Dear Mr. Carlson,
Woo-hoo, what a fine book you have written! I listened to Kiff VandenHeuvel read it to me in an Audible version in a voice not unlike yours – a wonderful mix of “Can you believe this?!” and “Get this!” – and had the proverbial can’t-put-it-down-experience.
I was so absolutely touched and awed that you sent me a personal copy of Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!, inscribed it, and, heavens, mentioned me in the Acknowledgements! I admit I was puzzled why you thanked me for teaching you “the five-paragraph essay.”
Wow, to quote David Letterman, did you ever “blow the roof off the dump” of the five-paragraph essay! But I get what you meant – you introduced this topic with an uppercut, then extended the essay, point after compelling point, selecting just the right points in just the right order to build anticipation and suspense. Nothing clever is coming to me with which to replace “page-turner” for listening to an audiobook, but I was completely absorbed and engaged the entire ride, literally cringing as the conclusion was heading my way. Sheesh! What an experience!
Interestingly enough, I took a sabbatical from teaching from 1999 to 2001 to write a novel, didn’t complete it, but got involved in the dot-com economy in Tampa, started a small business – showing up in the top ten Yahoo! search results for “web site development,” believe it or not – joined and left a startup. Crazy times.
I read and studied publications to which you referred, followed the careers of the Internet economy leaders you mentioned, and puzzled and puzzled over how Yahoo! made money. They were hot, they were sexy, but who was paying them to do what? It was mysterious. But it was a young man’s time to be hot and sexy, and I experienced my early-40s female questions dismissed with, “You just don’t get it,” and I believed them.
I appreciated this TechCrunch reporter noticing that your book has messages for startups. I thought the same, but in the other direction. I founded two more startups, one in 2008, one with partners in 2012. On page 319, you write, “The company hasn’t found its purpose since – the thing it can do that no one else can.” You mention in several places Yahoo!’s declining user base. You cite Marissa Mayer’s contempt for 700 users of a mobile app.
I think if an aspiring startup founder read Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! now, she might realize she needed to give herself a fixed time, then ask, “Does your number of users tell you that your idea solves a problem no one else can?” If the answer is “no,” she should bail. I did not know to ask that question, or was too desperately or arrogantly blind to its existence. Your book tells the story of losses in the millions and billions. Mine is in the tens of thousands for me, for my former husband, for my family. Embarrassing and sad.
And that’s the hallmark of fine writing – we both love and learn. I was completely “in” the story, occasionally coming “out,” to think, “Ooh, nice,” with a teacher’s praise for a student’s fine phrasing, then I was back “in,” deliciously groaning as the plot thickened. But I also began to groan, not so deliciously, as I had insights about my own story.
Ooh, and the risk with sources! Daring! Iconoclastic! I love it!
What’s it like for a former middle school writing teacher to have her student write a book? FANTASTIC! WOW!
And I’m giggling. I remember your father telling me when you were still in middle school, only semi-facetiously, that he was sending his sons to our school to learn to be doctors and lawyers, not writers!
And the dedication of the book to your mother makes perfect sense to me. Such an exciting, incisive mind!
And now I’m choking up. How you honor me, our school, your family with such deep thinking, hard synthesis, and masterful expression. I am so proud of you.
I have wonderful memories of you as a young man – bright, earnest, questing. I was always amazed and awed by the regard you and your brothers have for each other. Unprecedented. As the middle son, you had lots of choices about which way to go. I saw you choose the courageous path – honesty, integrity, kindness. I haven’t seen you in years, but I still see these honorable traits in you in your book.
Thank you, Mr. Carlson.
. . . . .
Nicholas Carlson is the author of Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo! I had the joy and privilege of being his middle school teacher at Tampa Preparatory School. My eighth grade history teacher, Mrs. Charlotte Pauley Sellers, called us by our last names and I felt so seen and valued as “Miss Giles” that I passed that practice forward as a teacher. The author has always been “Mr. Carlson” to me. I stole the image from his Facebook page without permission. I’m guessing it’s okay. I’ll take it down if it’s not. I wish I were still a teacher. But not having to attempt to do the right thing all the time is pretty nice.
Hi, Dimity! Hi, Mark! Hi, Mr. Carlson and Mr. Carlson! He did great, didn’t he?!