Sunday B2B Book Review: The Intel Trinity by Michael Malone
This Sunday we take a right turn with our book reviews and bring you a book review of The Intel Trinity by Michael Malone. While a lot of the story is lost on the millennial generation, Intel helped pioneer the silicon-based memory chips from which California’s storied Silicon Valley drew its name, then assembled the team that pretty much invented the microprocessors that enabled the creation of personal computers and the computer-driven era we live in today. So far ahead of the curve was Intel that it often had to educate its customers in how to deploy its technologies. In business, too, Intel was an innovator. It offered its users services and customization, not just off-the-shelf, mass-produced products, and understood the importance of cannibalizing its own products to adopt new technologies and create new businesses. All in, the work is worthy of consideration and any B2B founder should spend some time reading it.
We give the book a 4.5 out of 5.0. The stories are incredible and many of the lessons from the early leaders of Silicon Valley are applicable today. The coverage of Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, and Andy Grove as a “Holy Trinity” of leadership is intense and specific. The author was granted unprecedented access to the company and the reader really benefits from that access. There were some specific B2B lessons throughout the book including how Intel thought about product development, internationalization, business development deals, and fundraising. Below were a few key takeaways from our book review of The Intel Trinity.
1. Why Do We Remember Intel? Why don’t we remember dozens of other semiconductor companies in Silicon Valley in the latter part of the 20th century? There is a lot of discussion around how incredible Intel was at three core competencies that any company can learn from. First, better engineering. The company was built by two of the three greatest technical minds of their generation and instilled an engineering first culture throughout the company. To keep up with Moore’s Law, this was absolutely necessary. Second, better marketing. Many remember “Intel Inside.” The company did an excellent job here. Third, a better ability to learn from its mistakes. This last one was key, as the company would innovate 1000+ times a year on their product, over-spend on R&D, and force a culture of innovation.
2. Creative Confrontation Can Work. The book spends a fair amount of time on Andy Grove and his relationship with Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce but also focuses on the culture that he helped build during his time at Intel. Intel was a place where undisciplined, random conversation was never the norm and almost anything anyone said could be challenged directly and aggressively by anyone in the hierarchy. Whether you were a customer, employee, business development partner, or friend anything you said could get shoved down your throat as instantly as you said it. The point was not to be nice, but to make the best products and services possible. Andy Grove really built the company that allowed for creative confrontation where ideas got better and better through dispute and discussion.
3. Everyone Starts Small. When Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore left Fairchild Semiconductor, they turned to their friend Arthur Rock to help them raise capital for Intel. In 1969, Arthur Rock went around the country with five hundred thousand shares valued at $5 a piece. The round of $2.5MM was done via convertible debt and included six of the eight members of the “Traitorous Eight,” Hayden, Stone (original investors in Fairchild), Max Palevsky, Fayez Sarofim, Paul Cook, Gerald Currie, Grinnell College, and the Rockefeller Investment Group. Founder Robert Noyce put $300k of his own money into the business. All this to say that the company spent a lot of time building a syndicate of small angel investors and VCs. Everyone starts small.
There are a lot of great anecdotes in the book including the relationship between Steve Jobs and Robert Noyce as well as the early beginnings of Bill Gates and Paul Allen in the context of the Intel/IBM relationship. The work is a great history lesson for aspiring entrepreneurs or industry insiders.
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