Monday, March 11, 2013

Review: The $100 Startup

The title is what made me want to read the book: THE $100 STARTUP - Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future. Author Chris Guillebeau has made a living himself by starting one business after another while traveling the world. He wondered how many other people had created microbusinesses, using a modest investment, typically no more than $100 to get started, to earn $50,000 or more (the average income in the U.S.). He set out to discover these people and tell their stories and the reasons for their success. 

Guillebeau interviewed 1,500 such entrepreneurs and turned the results of his research into his book. The $100 Startup focuses on 50 case studies. The stories are brief, and Guillebeau writes in an easy style that I could read and digest quickly. His book is definitely not a textbook, yet it contains many of the principles that I was taught in business school and also throughout my career:
  • Create value
  • Fill a need
  • Offer a real benefit -- not just features
  • Know who your audience is
Like me, the author is a huge fan of microbusinesses. He tells good stories about them and gives tips on what it takes to make them successful. The stories, however, never get very deep. While the premise of his book is to follow your passion and turn it into a business, he gives the reader the practical advice on how to do that and make money at the same time.

The irony of the book is that it starts with the example of a person laid off from a job starting a mattress-selling business. Given the deals that man had to swing to start the business, I sincerely doubt it was started for $100 or less. My other problem with the book is the funny quote that begins Chapter 2: "Catch a man a fish, and you can sell it to him. Teach a man to fish, and you ruin a wonderful business opportunity." Guillebeau attributes the quote to Karl Marx. I've read Karl Marx, and he did not write that way. (No one wrote that way in 1848, the date The Communist Manifesto was published. Marx's other book,  Capital, was written in 1867–1894.) I tried searching for the quote and discovered that some people attribute it to Groucho Marx, which makes more sense. Anyway, this made me wonder about the fact-checking behind the $100 Startup.  

Those caveats aside, I really enjoyed The $100 Startup. And having worked with hundreds of passionate entrepreneurs myself, I know how hard it is to take that leap of faith, turn the personal passion into a business and then monetize the idea well enough to make a living. Guillebeau has done this himself and has 50 examples of others who've done it, too. If you have a passion and want to try being an entrepreneur, The $100 Startup is worth reading.
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