I came across Neil Gabler’s “Walt Disney, The Triumph of the American Imagination” in one of those confluences of events that encourages one to explore a new subject. I had just returned from my first trip to Walt Disney World when I was listening to a podcast interview with one of my favorite tech personalities named Marc Andreessen, partner at Andreessen Horowitz. Marc was talking about how founders for startups are just as important as product when he looks to invest in a startup. To put this into perspective, an early stage tech investor maximizes their return when they find a talented founder who is willing to stay with the venture as long as possible and not “cash out” early. These are the founder types who create the “unicorns”, or those rare multi-billion dollar organizations that sweep the market and return multitudes to investors. When pressed to give examples of how Andreessen spots these individuals, he recommended reading this particular book as Walt Disney exemplifies one nearly the best (with Thomas Edison being the other example he gave).
As it relates to the actual book, my first note is that the quality of the writing is outstanding. Neal Gabler thoroughly did his research. This is probably why it took me so long to read the book as it is jam packed with information. Another note I would add is that despite what my perceptions were prior to reading it, Walt Disney himself is a fascinating subject. I believe that many people look at the Walt Disney company and see this massive business entity. However, there was a time when the Walt Disney company was a small endeavor being desperately held together by a Midwesterner with a thin mustache who came to be considered one of the country’s best artists (although he drew and animated very little). From that point he developed a large animation studio and moved into the role of producer where he blew audiences away with the quality of his features and storytelling, and it is in those last two qualities that Walt should be remembered mostly. For Walt it was all about quality and pushing the boundaries of what the artists and engineers in his employ could do to reach his vision of upmost quality and a powerful brand built upon it. This imprint is evident both in the groundbreaking work of Snow White up through the launching of his first amusement park, Disneyland and even through today.
As I like biographies and read a lot of entrepreneurial books, I can spot a good book when I read it and this is one. Pick it up and give it a try. You may not be able to read it and tie flies at the same time, but maybe it will be something to read when during times of high water.