Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed M. Kim Saxton about the book she co-wrote with Todd Saxton and Michael Cloran, The Titanic Effect. She explains how they came up with the concept of The Titanic Effect, what their book does for business, and what the creative process was.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
We are two business school professors and a tech entrepreneur. We’ve been active in the startup community for more than two decades. After talking with literally hundreds of startups and their founding teams, we noticed that we noticed some consistent patterns in how entrepreneurs’ early decisions constrained them later, limiting their success.
So, we started brainstorming a list of these common decisions with examples of what can happen. Then, we combined our expertise and functional knowledge to write this book. Todd, with his background in corporate strategy and entrepreneurship tackled the company organization and human talent issues. Kim, a marketer, tackled sales and marketing. And Michael, a serial tech company founder, added how technology challenges can limit startups.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
At first, we were just talking about these challenges. Then, we put together a 45-minute presentation where we shared the overarching idea that technical debt occurs not just in software but also in decisions in other domains of a startup. We had a blast doing the presentation and the audience loved the ideas. We got invited to do the presentation in other venues. After the third presentation, someone in the audience said, “You should write that book.” We were taken by surprise at that idea. Then, we started talking about it and we thought, “We should write that book.”
When did you take a step to start writing?
After that presentation, we realized that to make a book, we needed to create a framework. Up to this point, we had a bunch of ideas and examples. But there was no coordinating framework. So, we started working on that. We liked the idea of a credit score. It looks at your debts and the way you pay them off. We liked the idea that the bigger your score, the better your management of debt is. Once we had the framework organized, we did a presentation with new startups and showed them how to work through the details. They loved it. They said, “Where were you three years ago?” Now we knew we had to move forward with writing the book.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
It was over 3 years from first idea to release. It took us 18 months just to write the book. Then, another 3 months having it edited. Then, the publishing process took over. That took about 11 months. Before we knew it, it had been 3 years.
What were your biggest challenges with writing The Titanic Effect?
The biggest challenge with three authors was to have a common approach. We had many, many meetings to get us all on the same page. Finally Todd wrote the first chapter. Then, Kim and Michael used his outline of what content went where within a chapter. And, we tried to use his same tone of voice and approach to documenting details. Then, we hired an editor who edited it for consistency across authors.
What was your research process for The Titanic Effect?
As academics, Kim and Todd naturally approached the book as needing to research everything. We’ve read more content about The Titanic than most people would think exists. We read research papers about what happened to it. We watched videos. We read novels. We looked at many, many websites. We visited museums. If there was content about The Titanic, we reviewed it. We have lots of practical resources as well, documented throughout the book. So, we did research broadly and more specifically on individual topics.
How did you plan the structure of The Titanic Effect?
Once we decided that we were going to use the analogy of The Titanic to talk about startup failure and success, we used a sailing theme throughout the book. Our framework is organized into 4 oceans – human, marketing, technical and strategy. Within these oceans, we outlined various seas of challenges. Within each sea, there are icebergs that can sink a ship. One big issue we had to decide on somewhat early was how to name the icebergs. We decided to name them as problems like “inequitable equity among the founding team.” So, the book tells how to navigate around these icebergs, problems that can occur. Agreeing on the framework and nomenclature took a lot of back and forth between the three of us. But once we had this structure, it was relatively easier to write the chapters. The structure made the writing work a lot easier.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did The Titanic Effect need?
We did hire a professional editor. They did about four rounds of edits over a 3-month period. The first edit was for consistency across the authors. The second edit was for readability. The third edit was a proofing round to find typos. And the fourth was to get everything into the publisher’s required formatting. Each author was sent back their section with editor’s questions to address. We all got to fix our own problems. It was the least fun of the whole process. We dreaded those editor’s emails! But they made the book stronger.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
Love the topic. In our case, we also read for the audiobook. So, by the time the book was fully launched, we probably read the book about 20 times. Second piece of advice – read your book out loud before you finish the editing process. Even on that last read, I could see ways we could have written it better.
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
We haven’t decided on the next book yet. It will probably still be non-fiction, though.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
We are super proud of our book. People come up to us and tell us what their favorite part is. They use the icebergs when they talk strategy with us. They even post pictures on social media of themselves holding our book. We occasionally come across one in a bookstore. It’s a great feeling to find your book “in the wild.”
Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:
Twitter (Kim): https://twitter.com/profksaxton
Twitter (Todd): https://twitter.com/DiveProfTodd
Twitter (Michael): https://twitter.com/mecloran
LinkedIn (Kim): https://www.linkedin.com/in/profmkimsaxton/
LinkedIn (Todd): https://www.linkedin.com/in/todd-saxton-7625368/
LinkedIn (Michael): https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelcloran/
We strive to keep The Table Read free for both our readers and our contributors. If you have enjoyed our work, please consider donating to help keep The Table Read going!