Every year I power through some of the year's most acclaimed books on technology, innovation and business. I try to knock out as many as I can in between reviewing business plans, reading industry reports and watching the occasional hockey game in my downtime. But four stories about what goes into building an iconic brand stayed with me this year. Each book included the fundamentals -- you have to have a big vision, execute mercilessly, hire the right people -- but that's just the beginning. It isn't until you're in the midst of building a foundational company (like we're doing at Okta), that you can truly appreciate it all.
For the aspiring Phil Knights and Marc Benioffs out there, I recommend you immerse yourself in these success stories, and I have a few highlights and takeaways to get you started.
1) Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency, by James Andrew Miller
Powerhouse is the 700-page chronicle of Creative Artists Agency's ascent to the Hollywood upper echelon. Today, CAA is one of the industry's most powerful talent agencies, but it didn't exist until five William Morris employees made a brash decision and left to try their own hand in 1975. Since then, CAA has made a lasting impact on the model of one of Silicon Valley's most iconic brands: Andreessen Horowitz. And as a16z's first investment, we've benefited from CAA's influence on the firm.
The takeaway: You will build a reputation and legacy by bringing people together. Although Miller's book is full of entertaining stories of greed, betrayal and egomania, the biggest takeaway for me was one of a16z's: market development and networking will make you successful. As Okta has grown, we've worked with thousands of customers, partners and investors, and we've seen first-hand the benefits of a16z's executive briefing center -- a program meant to connect portfolio companies to prospective customers, inspired by the iconic CAA.
2) 99: Stories of the Game, by Wayne Gretzky
If you're a hockey player or fan like I am, you don't need to be told twice to pick up Wayne Gretzky's recently published memoir. (You've probably already devoured it.) But if you aren't addicted to the TV during the Stanley Cup Playoffs and you're more interested in how the book could be a case study for entrepreneurs, you might need slightly more convincing.
Wayne Gretzky himself is an icon, and what becomes clear in his memoir is that his success is what made the NHL an exemplary brand. The league has grown in size and revenue since Gretzky joined in 1979. Back then, players didn't make much money and the game didn't interest non-hockey aficionados, but Gretzky made the game exciting, and the league took note. They changed the rules to increase overall scoring and started better incentivizing players, ultimately giving their customers and viewers what they wanted.
The takeaway: Take advantage of your assets and plot your next move. "The Great One" was (and always will be) the NHL's greatest player, and the league leadership knew this when they approved his trade to the LA Kings in 1988. Bringing their star to California dramatically improved hockey's popularity outside of Canada, Minnesota and New England. The move also provided the impetus for the 1990s expansion that saw the addition of nine "warm-weather teams," including the San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Florida Panthers and Nashville Predators. Gretzky was able to expand the NHL brand's reach beyond its already established domain.
3) Freedom Found: My Life Story, by Warren Miller
Warren Miller is sometimes called "the godfather of action sports," and one could attribute the mass popularity of skiing today to his 55-year career as a filmmaker. Skiing was once a hobby reserved for the rich, but media distribution -- and more specifically, Miller's films -- introduced it to the masses.
The takeaway: Share your message with the world. Miller didn't take your average entrepreneurial journey: he didn't go to college, enlisted in the Navy and at one point lived in a trailer outside the Sun Valley ski resort. But he had the power of visual storytelling, and he gave skiing and snowboarding a broad appeal. He built an iconic brand -- both his own and, by extension, the action sports brand -- with a camera, and changed skiing and snowboarding as we know it.
4) Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike, by Phil Knight
In his memoir, Nike founder and board chairman Phil Knight documents the company's rise from his early days of selling shoes out of the back of his Plymouth Valiant, to its evolution into one of the world's most recognizable, respected, and profitable brands. It's a story that might seem daunting to many entrepreneurs today, since Knight didn't have access to venture capital. At the time, VCs only paid attention to Silicon Valley and its microchips, not apparel in Oregon (via Japan). But it's also a success story that showcases the power of commitment that all founders can relate to.
The takeaway: It can take 40+ years to build an iconic company; and a whole lot of dedication and focus. The Nikes, CAAs and Apples of the world never would have succeeded without years of execution, failures and recoveries, networking and market building. Don't despair if you aren't approved for the first loan you apply for, or if your product doesn't take off right away. If you have the vision and are willing to spend decades doing what it takes to achieve it, "Just Do It."