Entrepreneurs start things. Entrepreneurs create things. Entrepreneurs often build businesses --and sometimes even industries -- out of nothing more than an idea, a dream, and a passion.

Or, as as Inc. president and editor-in-chief Eric Schurenberg says, "Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled."

Of course the type of business you decide to build -- and the opportunity you decide to pursue -- is an individual decision.

That was definitely true for Ross Ulbricht, the twenty-six year-old engineer who founded an online drug empire (basically the eBay of drugs) that grew to approximately $1.2 billion in sales. The story is told in incredible detail in Nick Bilton's highly readable American Kingpin. (Bilton is the author of another outstanding book, Hatching Twitter.)

Bilton's specialty is the deep dive. For American Kingpin he sifted through millions of words of chat logs, emails, and messages between Ulbricht and his employees, Ross's social media content (Ross was an inveterate poster and commenter), and three week's worth of trial testimony.

The result is a non-fiction book that reads like a novel. The story -- except the part where Ulbricht calls himself the Dread Pirate Roberts and decides that building a business based on selling and facilitating the sale of drugs will change the world and create a lasting legacy -- will be familiar to entrepreneurs: Ulbricht had an idea, worked endless hours, made missteps and major mistakes, found innovative solutions (how does using the U.S. Postal Service as your distribution network sound?), struggled with employees and vendors and suppliers, stayed the course when all the odds seemed against him... and turned his idea into a reality.

Of course he also engaged the services of hit men to take out employees who had wronged him. (At least he thought he was; he paid for services rendered, but those services were never actually rendered.)

If you love business books but sometimes find yourself wishing for a little more action and drama, read American Kingpin. It's a great business book, a genuine page-turner, and the best book I've read this year.

Published on: May 2, 2017
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.