Book Review : Lost and Founder (Rand Fishkin)

Kicking off a new book review series, we take a look at Rand Fishkin’s Moz memoirs.

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Lost and Founder Title : Lost and Founder

Author : Rand Fishkin

The Blurb : A painfully honest field guide to the startup world. This book is about all the things nobody tells you when you start a tech company.

Key + : A refreshingly open account of the trials and tribulations of building a business. I especially liked the direct challenge to the venture capital culture of Silicon Valley.

Key : There is a tangible bitterness, which is at odds to the book as a whole, and I never felt as though his final departure from Moz is really explained.


Welcome to the first in an ad-hoc series of book reviews from the Browser Media team. There are many digital marketing related books out there, some (very) good and some (very) bad. We thought that it may be interesting to share our thoughts on some of these books in case you are looking for some bedtime reading.

I actually bought this book as soon as it came out but have been working my way through a long list of books that I had lined up on my Kindle, so have only just managed to read it.

I was looking forward to it for a number of reasons, one of which being the fact that it was the first ‘real’ book I have read for years, having become a Kindle addict. As it turned out, I can confirm that I much prefer reading on the Kindle but I really enjoyed Lost and Founder, and it was more than worth the wait and inconvenience of not being able to crank up the font size for my ageing eyes. :-)

If you have been involved with SEO, you will know of Rand Fishkin and I have always been a fan. I have never met Rand but he has always struck me as one of the good guys in SEO. There are a lot of SEO sharks out there, but he has always impressed me with his obvious love for SEO and passion for sharing his knowledge. He is definitely on my dinner party list and I had high hopes for his book.

Before you accuse me of being a sycophant, I would like to point out that I have been openly critical of Moz in the past and Browser Media is not a customer of Moz. I actually think Moz is very good, but I am most definitely not a fanboy. Oddly, this was one of the reasons why I was looking forward to reading the book – I was intrigued to see if it would be a lengthy sales pitch, or would it be as honest as the blurb promised?

It is a relief to say that it is a brutally transparent account of the Moz story. Rand is rightfully proud of achievements but not afraid to acknowledge shortcomings. I think it is the candid story telling that makes it so compelling and you cannot help but empathise with Rand and will the business to succeed.

The book is also incredibly human. Disarmingly honest, Rand does not shy away from extremely personal aspects of his journey – the bombshell news of a brain tumour, battling depression, and the sense of guilt when ‘letting staff go’. Whilst it does serve as a field guide to starting a business, it managed to do so in a very personal manner and it feels more like a fireside chat than a business advice book.

Another achievement is the fact that I am pretty certain you would enjoy this book without any knowledge / experience of the SEO world. Whilst Rand and Moz are obviously at the core of this new industry, the book does not require any knowledge of SEO, and the principles would apply to any startup in any field. Yes, there are SEO references but Rand does a good job of explaining them in layman’s terms and the book is really about building a business rather than building an SEO related business.

The book is split into chapters that could almost be read in isolation, each one focusing on particular points of interest. Whilst there is an occasional drift in chronology that could potentially be confusing, I think it works really well and each chapter feels focused and successfully covers particular issues.

As a whole, the book dispels a lot of myths but I especially liked the consideration of getting backed by venture capitalists. Seen by many as the definition of success in the Silicon Valley culture of today, Rand does an excellent job of showing how VC money is not the elixir that many assume. Rand’s summary of the whole Silicon Valley bubble is refreshingly honest and there are plenty of stats in the book to make a mockery of some of the West Coast hype.

I had actually just finished Bad Blood, which has the sub-title of “Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” and explores the staggering story of mega fraud at Theranos. If there is a polar opposite of Elizabeth Holmes / Theranos, Rand Fishkin / Moz must be it. Bad Blood shows the ugly side of greed and the pursuit of wealth. Lost and Founder shows the pitfalls of funding, the impact of launching products too soon and, crucially, how human lives are affected by the pressures of growing a business. It is a story told with humility and humour.

As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed the book and would wholeheartedly recommend it. It is very well written and consistently struck a chord in my brain as I ploughed through the chapters. To be honest, there is little to dislike but my one (little) gripe is that there is sometimes a sense of bitterness (perhaps borderline arrogance on occasions?) that is at odds with the rest of the book. I feel as though Rand is holding something back, but it is something that clearly annoys him. It would have been interesting to understand the final departure from Moz in more detail, as this is no doubt the issue, but that episode feels glossed over.

Lost and Founder was most definitely worth the wait and I would encourage you to read it. You do not need to be involved in SEO to enjoy the exploration of business principles. It feels brave as it challenges a lot of modern business cultures, but it is extremely credible. I rarely read a book more than once, but this is definitely one that I plan on revisiting as I am sure that I missed quite a bit on the first read.

Favourite line(s) :It’s like agreeing to exclusively produce movies starring Nicolas Cage. Who would willingly sign up for such a painful journey with such awful odds of success?” [context = a look at the dismal odds of success for startups]

Score : 9/10

Verdict : Add to basket


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