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From the cofounder of Square, an inspiring and entertaining account of what it means to be a true entrepreneur and what it takes to build a resilient, world-changing company In 2009, a St. Louis glassblowing artist and recovering computer scientist named Jim McKelvey lost a sale because he couldn't accept American Express cards. Frustrated by the high costs and difficulty o From the cofounder of Square, an inspiring and entertaining account of what it means to be a true entrepreneur and what it takes to build a resilient, world-changing company In 2009, a St. Louis glassblowing artist and recovering computer scientist named Jim McKelvey lost a sale because he couldn't accept American Express cards. Frustrated by the high costs and difficulty of accepting credit card payments, McKelvey joined his friend Jack Dorsey (the cofounder of Twitter) to launch Square, a startup that would enable small merchants to accept credit card payments on their mobile phones. With no expertise or experience in the world of payments, they approached the problem of credit cards with a new perspective, questioning the industry's assumptions, experimenting and innovating their way through early challenges, and achieving widespread adoption from merchants small and large. But just as Square was taking off, Amazon launched a similar product, marketed it aggressively, and undercut Square on price. For most ordinary startups, this would have spelled the end. Instead, less than a year later, Amazon was in retreat and soon discontinued its service. How did Square beat the most dangerous company on the planet? Was it just luck? These questions motivated McKelvey to study what Square had done differently from all the other companies Amazon had killed. He eventually found the key: a strategy he calls the Innovation Stack. McKelvey's fascinating and humorous stories of Square's early days are blended with historical examples of other world-changing companies built on the Innovation Stack to reveal a pattern of ground-breaking, competition-proof entrepreneurship that is rare but repeatable. The Innovation Stack is a thrilling business narrative that's much bigger than the story of Square. It is an irreverent first-person look inside the world of entrepreneurship, and a call to action for all of us to find the entrepreneur within ourselves and identify and fix unsolved problems--one crazy idea at a time.


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From the cofounder of Square, an inspiring and entertaining account of what it means to be a true entrepreneur and what it takes to build a resilient, world-changing company In 2009, a St. Louis glassblowing artist and recovering computer scientist named Jim McKelvey lost a sale because he couldn't accept American Express cards. Frustrated by the high costs and difficulty o From the cofounder of Square, an inspiring and entertaining account of what it means to be a true entrepreneur and what it takes to build a resilient, world-changing company In 2009, a St. Louis glassblowing artist and recovering computer scientist named Jim McKelvey lost a sale because he couldn't accept American Express cards. Frustrated by the high costs and difficulty of accepting credit card payments, McKelvey joined his friend Jack Dorsey (the cofounder of Twitter) to launch Square, a startup that would enable small merchants to accept credit card payments on their mobile phones. With no expertise or experience in the world of payments, they approached the problem of credit cards with a new perspective, questioning the industry's assumptions, experimenting and innovating their way through early challenges, and achieving widespread adoption from merchants small and large. But just as Square was taking off, Amazon launched a similar product, marketed it aggressively, and undercut Square on price. For most ordinary startups, this would have spelled the end. Instead, less than a year later, Amazon was in retreat and soon discontinued its service. How did Square beat the most dangerous company on the planet? Was it just luck? These questions motivated McKelvey to study what Square had done differently from all the other companies Amazon had killed. He eventually found the key: a strategy he calls the Innovation Stack. McKelvey's fascinating and humorous stories of Square's early days are blended with historical examples of other world-changing companies built on the Innovation Stack to reveal a pattern of ground-breaking, competition-proof entrepreneurship that is rare but repeatable. The Innovation Stack is a thrilling business narrative that's much bigger than the story of Square. It is an irreverent first-person look inside the world of entrepreneurship, and a call to action for all of us to find the entrepreneur within ourselves and identify and fix unsolved problems--one crazy idea at a time.

30 review for The Innovation Stack: Building an Unbeatable Business One Crazy Idea at a Time

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ahn Mur

    This was pitched to me as a less pretentious Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. (Though to be fair, I did actually also enjoy Zero to One. And these two books are actually still very different.) In Zero to One, Peter Thiel emphasizes that startups need to have (among other things) an engineering advantage. This was pretty critical and at the time I wish Thiel had dug into that more. Then The Innovation Stack came along. Here was an in-depth look at what it means for one This was pitched to me as a less pretentious Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. (Though to be fair, I did actually also enjoy Zero to One. And these two books are actually still very different.) In Zero to One, Peter Thiel emphasizes that startups need to have (among other things) an engineering advantage. This was pretty critical and at the time I wish Thiel had dug into that more. Then The Innovation Stack came along. Here was an in-depth look at what it means for one company to figure out a superior solution. And it turns out that can mean more than engineering. It's helpful to have this new term (innovation stack) and a frame of reference for discussing this idea. It helps explain why some companies were tremendously successful (ex. Southwest Airlines) while other, seemingly similar companies (Delta, etc.), were not. Also, while we're comparing Zero to One to the The Innovation Stack, I have to admit that while Thiel was a bit alienating, McKelvey was refreshingly humble. I was impressed that a book called The Innovation Stack told me to copy as much as possible. I was impressed that McKelvey emphasized that he himself is still a student of good timing. There is practical advice here, as well as a realistic admission that luck is very helpful.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael Payne

    Square was not an accident, but a well-constructed onramp to a larger market that had been excluded by the major financial services companies. When Amazon saw Square's success they tried to do what Amazon famously does: enter markets and crush all players. Square's response was: they did not respond. They kept doing what Square did and they stayed ahead. Ultimately, Amazon folded and sent its past payment customers a Square reader as a parting gift. This book is a roadmap for any would-be entrepr Square was not an accident, but a well-constructed onramp to a larger market that had been excluded by the major financial services companies. When Amazon saw Square's success they tried to do what Amazon famously does: enter markets and crush all players. Square's response was: they did not respond. They kept doing what Square did and they stayed ahead. Ultimately, Amazon folded and sent its past payment customers a Square reader as a parting gift. This book is a roadmap for any would-be entrepreneur on many great lessons learned from Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, Jim's time at Square, and his insights from studying IKEA, among other examples. For any audacious enough to take on the major airlines, payment processors, Amazon, or furniture companies this is indeed a goodread.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alex Pal.

    A great book about innovation and entrepreneurship. The main ideas are that most people are successful businessmen by copying other already done solutions, true entrepreneur have to find truly new approaches to solve problems. This approach requires jumping into the unknown which is uncomfortable. While finding innovative solutions to new problems, existing tools and similar resources won't work well so by innovating, it is required to solve a series of new problems. The author calls the set of A great book about innovation and entrepreneurship. The main ideas are that most people are successful businessmen by copying other already done solutions, true entrepreneur have to find truly new approaches to solve problems. This approach requires jumping into the unknown which is uncomfortable. While finding innovative solutions to new problems, existing tools and similar resources won't work well so by innovating, it is required to solve a series of new problems. The author calls the set of all these solutions the innovation stack and he argues that this is moat the such business have and do well even when competitors eventually try to compete.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Holm

    This book is a thought provoking read on entrepreneurship and mental models for navigating the entrepreneurial journey. Some key takeaways for me: - solving a big problem is the sum of solving a series of small problems that you did not know exist until you set out to solve a problem that has not been solved before. - what is obvious to me is not obvious to others ...so don’t fear pursuing that what others don’t see. It is in pursuing those things that we find innovation and maybe our authentic se This book is a thought provoking read on entrepreneurship and mental models for navigating the entrepreneurial journey. Some key takeaways for me: - solving a big problem is the sum of solving a series of small problems that you did not know exist until you set out to solve a problem that has not been solved before. - what is obvious to me is not obvious to others ...so don’t fear pursuing that what others don’t see. It is in pursuing those things that we find innovation and maybe our authentic selves - conversely most people ignore most of what they encounter therefore it is hard for new things to gain traction...find ways to break through this by innovating in unserved markets and solving real problems for them - remember measurements are based on what is measurable ...therefore appetite for something that does not exist will not appear in any measurements I.e. until low cost airfares existed the measurements showed there was no interest in air travel beyond the wealthy and business travelers -it is easier to teach a new idea to someone than change their beliefs/actions around an existing idea (Combine anchoring bias with conservatism bias) - great opportunity is found when we don’t focus on disrupting and taking customers from established businesses but rather we focus on bringing new people into a market. Focus on Market expansion innovation not disruption - Humility and audacity are allies that combine to drive innovation and entrepreneurs; whereas hubris and overconfidence are conspirators who confine us to the world of already solved problems -entrepreneurial success requires learning to embrace and move forward be uncomfortable and feeling unprepared

  5. 4 out of 5

    Siddharth Sawjiani

    I absolutely loved the simplicity of this book. Normally stories about successful companies have a set of events they did right which only makes sense for that particular industry and you can only appreciate the genius making those moves. The Innovation Stack tries to outline some of the reasons that allowed companies across three industries to survive. While I'm sure there might be more factors at play for their successes I found the insights to be a refreshing take across industries. There's n I absolutely loved the simplicity of this book. Normally stories about successful companies have a set of events they did right which only makes sense for that particular industry and you can only appreciate the genius making those moves. The Innovation Stack tries to outline some of the reasons that allowed companies across three industries to survive. While I'm sure there might be more factors at play for their successes I found the insights to be a refreshing take across industries. There's no single solution that works for a company but Innovation Stack teaches on how to keep building moats for your business that differentiates your business and eventually makes it difficult for a new entrant to beat you. You build some features out of necessity, some out of customer insight and some out of sheer luck!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Antony Raj

    Interesting journey of an entrepreneur and a story of what it takes to be an idea and an entrepreneurship. The author guides us through how to survive if a giant like Amazon copies your idea and sustain the business.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    I did not care for this book mainly because I don't think it really said anything in its 260 pages. The authors big insight is something he calls "The Innovation Stack". However this idea was essentially an enumeration of company decisions mixed with hindsight. About a third of the book is a history of Square, and more of the book is filled with general, vague business advice. There were a few valuable quotes in here, but this is not a book I would recommend to others. I did not care for this book mainly because I don't think it really said anything in its 260 pages. The authors big insight is something he calls "The Innovation Stack". However this idea was essentially an enumeration of company decisions mixed with hindsight. About a third of the book is a history of Square, and more of the book is filled with general, vague business advice. There were a few valuable quotes in here, but this is not a book I would recommend to others.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Clausen

    Books about entrepreneurship tend to be sugar and empty calories. Some make you feel really good about changing the world through audacity and insight without giving you many tools. Other business books (not necessarily entrepreneurship) tend to be more prescriptive, with diagrams and checklists, but in their ambition to be as useful as a consultant, tend to be dry and pedantic. This book does what I think books about strategy and entrepreneurship ought to do: tell stories. The author tells his o Books about entrepreneurship tend to be sugar and empty calories. Some make you feel really good about changing the world through audacity and insight without giving you many tools. Other business books (not necessarily entrepreneurship) tend to be more prescriptive, with diagrams and checklists, but in their ambition to be as useful as a consultant, tend to be dry and pedantic. This book does what I think books about strategy and entrepreneurship ought to do: tell stories. The author tells his own story about starting his company Square, but also tells the stories of other entrepreneurs. Through these stories he teases out his major themes. Because these themes have staying power. Because they haven’t been formalized into checklists, it is also easier to take them for what they are, insights contingent on the situation. What are these themes: 1 – Entrepreneurs are crazy people. Don’t let the dilution of the word fool you. These people are much rarer than they seem and their relative scarcity may be explained by the fact that many die off or suffer ignominious failures. To be an entrepreneur means to be crazy about how you want to change the world. 2 – Copying is okay. In fact, copying (not entrepreneurship) is the norm because it is such a universally successful strategy. Copy what you can, and innovate with everything you can’t. 3 – Entrepreneurship usually comes a result of trying to survive. 4 – Solutions breed problems which breed more solutions. 5 – From this comes the “innovation stack” a series of interlinked solutions to problems that can make an enterprise unique. What’s interesting about this book is that it is basically a book about science. Entrepreneurship is natural science. A truly unique insight, like a truly unique idea or theory, requires lots of trial and error. Other books on entrepreneurship and strategy have basically said the same thing. A word about the prose: the book was written in a wandering, unwieldy, honest sort of way. Part thought diary, part exploration, part thematic exploration, it was perfect for this book because I think the style probably mirrored the personality of the author. The strange tangents the book often took seemed like the honest habits of a serial entrepreneur. Thus, every sentence feels genuine. This book was a pleasant surprise and joins books such as “Zero to One” and “Anything You Want.” Perhaps the last question I need to answer: If this book is good, if I enjoyed every moment, then why do I not rank it in my much vaunted “top books” category on Goodreads. The answer to that question is that there is already one book about entrepreneurship there “Zero to One” and that the themes in that book strike me as more elemental and iconic. If you want to read the most definitive book on the subject, that is probably it. (“Blue Ocean Strategy” might also qualify, but I haven’t read that book yet. There are a lot of these books out there.) If you were to read a second book…well, I’m not supposed to say it, but I will...If you’re looking for a second book then I would recommend my own “Underground Novel: An Alternative Guide to Life After Graduation” (because it is a faithful entry in the genre while also making fun of it.) If you’re looking for a third, then I would recommend either this one, anything by Richard Branson, or “Anything You Want.” All that being said, this book earns its five stars and toast of congratulations.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Scott Wozniak

    This book was better than I expected, and I thought it would be good. First, he is a very witty writer, but a great sense of humor, memorable metaphors and smooth storytelling. Second, he managed to write a book about what it means to truly create new things in the world, not just operate well. Oh, and he shows how multiple innovations together can be an unbeatable competitive differentiation. If you are a creative, a leader, or a writer, this is a book that you will probably enjoy a lot.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Samuel Yow

    Really enjoyable clearly loads of research and effort put in to make it an enjoyable book without too much jargon or technical details.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mohamed Al-Ali

    Favorite book of 2020 so far. Very genuine, informative and inspiring.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Minh

    This is the kind of books which business schools should recommend students to read. The humility, genuineness and the easy-to-digest approach on entrepreneurship and business were both refreshing and inspiring

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    Highly disappointing. I was recommended this book, but I’m having a hard time understanding where the overly positive reviews here and on Audible come from? Much of it sounds like a Square sales pitch, with the author’s frequent and cringey use of the phrase ‘squaring up.’ Maybe a decent intro for those who don’t read many business/marketing/startup/strategy books (i.e. engineers and tech geeks) — as most of what’s written here is just re-hashing of old ideas from much better books out there. Firs Highly disappointing. I was recommended this book, but I’m having a hard time understanding where the overly positive reviews here and on Audible come from? Much of it sounds like a Square sales pitch, with the author’s frequent and cringey use of the phrase ‘squaring up.’ Maybe a decent intro for those who don’t read many business/marketing/startup/strategy books (i.e. engineers and tech geeks) — as most of what’s written here is just re-hashing of old ideas from much better books out there. First off, the concept of an ‘innovation stack’ is nothing new or novel itself — it’s just the author’s way of re-branding what’s commonly known as a ‘value chain’ in business school circles / technical strategic writings. This entire book seems to be repackaged concepts from well known strategy writers like Christensen, Porter, Drucker, Ries, and Thiel — without any credit given to any of them (including verbatim case studies like Southwest Airlines and IKEA). The concept of stacking itself I find to be quite silly — coming apparently from the world of software engineering and co-opted by gullible supplement users — who pop Adderall and nootropics as part of their performance ‘stack,’ which is believed to give them an expensive-yet-unsustainable edge in the form of a magic bullet. Second, the author recommends copying as a sound strategy on the path to innovation (some of the poorest advice I’ve ever heard, results in a race to the bottom, me-too products, and zero-sum market dynamics a la airline industry). Copying may create cute spinoffs or ‘reboots’ rather than novel products/services (as the author obviously copied the above mentioned business writers/books with his startup-hoodie-millennial-techie reboot), but doesn’t even come close to resembling anything along the lines of breakthrough innovation. Third, the he presents himself as a brave, rebellious contrarian entrepreneur — when in fact, his father was the dean of a large engineering university. I don’t think I need to go into detail on the upward trajectory or business/career fast-track advantages that gives one early on (perhaps this was the strongest layer of Square’s ‘stack’?) Finally, the *real* reason behind what makes Square so successful is its unbeatable hardware/software (atoms/bits) combination, as explained brilliantly in Makers by Chris Anderson. Either McKelvely is naive, or he’s keeping his cards close to his chest (probably the latter, knowing the trustworthiness of his co-founder Jack Dorsey).

  14. 4 out of 5

    Juarez Poletto Jr.

    Not revolutionary, but had a couple of good ideas. Jim's approach to Innovation makes a lot of sense, explaining how a series of different approaches add up generating a truly new product or service. It also shed some light on the creation of Square, which is interesting, but not the ultimate book about the startup. Not revolutionary, but had a couple of good ideas. Jim's approach to Innovation makes a lot of sense, explaining how a series of different approaches add up generating a truly new product or service. It also shed some light on the creation of Square, which is interesting, but not the ultimate book about the startup.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chirag Malik

    “If you stay within the metaphorical wall, you are a sane businessperson but if you leave the world of the known, you are either an entrepreneur or a corpse ” - Jim Mckelvey 𝗜𝗻𝘁𝗿𝗼𝗱𝘂𝗰𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 : This book is divided into three parts 1. Solving a perfect problem 2. The mythical expert 3. Innovation physics Don’t get scared by these sophisticated names, the first part covers the story of how Square ( A credit card company ) was founded by the author along with Jack Dorsey, yes you heard it right “The J “If you stay within the metaphorical wall, you are a sane businessperson but if you leave the world of the known, you are either an entrepreneur or a corpse ” - Jim Mckelvey 𝗜𝗻𝘁𝗿𝗼𝗱𝘂𝗰𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻 : This book is divided into three parts 1. Solving a perfect problem 2. The mythical expert 3. Innovation physics Don’t get scared by these sophisticated names, the first part covers the story of how Square ( A credit card company ) was founded by the author along with Jack Dorsey, yes you heard it right “The Jack Dorsey”. And how it was attacked by the biggest giant Amazon. The second part covers the case studies of three companies and discusses their innovation stack. When I say case studies do not associate it with a bunch of graphs or some weird mathematical calculation. The author in search of his mentor explores some very fascinating observations. In the third part, the author goes much deeper into the world of entrepreneurship and innovation stacks of the three companies. 𝐊𝐞𝐲 𝐟𝐞𝐚𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐞𝐬 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐛𝐨𝐨𝐤: One of the many things I love about this book is how entertaining it is, even the footnotes are worth reading ( and it has quite a few). The story of Square and how it survived the Amazon Attack and then the aftermath of it. I love the fact that how honestly the author has portrayed his journey with no sugar coating over the actual facts. 𝐖𝐡𝐲 𝐫𝐞𝐚𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐛𝐨𝐨𝐤? “Entrepreneur” word is wildly overused nowadays that it has lost its true meaning. Entrepreneurs are rare and this book will teach you the real meaning of entrepreneurship. You will love the journey that Square has traveled and the wonderful insights the author has shared about the journey. 𝗖𝗼𝗻𝗰𝗹𝘂𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻 : If you are looking to read something from the business/leadership/entrepreneurship book genre pick this up without a second thought.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ali Abbas

    Anybody who's chatted with my recently has heard me rave in some way about this book. Prior to reading, I had little interest in Square or in it's story, but came across Jim speaking online and was drawn in by his realistic approach. The main difference between this and the numerous other "here's how I got rich starting a business" type books? Jim is realistic in recognizing that 1) A lot of success comes down to luck and 2) Real entrepreneurship is doing something nobody else has done before. If y Anybody who's chatted with my recently has heard me rave in some way about this book. Prior to reading, I had little interest in Square or in it's story, but came across Jim speaking online and was drawn in by his realistic approach. The main difference between this and the numerous other "here's how I got rich starting a business" type books? Jim is realistic in recognizing that 1) A lot of success comes down to luck and 2) Real entrepreneurship is doing something nobody else has done before. If you are doing something that's already been done then the formula is established, you can read about how to run a hot-dog stand and understand the mechanics of the weiner market, the costs of various ketchups, and the shelf life of bread. But when you are doing something that has never been done before, or as he refers to as "leaving the city walls" there is no guidebook. And thus he shares with us not a copy and paste formula into what it means to be a successful entrepreneur. But a guidebook on how it feels - how scary and uncertain it is. How little people will believe in what you are doing. Above all else, Jim and his journey with square show how the pattern of market inclusion, or democratization of the marketplace, not only changes the world for the better, but can be quite fruitful, for the savvy entrepreneur. I find myself looking around me for my Innovation Stack. Maybe someday I'll find just what that is!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Moynahan

    I absolutely love when authors use stories from popular brands to explain their concepts. (I should point out, yet again, that this was a podcast-turned-to-book situation. McKelvey is awesome in podcast form, too). I'm always searching for ways I can take "business" ideas and apply them to "real world" (or what would appear non-business, and in most of my cases, my career as an educator) situations. This book was absolutely amazing and I'm so glad I shelled out the full BN price (save membership I absolutely love when authors use stories from popular brands to explain their concepts. (I should point out, yet again, that this was a podcast-turned-to-book situation. McKelvey is awesome in podcast form, too). I'm always searching for ways I can take "business" ideas and apply them to "real world" (or what would appear non-business, and in most of my cases, my career as an educator) situations. This book was absolutely amazing and I'm so glad I shelled out the full BN price (save membership discount, of course) instead of Amazon - it was worth every penny. The book is based around the central idea that by definition, no one knows what entrepreneurs do. Doesn't that make sense? Think about it. The true term of entrepreneur means creating something that doesn't currently exist, so how can anyone truly know what they do until they do it? That central theme - find a "perfect problem", get out there, and figure it out - is helpful in an industry. And the constant proof points Jim points out about industries that were created or redefined using innovation stacks is spellbinding. Many applications to education (and, actually, parenting - the ultimate entrepreneur adventure, IMO) and I'll treasure and give out many copies. Solid read!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Daisy Cheng-Milano

    Jim McKelvey seems to be my spirit animal. He is thoughtful, reflective, and insightful, not to mention well versed in a wide range of topics. McKelvey was able to weave topics like complex dynamical systems to linguistics, to psychology in with technology and business and appreciate the interconnectedness of it all. Most importantly, his communication in writing this book was able to help his readers appreciate the interconnectedness of it all and that, in my opinion, is the core engine that ru Jim McKelvey seems to be my spirit animal. He is thoughtful, reflective, and insightful, not to mention well versed in a wide range of topics. McKelvey was able to weave topics like complex dynamical systems to linguistics, to psychology in with technology and business and appreciate the interconnectedness of it all. Most importantly, his communication in writing this book was able to help his readers appreciate the interconnectedness of it all and that, in my opinion, is the core engine that runs his innovative stack (well, that and his desire to help uplift the marginalized little guys). Coming to this book from reading 2 books about the Chaos theory, this feels like a natural progression instead of my taking a break from nonlinear complex dynamics to do some light reading. That, I appreciate very much. It's good to know that there are people like him to help tackle the problems of creating "inclusive growth" and bridge it from concept to reality. We still need to do a lot of work in that department and hopefully this book will inspire others to create their own unique innovative stack to further help tackle the more difficult societal problems.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    Great book on innovation. Breaks down the fantasy associated with 'disruptive' companies into a simple insight: Innovation isn't something that should be strived for, it is simply a necessary tool for solving new problems: "Necessity mothers invention. You don’t plan to innovate, you don’t want to innovate, you don’t aspire to innovate, you have to innovate. It begins by putting yourself in a situation where innovation is the only alternative." McKelvey's main point is that solving a problem wher Great book on innovation. Breaks down the fantasy associated with 'disruptive' companies into a simple insight: Innovation isn't something that should be strived for, it is simply a necessary tool for solving new problems: "Necessity mothers invention. You don’t plan to innovate, you don’t want to innovate, you don’t aspire to innovate, you have to innovate. It begins by putting yourself in a situation where innovation is the only alternative." McKelvey's main point is that solving a problem where there are no case-studies to copy from, you must innovate. This innovation occurs as a stack of subproblems (what McKelvey refers to as an 'Innovation Stack') that must be iteratively solved as they occur. A very honest and readable book that touches on many aspects of innovation: decision-making, dealing with competitors, timing, pricing, copying, etc. One drawback is that I feel it could have been slightly shorter, but at 272 pages it is definitely still a very efficient must-read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Christopher J Finlayson

    Fun stories, generalizable insights The Innovation Stack is a fun, breezing, humorous look at the founding insights behind a number of Square, IKEA, Southwest and Bank of America. Most of business is copying best practices of successful companies. The author focuses on Perfect Problems where perceived barriers prevent existing companies from serving a portion of the market. The example companies discover the barriers that previously prevented a segment of the market from being served and come up Fun stories, generalizable insights The Innovation Stack is a fun, breezing, humorous look at the founding insights behind a number of Square, IKEA, Southwest and Bank of America. Most of business is copying best practices of successful companies. The author focuses on Perfect Problems where perceived barriers prevent existing companies from serving a portion of the market. The example companies discover the barriers that previously prevented a segment of the market from being served and come up with novel solutions to overcome these barriers. These innovations create new problems, which require yet more novel solutions. The resulting problem solving process creates an Innovation Stack and allows these new companies to serve and expand a new market segment. Companies that develop an Innovation Stack are difficult to copy because incumbent firms must copy the whole stack, which is a self-Reenforcing dynamic system. Copying a single element is likely insufficient to combat a new company that has found an Innovation Stack.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Prasanna

    Pretty interesting book that I picked up after hearing Jim in a podcast. I thought the story of Square beating Amazon was interesting. That particular story doesn’t feel as compelling to me other than maybe Amazon was not as focused on the payments industry. There’s no mention about Amazon trying to buy Square afterwards — I would’ve thought given the pattern of Amazon competing and then offering to buy that’d have happened. Regardless of that side of the story, Square has survived and thrived a Pretty interesting book that I picked up after hearing Jim in a podcast. I thought the story of Square beating Amazon was interesting. That particular story doesn’t feel as compelling to me other than maybe Amazon was not as focused on the payments industry. There’s no mention about Amazon trying to buy Square afterwards — I would’ve thought given the pattern of Amazon competing and then offering to buy that’d have happened. Regardless of that side of the story, Square has survived and thrived and even expanded to Square cash and bitcoin payments. So I think there’s a lot not than a grain of truth in McKelvey’s Innovation Stacks theory. The companies he profiles are presented well and it’s written in a fresh way. The birth of Bank of Italy which eventually became BofA was interesting too. A fresh new take on Herb Keller and Southwest was good to see too. As with most business books this was longer than it should’ve been.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Rob Tsai

    The author, who once hired Jack Dorsey to be a programmer on his team while Jack was still a teenager, joins up with Jack years later after Jack's success with Twitter, and they go on to build Square, the mobile payments company. In addition to recounting all the twists and turns to building Square, the author analyzes other historical innovators - Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, the founder of Bank of America, and the founder of Ikea. Many of these companies follow the same pattern - they fo The author, who once hired Jack Dorsey to be a programmer on his team while Jack was still a teenager, joins up with Jack years later after Jack's success with Twitter, and they go on to build Square, the mobile payments company. In addition to recounting all the twists and turns to building Square, the author analyzes other historical innovators - Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines, the founder of Bank of America, and the founder of Ikea. Many of these companies follow the same pattern - they founded new markets by going after the underserved - people who never flew before, people who were never banked, people who never bought furniture and people who never had merchant accounts to accept credit cards. The innovartion stack is the combination of all the strategies and processes - that when combined - create something brand new, and nearly impossible to replicate - as competitors would have to copy all those different factors. It's an enjoyable read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

    Entrepreneurship is often going agains the norms. Jim McKelvey says to survive these uncharted waters, you need what he refers to as an "innovation stack." This is not a neat business plan, but a stack of responses to existential threats. This is such an inspirational book! But not the kind of flighty inspiration that you forget about a few days later. He encourages you to find your "perfect problem" & to go solve it. He uses plenty of examples of "unqualified" people who have done just that As co Entrepreneurship is often going agains the norms. Jim McKelvey says to survive these uncharted waters, you need what he refers to as an "innovation stack." This is not a neat business plan, but a stack of responses to existential threats. This is such an inspirational book! But not the kind of flighty inspiration that you forget about a few days later. He encourages you to find your "perfect problem" & to go solve it. He uses plenty of examples of "unqualified" people who have done just that As co-founder of Square, Jim shares several personal examples of how he was able to beat Amazon, of all companies! Any & all would-be entrepreneurs need to read this book. In fact, this should be required reading in high school. The sign of a good book: I was very inspired but found myself a little sad to finish it.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Gerald Walus

    No wasted words and no labourious metaphors or parables. Jim McKelvey gets to the point of what he feels the qualities of a true entrepreneur are and illustrates this with a few handpicked points of inspirations to himself drawn both from antiquity and from the a more recent Southwest Airlines 'case study'. The Innovation Stack really brought home the challenges faced in an environment of building a business in a non-regulator environment or where one needs to throw out the current playbook and No wasted words and no labourious metaphors or parables. Jim McKelvey gets to the point of what he feels the qualities of a true entrepreneur are and illustrates this with a few handpicked points of inspirations to himself drawn both from antiquity and from the a more recent Southwest Airlines 'case study'. The Innovation Stack really brought home the challenges faced in an environment of building a business in a non-regulator environment or where one needs to throw out the current playbook and focus on first principles. This book doles out practical advice, doesn't pretend to offer any solutions to your particular case as it acknowledges that there are none, and is ultimately a humble telling of how Square came to be, the challenges it faced, and what individuals in similar positions should come to expect (in both a cautionary but inspirational tenor).

  25. 5 out of 5

    Michal

    The main issue I had with the book is the author's obsession with footnotes - there were simply too many which disrupted the flow of reading. I was interested in the story of Square and various decisions, but the most important bits of the story of the company were skipped, perhaps because the author is still under NDA. The author spent quite some time on Bank of America, IKEA and Southwest Airlines - I will admit that I didn't know the stories and I enjoyed them. But I would have enjoyed them eve The main issue I had with the book is the author's obsession with footnotes - there were simply too many which disrupted the flow of reading. I was interested in the story of Square and various decisions, but the most important bits of the story of the company were skipped, perhaps because the author is still under NDA. The author spent quite some time on Bank of America, IKEA and Southwest Airlines - I will admit that I didn't know the stories and I enjoyed them. But I would have enjoyed them even better if I actually read the books the author quotes when he talks about them - I was interested in Square and their journey, which I wasn't really given. There are a lot of vague and feel-good bits of advice, but nothing ground breaking.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Filipe Mendes

    The first half of the book got me thinking that this was just another jibba jabba entrepreneurship and self help of Silicon Valle. To my surprise, once it starts to get deeper into the meaning of what an innovation stack is and some of its examples, I’ve became hooked and read it at a much higher pace. Copy others in most cases and be innovative when you really need to. True innovation occurs when you solve (interdependent) problems subsequently, and the IKEA example, was particularly elucidative The first half of the book got me thinking that this was just another jibba jabba entrepreneurship and self help of Silicon Valle. To my surprise, once it starts to get deeper into the meaning of what an innovation stack is and some of its examples, I’ve became hooked and read it at a much higher pace. Copy others in most cases and be innovative when you really need to. True innovation occurs when you solve (interdependent) problems subsequently, and the IKEA example, was particularly elucidative in this regard. As a competitor, you can have the same low prices as another successful low-cost airline but unless you operate the same way (in all departments and with clients), then you will likely fail. Square has won over Amazon but now, after I read this book, I understand why.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

    This fun and easy read is by one of the co-founders of the Square payment processing system for small business. He examines what really is an entrepreneur, as distinct from a business person, in bringing about a revolutionary solution to a problem. The stack in the title refers to the series of innovations that you'll require as solving one problem ends up creating other challenges. The problems that fit this model don't have to be business-related; his method of interrelated creating problem-so This fun and easy read is by one of the co-founders of the Square payment processing system for small business. He examines what really is an entrepreneur, as distinct from a business person, in bringing about a revolutionary solution to a problem. The stack in the title refers to the series of innovations that you'll require as solving one problem ends up creating other challenges. The problems that fit this model don't have to be business-related; his method of interrelated creating problem-solving can fit social or other kinds of issues that bug someone enough to dig in on solving them. I liked his differentiation between 'disruption', which he calls an overused cliche, and expansion of a marketplace to new users.

  28. 5 out of 5

    William

    --"Copy when you can, invent when you must. Once an entrepreneur leaves traditional market to explore new ones, the need for survival will force the entrepreneur to innovate." -- A company in a brand new market needs to come up with a series of innovation to survive and adapt. These steps of innovation (newly formed organizational processes and strategic directions), which the author calls "innovation stack," are interconnected in a complex way. Hence, it is very difficult for outsiders to succe --"Copy when you can, invent when you must. Once an entrepreneur leaves traditional market to explore new ones, the need for survival will force the entrepreneur to innovate." -- A company in a brand new market needs to come up with a series of innovation to survive and adapt. These steps of innovation (newly formed organizational processes and strategic directions), which the author calls "innovation stack," are interconnected in a complex way. Hence, it is very difficult for outsiders to successfully imitate the new company, because imitation requires the understanding of every component in the "innovation stack."

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lance McNeill

    Innovation stack = barriers to entry and switching costs Good read with unique anecdotes and the authors own experience as co-founder of Square. While there maybe be a few nuanced differences with what the author has coined as innovation stacks, it is basically two established ideas in business and entrepreneurship: barriers to entry and switching costs. There are also some themes from the pyramid at the bottom - all pre-established ideas. I still thought there was a lot of value at looking at t Innovation stack = barriers to entry and switching costs Good read with unique anecdotes and the authors own experience as co-founder of Square. While there maybe be a few nuanced differences with what the author has coined as innovation stacks, it is basically two established ideas in business and entrepreneurship: barriers to entry and switching costs. There are also some themes from the pyramid at the bottom - all pre-established ideas. I still thought there was a lot of value at looking at those ideas from this author’s perspective

  30. 4 out of 5

    Erik Potter

    The writing is funny and the concepts are fascinating. The book is a bit ... thin. I was hoping for a little more depth to each of the innovative companies he profiles. Perhaps I’m missing the point somewhat. The premise of the book is that innovation cannot be copied. Case studies in innovation can reveal central truths, but there’s no magic step-by-step to be found in an exhaustive list of details. Even still, as a storyteller myself, the recounting felt too brief and too dry. Perhaps what I n The writing is funny and the concepts are fascinating. The book is a bit ... thin. I was hoping for a little more depth to each of the innovative companies he profiles. Perhaps I’m missing the point somewhat. The premise of the book is that innovation cannot be copied. Case studies in innovation can reveal central truths, but there’s no magic step-by-step to be found in an exhaustive list of details. Even still, as a storyteller myself, the recounting felt too brief and too dry. Perhaps what I need are good books about the history of Bank of America, IKEA and Southwest.

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