Book review: Doing capitalism in the innovation economy, by William H Janeway

An original analysis of the start-up investment business impressed John McLaren. But it's too bad about the title ...

by John McLaren
Titles are important. If Austen, Dostoevsky and Dickens had managed no better than Haughtiness and Bias, Doing Bad Stuff And Not Getting Away With It, and An Account of Dual Conurbations, I doubt they would have topped the bestseller lists so effortlessly. When I glanced at the title of my review copy of this book, I was taken aback. Was this ugly, mangled sentence a reference to something I didn't know, or could it be - as Monty Python would say - a pun or a palindrome? But no, it's just a straightforward stinker. I wince to think what ideas Janeway rejected.

I was so put off that if I wasn't being paid I wouldn't even have opened it. Which would have been a pity, because it's more readable and interesting than most business books, if a bit of a hybrid. This is because, as the author admits, he's a bit of a hybrid himself - a blend of a business practitioner and a commentator/academic.

As a practitioner (an investment banker/principal investor in tech companies), he had a successful career. Assuming that the distinguished people who have endorsed the book rank among his friends, he must be well connected and respected, and I would guess that he's likeable and interesting company. The only drawback is that most of the examples he provides of the deals where he learned his lessons and earned his spurs were a long time ago, and ain't exactly the stuff of legend anyway. BRL, BEA (not the old airline), MicroPro, SHL? Me neither. Deliberately or otherwise, the impression is left that not only was Janeway cutting his teeth through these situations, but that his experiences were seminal for the whole tech world.

He does mention the 'Four Horsemen of the venture capital ecosystem: Alex Brown, Hambrecht & Quist, Robertson Stephens, and Rothschild, Unterberg, Towbin' (one of which I once worked for), but doesn't explain why this quartet was already in existence if he himself was busy inventing the industry. Very back to the future.

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