How Two Best Friends Started A Side Hustle Recommending Books
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hey! My name is Richard Reis and I’m the founder of Most Recommended Books (MRB, for short).
We help you discover books recommended by the world’s most influential people.
So if you’ve ever looked at someone you admire and wondered “what books does he/she recommend?”, with 500+ experts and 6,000+ books, chances are we have the answer.
Some of our most popular lists are Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Naval Ravikant.
Feel free to check any of them out! Or find someone you admire here.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
The story of MRB goes all the way back to 2018.
I wrote a post that became one of Medium’s top 10 of all time. That’s when I first realized I might have a knack for making stuff people like (whether a blog post or an app, some projects even went viral).
That day my best friend, Anurag, and I decided to work together.
Our skills are very complimentary so it made sense to join forces.
But, what to build? And how could we avoid becoming another Silicon Valley failure?
The answer came to me while reading this scene from The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick, which details Mark Zuckerberg’s time at Harvard :
“[Mark Zuckerberg] also worked on other people’s projects.
After the Facemash episode, he mended fences with the Association of Harvard Black Women by helping them set up their own website. And he worked for a while with three seniors who aimed to build a dating and socializing site they called Harvard Connection.
‘I had this hobby of just building these little projects,’ says Zuckerberg now. ‘I had like twelve projects that year.’
Most of them, he says, was about ‘seeing how people were connected through mutual references.’”
Zuck built a ton of projects before Facebook!
Fun fact, even after building Facebook he worked on another project (Wirehog) which he believed had more potential because “ironically, Zuckerberg was not a heavy user of Thefacebook.”
Isn’t this mind-blowing? It blew my mind.
After all, Facebook’s market cap is a trillion dollars and Wirehog’s is, roughly, zero.
Learning that, and watching this Derek Sivers video, gave me the answer I was looking for.
Anurag and I decided we’d build something, and if it gained no traction after 1-3 months, we’d switch to something else. No attachments!
So we tried one project. It went nowhere.
We tried a second project. It went nowhere.
And then we tried MRB. A week later, we were profitable. A month later, Business Insider mentioned us.
We don't really know why MRB worked and the others failed. It could be any of many factors (timing, product, competitors, etc).
This is why we decided to try many until one gained traction, that's the only factor we had total control over.
Describe the process of building the product and launching the business.
I’m a big fan of The Tim Ferriss Show.
At the end of each episode, he asks his guest for their book recommendations.
This is what gave me the idea for MRB. I wanted to put all those recommendations in one place (and see which books came up over and over again!)
So I went through each episode (manually!!) and added the books to a spreadsheet. All we needed after that was a simple design, and we were in business.
Of course, we made many mistakes, but we solved every single one with the same two principles: speed and iteration.
If you’re moving fast and constantly iterating, it will be very hard for any mistake to be fatal.
This has saved us countless times.
However, both Anurag and I are programmers, not businessmen. So the best thing we did was join Stripe Atlas. They helped make the “business running” process a breeze, and their forum is awesome (it’s where I found many, many answers).
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
As long as we’re profitable, we spend zero time thinking about revenue.
What we’re focused on is traffic. We get about 70,000 monthly visitors right now, and our goal is to reach 100,000.
Why? Because after 100,000 monthly visitors, we can start looking at other ways of making money (such as ads).
So that’s our current goal. Get to 100,000!
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Ever since we started MRB, we’ve spawned an army of copycats (seriously, I find a new copycat almost every week).
This used to bother me.
One day, I was talking to a very successful founder and shared my perturbation.
He recommended I listen to the Making Oprah podcast.
All I can say is - Wow!
I won’t spoil anything (go listen to it!) but if you’re a founder, it’s a must.
As for other podcasts for founders, I have two.
- My favorite is (of course) The Tim Ferriss Show.
- One hidden gem I discovered (and more people are catching on to) is David Senra’s podcast Founders. Every week, he’ll read and summarize a biography from a great founder. If you want a place to start, I recommended David read the Larry Ellison biography Softwar and he liked it so much he turned it into a podcast episode (which I’ve listened to countless times and you can find here).
I’m also reading two books right now:
Fair warning, these books are terrible bedtime reading (in fact, I’m probably going to turn them into blog posts. This way you don’t have to deal with the dryness and boredom I’m putting up with)
Finally, if you’re looking for books, I built an entire website just for you! (and if you want my recommendations, I listed them here).
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Nothing specific, but we’re always looking for ways to improve!
Can you help us improve our design? Our SEO? Anything else?
If so, please reach out! (we’re more than happy to pay for awesome help).
Where can we go to learn more?
Of course, I mentioned our website, but we also just launched a Twitter account!
Anurag nor I are great at social media, so any feedback on how we can improve is welcome.
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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