I received a free copy of The $100 Startup at author Chris Guillebeau's CreativeMornings talk several weeks ago, and I was excited to crack it open and dive into his latest published work. His CreativeMornings talk did just enough to tease the book and leave me wanting more, but I had no doubt that the book would give me plenty of details about the new generation of entrepreneurship and how to make it on our own.
Guillebeau adopted a little bit different model to this book than his last—The Art of Non-Conformity—but his easy-spoken, conversational tone remained consistent to his actual voice.* With The $100 Startup, he takes one of the most tried and tested approaches to teaching:
Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, then tell 'em what you just told 'em.
It jumped out at me right after the first chapter, but it made total sense—he presents a summary of what the chapter entails (like a miniature table of contents), dives into the meat of what he has to say, then wraps it up at the end with a summary of key points to take away from the chapter. Well, it works. This three-pronged attack encourages the information to adhere right into your brain where it belongs, leaving maximum impact with a single read-through.
The $100 Startup is a book about forging your own path and making a career for yourself with limited resources, all backed up with current and relevant case studies from dozens of people to whom we can relate. Guillebeau profiles normal, everyday people who were either handed a short stick and had to make something better or who just got fed up and decided to go their own way (cue one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac songs). Then he susses out the common threads that tie their experiences together and identifies the guiding concepts and actions that we can adopt to do the same.
Focusing less on the features—a description of what you do—and more on the benefits—the more emotional why you do it—will help you articulate your value more strongly to your target audience. This dovetails seamlessly into Simon Sinek's whole schtick about starting with why, and Guillebeau offers up plenty of examples of how businesses are doing this successfully, from a horse ranch to a noodle shop.
When you're able to combine your passion and your skill and apply them to a problem in a marketplace, you will discover an opportunity for business. Passion alone won't get you there if you don't have the skills to implement it, and if there's no problem to be solved, you'll have a hard time finding a market to target.
In the world of arts education, there's a constant battle (both internally and externally) against the "starving artist" model. This quote from one of the people interviewed really jumped out to me:
I'm an artist. Artists are serial entrepreneurs because we have to figure out ways to sell our work. It's either that or you become a starving artist, and I'm not a starving artist. —Gabriella Redding
Get started as quickly as possible—don't just sit on your idea. The more you wait around, the more likely your fears will get the best of you and you'll end up procrastinating until nothing happens at all. It wouldn't be worth it if there wasn't any risk involved.
Guillebeau identifies what he calls the "rough awesome format" for being proactive about potential concerns without getting defensive toward criticism. He suggests using the model on FAQ pages, but I think it's applicable elsewhere as well.
- Point 1: This thing is so awesome! [primary benefit]
- Point 2: Seriously, it's really awesome. [secondary benefit]
- Point 3: By the way, you don't need to worry about anything [response to concerns]
- Point 4: See, it's really awesome. What are you waiting for? [take action]
On the Best Social Media Strategy:
Online social networks are merely reflections of what's happening elsewhere. Want more Twitter followers? Then do something interesting… away from Twitter. (pg. 199)
In the Moving On Up chapter, Guillebeau rounds things out with at crucial cautionary note:
There's no point pursuing growth for growth's sake; you should scale a business only if you really want to. (pg. 199)
This falls under the important topic of Intentional Growth, which was the subject of the keynote discussion for the Portland edition of the Hello Etsy conference last year and a personal value for me.
Startups don't always… scratch that. Startups don't usually grow into multinational corporations, and hiring employees or selling off the company to someone else just isn't going to be the right fit for everyone. The key here is to grow with intent. Know what your choices are and make them based on your business and personal goals combined.
One of the last case studies that Guillebeau cites is that of Tsilli Pines (a mutual friend), who left a full time design job to strike out on her own, then realized it would be better to balance her freelance work with a part-time job at the firm she had just left. Tsilli comments:
The all-or-nothing paradigm was too much pressure. I'm running a creative business, but it's a creativity killer for me to define my whole income on the need to continuously deploy my creativity.
This hit really close to home for me. For four years I studied graphic design, but I became fed up with forcing myself to be creative all the time, and the thought of doing the same as a career just made me want to curl up into the fetal position. My creativity isn't a switch that I can just turn on for eight hours a day, you know? So I left the program and started to forge my own path. And let me tell you: I am SO glad I did not become a graphic designer. It was the perfect decision for me.
The $100 Startup
In addition to the fantastic content, The $100 Startup is peppered with questionnaires, worksheets, and exercises that apply to the various topics addressed in each chapter. On top of that, the accompanying 100startup.com website contains a bunch of downloadable PDF worksheets to keep those creative dreams flowing and help you work through forging your own path.
I set out to read the book with a little skepticism in mind—is startup really a word that applies to most people? Is this just about opportunistic business? Not at all. The $100 Startup is for anyone thinking about going their own way and starting something for themselves. Grab that $100, then use the first 20 or so on a copy of The $100 Startup. You'll be glad you did.
Next up on my shelf:
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
Bookshelf is a series of book reviews and thoughts about what I've read. Some are left-brained books, some are right-brained books, but the best books are the ambidextrous-brained books. Disclosure: most purchase links are created through affiliate programs. If you like what you see here, consider supporting The Ambidextrous Brain by using the links to purchase a book.
*Aside: I tend to take issue when the voice I've created in my head for authors varies greatly from their voice in real life, even though it's completely fabricated in my brain. For example, I was reading David Sedaris long before I ever heard him on This American Life, and let me tell you, the cognitive dissonance between Sedaris in my head and Sedaris in my ears made it difficult to keep reading his works. I digress.