dumber”.

  • A related, more dangerous problem occurs when the crowd is manifestly wrong. The housing bubble that started to burst in 2007 is a good example: Most people shared the utterly unreasonable expectation that housing prices would continue to grow forever. The role of the crowd was to reinforce such beliefs, leading to escalating home prices and the eventual collapse of the whole housing market.

Despite some misgivings about Howe’s blind face in the community, Crowdsourcing is the book I’ve enjoyed most this year. It made me think about where the Internet revolution is going, and the consequences it will have for the way we do businesses, in ways I’d never considered in the past. If you’re lucky to be looking for an entertaining holiday book, I definitely recommend it.

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  • Have you read this book?

  • The new collaborative creativity opens up many possibilities for businesses and individuals. Do you think these outweigh the problems? What could be done to avert or minimize the risks?

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Getting Loaded:

Make a Million While You’re Still Young Enough to Enjoy It

On the road to $1M rating:

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I’ve mentioned previously how valuable I think it would be for kids to get a basic financial education before they go to live away from home. And for those interested in the topic, this book is a fantastic place to start. Getting Loaded is specifically targeted to young people, and it’s a thorough introduction to the main financial issues they’re inevitably going to encounter in the following years: from credit cards to taxes, investing, insurance, pension plans, or buying a home.

As I said, the book is mainly targeted to people of around college age, but it works for older ones as well -I learnt a lot from it about such things as umbrella insurance policies and disability insurance. The quest to reach a young audience, however, sets its tone, which is funny, at times even annoyingly so: each single paragraph seems to contain at least one joke, which occassionally left me with the impression that the author -Peter Bielagus- was trying too hard. He nevertheless deserves praise for trying to make personal finance -not the most alluring topic- accesible to the young.

The book makes a remarkable effort to warn teenagers and 20-somethings against all those things we now wish we had avoided, like getting swamped in debt if you go to college or not taking the opportunity to contribute into your first job’s 401(k) -particularly if it came with matching contributions.

Of course Bielagus is aware that a typical 20-year-old will have a list of a thousand things on which to spend their first wage, which probably doesn’t include contributing to their pension. But instead of telling them to save because “it’s good for you” or “you’ll be happy you’ve done it when you retire” -who can imagine retirement when they’re 20?- he puts forward these hopefully more convincing -and less long-term- arguments:

  • Starting to save while young allows you to rip all the benefits of compound interest. (Granted, this sounds very much like “you’ll be happy you started young when you retire”, but maybe seeing the actual numbers can inspire some young readers to take action).

  • Keeping your finances in place can help you achieve your dreams. In other words, instead of longing for the day your parents will buy you a new car, why not make a specific plan, find out how much money you actually have, how much you could save if you gave up cable t.v. or started working part-time, and how long it would take to put the money together to buy the car yourself?

  • Your savings may even provide you with extra money to spend on the other things on your list. (Several chapters in the book cover the basics of investing, an activity that could yield good retuns to readers willing to be patient).

For added value, the book throws in extra tips that young boys and girls can use to reduce their -or their parents’- tax bill or get a discount when buying their first car. It even makes a convincing case for them to start their own business -a suggestion I liked so much that I dedicated a whole post to it.

I was very pleased with the book overall, but of course I don’t know what younger people think about it. If you’re a teenager and have read it -or if your teenage kids have given it a shot-, I’d be very interested in hearing your opinion.

In the press these days:

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The Millionaire Maker:

Act, Think, and Make Money the Way the Wealthy Do

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My first impression reading The Millionaire Maker is that all the key ingredients are in there: Loral Langemeier’s writing transmits energy and determination; the first chapters are motivating and encouraging; by the end of the third one I want to get up and take an active step to accelerate the process of building my wealth!

But when I do get up I cannot think of a single idea from the book I could apply straight away. I’m not able to translate the impressive-sounding concepts that surround me from page one -Lifestyle Cycle, Freedom Day, Wealth Cycle Process, Wealth Plan, Wealth Account, Wealth Team, Conditioning, Team-Made Millionaire- into concrete actions. Is it just me, or is there a problem with the book? In order to answer this question, let me go back to the beginning.

The premise in The Millionaire Maker is simple: the author introduces us to a series of fictional characters who have different financial backgrounds -too much debt, a job they’re about to lose, abundant but unproductive assets- but share one thing in common: they are not rich. Langemeier claims that she can transform all these people into millionaires. And, according to her, this is an easy task, as she and her colleagues have unveiled the secret to making wealth. The purpose of the book is, of course, to reveal this secret to us.

As I continue reading, I can’t help but notice that the wealth-building secret presents many troubling aspects. The profiled individuals are encouraged to take unrealistic steps. We come across middle-class families who are advised to set up a structure of S and C corporations; countless people with no previous experience in business quitting their full-time jobs to start one; couples encouraged to refinance their primary residence to invest the proceeds in rental properties. By chapter 6 I’m wondering what happened to all those who followed the author’s advise to invest in buy-to-let at the peak of the real-estate market after the 2008 collapse. Are they now part of the foreclosure epidemic?

Langemeier’s defense of her risky suggestions is that wannabe-rich people don’t invest in the meager opportunities available to you and me. Apparently, it’s usual for them to come across projects offering 50 percent yearly returns with “no money or credit down”. As for the risk involved, she goes as far as to claim that “risk can be measured, quantified, and often removed”. How curious that the promise of high profits with no risk was also used by Bernard Madoff to lure his clients.

And even if these investments existed, where does this selected group of people find them, anyway? The answer is that they have a team of professionals scouting the country for the best deals. The role of the team is emphasized over and over in the book. The key to wealth building appears to be to throw a team at it. This team must include mentors, professional advisers, bookkeepers, graphic designers, field partners, lawyers, accountants, business brokers, assistants, commercial and residential brokers, builders, contractors, and computer support personal, among others. Well, I bet you can make anybody rich with this type of support!

By the end of the book I’ve realized that this is not the place where I’m going to find resources to help me take my start-up business off the ground, or make decent returns on my investments. And I don’t think it will be the place for you either. Although if you’re into thinking big and decide to take the book’s advice, be warned: risk may be measured and even quantified, but it can never be removed while ensuring consistent profits. Whoever claims the opposite isn’t telling the truth.

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The Ultimate Depression Survival Guide:

Protect Your Savings, Boost Your Income, and Grow Wealthy Even in the Worst of Times

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As you would expect from somebody who thinks we’re experiencing the “Second Great Depression” of modern times, Martin Weiss is more than a little angry with the people who got us into this mess. He starts the book with a description of the doomsday scenario that awaits us in the aftermath of the current financial crisis. And while he describes, he rants at the list of those responsible for it:

  • The US Government, who have thrown good money after bad in an effort to bail out banks, brokerage firms, insurers, mortgage brokers, automakers, and any other company who could just about argue that they are “essential” for the economy or “too big to fail”. The result? According to Weiss, sixteen times our biggest-ever federal deficit.

  • Alan Greenspan, who, by keeping interest rates artificially low in the firs half of the 2000’s, contributed to the subsequent consumption spree, housing bubble, and lowest household saving rates ever seen.

  • The Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department, who first decided to let Lehman Brothers fail, then backtracked in the face of the ensuing panic and threw themselves into bailing out the entire financial system with the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).

  • The “Government-bred monopolies, corruption, fraud, and cover-ups” that stained every part of the financial system, from Freddy Mac and Fannie Mae to private mortgage lenders, rating agencies, banks, and large companies’ CEOs.

  • Consumers, who were willing participants in the massive money illusion that followed the outrageous stock-market returns on the 90’s and the housing bubble and endless supply of cheap credit of the 2000’s. We convinced ourselves that a lifestyle based on raiding our homes’ equity and maxing out our credit cards was not only reasonable, but also sustainable in the long run.

The list is longer and more detailed, but I wouldn’t have space here to go through it all. Suffice it to say that every single one of corporate America’s big shots is named in the book at some point or another.

No bad for an introduction, especially one that’s intended to convince the reader that a depression is inevitable, and that this particular book holds the secret of how to benefit from it. But the whole description of how we got into this mess doesn’t come across as particularly far-fetched. I found it often illuminating, and suspect that the reality may be even darker than Weiss suggests.

The rest of the book covers methods to protect or even increase your income during an economic downturn. I particularly liked the fact that it’s full of practical tips and helpful resources.

For example, you think your money is not secure on a commercial bank? Weiss guides you through the steps to open an account with the US Treasury Department. You think Wall Street is going to go down in the second part of the year? You find a list of more than 50 index and sector inverse ETFs, whose value increases when the value of the underlying index or sector plunges. Many books wouldn’t care to explain inverse ETFs work, let alone give compile for you a catalogue of ticker symbols. I appreciated the unusual level of detail.

So while I’m still not convinced about the imminence of a depression that “threatens to rip through our lives with the force of a hurricane”, I prefer to be cautious than sorry, and the book taught me a couple of tricks to hedge my savings against economic downturns. Even if you’re convinced that a bear market is just around the corner, there’s no harm in being prepared for the opposite, and this book is the place to learn how.

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  • Do you agree with Martin Weiss that the current crisis will be followed by a long period of depression?

  • Would you bet on stock prices going down in the second half of the year by buying inverse ETFs?

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The 4-Hour Workweek:

Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich

On the road to $1M rating:

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For a long time, I was a devotee of time-management books. It all started with Getting Things Done, by David Allen, which quickly became my favorite. The book explains in detail how to build a system to organize every single part of your life: work-, personal- and family-related.

I tried many of the ideas in this and other similar books with encouraging results at first, but these tended to diminish with time and would eventually disappear within a couple of weeks. I started to wonder what it was I was doing wrong. I blamed myself for not keeping up with my newly-learnt methods and going back to procrastination.

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  • Have you put to use any tricks from time-management books? Did they work?

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Then along came The 4-Hour Workweek and its novel philosophy: the whole idea behind time-management is wrong. We don’t need systems to help us crowd more things into the working day. Instead, we need to cut up to 90% of our daily tasks while maintaining -or even increasing- our results and income.

To say this was an eye-opener is an understatement. It took time for it to sink in, but when it did I started looking at my life under a completely different light. For a long time I had been suffering from job-related stress and anxiety. I was working 10-hour days, including weekends. I had internalized my parents’, teachers’, and most of society’s definition of success: you must work long hours and make a lot of money.

From my new perspective, I could see there was an obvious problem with this statement. It did not define clearly when exactly you could be satisfied that you had reached success. No matter how long you worked or how much you earned, there would always be people working harder or earning more than you. You could always do better -and therein lay the entrance to the rat-race.

Soon I came to realize that I didn’t want to be “successful”. I had a supposedly great job that I didn’t enjoy. And the whole reason I had been struggling with stress was because I feared acknowledging this, both to others and to myself. For a long time I had been searching for a plan B, and Tim Ferriss had laid it out in front of me in his book.

In regards to its contents, I found The 4-Hour Workweek somewhat uneven. Some chapters grip you with motivating examples and lots of useful resources to help you attain financial freedom. Others I found less interestig -I skipped through the sections on what to do with the regained free time, or how to travel cheaply around the world.

It doesn’t matter, however, whether you’re interested in every single topic covered in the book. What counts is the idea that transpires from every page: an inspiration to take control of your life, stop behaving according to other people’s standards and start doing what you really want to do.

If you haven’t read this book yet, I encourage you to get a copy as soon as possible, in particular is you’re struggling with an unfulfilling job. Just be warned: you may end up revisiting your life and making changes you can’t even envision today. But as somebody who has been there, I can tell you you won’t regret any single one of them.

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