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Anoop Anthony, CTO & Co-Founder of Sapaad, Shares His Remarkable Love for Books

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Anoop Anthony is the co-founder and CTO of Sapaad, a global SaaS (Software as a Service) product company.

Its flagship product is Sapaad, a cloud POS provider used by thousands of food businesses around the world, from restaurants to cafes, food trucks, cafeterias and fast food chains. Headquartered in Singapore, Sapaad also has offices in Dubai and India.

Being a technology leader with more than 20 years of experience in creating and delivering digital products and managing their teams, Anoop was also the co-founder and CTO of Agni Studios, where he was involved in everything from production management, market opportunities analysis, and solution design.

The following interview is a very inspiring journey that Anoop shared with the books he loved most. Each book recommendation comes with a strong reading motivation, which aligns Anoop with our mission: putting books into a context.

What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.

It’s hard to narrow this down to a single book in each category, so I’m going to have to pick a few:

For Business, I’d say it’s a tie between Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull and Getting Real by Jason Fried and David Hansson.

Creativity Inc, narrated by Pixar’s co-founder Ed Catmull, documents the meteoric rise of Pixar from its humble roots as a technology company to the movie studio powerhouse it is today. The book offers a treasure of insights to anyone running a business that involves creative production of any kind. Ed talks about crucial strategies used by Pixar — the idea that every person in an organization is accountable for quality, that creative freedom and exploration are instrumental to building great products, that failure early in the process is not just acceptable but also to be encouraged, and many others.

Another interesting bit in Creativity Inc is the story of how Pixar’s management restored Disney Animation, which at the time was an ailing studio that hadn’t had a hit in over a decade, to a semblance of its former glory. The journey of Disney’s rejuvenation — check out Catmull’s ‘Toyota speech’ — packs incredible lessons for leaders.

Yet another cool bonus is Catmull’s candid and often compassionate descriptions of his interactions with Pixar’s late CEO and (notoriously aggressive) boss — Steve Jobs! Jobs, as seen through the eyes of Catmull (who comes across as perhaps the gentlest and most thoughtful man in the business) is revelatory… and at times even tender.

Creativity Inc is valuable because it explores incredible ideas: how do you orchestrate a company bursting with creative super-achievers, leaders in their respective fields, to produce the best possible work? How do you bring a method to the madness of creativity? Although Pixar does movies, the lessons in this book are universal — that of getting incredibly passionate and creative people to believe in a singular vision and then to inspire them to work hard and with deep care towards that vision. Read Creativity Inc for brilliant answers to these questions.

Getting Real needs no introduction. Written by the creators of Basecamp (formerly 37 signals), it is refreshingly bull-shit free for a business book. Each chapter is bite-sized — a little nugget of wisdom — usually a paragraph or two and often bracingly insightful. The book addresses the practical challenges of running and growing a product-based software company, and the advice is sometimes terse and brutal. (see ‘Start with No”, “Have an Enemy”, “Always hire a writer,” etc.). First published in 2006, Getting Real espoused a fiercely opinionated, common-sense approach to building a software company, rejecting traditional business tropes, offering a new paradigm for a new kind of business. Not only did Fried and Hansson practice what they preached, they were successful too. I’d still recommend this to a young software entrepreneur getting into the crowded technology space today.

Non-Business, I’d have to go with:

1) The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Oh boy, where do I start with this one? I read this book when I was undergoing a creative dry spell. (More like creative death, actually) I had nearly given up on being able to produce anything worthwhile ever when I happened to read the The War of Art.

The book introduces, among other things, the idea of ‘Resistance’, an oppositional force at war with human endeavor and ingenuity, a kind of near-demonic energy that ‘resists’ creative yield. Now, I know that sounds like ‘new age’ baloney and semi-spiritual psychobabble, but the War of Art is anything but vague and whimsical. It is a hard-hitting, take-no-prisoners treatise on the universal challenge of creation. It is tremendously, gloriously encouraging — it illustrates how the struggle to create, to grow, to seek discipline and rigor and progress, are fundamentally human challenges. It shines a light into the darkness of creative dearth; it puts into words the unspoken struggles of millions of artists. It was first published in 2002, and you only have to read its testimonies to understand its impact.

2) Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
I’m unapologetically religious and a practicing Christian. To me, to not acknowledge the existence of God is to admit that we’re the result of random acts of nature, freak accidents with no other purpose than to eventually expire, decaying flesh and bone subject to the relentless erosions of entropy.

Mere Christianity” is first and foremost a rational book — it is in many ways the opposite of a traditional religious tome. Lewis, who was once an atheist, has been on both sides of the table, and he approaches the notion of God with accessible, clear thinking. The book reveals that experiencing God doesn’t have to be a mystical exercise; God can be a concrete and logical conclusion. Lewis was a man of formidable intellect, and he brought it all to bear in this phenomenal book on the rationality of faith.

(Also read: I don’t have enough Faith to be an Atheist, by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek)

3) Blood Sweat and Pixels by Jason Schreier
A journalistic masterpiece about the grueling production journeys of some of today’s most successful video games. Having worked in video game development for about three years, I know that making video games is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Video games are fun when you play them, but creating AAA titles involves long hard hours, vast budgets, and herculean team efforts. Video game production brings together disparate creative disciplines like no other industry — Coding, AI, Graphics, Music, Sound, Storytelling & Narrative.

The Video game industry is relatively young, and the rules of production are still being written — there’s no manual telling you how to build a great game. Most Indie developers wing it. What’s surprising though is that even large game studios (such as Naughty Dog, Bioware, and Bungie) struggle with the creative process. The games we spend blissfully playing for hours and that fly off the shelves have harrowing histories, plagued with production problems and self-doubt and long crunch periods and expensive restarts. You have to read this book to believe how painful the process can be. But in the end, Blood Sweat and Pixels tells redemptive, vicariously satisfying stories — the passionate teams who build these games over months and years, groping their way through the seemingly endless dark tunnel of production, often emerge to massive success.

Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?

I would say it was Stephen Guise’s book “Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results.” The title sounds like one of those formulaic self-help books, of which there are hundreds. But this one’s different. Guise has derived a somewhat counter-intuitive approach to building habits and tackling hard projects. He suggests that we fail in bringing about personal change because we set the bar too high. He proposes an alternate approach that at first sounds a little weird — build ‘mini-habits’, (ludicrously) microscopic versions of the habits or projects you want to adopt. He dwells deep into the psychological advantage of this technique, revealing why we fail and why the idea of ‘mini-habits’ practically guarantees success.

I’m usually averse to self-help books that espouse trite productivity formulas; I avoid them like the plague. But this one came highly recommended, and to my surprise, the technique worked!

Tip: There’s also a Udemy course “Mini Habit Mastery: The Scientific Way To Change Your Habits” for those who prefer to watch rather than read.

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What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)

Not exactly the most significant impact, but recently Endurance by Scott Kelly got me questioning my notions of ambition and purpose. Endurance is a recent book, published in 2017. It’s the autobiography of Astronaut Scott Kelly and the story of the one year he spent on the ISS (International Space Station).

Now, you’re probably thinking: “What’s the autobiography of an Astronaut doing in a list like this?” But Astronaut Kelly’s life invokes profound questions: what does it mean to have an ambition or a calling that might require you to sacrifice your very life? Would you do it? Why?

It’s also a fascinating look at the grueling life of astronauts on board the ISS and the hours they spend in dangerous situations. The world sleeps while the astronauts toil away amongst the stars, dealing with all kinds of challenging (sometimes life-threatening) events.

Scott spent a year in space as a kind of human guinea pig so that scientists could study, among other things, what effect living in zero-gravity for prolonged periods has on human physiology (short answer: loss of bone mass, retinal failure, blood pressure drops, among many others). These findings will help humanity’s push towards a manned mission to Mars and an eventual habitable colony on the Red Planet.

Reading Endurance puts things in perspective; some of us have callings with remarkable purpose — the very future of humankind — at significant risk to one’s own life and creature comforts. It may sound corny, but it makes one wonder: can the work we do in our industries and businesses have a higher purpose than just commercial success?

Also read: The Right Stuff, by Tom Wolfe. Scott credits The Right Stuff for his ambition to become an astronaut. The Right Stuff is a marvelously readable book about test pilots and astronauts.

What five books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)

Some of the books I’ve mentioned above. Also, for those starting out in the field of product design, I’d recommend Steve Krug’s Don’t make me think.

Krug was teaching usability two decades ago when UX wasn’t a buzzword, and the WWW was still in its nascent stages. (The first edition of this book was published in 2000!) I cut my teeth on Don’t make me think back when I first started out in the industry. It is now in its third edition and still relevant — it offers compelling insights into building great user experiences into websites and applications.

I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?

I read every day — in the morning, a little during lunch breaks, and at night before going to bed. And of course, I read while waiting in queues, in airport lounges, and on long flights (unless there’s a nice movie playing on in-flight entertainment, but that’s getting rarer :)).

I’m an ardent Kindle user, which makes it easy to carry my books with me and read in short sips. I have a couple of Kindles at home, and I have the Kindle app on my phone, too. I only buy eBooks. We used to have entire shelves stacked with paperbacks when I was growing up, but when eBooks became a thing, I switched over and never looked back. (I used to buy ’em from well before Amazon barreled into the field and introduced the Kindle and changed digital publishing forever. )

How do you make time for reading?

One of the most significant changes one can make to one’s routine is to start one’s day early. For the longest time, I believed this was impossible and that I was a ‘night owl’ and did my best work while staying up late. I couldn’t have been more wrong — switching to a morning routine changed everything. What you do in the morning — pray, meditate, journal, read, work — sets the tone for the rest of your day. I’m also able to get a lot more done than when I worked late into the night. Once I made the switch, my productivity increased, and I also got a little more time to read.

Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?

The best thing to do to conquer information overload is to cut much of it off at the source. Social Media generates a lot of noise, and most of it is unnecessary. Email still works great for communication. I’m off of Facebook, I don’t have a Twitter or Instagram account. I even keep my LinkedIn profile low key and limit my messaging apps. Today more than ever, it’s crucial to control the volume and velocity and quality of information that’s hitting you. I subscribe to a few channels offering quality content — Medium, for example — and I carefully pick the books I read.

How do you choose what books to read next?

I’ve been reading voraciously since childhood, so I’ve reached a point where I have become very picky. A book has to be good and have something worthwhile to say if I have to read it all the way through. If not, I stop reading, even if I’m ten pages in. About once a month, I trawl Amazon — I check the ‘Best of’ lists, the Awards lists, etc. to see what might be worth reading.

Do you prioritize the books recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?

I find good writers are generous — when they discover a book they love, they talk about it avidly or give glowing testimonials. If a writer you admire is crazy about a book, you can (usually) safely assume its worth reading.

Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

I just finished reading The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. I fell in love with Wolfe’s writing after reading Bonfire of the Vanities, his 1987 satirical tour de force about greed in the 80s. Nobody writes prose like Wolfe — he goes uncomfortably deep into the heads of his characters, and his dialogue is phonetic and hilarious. Before that, I read Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan, a magic realism masterpiece about expatriates and Indian diaspora in the Middle East.

I’m currently reading Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s been on my reading list for ages, and I’ve finally gotten around to it. It appears that I’ve been reading more fiction off late, which is a return to the form for me. I had given up on fiction for a while.

What does one hope to gain from reading fiction? Stories are intrinsic to the human experience. We are human because we tell stories… and we tell stories because we’re human. It is a way to glimpse, if only for a moment, other world-views and lives. Our minds are sieves that tighten with age. As Albert Camus once said, ‘Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.’

Links where you can follow Anoop Anthony or find out more about his projects:

All books mentioned by Anoop Anthony in this interview:

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