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The First 20 Million Is Always the Hardest

Chapter One
Author's Note
The Movie

My second novel, The First $20 Million is Always the Hardest, was published in March 1997.

"If Charles Dickens were alive, it's likely he would be writing about our computerized society and its concomitant cybernetic culture called Silicon Valley. Dickens being otherwise engaged, it is well that we have a satirist of the caliber of Po Bronson to dissect the entrepreneurs and intellectuals whose hard-and-soft drive doings so control our present and force our future." 
- Cleveland Plain Dealer

A sly, entertaining tribute to American can-do ingenuity. Ken Kesey would be proud.
- Boston Sunday Herald

A terrific novel--full of Valley color, the politics of business, the business of problem-solving, the drama of risk-taking. What is so terribly attractive about The First $20 Million--outside of its great sense of humor, lively detail and memorable characters--is, finally, its close approximation to the daily grind.
- Santa Cruz Sentinel

The San Francisco Bay Guardian
Bronson, fresh from the critical and financial success of his first novel, Bombardiers, has written a compelling morality tale set in the world of superstar engineers and venture capitalists. Bronson does an admirable job showing that this once wide-eyed, gee-whiz industry no longer offers an easy ride to financial success on the basis of a clever idea. The result is a joyride of corporate machination, betrayal, and ultimately, transcendance. Bronson has considerable skill in creating likeable and eccentric characters. The book is filled with loads of technical information on the process of designing a computer, but miraculously, Bronson's simple language makes even the computer outsiders come to appreciate the ins and outs of chips and coding. Bronson, like the best of the novelists who wrote about capitalism in the 80s, goes beyond the worship of monetary success. In doing so, he brings about the triumph of the nerd and of all others who chase a dream.

San Francisco Chronicle
"Po Bronson's new novel captures Silicon Valley's mad quest for technology, money and fame.... perfectly captures the antic side of the Silicon Valley's mad quest for money and fame..... Like his hero, Bronson is a founder, too, beginning to define the Silicon Valley novel and raising the bar for sucessors trying to create the next killer novel."

San Jose Mercury News
"First rate entertainment and perhaps even something more.... The book simply grabs you, smartly capturing its time and place and creating characters who aren't just believable but even, here and there, memorable. Most of all, though, the day is saved by some awfully clever plotting. Here is a writer not ashamed to tell us a story.... The plot takes some marvelous twists and turns and there is some great fun along the way."

Philadelphia Inquirer
A wise and witty, twisted and satirical send-up of the computer world. A must read for anyone who owns a computer or is shopping for one, swore never to buy one or wishes desperately to have one but can't afford it. It's a joke-a-page tale that skewers every computer geek you have ever known while simultaneously making you respect these wizards. Bronson lampoons engineers for their idiosyncrasies while lauding them for their creative genius. Best of all, Bronson shows how some of the simplest problems can become stupefyingly difficult when egos are on the line. The ending wraps up with wonderful twists. Suffice it to say, the only bad part is that it actually ends.

New York Times Book Review
Offers worthwhile insight into the peculiar, arrested-adolescent computer culture of Silicon Valley. Told in a breezy, sarcastic, italics-encrusted style, this "Bytefire of the Vanities" finds an unlikely but likeable hero in Andy Caspar. It's a predictable plot, but one that is brightened by Mr. Bronson's comic twists and savage cynicism--and by his infectious enthusiasm for entrepreneurial genius.

Wonderfully readable ... Could be a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, with its frothy surface masking harsh social satire. This book is goofy, warm-hearted, and even romantic, while still managing to stick it to research geeks, computer magnates, and high-tech investors.

Don't have time to read a novel? Sure you do, especially if it's as fast-paced and funny as this one. In The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest, Po Bronson builds an engaging tale around some underdogs who battle the ugly fact that success in computing has as much to do with marketing and ruthlessness as it does with innovative technology. So go ahead -- add this suspenseful and entertaining novel to your reading list.

Bronson deftly leads his adversaries through ever more dastardly double-crossings. The result is often hilarious. But it would take a microscope to make out the moral differences between the good guys and the bad guys, and the massage is that old 80s tenet: greed is good.

Richmond Times Dispatch
An amusing romp through mazes of legal red tape, mismatched connections, and good intentions. The eccentricities of Silicon Valley are viable props for Po Bronson's observations. The reader will readily recognize the fine line between genius and instability, with many undefined areas in between.

Arizona Republic
Very funny ... Bronson pushes the pace on the very first page--you'll start laughing before you're half way through it.

Detroit Free Press
The book is amusing, even if you know relatively little about computer hardware and next to nothing about the people who invented that hardware. As in Bombardiers, Bronson is able to explain what many of us don't understand while being funny. Frankly, I can't wait for Bronson to tackle another industry.

St. Louis Post Dispatch
Bronson has a sharp eye, a sharper word processor, and a strong sense of pacing. The First $20 Million is informative and entertaining and it will make you never look at a computer the same way again. The book notes that Bronson has "also been a reporter covering San Francisco politics andworked for many years in book publishing, two industries not without their own abuses of power, so they should stay on guard." That's good advice for politicians and publishers--and gives readers something to look forward to.

Sales & Marketing Management
Readers will never look at a start-up the same way again.... A refreshing break from the basic business book, Bronson transports the reader into the competitive world of intellectual property and hostile takeovers. Bronson's descriptions are so convincing, you feel that you've worked with people just like Benoit and Caspar for years. Full of insights on marketing and sales. Bronson depicts a cutthroat business world--a place where even the closest friends would dump each other for the right IPO.

"Nails the mind-set of the engineers he writes about.... His subtitle for 'The First $20 Million' is 'A Silicon Valley Novel' -- and it's the first book to give that label some genuine value.... Long after the 'network computer' has faded from sight and other innovations have spun through similar hype-and-trash cycles, readers will still be able to enjoy the book's characterization of the technology industry's captains and foot soldiers."

Boston Globe
Despite some bugs, it's not hard to get with Bronson's program. The First $20 Million is real and enjoyable enough to warrant spending a weekend with Andy and the gang. Who would have thought that a bunch of pocket-protected engineers could be this much fun?

The characters in 20 Mil are rendered so well, so finely crafted that you can practically feel them breathing between the pages. They are vivid and ingratiating and I ached for them when they were disappointed and celebrated their triumphs. I cared about them. The end is an ultimately happy one and the denouement so efulgent and ntoxicating that I actually made an audible sound while I was reading! You know how some people talk abck to movies, I was talking back to this book! I actually said out loud, "Oh, wow! Unbelievable!" I can count on one hand how many times in my reading life that has happened. This book has tons of soul. If there were more books like Bronson's, I'm convinced, the world would be a better, smarter place.

Where $20 Million succeeds is as a character study. The misanthropic engineers, the monotonic human-resource drones, the evangelistic marketers, even the nontechnical but talented girlfriend all strike painfully home. I know these people. They are my friends, my co-workers--my wife. We see nerds at work, nerds at play (which is to say, at work), nerds in love, and of course some nerd humor. "If Microsoft made cars ... we'd all have to switch to Microsoft gas," says Caspar. (Have him killed.)

"Half the San Francisco Bay Area, it seems, is busy playing pin-the-tale-on-the-programmer with pre-release copies of what may turn out to be the Primary Colors of Silicon Valley. Deftly written, Bronson has filled the plot with enough corporate double dealing, espionage and sleight of hand to libel all of California. Hardly anyone comes out of $20 Million with his or her integrity intact."

Business Week
"Bronson spent a year soaking up Silicon Valley's culture and lingo. The research paid off: With his knack for detail, he has produced a delicious satire of a fascinating world. The novel is also extremely timely.... it's a rollicking good read that sheds a revealing light on the personalities and values of Silicon Valley. Bronson deserves credit for creating a page-turner from the travails of a high-tech startup."

Baltimore Sun
"After reading Po Bronson's THE FIRST $20 MILLION IS ALWAYS THE HARDEST, you'll never feel the same about your computer again. From the inside this 'Silicon Valley novel' reveals the sham of that hacker's paradise. Original and sparkling, it reveals how the computer industry cons us into believing we need faster and more complex computers. Brosnon thought of calling his book 'Not Gates.' This book is for anyone who has a computer, or wnats to knw about computers, and it will cure that itch to upgrade. And bravo! to someone with the know how to put Bill Gates in his place."

Chicago Tribune
"The author of this quirky novel about Bill Gates wannabes running amok in Silicon Valley likely will appreciate the fact that yet another reviewer has concluced that his book 'doesn't suck.' That expression, Po Bronson explains, represents on eof the many strange little superstitions of the cutting-edge computer engineers who are building the hardware and writing the software that is propelling us all into the new information age. Any neurotic will grasp the idea instantly. If you love something and say you love it, just saying you love it will make it go away. So don't say you love something; instead, say you don't hate it. Say it's 'not too shabby.' Say it doesn't suck.... Bronson delivers a compelling and disturbing cast of characters and a dark vision of Silicon Valley. He leaves one hoping against hope that the real players who are about to assume such a huge role in changing all our lives are cut from kinder cloth than the arrogant, intolerant know-it-alls in THE FIRST $20 MILLION IS ALWAYS THE HARDEST."

"Satirical and hilariously high-energy; bestsellerdom portends. After a successful debut with Bombardiers, an antic about the bond market, Bronson presents another humorous take on another frantic corner of capitalism, the computer business."

Publisher's Weekly
"A crafty, funny, and sympathetic depiction of a world that's high-tech to the max, but very human for all that. . . . With a fresh and affectionate eye, Bronson depicts the fragile egos and brilliance of 'ironmen' as they negotiate the real world."

New York Post
"Business guy-turned lit-hunk Bronson burst onto the book scene with the vigorously promoted Bombardiers, a Wall Street greed read that had the added value of being entertaining. Now he has turned his eye to the inner workings of Silicon Valley. The result: Douglas Coupland goes to business school. But although the title calls to mind one of those road-to-riches pot-boilers advertised in the back pages of Smart Money, Bronson's crisp and knowledgable prose nevertheless make it a capital venture."