The Art of the Start is the very best book I’ve read to date on maximizing the strategic and tactical efforts of a start up business. Perhaps what I enjoyed most about it, however, is that it’s a book for all entrepreneurs – those starting businesses and non-profits, certainly, but also those aspiring to lead change in existing organizations.
In fact, author Guy Kawasaki actually redefines the word “entrepreneur” in the introduction of his book, where he says “The reality is that ‘entrepreneur’ is not a job title. It is a state of mind of people who want to alter the future.” (The Art of the Start, page xii)
So, in addition to providing great advice on how to pitch for funding, bootstrap, hire your first key employees, and other important lessons for entrepreneurs involved in start ups, The Art of the Start also offers some fantastic lessons that we can all benefit from, regardless of our professional realities.
Balancing Microscopes & Telescopes
“The reality is you need both microscopes and telescopes to achieve success.”
The Art of the Start, Page xi
At the outset of The Art of the Start, Kawasaki talks about the rollercoaster so many of us go through in our business lives, particularly when starting something new: At the beginning of the project, or after a big win, we’re focused on the horizon – long term thinking and optimistic planning. When things are bad, or we’ve been too long without a win, we dive into the granular details of the business. So often, we live too long at one extreme or the other. Yet, it’s crucial to our success that we do spend time thinking about both. The trick is to incorporate a balance between the two extremes, and to do so in a way that allows us to be most effective in each.
The idea of balancing vision and reality simultaneously is not a new one. In Good to Great, Jim Collins defined the “Stockdale Paradox” as the skill of combining an optimistic sense of where you’re headed with a healthy comprehension of where you are currently. Guy Kawasaki refers to it telescopes and microscopes. Whatever you call it, it’s an important skill we could all benefit from acquiring. The following two GEMs provide some tactical insights from The Art of the Start on how to establish (and maintain) this important balance.
Define the Beachhead
“A beachhead, in this context, means a market that is small enough so that larger competitors are not already going after it, and big enough so that if you’re successful, you can reach critical mass and profitability with it.”
The Art of the Start, page 33
All successful endeavours start with a passion for great change. And that’s important. “A little bit better” is too easy to dismiss or ignore completely. People are inspired by visions of a brighter future. And yet, as leaders of change, we need to acknowledge that global domination is a piece by piece process.
If you’re looking to create sweeping, lasting change, consider starting with penetrating (and dominating) a specific, smaller market. Be sure the market – the beachhead – is large enough to be considered a real success if won, but is also manageable with the limited resources you inevitably have at your disposal. The key to identifying an appropriate beachhead is to understand and embrace a delicate balance of belief and humility.
Embrace Agnostics (not Atheists)
“By definition, reference accounts are already successful and established. Usually, they benefit from the perpetuation of the status quo. Herein lies the problem: If you have an innovative product or service, these accounts are the least likely to embrace it. They are atheists when it comes to a new religion because they are the high priests of an old order.”
The Art of the Start, page 199
“Reference accounts”, as Kawasaki describes them, are your dream customers – companies or individuals – who, if convinced to use your product, become major sources of credibility when others are considering buying from you. (Having Microsoft as a client, as an example, makes you look more legit than having “Ted’s Computers” as a client) Of course, we all want key influencers on board with our new endeavours. It’s worth remembering, however that these entities typically have less to gain and more to lose from partnering with you, because they’re already enjoying success from using what’s worked in the past.
When looking to grow a following, focus on the people/organizations that are open to something new; those who have pain points with the current solution. They may not be actively looking for a new solution, but they’re also not actively promoting the very status quo you’re looking to topple. These are the agnostics that may be converted to your cause if you have a chance to explain it to them. Focus on these guys, regardless of their size or stature.
The Art of the Start embodies the very concept it teaches – focusing simultaneously on both the strategy and executional elements of starting something new. Written with an easy, conversational style, this book is a must have for all entrepreneurs, whether they’re starting a wholly new business or starting a revolution within a larger organization. I, for one, plan to keep it close at hand in the years yet to come.