I really enjoy reading books about startups. They keep me energized even when many people tell me my dream of starting a company after finishing grad school is extremely difficult and therefore I should opt for working for a larger company and try to get more experience. When everyone says “no you are not going to make it”, startup books and blog posts by ex-entrepreneurs make me stand up again.

I’ve always wanted to find more books like this, but it proved to be pretty difficult even in the US where there are so many successful startups. I liked both Betting It All and Founders at Work, but they cover so many companies that they lack details on how each one formed. Pour Your Heart Into It and Delivering Happiness are my favorites, and I was craving for more books like these two.

Luckily, my college friend, Minjoo Yoo, wrote a fantastic book about Ticket Monster (TMon), one of the fastest growing social commerce startups in Korea that was just acquired by LivingSocial several months ago. I had heard about TMon since it was founded because two of the founders were close friends of mine at KAIST, but I didn’t know any of the details of how they really pulled it off since I was away in the US. Minjoo was the perfect person to write a book on TMon since he had introduced the 5 founders, three from UPenn and two from KAIST, and watched how they grew TMon from nothing to a No. 1 social commerce company in Korea with 700 employees in just 1.5 years (They even acquired a Malaysian company!).

I believe anyone interested in starting a company will read this book and feel the urge to jump out and start something right away. Although Minjoo is not a startup management expert, his story-telling taught me so much about running a startup and reminded me of a lot of things I read in VC blogs. Here are the reasons I think this book is a must-read for anyone dreaming to do something.

You can relate to the founders

This isn’t a book about Bill Gates saying anyone can be like him if they work hard enough (I’m not sure if Bill Gates really said that). It’s not about Steve Jobs, a genius that appears every 50 years or so. It’s about 5 very normal guys all in their mid-twenties determined to start a company, but at the same time was afraid about the uncertainties. After TMon grows to hundreds of employees, the founders struggle to adjust their roles in this completely new setting. They have a hard time since none of them had experience managing a big organization. The reader can closely relate to the founders’ agony and joy, laughing and crying as the story goes on. The reader can imagine himself in the founders’ shoes and gain confidence that he can also pull off another ‘TMon’ with hard work and strong determination.

No BSing, just clear facts

Since the book was mainly written by Minjoo, not the founders, there is no sugar-coating about how wonderful the company is and how talented the founders are (a good example of such book gets two stars in Amazon). In fact, the book elaborates in great detail how disorganized TMon was in its early days. The founders are depicted as normal Korean kids who didn’t know how to spell “Tommy” in English. At the same time, the author is close enough to the founders to fill the book with interesting details (I was actually surprised how Minjoo remembered everything in so much detail). There are so many startup/tech books written by people who didn’t even have a chance to interview the founder of the company. I think half of those books contain the authors’ imagination, not hard facts.

Lessons to learn

There are so many lessons to learn in this book. First, the book iterates the well-known lesson that execution, not the idea, is most important to a startup. Some people might think TMon was lucky to be the first to copy Groupon and became successful without much work. The book basically argues that this is not true by presenting a lot of challenges the company faced and how the team made critical decisions that helped the company stay afloat. In the early days of TMon, the quality of one restaurant had degraded so badly that a bunch of TMon customers were demanding to get their money back (Yes..Koreans are the best at demanding stuff). It wasn’t really TMon’s fault that the restaurant accepted more coupons than they could manage. Nonetheless, TMon agreed to refund all the customers of that deal. The total cost was 20% of their entire capital, which is really significant for an early-stage startup struggling to raise funding. Without this hard decision, TMon could have earned a bad reputation and lost all its customers. A single misstep could have blown away the tiny startup. It is the series of these critical decisions, not mere ideas, that allow a startup to stay afloat and grow to be a great company.


Last but not least, the book is so much fun to read. I think the fact that the author is not a professional writer helped in that sense. He doesn’t use any fancy sentence to describe something. He just lists fact after fact after fact and includes a lot of conversations among the founders that makes me feel I’m just sitting there listening to them talk (Actually I could totally tell that the conversations were toned-down to avoid publishing a rated-R book). I felt like I was watching a movie showing what it’s like to work in a fast-growing startup. For example, a new guy is hired to take care of HR-related work only to find that only a few employees have insurance and benefits, and many don’t even know how much their salary is. He couldn’t find himself a desk, but realized that many people were scattered here and there just sitting on anything, working with their laptops.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in not only startups, but also any kind of challenging work. The book shows how much a group of people can accomplish if you have the right team and determination. I would even say that if you don’t feel excited and pumped up after reading this book, you better change the way you live because otherwise you are not going to do much with your life.