Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!

  • Although he started young, Evan had already received over a century’s worth of combined wisdom and business lessons by the time Snapchat began to grow. While many twenty-somethings might have been nervous in big meetings with powerful investors, Evan Spiegel famously stared down one VC who was unwilling to adjust his firm’s standard investing terms, telling him: ‘If you want standard terms, invest in a standard company.’ That VC firm went on to invest in Snapchat’s third financing round in 2013.

  • An Unfair Advantage is a condition, asset or circumstance that puts you in a favourable business position.

  • Your unfair advantages might be where you were born, who you know and what money you have. Equally, your unfair advantages can be your personal interests, your skills, talent or expertise, your lived experience that gives you a unique insight into a problem, or your ability to access a key audience or build your company in a particularly advantageous place. A couple of properties of unfair advantages are: Your Unfair Advantages can’t easily be copied or bought. Your set of Unfair Advantages is unique to you.

  • Always partner up with somebody with unfair advantages that balance out yours.

  • By leveraging your unfair advantages, you’re working smart. As we mentioned, working hard without working smart is useless. When you work hard, you’re putting in the long hours and a lot of effort and energy. Working smart, however, is directing and multiplying that effort and those long hours in the right way to make your business succeed. We all have the same 24 hours in a day. What matters is knowing how to spend that time. Knowing and using your unfair advantages gives powerful leverage.

  • Unfair advantages (just like disadvantages) build one on top of another and have a snowballing effect. They don’t just add together, they often multiply together. In other words, the more unfair advantages you can stack up in life, and the earlier in life you can develop them, the stronger they will be. As unfair advantages lead to success when leveraged, a positive feedback loop develops which only increases the success further. Just as with the ‘magic of compound interest’ which, when started early, leads to massive success over time, similarly unfair advantages and early success lead to stronger unfair advantages, and that success begets more success.

  • Unfair Advantages are not just about your strengths, which is what you’ll often read about in business and self-help books. The unique thing about the Unfair Advantage concept is that it also takes into account your circumstances. Through our extensive experience, study and observation of successful people, particularly entrepreneurs, we’ve identified five categories of unfair advantages, which comprise the MILES Framework. They are: Money Intelligence and Insight Location and Luck Education and Expertise Status Money is the capital you have, or that you can easily raise. Intelligence and Insight includes ‘book smarts’, social and emotional intelligence, as well as creativity. Location and Luck is all about being in the right place at the right time. Education and Expertise is both your formal schooling and also your self-learning, which gives you intellectual and technical know-how. Status is your social status, including your network and connections. It’s your ‘personal brand’ ‒ in other words, how you’re perceived. It also includes your inner status, which is your confidence and self-esteem. Remember, you don’t need to have all of these unfair advantages to succeed. The best strategy is to partner up with people who have unfair advantages that complement yours. All of these advantages are built on the foundation of Mindset, which is the one you have the most control over and where you have the most leverage.

  • A reality-growth mindset is the ability to accept the hard limits of the way things are (like the physical laws of the universe) and also to believe that anything is possible (the metaphysical way of looking at the universe). It acknowledges that there are limitations, but that those limitations are more malleable than some people may think. You have to have these two opposing viewpoints in your mind without feeling the need to fully reconcile them, and then deploy the right perspective when needed. Again, think of them as mental tools in your toolbox.

  • Four characteristics of a strong Reality-Growth Mindset
    1. Vision This is the first irrefutable characteristic of all strong mindsets. You may have heard the expression ‘without vision, people perish’. Also: without vision, companies lose their way, people lose their jobs and executives lose their minds. People will follow a leader with vision, even if that vision turns out, in the end, to be a poor one. The person with vision serves as a prophet, voicing the unknown and bringing it into reality. If you are not able to imagine the future with your organisation, there is really little reason to continue moving forward. One setback, and you’re done. When you have vision, you can see the future you wish to create. Oprah Winfrey commented on a vision she experienced at just four years of age, when she dreamed of a different life: I remember standing on the back porch watching my grandmother boiling clothes and poking them down. I was four years old, and I remember thinking ‘My life won’t be like this. It will be better.’ It wasn’t from a place of arrogance, it was just from a place of knowing that things could be different for me somehow. Oprah didn’t just dream about a different circumstance for herself. She saw it. And then she lived it.
    2. Resourcefulness ‘An entrepreneur is someone who will jump off a cliff and assemble an airplane on the way down.’ This is a great quote by Reid Hoffman which perfectly describes the resourcefulness and ability to solve problems quickly that an entrepreneur needs.
    3. Constant growth and lifelong learning Lifelong learning is probably needed more now than at any other point in history. Perhaps, in years past, you could get a degree and it would serve you for life. This is no longer the case. The progress curve of technology keeps getting steeper, and acceleration is the result. Entire industries are being upended by startups. We will soon have 5G technology, stronger artificial intelligence and self-driving cars. Even as we write this, business models are changing and new tools and platforms are being created. Now, some of the biggest and best companies in the world, including Apple, Google, Costco, Whole Foods and Hilton Hotels, have removed university degrees as a requirement for a job. From this point on, the future belongs to the person who will commit to a life of constant growth through continuous learning, not just a traditional university degree.
    4. Grit and perseverance Each of the case studies we’ve looked at so far in this book have required a level of grit. In other words, that person kept going in the face of resistance. Rejections, pitfalls and obstacles will consistently get in your way. Without perseverance, your startup won’t make it out alive. You need thick skin. You need to be able to handle criticism, both the constructive and destructive types of criticism. You have to be able to bounce back even when you’re down. Even when you fail. You have to be able to take responsibility, because when you’re a founder there is no one that you can blame.
  • Hasan had a conversation with the ex-head of search engine optimisation (SEO – which basically means getting to the top of search engines) at Zoopla, a UK-based property technology startup that also IPO’d in 2014, and which was started at around the same time as Just Eat in the UK. Like Just Eat, Zoopla had astoundingly fast growth, and SEO was one of their main growth drivers. SEO is a really difficult and time-consuming task. It has an important impact for businesses and an appeal for customers – you get found faster and appear more reputable – and so, understandably, every company wants to be at the top of Google. He revealed the secret to their SEO success. Would you like to know what it was…? Acquisitions. That’s right, they simply bought out all the companies whose websites were ranking higher than them on Google. They muscled their way to the top of Google with the funding they had raised, by buying out the other players. Now isn’t that interesting? When we’re talking about money, we mean wealth. Wealth is more than just money; it is also any assets that you own (houses, land, stocks, anything you can sell for money). Ash especially knows that money matters, because, as you saw in his story, he has experienced what it’s like to have it, and what it’s like not to have it. It’s a completely different world. Here’s one thing in particular that he noticed: rich people often intentionally obscure how easy it is for them to make even more money. And they also know how to pay less than you’d expect in taxes. He finds it strange to talk to other wealthy people and to sense from them this attitude of ‘I earned this. I worked for it.’ But they forget how much easier it is to make money once you already have it. Rich people own assets, which create more money just by sitting there. For example, if you own a property which you are renting out, you are probably going to be making money every month.

  • Just as with the unfair advantage of Money, you probably already have a good sense of whether or not you’re above average in Intelligence, especially when it comes ‘book smarts’. Over the course of your life, people will probably have told you that you’re smart and you’ll have the grades to prove it. However, when it comes to ‘street smarts’ – social and emotional intelligence, and even creativity – you may not have had as much feedback in your life, and may not be sure if these are part of your abilities. This is particularly true because, for most of us, these kinds of intelligence are hardly assessed at all in school and university. And so you have to assess them yourself, or ask close friends and colleagues for their feedback. Ask yourself: How well do you work in teams? How good are you in your interpersonal relationships? Do you make others around you feel better about themselves? Are you in touch with your own emotions? Can you get a good gut feeling of what other people’s intentions are? In other words, can you often sense if somebody has bad intentions? These kinds of questions help you get a sense of where you are.

  • Serendipity matters. Location and Luck means being in the right place at the right time. Let’s start with Location, because being in the right location increases your chances of luck. Location Location may seem pretty meaningless until you realise how powerful it really is. In properties and real estate, it’s often said that the three most important factors are: location, location, location. The same is often true for people and businesses. Ash moved down from Birmingham to London. If it hadn’t been for that move, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to join Just Eat. And Hasan’s parents moved with him from Baghdad to London. Again, who knows how his life would have turned out if he’d stayed there. Warren Buffett mentioned winning the ‘ovarian lottery’ by being born in the United States. These are all elements of location and luck. When it comes to businesses, we’re always interested to see which of the shops on our local high street come and go. Over the years, businesses have opened and closed regularly. It seems some locations just don’t work, no matter the business. But does location itself hold so much power for businesses, or is it all about how good the business is itself? If your boutique clothes shop, for example, is in the middle of nowhere, you’re not likely to make many sales. If your new gym is based in a geographically hard-to-reach place, it will be tough to get many customers. It’s pretty obvious. If your physical business is in a bad location, customers are less likely to stumble upon it, or to make the journey to use your facilities.

  • Location affects the vibe that you’re infected with. It’s said that you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so being surrounded by innovative and entrepreneurial people, who are ambitious and hardworking, is likely to have a positive effect on your own ambitions, attitudes and productivity. One of the most significant things we noticed when we visited Silicon Valley was that they think BIG. They are more confident and more ambitious than virtually anywhere else in the world when it comes to startups. There are also more relevant events and meetups in startup hubs – which, again, helps you. Equally, though, location doesn’t have to be purely physical. Location is also your environment, and online we have a lot more control over how we carve and design our environment through who we follow and befriend on social media, and through what type of content we consume. Having the right type of people around you and joining entrepreneurial groups and masterminds is incredibly valuable.

  • While you can’t change the timing of your birth, you can at least have a little bit of control over the timing of your startup. Timing in founding a startup is all about trying to ride the big waves (not short-term trends or hype) that we are being carried on by societal and technological shifts. It’s all about the macro-trends. For example, Evan Spiegel and his co-founders had the insight that there was a societal shift for young people of their generation (Generation Z) to express themselves and communicate visually, with a selfie. This coincided with the technological trend of high-quality front-facing cameras on smartphones which are always connected to the internet through mobile data. They nailed the timing, and that can be partly attributed to the timing of their births, in the sense that they were part of that younger generation themselves.

  • We all know that location is important. When choosing a place to live, we’ll consider all the amenities in the local area – the schools, the transport links, the parks or local gyms – as well as other factors, like the crime rate, whether we like how the area looks, and what’s going on in the local community. So why wouldn’t we give the same care and attention to where we start our business? Location may feel like the unfair advantage that we have the least control over (we can’t choose where we’re born), but it can also be the one that has most potential for flexibility: You can always move! Only you can know what your business needs, so ask yourself if your location could be better. Before you launch, it’s always worth asking yourself if you are positioned – both physically and online – where you need to be in order to give your business the best chance of success.

  • Education is defined as ‘the process of learning, especially at a school or university’. Having a good Education is a huge Unfair Advantage.

  • There are three main benefits: knowledge, network and signalling. The first of these is the most obvious purpose of education. Knowledge is what you’re taught in schools – which includes literacy, mathematics and facts about the world – and then deeper and generally more specialised subject-specific learning as you get older at university. This gives you the basic tools to engage with the world, from reading to doing simple arithmetic, and it’s undeniable that schooling, especially as a child, is crucial to success in life. The more specialised subject areas will give you more in-depth understanding of the world or of a particular field. The second is network. When you go to university, particularly one that’s prestigious and difficult to get into, you will meet others who have also managed to gain entry into that university. The selection process that everyone goes through means that you get a highly curated set of fellow students, who are smart and driven. This is a great source of potential co-founders and business partners. There’s also the network to which the university can grant you access if they have good entrepreneurial societies, with professors as potential mentors, and links to investors. The university might even have its own investment fund. Finally, you have the signalling, which is often referred to as credentialling. It is about showing to others that you have the skills and intelligence for certain jobs. This is the Status and ‘personal branding’ side of the education system

  • Your Status is your personal brand. It is how others see you. It is your social standing, your appearance, gender, age, how you dress, stand, talk. It’s also your perceived credibility. When Ash was almost denied a job simply because of his young age, that was a concern about his status – whether he could command enough respect, whether he’d have enough perceived wisdom. By crossing out his age, Ash emphasised that it was just a number – and his self-confidence, achievements and experience were what really elevated him as a candidate. Ash got the job. High-status people turn heads. People want to meet them. People want to be associated with them. People want to spend time with them. We associate Status with popularity or celebrity. While in school, status was all about being cool. In adulthood, it’s often more about symbols of success, signs of being well educated, and prestigious job titles and occupations. It’s about your networks and the way you’re seen. Sociologists define it as being about your perceived social value relative to others – in other words, what you can bring to the table. In addition to this outer status, there’s also inner status. Inner status is about how you perceive yourself. It’s all about the inner psychology that can powerfully boost your outer status by affecting how you come across, through your confidence and self-esteem.

  • Higher status commands attention. Higher status makes you an influencer. A high number of social media followers can be a cause and also an effect of high status. However, you can also have high status without any social media followers, simply by being in a culturally prestigious occupation, or working for a high-status brand. Have you ever noticed that in stories about startup founders, if one of them comes from a high-status company or university, they never fail to mention it? For example, you’ll often read: ‘Ex-Googler starts a new company.’ ‘Ex-Goldman Sachs director joins the team.’ ‘Stanford dropout founds a new startup.’ Do you ever wonder why?

  • There are many ways of increasing your social status, and this chapter is about understanding the power of status, understanding the different forms and contexts of status, and finally how to make the most of what you’ve got. Because, remember, status is your perceived ability to add value. Value can be in the form of wisdom, entertainment, spreading good emotions, solving problems for people, achieving something difficult, being cool, trendy, aspirational, attractive or interesting. That’s why it’s more complicated and expansive than just whether you’re ‘upper class’, ‘white’ or ‘male’ – we all have a certain status in different situations.

  • You should at least have some sense of whether or not you have high social status. You know your own background and the privileges ‒ or lack thereof ‒ that you’ve experienced. If you do have a form of status, be sure to highlight it when necessary. This means that if you have an impressive university or job at a famous company in your history, make sure it’s there on your pitchdeck, LinkedIn or CV. Don’t downplay those kinds of achievements. But if you want to stay likeable and keep your friends, you should probably refrain from highlighting or trying to big up your status too often. Bragging is one way to immediately lower your status. Status is more nuanced than shouting from the rooftops. There’s a place for humility, and different cultures and subcultures are variably tolerant of self-aggrandising. If you’re naturally humble, speak up about your achievements, and if you’re speaking up too much when it’s not necessary, pipe down about it, because if you do have an ace up your sleeve in terms of accomplishments you’ll have even higher status in people’s eyes when they find out about it anyway. If you feel that you don’t fit the mould of a typically higher-status individual, don’t despair. Be aware of the prejudices you might face, educate yourself on the cultural codes of places you want to join and, most importantly, remember that everything you are (not just your family background) contributes to the value you can bring: your personality, your mindset, your education, insight and location. And don’t forget the importance of inner status. Your confidence and self-esteem will shine through. Make sure to work on liking yourself, and building your conviction in yourself. Bear in mind that everyone feels unconfident or out of their depth sometimes. Everyone gets imposter syndrome. You have to push through it. Question your inner critic. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone regularly, so you can start having faith in yourself that you’ll manage. Get that feeling of resourcefulness inside you. In fact, for Status, it’s most important to develop your inner status (your confidence and self-esteem) first, rather than your network or your Expertise. The latter two determine what role you will play in your startup ‒ networking is better for the commercial co-founder, and Expertise more important for the technical partner. But both partners need self-confidence to succeed. Then combined you will make a strong management team – what all investors are looking for. Always keep in mind how others succeed and what status they may have had before they started. Don’t feel disempowered by others’ success, as there’s always more to it than meets the eye.

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