Two brothers document the beginnings of a memoir service in this business book/autobiography.
The Greenberg brothers recount that they had an idyllic upbringing. The two were close but different. Aaron was a talented researcher and editor with a passion for Shakespeare, a writer navigating the treacherous landscape of the post–Great Recession gig economy. His younger brother, AJ, with a more methodical temperament, was trained in industrial engineering and employed at a commercial bank in Chicago. His skills were suited to problem-solving. Late-night phone calls between the two and a unique family heirloom—a letter of only three pages, a mere 600 words, painting a rich, vibrant picture of a grandfather they’d never met—gave birth to the idea of a “legacy writing business.” The brothers started bioGraph, an on-demand, boutique memoir service, a more personal response to the sterile DNA searches and family trees of companies like 23andMe and Ancestry. The brothers sought to make the business both marketable and sustainable. In this book, they share the advice they received from various mentors, from well-known Chicago banker Norm Bobins to their fabulously wealthy, curtly charming confidant Keith Jaffee. The story of bioGraph is approached in the same style that the company might tell one of its customers’ tales. Recollections come from the Greenbergs themselves, AJ having kept a journal of the company since its founding in 2018, with additional asides and curation by poet Toby Altman. The volume thoroughly outlines the company’s origins and the personalities involved, even including at the end the important letter. For those in the midst of their own startups, there are a lot of valuable tips here. Understanding scalability and generating demand for a product are covered in depth, with the Greenbergs offering much of the same useful advice they pounded the pavement to unearth. Vivid anecdotes about engaging new technology and working with eccentric clients stress keeping an open mind. A particularly bombastic style of writing from one of their customers becomes a dynamic example of what bioGraph can provide. But as a memoir, the book falls short. The authors seem to be aware of this, forgoing traditional tales of triumph and tragedy—and never really defining what success would be—in favor of recording the company’s early days.
A helpful but limited on-the-ground look at a startup still in its infancy.