The Art of the Start

I recently finished The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. Now, I read a lot of books, particularly business books, and I usually only blog about the ones that are good. This one blows the socks off almost everything I have read this year. Most business books are a mishmash of generalities, conventional wisdom, and quirky anecdotes the don't really contribute anything to the discussion about business. Kawasaki has managed to avoid all that by giving real world examples, valuable advice, and peeling the veil away from the venture capital industry to explain how companies really get started, and the best way to make yours work.

The best part of the book is the last chapter "The Art of Being a Mensch," which discusses the different ways you can help out others once you are successful with your startup. The worst part of the book is that Kawasaki failed to include the #1 strategy for raising money in a startup – begging. I had the chance to email some questions to Guy Kawasaki, and have included the questions and his responses below. If you are interested in startups and entrepreneurship, or if you just want to read a good business book about bootstrapping, forming partnerships, and giving relevant presentations, be sure to pick up a copy.

1. In all of the FAQ sections of the book, there seem to be a lot of questions about money, liquidity events, and ownership percentages. Is that what most entrepreneurs tend to focus on? If so is that a bad sign?It's not necessarily a bad sign. Most people don't know much about financing and equity issues, so they tend to need a lot of information in this area. By contrast, they don't really need to ask–or shouldn't need to ask–about feeling passionate about a product or service.

Once they understand the basics, however, entrepreneurs should move on to the bigger picture of creating something great because the goal isn't to achieve the equivalent of a PhD in finance from Wharton.

2. Do you think entrepreneurs who have started a company out of passion for their product/service have a better chance of survival than those who do it for other reasons?

Yes, absolutely. The desire to make meaning is much more likely to yield success than the desire to make money. Just ask all the MBAs who started companies at the height of the irrational exuberance a few years ago–if you can find them!

3. If I was a young kid just coming out of college and I wanted to get involved in a startup but didn't have an idea of my own, where should I look for people who may hire me?First, I'm not convinced that a young kid should work for a startup as the first job out of college because I don't believe in the "blind lead the blind" theory. The best first job might be at a Procter and Gamble, Microsoft, or IBM to learn about how big companies operate.

In particular, the best first job at these kinds of companies is in sales. Young kids need to understand what it takes to make a sale, how it feels to be rejected, and get smacked around a bit.

But not to avoid your question…I would look on sites like Craig's List and schmooze (Businesspundit Note: The book includes a mini-chapter on the art of schmoozing) in the narrowly focused user groups, special interest groups, and conferences.

Many kids ask me for advice about their first job out of college. My answer is, "Chill out. You cannot make a mistake. If you pick a 'Google' and make millions of dollars, hallelujah. If you pick something that goes belly up, you'll learn about the path and costs of failure."

Frankly, I could make the case that going to work for a company that fails is more educational than going to work for a Google. The problem with going to work for a Google is that a kid may have trouble separating causation from correlation. That is, did he/she cause Google to be successful or just happened to learn to fly in a tornado.

4. Your book is subtitled "The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything." Is that really true?Would you change any of your advice for someone who was starting a small business, like a local restaurant?No marketing is completely true; otherwise, you couldn't call it marketing. But starting most businesses has common challenges: fundraising, recruiting, branding, positioning, for example. A restaurant entrepreneur has to do this as much as two guys in garage starting the next Cisco.

I'm also on the board of a Montessori school and a para-church organization. I know from first-hand experience that these types of not-for-profits also face the same types of challenges. I've had great feedback from all sorts of NFPs and churches about the usefulness of the book.

5. If someone reads your book, loves it, wants to be an entrepreneur someday, but lacks a great idea, what education and/or skills should they be acquiring in the meantime?If I could pick just one, it would be sales. Nothing can beat getting the crap smacked out of you by customers as preparation for the real-world of entrepreneurship.

6. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the last chapter, "The Art of Being a Mensch." It's obvious that you included it in the book because it is a very important subject to you. Do most successful entrepreneurs end up mensches?I wish I had some way to scientifically measure menschdom and provide a good answer, but I can't. Mensches are so rare, though, that it's highly unlikely that most entrepreneurs end up as mensches.
Note: Your readers should not confuse menschdom with philanthropy. You can give away a lot of money to a lot of great cause and still not be a mensch. Indeed, you don't have to be rich to be a mensch. In fact, the more you're worth, the less likely you're a mensch.

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