Andreas Zhou, Co-Founder of Askable, Shares the Books that Gave Him a Better View of Business
During its first year on the market, Askable has worked with names such as CBS, Deloitte, Tanda and Accenture. Being known as the “Uber” for user testing, Askable can help in all sorts of situations.
UX designers (User Experience designers are responsible with creating products that provide meaningful experiences to their users), marketers and creative professionals will find it easy and fast to find participants for face-to-face usability testing and focus groups. Since a UX designer can have a variety of responsibilities like branding, function and usability (it all depends on the company they work for), their work is often considered subjective and needs market testing and direct feedback from the target market.
Thanks to his business mindset, Andreas discovered a problem with designers finding and managing participants for these tests and since there was no solution available, he created one. In his interview for Indie Hackers, Andreas stated that: “Being able to really empathize with your customer because you’ve been through the pain yourself is a huge advantage.”
It took a week to make the MVP (to learn more about what the Minimum Viable Product is, read “The Lean Startup”). So far, Askable seems to have all the right tools to succeed: they solve a real problem, they address a non-saturated market, they’ve created a good value proposition and they keep their expenses to a minimum (salaries excluded).
Since 2007, the year when Andreas decided to drop out of design school and work on his first web design business (Orange Digital – a digital agency), he has tackled with responsibilities such as project manager, digital marketer and audio/video producer. He also co-founded Unpossib.ly, an innovation platform for machine learning challenges.
His on-point book suggestions, his business-oriented mindset and his ability to put plans into actions make our interview with Andreas Zhou a valuable read. Enjoy!
What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.
Fav business book:
The E-Myth Revisited Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E Gerber
So around 10 years ago I stumbled into starting a small digital design agency with John Goleby who I met at school. We both dropped out to pursue this business which quickly became all consuming. I think at around the 2-3 year mark we were dealing with all the typical small business problems like growth and staff when I came across this book. Reading it for the first time many of the points brought up by Michael Gerber hit so close to home I was left wondering if somehow he’d written the book just for me. It completely changed the way I thought about my own role in the business, and how to set up the business in a way that could grow sustainably.
Fav non-business book:
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
My elementary school teacher gave me a copy of this book as a present and I think I read it at least 20 times. I was fascinated by the ‘survival’ theme and Paulsen tells the story in such a visceral way he really transports you to the location and you feel every bit of cold, fear and hunger that the main character does.
Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?
In the E-Myth, chapter 12 talks about the primary aim. According to Gerber, it’s important to identify the distinction between you working for your business, and your business working for you. He talks about you needing to be clear on what your primary aim in life is, before deciding on what kind of business you want to build (Simon Sinek talks about a similar topic in his book Start With Why). It helped me because as a business owner I quickly found myself getting lost in the day to day grind but never really taking the time to actually think about what kind of life I wanted, and how I was going to build the business to fulfill that vision. So in that sense it was one of the first books that helped me take a step back and really think about that.
What five books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)
Millionaire Fastlane by M. J. DeMarco
Great read to help get you into the mindset of building a scalable business to create wealth quickly vs following the stereotypical career path.
Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance
A good lesson on risk, determination and relentlessness. Inspirational and somewhat polarising story.
Zero to One by Peter Thiel
Thiel’s philosophy of “competition is for losers” rings very true. It’s a book that will make you stop and think about what kind of business you’re building and what kind of impact you’re having before you start.
Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky
I still use some of the methods this book teaches around productivity. It also teaches some very important lessons around how to break out of ‘analysis paralysis’ and actually execute on ideas.
Lean Startup by Eric Ries
A classic. For me personally, the most important idea that Ries talks about is to build fast and iterate.
I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?
I travel a lot so when I’m on a flight I tend to get through a lot of reading. I always read on my phone just because I prefer travelling lightweight and hate carrying around stuff.
How do you make time for reading?
In iBooks I use the highlights and notes features all the time. Often I’ll review these notes and compare them with my business partner if he’s read the same book.
Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?
I use Goodreads a fair bit, and there’s lots of good recommendations on there. I listen to a bunch of podcasts and a lot of the speakers will mention or reference books so that’s probably my highest priority source. Also at our work we have a huge shared spreadsheet of recommended readings so when people read a good book they can add it to the list and we regularly order copies for the whole team.
Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?
Currently reading Work Rules! by Laszlo Bock. After reading How Google Works I just became fascinated with Google culture and I hope to understand a bit more about what unique things they’re doing right that we aren’t.
Links where you can follow Andreas Zhou or find out more about his projects:
- Andreas @ Medium
- Andreas @ LinkedIn
- IndieHackers: ‘Building and Automating a Lucrative User Testing Platform’
- SmartCompany: ‘How Askable landed major clients and 5000 users within seven months of launching without any external funding’
- LaunchBasket: ‘Building A $30,000/Month User Testing Platform: An Interview with Askable Co-Founder Andreas Zhou’
All books mentioned by Andreas Zhou in this interview:
- The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber
- Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
- The Millionaire Fastlane: Crack the Code to Wealth and Live Rich for a Lifetime by MJ DeMarco
- Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
- Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel, Blake Masters
- Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality by Scott Belsky
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
- How Google Works by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg
- Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead by Laszlo Bock
- Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek