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Omar Zenhom and Nicole Baldinu, Founders of The $100 MBA, Talk About Books and Reading Habits

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Omar Zenhom Nicole Baldinu - The $100 MBAOmar Zenhom and Nicole Baldinu are the founders of the business education community The $100 MBA and Webinar Ninja, a webinar software.

Before starting these two companies, Omar had a long career in teaching and Nicole is a New York Film Academy graduate. While attending Wharton business school, Omar became frustrated with how business education fails to cope with modern times and decided to drop out. They started The $100 MBA Company, a business education community that features expert video training, a frequently updated blog with practical articles and tips, plus ‘la piece de resistance’, The $100 MBA Show, one of the top-rated podcasts on iTunes where they teach “real business lessons from real entrepreneurs in the real world”. Omar is responsible with the business building part of their projects, while Nicole is creating the video content and producing the podcast and the content on The $100 MBA Blog.

We really enjoyed talking to them about books, since both are avid readers. So keep on reading and find out what books had the biggest impact on them, what are some of the most memorable things they read, how they used them in business, and where do they get their book recommendations from.

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

Nicole: Business – The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. It’s become like a bible for me. I’ve referred to it to get me out of a business rut or dealing with a business dilemma or I’ve used it as a reminder on “how to” do something in our business – like conducting a really great interview. I’m so grateful for the wealth of knowledge and the straightforward and honest delivery of this book. The amount of times I refer to this book in business conversations is a testament to how impactful it has been. A must read for every founder.

Non-Business – My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Well, I didn’t want this book to end. And I’ve gone back and listened to the audio version in Italian too. I’m lucky that my second language is Italian, as I got to enjoy it twice over! This book was wildly successful and for good reasons, it has everything you’d want in a story, love, friendship, history, humor, sadness and tragedy. All in four delicious volumes that, again, you wish would keep going and going.

Omar: Business – So hard to choose just one. But one of my favorites is Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. It’s the raw truth about what it takes and what pain you must endure creating a lasting business and brand.

Non-Business – I love reading travel guides. No one favorite but I love Rick Steves’ take on travel. His books are a joy to read even if you are not planning a trip.

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

Nicole: There have been lots of moments. But recently I read Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, and so much of his advice has helped me deal with what I used find stressful and worrisome about business. But after reading his book, I’ve realized there’s no point! What a relief that has been.

Top tip from that book. Live in “day-tight compartments”. By focusing and doing well only what is immediately at hand, you immediately have to let go of any concerns of the past, the future and you start to live and work better in the present. Dale is the best.

Omar: Early on in my entrepreneurship journey I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. His concept of ‘fail fast’ was a mind shift for me. Instead of trying to avoid failure, embrace it as a right of passage. This allowed me to break through and put out work that was less than perfect but work that was completed nonetheless. Work I can improve upon later and not just have as an idea in my head.

What books had the biggest impact on you? Perhaps changed the way you see things or dramatically changed your career path.

Nicole: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. This was one of the first non-fiction books I read when I transitioned out of a full-time teaching career into full-time freelancing and then eventually full-time entrepreneurship.

The book impacted me because I was used to reading only fiction, I never gave much thought to non-fiction (that has changed a lot since co-founding two companies!). The principles outlined in Hill’s book I believe have laid a critical foundation for me as an entrepreneur. The mindset needed for success are all in this book.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I’m a real sucker for the classics! This book is a handbook for life I feel. I never liked the title though, (that’s the only gripe I have with Dale!) but honestly, it’s a book on how to be a better person overall and it’s priceless. His reminder that if you can always try to see the world from the perspective of another is foundational to getting along with people (and generally makes for a better human being) is my go-to favorite piece of advice for everything.

Omar: Biographies of anyone that has achieved any level of success are priceless. From Steve Martin, to Elon Musk to Arnold Schwarzenegger– they all have had an amazing journey filled with lessons you can learn for the price of fat-free muffin and a cup of coffee. They have allowed me to understand what kind of person I need to become in order to achieve similar success in my life.

What five books would you recommend to young people interested in your career path & why?

Nicole: The 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss is for those who’ve never realized the fact that there is an alternative way to work and live. This is eye-opening. What we learned in school about what happens after you leave school and get a job gets totally disrupted in this book. And while a lot more people are waking up to things like Remote Working, the majority of the world functions in the Industrial Age model.

Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port. Most people leaving a 9-5 and venturing into entrepreneurship may start out selling and offering a skill set they have as a service. Book Yourself Solid is sheer brilliance for any level freelancer, solopreneur. The sooner you read this at the start of your career, the better off you’ll be!

Steal the Show by Michael Port again, will teach you the art of Public Speaking/Performance like you’ve never imagined. As an entrepreneur, you quickly learn that communication is the mother of all skills and foundational to being successful in your industry. All the tips and advice Michael Shares are to be immediately applied and you’ll see, magic happens.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown. As entrepreneurs, we dangerously start to spin more plates and add more and more to our to-dos. The quicker you implement strategies and realize the power of “no” and doing less is mind-blowing.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. This is a superb book. So well-written, colorful, raw and gritty, and a window into the culinary world from one of the best chefs. But it’s more than that, it’s an insight into mastery, what a great work ethic looks like, and the fascinating people that are drawn into this world as well. It makes you appreciate how different industries and the people within them can operate in vastly different ways to your own.

Omar: The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday. A great book to get your head right about dealing with challenges.

The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. The reality of building a business, managing people and coming out alive. Great advice about the most difficult situations in business.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. The story a man few understood by undoubtedly revered. Steve Jobs’ character is a journey in itself. A journey filled with the will to change the world. We all can learn from that.

The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert. A fantastic book on marketing, sales and the art of communication. Skills you MUST have as an entrepreneur. Just writing about this book makes me want to re-read it.

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin. Not a typical business book but make no mistake, Steve Martin’s journey to success was not too different from any successful entrepreneur’s journey. How to stand out? How to outlast the competition? How to evolve? It’s all in there.

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

Nicole: I read every day on my Amazon Kindle or on my iPhone (especially for audiobooks).

Omar: I prefer to read on my Kindle. It’s great for travel and comfortable bedtime reading. I also LOVE audio books, especially biographies, with Audible. I read my kindle for 15-20 mins at bedtime and listen to audiobooks for an hour when I work out 3-4 times a week.

How do you make time for reading?

Nicole: I read every night before sleeping. I also sometimes read in the morning while having breakfast.

Omar: Tieing working out with listening to my audiobooks is a great system. My mind focuses on the content of the book and less on how hard the workout is.

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

Nicole: I read on the Amazon Kindle so I highlight bits that strike me, but I admit I need to get better at doing this. I don’t really have a system, yet.

Omar: I don’t take notes but I do like to re-read books I love.

How do you choose what books to read next?

Nicole: My partner in life and business Omar Zenhom consumes books a lot faster than I do, so I usually go off his recommendations. My mother reads a ton of fiction books so I take her advice for great novels.

Omar: I have some favorite authors and heavily rely on recommendations from friends. I always cross reference these recommendations with Amazon reviews.

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

Nicole: I guess it’s Omar. 😀 But I’m also fortunate to have great friends in the space that are avid readers like Jordan Harbinger, John Lee Dumas, Kate Erickson and their recommendations are always on point.

Omar: Yes. If I like you and your taste, I will most likely like your book recommendations. I often exchange recommendations with friends like Noah Kagan, Michael Port, and Jordan Harbinger.

What book are you currently reading and what are you expecting to gain from it?

Nicole: Thanks to your site I just downloaded Monday Morning Leadership. As a co-founder with a growing company, I’ve worn many hats over years and had various roles within the companies. Leadership and management have not been the bulk of my duties until more recently. I’m looking for better ways to manage and see my managers succeed and win in their role!

Omar: I’m reading Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday. It’s already challenged me to start thinking bigger and more long-term with my work. I expect to finish the book feeling more inspired to create my own masterpieces and with a more informed mindset of what it takes to create work that lasts.

Links where you can follow Nicole and Omar or find out more about their projects:

All books mentioned by Nicole and Omar in this interview:

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