Starting From Scratch: Three Books To Help You Grow Your Business

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We’ve all probably fantasized about having our own business. Maybe we’ve even developed our idea or written an amateur business plan, but we never dared to take it one step further and actually take action. In the competitive world we live in, risks aren’t small, so people usually give up before they begin. But what if there is a way to get enough guts up actually to start doing something? We recommend that you read three books that will encourage you to do so.

The Bootstrapper’s Bible: How to Start and Build a Business With a Great Idea and (Almost) No Money by Seth Godin, The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything by Guy Kawasaki and The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf.

In The Bootstrapper’s Bible, Godin takes a different approach to starting a business. What does bootstrapper even mean in this context? Godin explains that it isn’t a notion that refers to a particular demographic or financial situation. Rather, it is a state of mind. The book focuses on the entrepreneurs who work really hard to achieve their goals and earn money, all by themselves and not by using other people and their money (such as in pyramidal scams). It is for people that have insight but need a bit of encouragement since their starting capital isn’t big. Planning is important, but not if you use it as daydreaming and never actually put plans into action. Godin says it is much more important to have an idea with a business model that works, rather than just having a brilliant idea that doesn’t work in the real world. Without a business model, your company may earn publicity, you might have employees and spend money, but it won’t make a profit. Usually, people think that they have to put their lives on pause in order to start a business. But, as the author says, you have to start at some point and taking first steps does not require a drastic change in your life, just some initial commitment:

Hereʼs my best advice to you: Stop planning and start doing. You donʼt have to quit your day job. But you do have to get out there and do it. The more you do, the more you do. Doors will open. Opportunities will appear. Your model will change, your reputation will increase, you will become a magnet for smart people, good customers, and investors. But none of this will happen if you stay inside and keep planning. Build your business. One day at a time, one customer at a time. Lower your downsides, focus on the upsides, and start building. But start.

It seems impossible until you start doing it. Another great piece of advice here lies in the following wisdom: in order to succeed, you have to know your place in the business world. You may ask yourself: what do big companies have that I don’t have to offer? Godin answers this question directly: big companies have great distribution, they own a reputation that allows them great access; they have an established brand name that customers trust and a large number of employees. Most entrepreneurs will make their first big mistake here: they will try to compete with big companies, and they will lose. They will try to copy their business model and do what they do, just in a smaller format. As Godin said – if you try to eat a giant’s lunch, the giant is likely to eat you. But there are advantages to being a little guy in the business world. Unlike the big companies, you have no billions of dollars to lose, and therefore, should have more guts to push a new product to the market. Because you’re an entrepreneur, you have to start small, and this is an opportunity to build close relationships with your future clients, unlike those cooperative giants. You have more time on your hand, and you don’t owe anything to your employees – since you don’t have any! At least, not yet. Being an underdog has advantages that you have to learn to appreciate if you want to grow your business.

This is not a typical self-help book or a scam that convinces you that you’ll become a millionaire after turning the last page. Rather, it is a useful book that offers tips, techniques, and roadmaps to success, by sharing some of the inspiring stories of companies that started out small (just as you plan to!), but gradually earned global recognition and a lot of money in the process.

In his book The Art of the Start, Guy Kawasaki explores business cycles in a different way. It guides you through all the important steps of starting a business: causation, articulation, activation, proliferation and obligation. Causation deals with pre-meditating your business. Articulation deals with finding your place in the business world, knowing how to put your ideas into words and writing a business plan. Activation is the next step: recruiting team members and contemplating how to become a hero from zero, in a business sense. Proliferation means building a reputation, making a brand of your company. Obligation deals with how to become a fully profiled businessman/businesswoman in today’s world and the importance of bringing back good into the community. 

The book is aimed especially at people who are led by a desire to alter the future, not to become rich. Generating ideas here is in the focus: not just thinking them through but also estimating if they could be implemented in the real world. Kawasaki’s advice is to start with these five steps: make meaning, make mantra, get going, define your business model, weave a mat. Making meaning means defining what good you want to bring to the world or how you would increase the quality of life. By doing so, you will earn money in the process. Mantra is a sacred verbal formula, but for you as an entrepreneur – it means simplifying the reason you are doing what you’re doing and boiling it down to just a few words. Mantra should answer the biggest and most important question for an entrepreneur: why am I doing this? The third step implies you are thinking big but starting small. Taking action must happen with a team of people, as Kawasaki suggests – your team soul mates. It is interesting that Kawasaki stresses the importance of design: even if you don’t come up with something completely new, you have to take into consideration redesigning, since aesthetics are very important to customers, whether they realize it or not. Design can even help in selling a product that isn’t of actual use at all! When defining a business model, you have to answer two questions: who has money in their pockets and how do you get it in yours? Good intentions are important, but you should care about profit, too. The fifth suggested step is weaving a mat. Here, MAT stands for – milestones, assumptions, and tasks. At the beginning of the book, there is a useful and creative metaphor about two equally important phases in business – the microscope phase and the telescope phase. Kawasaki shows exactly how you should treat your business:

In the microscope phase, there’s a cry for level-headed thinking, a return to fundamentals, and going “back to basics.” Experts magnify every detail, line item, and expenditure, and then demand full-blown forecasts, protracted market research, and all-encompassing competitive analysis. In the telescope phase, entrepreneurs bring the future closer. They dream up “the next big thing,” change the world, and make late-adopters eat their dust […] The reality is that you need both microscopes and telescopes to achieve success.

This book deals with a great question – how to turn your idea into action? It is based on 20 years of experience, it is not a typical “how to” manual, but rather a book that reveals what are the obstacles to starting something new and how to deal with them. It really helps you as a guide to how to start something fresh from zero. Very useful, no matter what the goal may be: starting a business, a non-profit, a book club, or something else. 

Startup Owner’s Manual, written by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, has been a huge success; the National Science Foundation pays hundreds of startup teams each year to follow the process outlined in the book. Also, it is taught at Stanford, Berkeley, Columbia, and more than one hundred universities all over the globe. This book is completely about bringing your idea to life: from a concept to a concrete idea, from a concrete idea to the market. It discusses business skills that are much needed in the process of customer discovery and customer validation. Just as Godin stated in his book The Bootstrapper’s Bible, the authors here underline one important fact: startups should not be treated as smaller versions of large companies. Startups are temporary organizations that exist in the search for a scalable, repeatable, profitable business model. Treating your startup otherwise is a path to disaster, according to the authors. The book is full of case studies which let you learn the benchmarks of successful business performance through other people’s mistakes. This kind of direct learning is much more useful than just theoretical knowledge of how to run a business. After every story, you will have an extracted lesson that will stick with you for a long time. For example, here’s what the authors concluded is important after analyzing the story of how Will Harvey approached Steve Blank and explained his vision of IMVU, a “virtual world” company with 3D avatar-based instant messaging and social networking:

Most startups lack a structured process for testing their business model hypothesis […] Customer discovery is not about collecting feature lists from prospective customers or running lots of focus groups. In a startup, the founders define the product vision and then use customer discovery to find customers and a market for that vision.

You shouldn’t be afraid of failure since it often leads to a better result down the line, but you should prevent unnecessary failure from happening by developing a system whereby you can listen to the needs of your future customers.

The book also contains The Customer Development Manifesto, where you can read about the rules of customer development and prevent business mistakes in this area. Here are some of the rules mentioned here: there are no facts inside of your building, so get outside; failure is an integral part of the search; make continuous iterations and pivots; agree on market type; it’s all about the passion; preserve all cash until needed, then spend. These are all explained through chapters in the book, and there is much more. 

Startup Owner’s Manual is great for all of those who enjoy clearly organized ideas and tips. This book can be read from the beginning to the end, but you can also use it by need, sort of like a business dictionary: if you’re not sure, just look it up. There is even a free online course you can attend! Join over 320.000 students here.

 

We hope you’ll enjoy these three books since they are extremely helpful when starting from scratch!

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