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Publisher's Summary

A start-up executive and investor draws on expertise developed at the premier venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, and as an executive at Uber to address how tech’s most successful products have solved the dreaded "cold start problem” - by leveraging network effects to launch and scale toward billions of users. 

Although software has become easier to build, launching and scaling new products and services remains difficult. Start-ups face daunting challenges entering the technology ecosystem, including stiff competition, copycats, and ineffective marketing channels. Teams launching new products must consider the advantages of “the network effect”, where a product or service’s value increases as more users engage with it. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and other tech giants utilize network effects, and most tech products incorporate them, whether they’re messaging apps, workplace collaboration tools, or marketplaces. Network effects provide a path for fledgling products to break through, attracting new users through viral growth and word of mouth.

Yet most entrepreneurs lack the vocabulary and context to describe them - much less understand the fundamental principles that drive the effect. What exactly are network effects? How do teams create and build them into their products? How do products compete in a market where every player has them? Andrew Chen draws on his experience and on interviews with the CEOs and founding teams of LinkedIn, Twitch, Zoom, Dropbox, Tinder, Uber, Airbnb, and Pinterest - to offer unique insights in answering these questions. Chen also provides practical frameworks and principles that can be applied across products and industries. 

The Cold Start Problem reveals what makes winning networks thrive, why some start-ups fail to successfully scale, and, most crucially, why products that create and compete using the network effect are vitally important today.

©2021 Andrew Chen (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers

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What listeners say about The Cold Start Problem

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  • Overall
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Great high level summary. More unique insights wanted.

First, let me say I am Andrew’s fan. I followed his essays and youtube. So, I was really looking forward to this book. I also happen to work on my own cold start problem, so the timing was perfect.

The good:
This is an excellent summary of core principles that a start up founder (or anyone with business ownership mentality) should keep in mind. I watched almost all the YC youtube videos, interviews with founders and read everything i can find when it comes to start ups. This books neatly summarizes network effect specific concepts in one place and presents them in an easy to understand flow.

The bad:
I thought the title is somewhat misleading, as the book covers the whole company lifecycle from 0 to maturity, rather than the 0 to 1. As a result, topics are covered at a high level, without a ton of unique insight that one looking would not be able to find elsewhere. There are other books (high growth handbook, hard things) that provide more practical guidance. I hoped this would be a deep dive in 0 to 1.

Overall, great summary. Maybe a second book that would focus on a cold start exclusively? Andrew, i am sure you have exposure to 100s of startups. Would love to read what specific challenges they faced, what assumptions they made, what did they do and how it worked out. More of the “war room” insights. Thank you!

6 people found this helpful

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Entrepreneur Essential

Accessible case studies expand on a functional characterization of “network effects.” Useful anecdotes for entrepreneurs to digest and apply when evaluating firms and markets. Great pain and steep losses might be avoided by a thorough reading of this text.

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Good ideas. Too long.

There are useful ideas in this book. It has been helpful and I’m (mostly) glad I listened. However, it could have been half as long.

Narration is ok, but a bit flat. 1.2 speed recommended.

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Making the essentials known

I enjoyed the practical nature of this book. I've learned quite a bit and will actually adapt some core principles to grow further grow my company..
Thank you very much for such insights.

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absolutely brilliant

engaging stories, insightful analysis. I'm sure this will save us tons of money on launch

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A MasterClass

One of the best masterclasses I’ve . Love the framework (going wide) and the ability to go deep (specific use cases)

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  • 04-04-22

Helpful for startups w network effects

Many great real world examples of the different stages a startup goes through that have network effects. I like how he is able to define the different stages and dissect them individually.

Can take some out of this book and apply it to your own venture.

Atomic networks key.

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One of the best new entrepreneurship books in a while!

I have read many entrepreneurial books, and haven’t seen something so fresh and new (in terms of ideas) in a while. A great read.

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How to birth a unicorn

Most startups fail. Others survive, but achieve only moderate success. A few grow rapidly and leverage network effects to keep growing... and growing. Chen offers a rigorous analysis of the ways these uncommonly successful firms blow past competitors with apparently similar products. His writing has an academic rigor combined with first-hand knowledge of legendary growth companies. In particular, Chen's time with Uber lets him describe in detail how the firm adapted its on the ground tactics on a city by city basis to exploit local network effects and achieve top-line explosive growth. Any entrepreneur that wants to create a business with organic growth needs this book. I'm also confident that this will be a go-to textbook for college entrepreneurship classes.

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Exciting book full of insights

Andrew is on fire with the insights shared in this book from the first page (or minute) till the last. Other readers mentioned this is more about network and anti-network effects than about the cold start problem. While that’s true, Andrew offers also a different perspective where even big established companies must defend against new comers who can use techniques such as cherry picking existing features of the big guy’s product and ability to quickly change focus to adapt to market much faster. Overall an exciting book.