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Book-Talk with Thomas Graziani, Co-Founder of WalktheChat

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Thomas Graziani is the co-founder and CEO of WalktheChat, an e-commerce platform that helps foreign businesses sell to China using WeChat.

Up until 6 years ago, Thomas was living in France, working in a big management consulting company. He then moved to China (he’s now based in Beijing).

For the first 3 years in China, he had a leading role in the marketing and strategy team of Schneider Electric, working on Smart City.

He’s been running WalktheChat since 2014, as a spin-off from his previous entrepreneurial ventures. It started as an agency building WeChat solutions for large enterprises (such as Nestle and NFL). The company pivoted and developed its own WeChat e-commerce software solution – which is currently the main business. WalktheChat also provides free educational resources for WeChat marketing.

From our book-talk you’ll find out more about the philosophers that left deep marks on Thomas, why reading brings similar benefits in work and love, and how he finds knowledge in the older non-business books.

Estimated reading time for this interview is 8 minutes. If you'd rather listen to it, you can do it on iTunes, Google Play or Stitcher.

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

My favorite book is like “A la recherche du temps perdu” (“In Search of Lost Time”) from Marcel Proust. It is a seven-volumes epic work describing the intricacies of human nature. Proust style is among the most beautiful I’ve ever read, and he manages to really make you consider every aspect of your daily life in a different and deeper way.

In the business section, I would pick “Nonviolent communication” by Marshall Rosenberg. The book is not directly related to business, but its insights (how to communicate effectively with people without generating conflict) have wide applications to the business world.

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

Reading Camus helped me realize that I wasn’t completely crazy, which was helpful! Albert Camus is one of the theoreticians of the “existentialist” philosophy which suggests that life is absurd but that mankind can define its own meaning. At a younger age, the absurd nature of life was bothering me, and I felt isolated in this feeling. Realizing that most people are experiencing similar feelings was incredibly liberating.

In work and love, I find reading brings similar benefits: very often, the most important part about reading something is not to find a solution or a trick. It is simply to realize that other individuals are going through the same experience, which makes it easier to bare.

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

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse most likely had the biggest impact of me. It is the story of a young priest who goes into the world in order to find wisdom. He becomes a beggar, a merchant, a father, a student of the Buddha. Several times, he leaves his current situation in order to keep growing and to get closer to the truth.

Such philosophy was helpful when I had to leave my stable corporate job in order to start a company. It will most likely keep proving useful, as it led me to see life as a series of phases, instead of a linear path.

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

All of the above. I truly believe there is a time for each book, and it’s important to read the right books at the right time in your life. Older non-business books (Hermann Hesse, Proust, Nietzsche, Camus, Sartre, Thomas Mann, Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, etc.) tend in my opinion to contain deeper knowledge which can help one really find direction in life.

Second best would be “non-vertical” books which can support in developing either communication skills (Non Violent Communication, Radical Candor) or methodologies (Lean Startup, Lean Customer Development).

For vertical industry-specific knowledge, books tend not to be very helpful as they get outdated too quickly. I would recommend blogs or podcasts.

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

I usually read in “phases”. I might read a lot for a few days when I get interested in a book, and then stop for several weeks if work and life get too hectic. I however consume several hours of podcasts and audiobooks every day.

How do you make time for reading?

I go to coffee-shops and dedicate some time for it during daytime.

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

Sometimes I would write quotes on a notebook, but that’s about it. I have a to-do list I rewrite every day in case there is some concrete action I must take related to something I read.

How do you choose what books to read next?

Mostly friends recommendations or books I heard about within podcasts.

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

Yes, one of my best friends from Brazil would be a book-recommendations Guru.

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

I am currently reading two business books: Radical Candor by Kim Scott which I expect can help me build better relationships with my colleagues, and Lean Customer Development by Cindy Alvarez which helps me have more open conversations with clients and better define our product roadmap.

Links where you can find out more about WalktheChat:

All books mentioned by Thomas in our interview:

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