secrets_of_millionaire_moms

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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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.

TALKBACK

  • 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?

PLEASE SHARE YOUR OPINION HERE

Getting_loaded

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:

TALKBACK

  • Have you or your kids read this book?

  • Did you find it useful? Would you recommend it to a teenager interested in learning about personal finance?

PLEASE SHARE YOUR OPINION HERE