Friday Book in a Page: The Art of the Start

I’ll admit it. Sometimes I pick up books just for their title. This was one of those. If you’re anything like me (and hundreds of the students I see every year), sometimes just starting seems like the hard part. 

For example, I don’t actually dislike running. In fact, I love it. What I hate is that battle I have with myself in the 30-60 minutes leading up to the run where the should I/shouldn’t I demons battle against each other. That part of the run I could do without. So, the Art of the Start caught my eye. 

Similarly, I find with students, they don’t actually dislike school projects. They dislike that vague fumbling while they figure out where to start, and they dislike that vortex of stress they spiral into when they didn’t start.

As you might imagine, the book is not about running, and it’s not about starting school projects. It is about starting a business, but many of the lessons are the same. 

It is also by Guy Kawasaki, and even if you don’t think you know who he is, trust me, you’ve benefited from his brain. Kawasaki was one of the early employees of Apple and played a vital role in the marketing of the Macintosh computer. AND, for those of us in any area of marketing, Kawasaki’s work is the turning point from selling things to people to understanding human beings and connecting with them (not surprising then to learn that Kawasaki has a degree in psychology from Standford, no less).

Two of his critical contributions to the launch of the Mac that are now common tenants of successful marketing and branding, but were then pioneering ideas are: 

  1. Start with the purpose of your company, not the product. For example, if Kodak believed that they were in the business of preserving memories versus applying chemicals to film, they might have caught the innovation curve to digital. “If you worked at Kodak and you asked customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster film with deeper colours.’ Nobody would have told Kodak to stop using film and go digital,” says Kawasaki.
  2. “Tell stories. Always tell stories,” Kawasaki says. “Stories are ten times more powerful than adjectives. By adjectives, Kawasaki means the empty jargon and buzzwords (I like the term ‘word salads’) commonly heard in pitches and business presentations. “I was a venture capitalist, and nearly every entrepreneur who pitched me said: I have a patent-pending, curve-jumping, highly-scalable, enterprise-class product. Unless you're saying something different from the competition, you're basically saying nothing.” A story is different.

If you have been in any class of mine, you have likely heard those two messages again and again. I’m sorry. They’re not mine. They’re better than mine.

Kawasaki also inspired my love of the Top Ten list. But that, is a post for another day. 

Anyway, back to me, standing in Chapters and picking up the Art of the Start because I love the title and owe Kawasaki a debt of gratitude for the foundation of so much of my teaching. 

The Art of the Start is not about running, and it’s not about brand building (sort of). It is, like the title suggests, built on the premise that starting a business is an art and not a science. And, an art that can be learned. 

Things that I loved best about the style of the book are the aforementioned use of Top Ten Lists, each chapter begins with a GIST (Great Ideas for Starting Things), each chapter ends with a recommended reading list, and Kawasaki’s ability (like Scott Galloway’s) to uses simple and concise language to communicate complex ideas.

Key Messages of the Book: 

  1. Learn the 10/20/30 rule for pitching: 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30-point font.
  2. Always ask three questions at the beginning of every pitch meeting: “How much of your time may I have?” “What are the three most important things I can communicate to you?” and “May I quickly go through my presentation and handle questions at the end?”.
  3. Focus on something other than the competition. Instead, focus on making your product or service the best.
  4. Embrace your niche. It's better to be great at something small than mediocre at something big.
  5. Don't fear failure. In fact, embrace it and learn from it.
  6. Create a mantra, not a mission statement. A mantra is a three- to four-word phrase that captures the essence of your business.
  7. "Eat like a bird, poop like an elephant." This means you should constantly consume new ideas and information but only put out your best work.

Lasting message: starting a business is a journey, not a destination. It's not just about reaching a specific goal or making a certain amount of money. It's about creating something that you're passionate about and making a positive impact on the world.

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