7 Super Successful Women Share the Book That Influenced Them the Most

Elon Musk’s is a classic sci-fi trilogy. Jeff Bezos’s is an understated novel by a British Nobel laureate. Ask whatever smart and successful person you want and they’ll all be able to tell you about the one book that utterly changed their thinking or the direction of their lives — the singular title that shaped who they are today.

But while male billionaires’ reading choices get plenty of press coverage, we hear relatively less about the books that have been most inspirational for super successful, but slightly less high-profile women — the kinds of books that are most likely to provide similar wisdom and mental nourishment for the next generation of leaders coming up behind them.

The TED Ideas blog recently aimed to fill that void, soliciting 23 of the organization’s female speakers to share the one book that made them who they are today. These speakers ranged from human rights activists to bankers and their responses were equally diverse. Here are seven of the picks with the broadest appeal (though check out the complete list for other offbeat ideas spanning Japanese philosophy to poetry).

1. Nobel-prize winning biologist Elizabeth Blackburn

Before Blackburn was a Nobel-winning biologist, she was a girl who was unsure about her future career path. Madame Curie: A Biography by the subject’s daughter, Eve Curie, motivated her to choose science. “I was inspired by how she felt that scientific research was a deeply worthwhile, even noble, calling and that she also had a family (two daughters) and was a devoted parent as well as an iconic researcher,” recalls Blackburn.

2. Human rights activist Yvette Alberdingk Thijm

Activist Alberdingk Thijm does groundbreaking work helping activists use smartphone cameras to defend human rights, but her most profound influence is incredibly down-to-earth: classic children’s book character Pippi Longstocking 

“Pippi was extraordinarily strong… independent… loyal, principled…. and anti-authority… . Last but not least, she was economically self-sufficient — she had a treasure trove of gold coins hidden in a tree trunk and taught me early on to be fiscally independent,” Alberdingk Thijm explains.

3. Fashion designer turned founder Mindy Scheier

“This book had an immense impact on me as I was developing the Runway of Dreams Foundation,” says Scheier of Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. “My middle son, Oliver, was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, which makes it hard for him to find fashionable and functional clothing. Through my experiences with him, I realized that millions of people around the globe were also struggling to access stylish clothing,” she continues. “Mainstream adaptive clothing was a wide-open ‘blue ocean’ of opportunity, and the book gave me the tools and framework I needed to take action.”

4. Georgetown University psychologist Abigail Marsh

Marsh studies what motivates us to act altruistically. Her interest in the topic was planted by a book entitled Mothers and Others by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. Marsh calls it, “an eye-opening exploration into how children are raised around the world and how child-rearing can inform the understanding of human nature more broadly,” noting that the author’s most essential point is that “one of the things which makes humans special as a species is that we don’t limit care to our own children. We can expand our circles of care and compassion outward to encompass nearly anyone.”

5. Space physicist Miho Janvier

Research on sun storms might seem a long way from New York’s 1970’s punk scene, but Janvier insists that Just Kids, the memoir of rocker Patti Smith in which she recounts her relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, deeply influenced her work. “What resonated with me was the way it depicts the insatiable drive that the two artists had to express and refine their art and creations. I was struck by their commitment to and faith in their inner artistic voice, a message that inspired me to be more creatively courageous, both in my scientific work and in my personal life,” she says.

6. Banker Michelle Knox

Knox credits Bridge Across My Sorrows, a memoir by Christina Noble with Robert Coram, as being a big source of her personal and professional resilience. “I read this memoir when I was in my 20s, and to this day it remains one of the most powerful human survival stories I have read,” she raves. “[Noble’s] ability to survive and succeed has always stayed with me. I realized that self-determination and courage are innate qualities that no one can take from you and should never be underestimated. The book isn’t easy to read; I cried a lot but I could not put it down. If you like to read about strong, real women, this book is a must.”

7. UN election expert Philippa Neave

Neave’s unexpected pick is The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. Before you dismiss it as likely spiritual mumbo jumbo, hear Neave out on the concrete impact the book has had on her life:

“While I am not an assiduous meditator, some of the advice and techniques explained in the Life section have stayed with me after just one reading. I learned how to calm the mind, even in situations that would otherwise cause a panic attack. But I found the section on dying even more powerful and useful. In Western societies we fear death and don’t talk about it much. Here, we learn how to prepare for our own end and how to help others transition… Unreligious and truly transformational, this book continues to inspire and provide endless wisdom on the great mysteries and challenges of our human existence.” 

What’s the one book that influenced you the most?

New Sports Law Book Dives Deep into What It Means to Be a Sports Lawyer

Many people who consider themselves to be sports lawyers simply apply other areas of the law (i.e. Criminal Law, Intellectual Property Law or Family Law) in their representation of athletes or other sports-related figures and/or companies. However, as I have become more experienced as a lawyer, I have learned that there is a big distinction to being a sports lawyer involved in player vs. agent and agent vs. agent disputes. A large body of precedent has been formed outside of the court system — in arbitration governed by respective players associations.

I spent a full chapter on these types of disputes on a new book that I wrote, recently published by the American Bar Association, titled How to Play the Game: What Every Sports Attorney Needs to Know (Second Edition). I believe it can help any aspiring sports lawyer or current lawyer who wants to dive deep into what it is like to arbitrate sports disputes.

Here is how the section on Chapter 1 starts, which only touches on the NFL Players Association’s system for handling disputes and is but a small part of the text.

The business relationships between National Football League (NFL) players and the agents who represent them are governed by the NFLPA Regulations Governing Contract Advisors (NFLPA Regulations), which is infrequently updated in its long-form version but occasionally modified through the distribution of official NFLPA memoranda. Agents representing NFL players, referred to in the NFLPA Regulations as contract advisors, are explicitly governed by the regulations and may be sanctioned by way of suspension, revocation of licensure, and/or monetary fine for violation(s) of same.

In many ways, the NFLPA Regulations, much like regulations distributed by other players’ associations, act in a way that is similar to a state bar’s rules of professional conduct. They warrant what are acceptable practices of the profession and carry steep penalties for those who fail to perform according to the strict standards of the enforcement bodies that oversee those who have been certified.

Disputes arising under the NFLPA Regulations are often governed by Section 5, which indicates that the arbitration procedure will be the exclusive method for resolving disputes that may arise from (1) denial by the NFLPA of an applicant’s Application for Certification; (2) any dispute between an NFL player and a contract advisor with respect to the conduct of individual negotiations by a contract advisor; (3) the meaning, interpretation, or enforcement of a fee agreement; (4) any other activities of a contract advisor within the scope of the regulations; (5) a dispute between two or more contract advisors with respect to whether or not a contract advisor interfered with the contractual relationship of a contract advisor and player; and/or (6) a dispute between two or more contract advisors with respect to their individual entitlement to fees owed, whether paid or unpaid, by a player-client who was jointly represented by such contract advisors, or represented by a firm with which the contract advisors in question were associated.

In 2013, I had my first experience representing an agent in a dispute based on the NFLPA denying his Application for Certification. Seven years before that I had communicated with Cleodis Floyd for the first time. Floyd sent me an unsolicited email seeking information regarding the best websites to get football and basketball news, and he remained in touch as he went from an aspiring agent to law school student, practicing lawyer, and eventually NFLPA contract advisor applicant. Floyd’s criminal past never came up in conversation, as it had no reason to be discussed, until the NFLPA denied Floyd’s Application for Certification on June 25, 2013, based on Floyd’s alleged conduct that purported to adversely affect his service in a fiduciary capacity on behalf of players. Floyd came to me for help, and even though I understood that we would be arbitrating against the NFLPA, the entity responsible for crafting the NFLPA Regulations, and in front of an arbitrator paid for by the NFLPA, we had cause for a fight.

We appealed the NFLPA’s denial of Floyd’s Application for Certification and on September 6, 2013, argued our position in front of NFLPA-appointed arbitrator Roger P. Kaplan. Part of our argument was that the NFLPA did not have a reasonable basis to deny Floyd’s application because Floyd’s background did not preclude him from being admitted to practice law in the state of Washington. Floyd testified and acknowledged that he had committed theft in his late teens, but that he had grown up and matured since that time, which included volunteering as a speaker in inner-city high schools where he shared his story and mentored student-athletes in not making the same mistakes that he made at an early age. After hearing Floyd’s side of the story, arbitrator Kaplan was left to determine whether Floyd’s prior criminal conduct served as sufficient grounds for the NFLPA to claim that Floyd “engaged in . . . conduct that significantly impacts adversely on [his] credibility, integrity or competence to serve in a fiduciary capacity on behalf of players.” Arbitrator Kaplan found that the NFLPA failed to meet its burden to prove that it had a “reasonable basis in the circumstances of the case under review” to deny Floyd’s application.4

Throughout my career, I have been contacted by many NFLPA contract advisors and those who were denied certification for one reason or another, and I have represented a handful of them in cases concerning disciplinary action taken by the players’ association. Two years after winning the Floyd case, I was contacted by Contract Advisor Vinnie Porter who asked whether I had any time to talk about possibly representing him in one such arbitration hearing that was set to occur in the beginning of 2016. On February 5, 2015, Porter received notice of a disciplinary complaint filed by the NFLPA’s Committee on Agent Regulation and Discipline (CARD), which claimed that Porter knowingly participating in a conspiracy designed to defraud athlete client investors out of millions of dollars by fraudulently concealing the price of an investment, the amount of equity being purchased, and the identities of other investors. It cited multiple sections of the NFLPA Regulations as grounds to suspend Porter from acting as a contract advisor through the resolution of any and all criminal complaints against him.

I hope that you are interested in reading more and would love to know your thoughts after you sift through the content in How to Play the Game!

Should You Self-Publish Your Business Book? It Depends on Why You’re Writing It in the First Place

At least once a week, some highly motivated CEO, C-suite executive, coach, or entrepreneur calls me up and asks, “Should I self-publish my business book?” Unfortunately, there’s no one right answer to that question.

To begin with, it’s critical to understand the current landscape of publishing options. In today’s publishing world, there are three main options to get your book from brain to bookshelf.

Traditional. You or your agent submit your book proposal to a publishing house such as Penguin Random House, Wiley or Simon & Schuster. These publishers sell books through brick-and-mortar stores or online through Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. You usually get an advance, but give up a bigger slice of the pie and often some power over the publishing choices.

Self-publishing. You publish your book independently and at your own expense. You pay for the writing, editing, book layout, book cover design, promoting–and everything else in between. The upside is that you get to keep most of the profits, and control the content and copyright.

Hybrid publishing. You hire a company who offers editing, design, distribution, and marketing of your book–for a fee. This is becoming a popular option for people who want to do a more formal version of self-publishing, with structured support.

I recently did a podcast where I interviewed my fellow Inc.com columnist Tanya Hall, CEO of Greenleaf Book Group, who emphasized that hybrid publishing works well for authors who have a strong direct sales platform, such as speakers or consultants.

“They like having the creative control and ownership,” says Hall, “but they also get the speed to market and operational support of a traditional publisher.”

But that may not be your situation.

What’s your end game?

It helps to know the ultimate outcome you want. Some of the most common results authors look for in publishing a business book include:

Using a book as a high-end business card and source of potential clients. For businesspeople looking to raise their profile, thought leadership, and credibility, a well-written book can be a boon. Imagine meeting someone at a conference. You exchange business cards, but then you follow up with your book. Other ways a book can be used for marketing include:

  • Send to new connections on LinkedIn.
  • Mail to potential clients along with your proposal.
  • Email a Kindle version to a media producer looking for sources.
  • Send off to a meeting planner looking for speakers on your subject.

Make money from book sales.

Okay, let me just be honest here. Of all the reasons to write a book, this, in my experience, is the worst one.

According to BookScan–which tracks sales of titles in most bookstores, online, and at other retail outlets such as airports–the average U.S. nonfiction book is now selling fewer than 250 copies per year and fewer than 2,000 copies over its lifetime. The bottom line: Very few people make money off of book sales alone.

Contribute your knowledge.

I always know it’s time for me to write a book when my brain is bursting with information after I’ve plumbed the depths on a specific topic. For many book authors, the motivation for writing a book is a deep desire to give away what they have learned.

The reason it’s important to know your motivation for writing a business book is that in large part, your reasoning impacts your path. For example:

  • Primarily looking to make a contribution? In this case, what difference does it make whether your book is self or traditionally published?
  • Hope to generate income from book sales? Consider this. If you sell 1,000 copies of your book for $15 each and you keep 12 of those dollars, your profit is significantly greater than the small advance you receive from the publisher.

It’s a known fact in publishing that most books rarely “earn out” — meaning most authors never see any money beyond what they receive up front as an advance in a traditional publishing deal.

Build your thought leadership.  

Here’s where it gets tricky. For better or worse, a traditionally published book still has more cachet than a self-published one. Yes, that is changing, but saying “Harvard Business Review is handling my forthcoming book” sounds significant.

That having been said, those authors who do high-quality self-publishing with their business books or hybrid publishing can generate great buzz and business.

The bottom line is that the path your business book should take is not set in stone and varies greatly depending on where you are in your career, your end goals, and even your ability to prove your platform to a publisher.

Still have questions? Head on over to Amazon.com which boasts more than 5 million results for books on the topic of “publishing a book.” I’ll bet some of them are even self-published.

The Books That Top Leaders Read Might Surprise You–Here’s the Lowdown on Literature

As a business professional, your to-read book list might include recent bestsellers like “Tribe of Mentors,” “Principles,” or “When.” Alternatively, you might be rereading “Good to Great” or “Lean In.” But unless you’re balancing your nonfiction tomes with fictional tales, you’re missing an opportunity to learn critical business lessons.

When you focus solely on corporate-oriented books, you’re not tapping into your full potential. What your personal library needs is an infusion of myths and legends, rich sources of intellectual stimulation.

Don’t have a background in comp lit? Haven’t touched a Hemingway book since high school? It’s never too late to reap the benefits that come from picking up a classic work filled with complex characters and compelling situations. In fact, by enlightening yourself through fiction, you can help your company remain competitive in your market.

Consider these three advantages to reading works of creative writing that will change the way you make decisions and carry yourself on the job and in everyday life.

1. You’ll learn to spot — and emulate — smart leadership.

As a professor of classical languages and literature at Sarah Lawrence College, Emily Anhalt is a firm proponent of using literature to guide human understanding. Works such as the “Odyssey” teach readers to avoid people who rule by fear and violence, emphasizing instead the need for those in power to practice respectful principles that promote happiness and loyalty.

“The ‘Odyssey’ reminds us that leaders deserve our respect, admiration, and support for leading well,” Anhalt explained in a recent article. “Good leadership, as the ‘Odyssey’ depicts it, requires and promotes mutual respect and reciprocity.”

2. You’ll find it easier to craft your own story.

Every business has its own tale to tell, but most executives and even marketers make crafting stories that showcase this uniqueness harder than it has to be. Blackbeard Studios founder Erin Berman, a brand storyteller that has worked with Hyperloop and other clients with a national reach, bluntly explains that the main storytelling archetypes have been used for millennia, and the best stories have already been told.

That may seem like bad news, but Berman says the opposite is true. Well-worn narrative paths actually make it easier for business leaders to develop a story about their brand. As Berman notes, “You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, just fill in the blanks. …You’ll find that you will be able to play ‘Mad Libs’ with how your organization best fits into the mindset of your specific audience. Maybe a rags-to-riches story resonates with them, or maybe the story of the underdog — think David vs. Goliath.” Don’t worry about creating a new story; instead, use time-honored literary examples to create a memorable one.

3. You’ll strengthen your performance through emotional intelligence.

The notion of emotional intelligence has roots in the principle that some people understand their fellow human beings better than others and can empathize on a higher level than their peers. According to researchers at Emory University, stories help readers learn how to connect imagination and real-world occurrences. This, in turn, allows them to remember how book characters felt and behaved and to use their reading experiences to anticipate others’ reactions and emotions.

Anne Kreamer, author of “It’s Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace,” is a big believer in literature’s power to improve emotional intelligence. In an article in Harvard Business Review, Kreamer observes that the ability to thoroughly and honestly commiserate — an ability fiction reading hones — can help you become a top performer.

Feel like you’ve turned a cold shoulder to the fiction in your local library? Have dusty volumes of classical literature from your college years lining your bookshelves? Make a point to dive into the world’s best stories to expand your horizons and move you closer to becoming the leader, brand storyteller, and top performer you know you’re meant to be.

Passion is Paramount for Entrepreneurs, But You Need to Temper It with Patience

In this edited excerpt from Crushing It!, How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence–And How You Can, Too, a followup to his best-selling Crush It!, serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk takes a fresh look at startup strategies in a rapidly-changing digital world and what you have to do today to build a business and an enduring personal brand.  Crushing It! (Harper Business/HarperCollins Publishers, available on Amazon) also tells the stories of  some of the amazing entrepreneurs such as Alex “Nemo” Hanse, who have taken the Vaynerchuk rules and run with them, adding their own individual twists. 

The Power of Patience

CREDIT: Courtesy HarperCollins Publishers

Passion and patience go hand in hand. To live in line with your passion will probably require that you go slower than you might want to. It will definitely mean that you say no more than you say yes. Bide your time; you cheapen yourself when you make deals while holding your nose. Remember, you’re only crushing it if you’re living entirely on your own terms.

It’s not impossible to make bank when you build a business with the sole goal of getting rich, but very often entrepreneurs who get rich quickly sacrifice their chances for wealth for the long term. When I was just starting to grow my family business, my friends who grad­uated college at the same time that I did also went to work. They started making money and spending it on trips to Vegas and hot girls and nice watches.

Me? I was making money, too. In the first five or six years, I grew that business to $45 million, and not many years later, it was a $60 million wine empire. When a normal twenty­six-year­-old dude builds a $60 million business, he leverages it for twenty­-year­-old dude things. Yet I lived in a one­-bedroom apartment in Springfield, New Jersey. I drove a Jeep Grand  Cherokee. I had no watches, no suits, and no flash. I could have paid myself hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, but the most I took was $60K. I kept my head down like an ox with a plow, putting almost every dime I earned back into the business and focusing all my energy on building a personal brand around unparalleled customer service, both in the store and online. When not talking to customers, I was the most boring human being on the planet. Today, I not only have everything I ever wanted, (except the New York Jets) but also I’m having the time of my life.

You have no reason to start acting like something special until you actually have something special to show for it. Even then, don’t act special; the moment you do, you’ll start moving in the opposite direction. Take my advice: eat shit for as long as you have to. That means be a bigger man or woman than everyone around you. That means the customer is always right. That means you put your em­ ployees ahead of you. That means you don’t take many vacations, maybe for years, and your only time off is to mark important holidays and to be there for your family (or your friends who are like family). Be patient. Be methodical. Pay off your debts. Unless your brand is glamorous, live simply, and even then be practical and calculated. Put yourself last. Once you’ve reached your brand and business goals, then  you can start living it up–without putting yourself into debt, because that’s insane.

CASE STUDY: HOW “NEMO” LEARNED TO CRUSH IT.

The day after Alex “Nemo” Hanse turned 30, he was in New Orleans to try to meet a few women.

Not just any women. Specifically, some of the stars listed on his T-shirt, like Taraji P. Henson and Ava DuVernay, who were in town to attend the Essence Festival, a four-day  mega celebration of black culture in general and black women in particular. It’s the T-shirt that put his clothing brand, Foolies Limited Clothing Company, on the map.

But what’s really interesting about his presence at the gathering is how he got there.

His fans and customers gave him birthday money to pay for it. They literally sent him the money to buy himself a plane ticket so he could attend and connect with people who could help him grow his brand.

That’s some pretty spectacular customer love and loyalty.

Alex has always had a strong entrepreneurial spirit. His mother died when he was in the fifth grade, and since he didn’t have a father figure, he was taken in by a family friend  (who had twelve kids of her own). He was grateful to have a roof, but at school he got tired of getting picked on for  his raggedy  clothes  and  shoes, so he’d carry around a big duffel  bag stuffed with chips, candy bars, and Capri  Suns that he could  sell to earn a little money. He also worked after school at a car wash, where he got paid under the table because he was underage. “I was just trying to survive.”

In 2005, when he was a student at the University of Florida, Alex was a rapper. “Dropping bars and spitting hot lines of fire…at least, in my mind I was.” While Googling “How to create a brand  for a rapper,” he found an article that said a rapper needed to create an identity for his fans. So he and his “brother of another color,” Billy, a big supporter of his music, worked to come up with some kind of catchphrase. “And we’re sitting around  saying, ‘Man, this idea sounds so foolish. This is so foolish of us.’ We kept repeating it and playing around, and we started  saying,

‘Yeah, we’re Foolies.’ And it was like, ‘What’s a Foolie?’ And I said, ‘I guess somebody who’s dumb enough to try something and figure it out in the end.'”

After graduating in 2009 with a degree in sports medicine, Alex couldn’t find a job in that field, so he kept concentrating on his music while working at an AT&T store. Then he and Billy decided that rappers needed a clothing line. They had no money, so they ironed the word FOOLIES on a dirty white T-shirt.

They did what Alex calls the Daymond John effect: “Put it on one person, take a picture,  you take it off. Put it on another person, take a picture, take it off. Because you don’t have money so you can’t give shirts to everyone, but if you can post pictures on Facebook and Twitter and make it seem like everyone has a shirt, maybe other people will want it, too. And that’s what started happening for us, slowly.”

The shirts were created to bring attention to Alex’s music, but they soon became his main output.  He came up with clever ways to deliver an extra special experience to his customers. When he had a special sale, he’d send customers who bought a shirt a custom link to a YouTube video of himself singing a song with their name in it, or some other personal message. He shipped the shirts inside miniature paint cans, the idea being that when you opened the can you’d  be  releasing your dreams. And he’d send a handwritten letter to every customer, along with a dream journal, “because that’s the biggest thing that people don’t do: they don’t write their goals down, so they can never manifest and come to life.”

As soon as customers received their order, they’d post a picture to social media. Except, interestingly, sometimes they didn’t post the shirt–they posted the letter, the can, or the dream journal. They’d thank Alex, saying it had been years since anyone had written them a letter, and some attached the letters to their refrigerators or bathroom walls.

The company eked out an existence, barely, while Alex kept working a day job, tutored, mentored at Boys and Girls Clubs, and couch-surfed. It was hard going, but he kept at it. Reading Crush It! in 2015 “was a confirmation that I wasn’t crazy. I’d go to pitch competitions and these fake investors would chew me out: ‘How is that scalable? Why are you writing letters to every customer?’ I started reading the book and thought, ‘Man, somebody finally gets me.’ It was like finding a long-lost friend or meeting your twin after being separated and you didn’t even know you had one.”

He realized his problem was that he wasn’t creating enough content. “I went all-out motivational, plastering Facebook with posts.”

In September 2015, he watched on television as Viola Davis won her first Emmy.  That same night, Regina King won her first Emmy, too. “I was bawling. My brand has never deliberately focused on black women, but they’ve always supported me. So I was like, ‘Man, we need to make something motivational based off of this dopeness that these black girls are doing.’  That’s when we listed all the phrases, like a regular graphic.”

The graphic was a list of ways in which people could emulate the black female powerhouses of our era: WRITE LIKE SHONDA. SPEAK LIKE VIOLA. WALK LIKE KERRY [WASHINGTON]. BE FIERCE LIKE TARAJI. BE STRONG LIKE REGINA. LEAD LIKE AVA. “I posted the graphic right before work at about eight thirty in the morning, and around maybe ten fifteen, my phone started buzzing. So I go to my Facebook page and I see forty-plus shares. I had gotten shares before, but this was a weird number, and it kept increasing. What was going on?”

The reason Alex’s phone was buzzing incessantly was because best-selling  author,  speaker, and digital  strategist Luvvie Ajayi, aka Awesomely Luvvie, had posted  the graphic  to her page. She messaged him and told him he needed to put those names on a shirt. “She didn’t even know I had a T-shirt company.  She just thought I was a random guy, which is crazy how God works and how everything just lines up.”

Then Ava DuVernay reposted the graphic on Twitter.

“It started freaking going everywhere.” Alex quickly added a few more names to the graphic–LUPITA [NYONG’O], UZO [ADUBA], ANGELA [BASSETT], and QUEEN  [LATIFAH] –and turned it into a T-shirt with the Foolies logo on the back.

That detail, the logo placement, is important to what happened next.

A few months later, on a Wednesday, Alex got an e-mail from Essence asking for shirts for a youth choir to use at an event called Black Women in Hollywood. They needed them by Sunday in time to tape the show later in the week. “It was a Hail Mary mission.” It usually  took  weeks to get  T-shirts printed, and on top of that, he had just switched printing companies because the previous one kept blowing him off. The new company managed  to give him a quick  turnaround time, and he shipped the shirts in time for the event.

There was no footage when the event itself happened, but soon afterward he got an Instagram  alert. It was a picture of the girls wearing his T-shirt, and standing there with her arms around them was Oprah Winfrey. He’d had no idea  the  event was sponsored by  the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

He and his COO, Kim, started plastering the shirt everywhere. When the show aired on OWN, the T-shirts looked fantastic, but Alex realized that maybe putting the logo on the back instead of the front hadn’t been such a good idea. “We had wanted the shirt to be about the graphic, not about us, and we wanted to make sure that our customers knew that we always had their backs. Real smart, genius.”

That night  Shonda Rhimes tweeted out a picture of the shirt, tagged to Foolies, and posted it to Instagram, too. “I’ve never gotten so many notifications in my life,” says Alex. Since then, any money Alex has earned has gone back into the business or into free shirts  for influencers. There are a few new versions of the shirt, listing different actors. He tries to attend as many conferences  as he can where he will meet other influencers, volunteering to work there because he usually can’t afford the ticket price. He recently received a comped ticket to the BlogHer conference from someone who heard him speak about Foolies at another event several months earlier and wanted to make sure he could go.

He’s committed to motivating people to reach their goals with more than just a T-shirt. “I don’t want to just sell you T-shirts. What happens if you don’t buy one? Is it now over for you to be motivated? Why not serve just to serve?” To that end, he launched a podcast called Dream Without Limits Radio, where he collects stories of dreamers, game changers, and people living out their purpose.

“I get to bring on people of color and women, who don’t get highlighted enough. You’ll see all these dope women on there. I love guys, but I know where my market is, and my niche. People tell me, ‘Oh, you need to expand  and talk to all these people,’ and I’m like, “Gary gets it.”

Alex mentored a lot of students at theUniversity of Florida and continues to visit middle and high schools to talk to them about  entrepreneurship and getting out of the ‘hood. When his brand started to take off, a number of his former mentees told him that it made perfect sense that this would be his calling. This has always been what you’ve been doing, they told him.  Now it’s just in the form of a clothing company.

Holly Branson, Daughter of Virgin’s Founder, Merges Profit and Purpose in Book ‘WEconomy’

Holly Branson, The daughter of Sir Richard Branson, has written a book called WEconomy to inspire the next generation of social entrepreneurs.

Holly Branson works with Virgin Group alongside a team tasked with driving forward the companies’ business strategy as a force for good. Holly co-authored WEconomy with Marc and Craig Kielburger, brothers and founders of WE, a global movement that brings people together and gives them tools to change the world.

On a LinkedIn post describing the project, Holly said, “WEconomy is a collection of stories and learning around the importance of embedding purpose at the core of business.”

The book will share stories from megastars like Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson, and Holly’s father, Richard Branson, to show how it’s possible to make the world a better place through purposeful – and successful – business strategies. The book’s authors also share their personal experiences with purpose-driven business, from both the nonprofit and social entrepreneurship sectors.

To complete the book, Holly relied on some business advice for dear old Dad and integrated the mindset of, “saying yes first and learning how to do it later.” Although Holly had never written a book before, WEconomy has already received some stunning recommendations from business leaders such as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Unilever CEO Paul Polman, and Spanx Founder Sara Blakely.   

With the rise of social entrepreneurship and the growing demand for more meaning in our work lives, WEcononmy is primed to find a base of interested readers.

And with such an intense culture of work in modern society, this book couldn’t be coming at a more relevant time. Today, the average person will spend approximately 90,000 hours working during their lifetime. Or, looking at this figure in a different way, you will spend approximately one-third of your life at work.  That’s a lot of time.

Although we are still a work-driven society, this generation also realizes that there should be a purpose in work. Employees today want to live and work in alignment with their broader social values. They want to feel that hours spent at work have meaning beyond the weight of a personal paycheck they receive.

In WEconomy, Branson suggests that having a purpose-driven business is “key to increasing productivity and retaining top performers.” Findings like these are great news for the business community.

The 21st century has already birthed some of the most innovative examples of social entrepreneurship. However, with each additional business case that points to the practicality of purpose-driven business, this trend will continue to increase.  

13 Books That Inspired Me During My Company’s IPO

I’ve been known to wax poetic about the importance of prioritizing your hobbies. I’m convinced that focusing on your passions outside of the office will make you more successful in the office. Co-workers and peers are always asking how I do it. The answer is simple: when something’s important enough, you make the time.

Last year, my co-founder Todd McKinnon and I took our company public and it wasn’t easy to leave the office everyday in time to make it home for dinner with my family. Sometimes, it took more effort than I’d like to admit to get on the ice for a late-night hockey game. But I always made time, just like I made the effort to read.

Of the many good books I read in 2017 (and the one that turned out to be terrible — sorry John McEnroe), these 13 resonated with me most as we were going through the IPO process. They gave me the opportunity reflect on what it took to reach that milestone, what we should avoid, and what was going in the world outside the walls of our offices.

On innovation, investing and building businesses:

  1. Zero to One: Notes on Start-Ups, or How to Build the Future, by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters (2012): Whether or not you agree with Thiel’s politics, if you’re interested in building a successful business, you should read his guide to innovation. The skill Thiel notes every leader must master? Learning to think for yourself. And his advice on building a big business resonates with what we’ve tried to do at Okta: “become a monopolist in a small market with lots of adjacencies.” I reference that frequently when helping entrepreneurs think through market strategy.

  2. Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups — Timeless Advice from an Angel Investor Who Turned $100,000 into $100,000,000, by Jason Calacanis (2017): Calacanis is another controversial figure, and even though style isn’t for everyone, I couldn’t agree more with his thesis that investing is all about people, and figuring out what they want and need. The key to success in business is knowing how the people you work with — investors, partners, customers, coworkers, etc. — think, and what they care about.

On wealth and greed:

  1. Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street, by Sheelah Kolhatkar (2017): Real-life finance dramas have been hitting it big in both cinema and literature over the past few years — The Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short and HBO’s Wizard of Lies, to name a few — and the story of Steve Cohen and SAC Capital’s fall from grace is just as entertaining and illuminating. The investigative reporting and level of detail also made this one a page turner.

  2. One Nation Under Gold: How One Precious Metal Has Dominated the American Imagination for Four Centuries, by James Ledbetter (2017): Who would have thought gold would be such a divisive subject? In Ledbetter’s book, he shares the history of this precious metal and how it’s divided America and some of its brightest minds. If nothing else, gave me more ammo to debate my dad’s gold buying strategies (but, alas, I still always fall short).

  3. American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road, by Nick Bilton (2017): The story of Ross Ulbricht, the founder of the Silk Road, and the team that tracked him reads like fiction with its twist and turns. For anyone who wants to know more about the genesis and downfall of the Dark Web’s famous marketplace (and the man behind it), I highly recommend Bilton’s book. Plus, it takes place largely in Okta’s hometown of San Francisco!

On our planet:

  1. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, by Paul Hawken (2017): This year, I was drawn to books and articles about climate change and potential solutions, and Drawdown was a must-read for those interested in the subject. I devoured this credible and well-researched collection of articles, written by researchers, professionals and scientists with concrete plans for addressing this global dilemma.

  2. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, by Naomi Klein (2015): Klein takes a different (more extreme) angle on climate change in her book, explaining how global warming challenges us to abandon our “free market” ideology, restructure the global economy and rebuild our political systems.

  3. The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet, by Henry Fountain (2017): Fountain’s book is focused on the biggest earthquake in North America’s recorded history: a magnitude 9.2 quake that devastated the state of Alaska in 1964. Not only did it leave a mark on the people of Alaska, but on the planet (and the book will probably come a little close to home if you’re in the Bay Area and accustomed to feeling quakes every once in a while).

For fun:

  1. Ice Capades: A Memoir of Fast Living and Tough Hockey, by Sean Avery (2017): Anyone who knows me knows I’m a massive hockey fan, which is why I couldn’t wait to dig into Sean Avery’s autobiography. It did not disappoint. Avery’s book offers a unique, unfiltered look into the NHL today, through the eyes of one of its most controversial players. The first hockey book I ever read that wasn’t drier than the Mojave Desert.

  2. Garcia: An American Life, by Blair Jackson (2000): Jackson covered the Grateful Dead for 25 years, and in his biography of the band’s front runner and musical genius, he covers it all: from his unmatched talent as a songwriter to his fatal battle with addiction. Jackson is a good writer, and attended something like 300 shows over 30 years — his first hand knowledge comes through loud and clear.

  3. Earning the Rockies: How Geography Shapes America’s Role in the World, by Robert D. Kaplan (2017): For anyone interested in American geography and the history of the United States’ westward expansion, Kaplan’s book is a must read.

  4. I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad, by Souad Mekhennet (2017): Although I wouldn’t necessarily call Mekhennet’s memoir “fun,” it provided a glimpse into the inner circles of Al Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS that I never had access to previously.

  5. Paradise Lost, by John Milton: Okay, this one wasn’t for fun either. But I did enjoy revisiting Milton’s classic. If you have trouble sleeping and prefer natural methods, buy a used copy and put it by your bedside!

As I prepare 2018’s book list, what were your favorite books last year? Share your recommendations in the comments.