Book-Talk with Neal O'Gorman, Serial Entrepreneur
Artomatix, the company he co-founded in 2014, is an artificial intelligence company that helps create realistic, immersive 3D worlds. It solves the problem that making art to create 3D worlds costs too much, takes too long, and under utilizes artistic talent.
His first company, Tsunami Photonics, was acquired by Agilent Technologies in 2006. He started his second company, OteetO, in 2010: a social games development company with a main focus on Texas Ask’Em Poker, a new form of poker that combined Trivia with Hold’Em.
Neal has a technical background, with patents to his name, but in the past decade he was more commercially focused. He fulfilled roles such as CEO, Product Manager, Portfolio Manager, Sales & Business Development.
He’s also Director of the Founder Institute Dublin, the Silicon Valley-based idea-stage accelerator and startup launch program. The Founder Institute provides entrepreneurs a step-by-step program to launch a startup and receive support from local startups mentors, but also a global network of entrepreneurs that can help them.
Keep on reading to find out more about the books that had an impact on Neal, his reading habits, and whose words he recommends to entrepreneurs.
What’s your favorite book and why? Business and non-business, if possible.
I’m not someone that chooses favourites, however, the most recent book that I got a lot out of and which, for me, spans both business and non-business is ‘Ready Player One‘ by Ernest Cline.
It was recommended by the VP of Labs at Unity as a book to help appreciate the potential of how virtual reality can impact our future. It certainly achieved that. There’s no doubt that it helped my mind delve into the potential opportunities that VR will provide both for Artomatix (an AI for art creation company I helped co-found) and many other startups.
It also is a fun read that references a lot of classic games from the 1980’s and I’m looking forward to the movie that’s coming out. Hopefully, the movie will be as good as the book.
Certainly, a previous non-business book which I really enjoyed (along with many other people) was The Da Vinci Code. I was living in the States at the time, and it was a rare occasion to be on a plane and not see someone reading it. The movie however, even with Tom Hanks was a major disappointment.
Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell me about it?
Yes, I found when reading a book from my friend David Nihill called “Do You Talk Funny?:7 Comedy Habits to Become a Better (and Funnier) Public Speaker” there were lots of learnings.
Not just learnings, but actually simple things I’ve been able to put into practice when presenting. For example, I’m even more conscious of the rule of three, using stories and reconstructing sentences to leave the final word in a sentence as the real punchline.
Along with opening your eyes to some invaluable insights into how comedians work, there are some excellent stories intertwined with gems of wisdom. I do highly recommend it.
What books had the biggest impact on you? (perhaps changed the way you see things, dramatically changed your career path)
There are quite a number of books in the entrepreneurial space that have been impactful in different ways.
Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers was a real eye-opener early on in my entrepreneurial journey. The concept of ten thousand hours before becoming an expert in a field has stuck with me. He makes fair arguments that while to the outside world, certain people like Bill Gates are purely self-made but the reality was his unique environment and circumstances gave him very early access to computers, at such a young age that he was starting out with a distinct advantage over essentially everyone else. I do assess myself and others with regards to the time they’ve committed to something.
Dale Carnegie’s, How to Win Friends and Influence People is an old book from the 1930’s but its simplicity on an important topic will always be relevant. It was nice to read that subconsciously I was applying many of the recommended techniques but certainly made me more aware of being sure to apply them. In particular, I do try to help people first and when networking at an event, listen more about them than talking about myself.
Steve Blank’s Four Steps to the Epiphany. I must confess that I did not actually read the full book. I did read one particular summary which really helped me think about building a startup in a very different way. Having spent much of time before starting my second business as a product manager, the advice ensured a more customer-centric rather than product-centric approach. (Of course, not long after reading the summary document, Eric Ries brought out his book The Lean Startup – which is clearly a must read).
Crossing the Chasm opened my eyes to the existence and reality of the hype curve, early adopters and the now infamous trough of disillusionment. It’s a model that I’ve used to try to understand where certain products/trends are residing.
Simon Sinek: Start with Why. As I now meet with many aspiring entrepreneurs I find most of them failing on this front. They’re also so eager to talk about what they are building. I’ve very consciously adopted the start with why approach. I’m keen to understand the Why them? – why are they are the right people to execute this idea – Why Now? – why is now the right time to make this idea work and indeed, why will their customer really want to buy their offering.
Predictably Irrational from Dan Ariely is also an excellent, insightful read. The example for pricing subscriptions for the economist is something every entrepreneur needs to be aware of and look to always apply.
What books would you recommend to youngsters interested in your professional path? Why? (no number limit here)
If you want to be an entrepreneur I do recommend reading biographies of/from some very successful entrepreneurs. You’ll get an interesting insight and hopefully will see that they are not all the same and you can do it too.
Richard Branson’s, Losing my Virginity – a nice casual read which gives you an idea as to how his mind works and how ‘faking it’ can work well.
Alan Sugar, What You See Is What You Get – I’m not a fan of Alan Sugar but his book is a great example of how you can start off buying the most basic things at one price and sell them at a higher price to ultimately creating Amstrad, one of the most successful computer businesses in the world at the time.
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future – Although not written by Elon, it’s a fascinating read that makes you realise the risks Elon Musk has taken both in his business and personal life. Be warned though, after reading this you will want to buy a Tesla. Also interesting for anyone who has been involved with the Founder Institute, as Adeo Ressi (the founder of The Founder Institute) is referenced a few times particularly when they head to Russia looking for rockets.
If you’re going into sales I highly recommend Predictable Revenue. It’s another easy read but will help you put the right processes in place and ensure you have replaced ‘cold calls’ with ‘warm’ ones!
I’m interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How often do you read? In what format?
As a young adult I read a lot of fiction. However, once I went to college, I read less fiction, as I felt if I had time to read, I should be reading some book related to my course.
However, this had the impact that I read less!
From about 2011 Audible became my standard way to ‘read’ a book. Being able to listen to a book while on the move is excellent and much more efficient. As is increasing the playing speed of the recording.
How do you make time for reading?
I don’t do it often enough at the moment. In the past while commuting was prime time. Or while out running etc.
Netflix seems to have impacted upon my late night reading/listening.
Do you take notes or have any other technique for conquering the torrent of information?
I don’t take notes. When I was younger this wasn’t an issue. My memory was excellent – that however, that is no longer the case.
These days I quite often just take a photo of something that interests me.
I do get frustrated with Audible books not allowing me to snap a photo of something – or even worse not even allowing me to see the diagram being referenced.
How do you choose what books to read next?
Most often through recommendations that I download to my Audible account which then sit in the queue.
Do you prioritize those recommended by certain people? Is there anyone that you consider a book-recommendations guru?
When I went through the Founder Institute in Berlin in 2010, many of the mentors gave book recommendations within their presentations.
Many of which are listed above. If there’s a book particularly relevant or strongly recommended by someone, then yes it can jump to the top of the list.
Last question: what book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?
Peter Thiel’s: Zero To One. Looking for some insight on how he sees things. Interesting to get his take on the fact that a VC is likely to need any one investment be able to return the size of that VC’s fund.
Links where you can follow Neal O’Gorman or find out more about his projects:
All books mentioned by Neal O’Gorman in this interview:
- Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell
- The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
- Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling Disruptive Products to Mainstream Customers by Geoffrey A. Moore
- Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek
- Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely
- Losing My Virginity by Richard Branson
- What You See Is What You Get: My Autobiography by Alan Sugar
- Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
- Predictable Revenue: Turn Your Business Into a Sales Machine with the $100 Million Best Practices of Salesforce.com by Aaron Ross, Marylou Tyler
- Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel, Blake Masters
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
- The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
- Do You Talk Funny?: 7 Comedy Habits to Become a Better (and Funnier) Public Speaker by David Nihill