Book Review: $100 Startup

$ 100 Startup BookBook Review: $100 Startup

The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau simplifies the process of starting a business, cost effectively, and is helpful for entrepreneurs wanting to take practical steps . For me, it has also served as a disciplinary device.

$100 Startup as a disciplinary device

Allow me to explain, the universe is filled with advice on every conceivable system, tactic, strategy, and latest greatest startup technique. In searching for and sifting through the many options, we waste time and get confused about which system to choose.  I have been guilty of this and needed a solution.
One day I decided to keep a hardcopy of the $100 Startup in my bag. Every time I reached for the Internet to search for anything related to starting and running a business, I just opened the $ 100-00 startup. Many a time, the answer was in the book. This is not a speciality of $100 Startup, but rather that limiting choice on information available has a remarkable impact on taking action. Craig Mod calls this creating an edge. Less reading and more action.
Who is this book for?
The book is thus for any entrepreneur that wants a simple process to start a business, without the head banging complexity of learning loops, canvasses and customer discovery. For example, on page 18, there is a list of what you need to start up. The list is:

  • Product or service: what are you selling?
  • People willing to pay for it: Who are your customers?
  • A way to get paid: how you’ll exchange a product or service for money. How are you getting paid?

When you think about it, there is really not much more to starting up a business. Some may criticise this as overly simplistic, but for me that is why it is so useful.
The book is also extremely useful for “lifestyle” entrepreneurs. Lifestyle in the sense of both working remotely, but also those seeking to follow their passion – usually a hobby, and sometimes a vocation. We admire these people, because they are not seeking scale for massive profits, but ways to earn a living (and a little more) with having an impact on the world.
What can you expect?
The book takes an entrepreneur on a journey from choosing ideas to the actual sale. This is pretty much the standard structure of every book on starting up. The difference with this book, is that the exercises and tools are all exceptionally useful and simple. The major exercises in the book are available for free online. Click here to visit the $100-00 Startup website.
$ 100 Startup Book - Resources
Disappointments
From a research perspective I have a disappointment: the research undertaken for the project, which included interacting with 1500 entrepreneurs is not surfaced enough. There are some exceptional businesses in the list and hearing more from them would have added to an already useful book.
Recommendation
Although I no longer carry this book around, I still keep my hard copy of the $100 Startup handy. Sometimes I just need the simplicity of it all – even though I am attempting a more complex model. The one-page business plan, one page construction kit, are stellar starting points for any business. Less complexity and more action.
Buy a hard copy and keep it in your bag.

Outliers –The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

zapreneur_pic of outliers cover
Outliers, A book with many versions!

I ploughed through a couple of magazines, and stumbled across an article by Malcolm Gladwell called “How David beats Goliath: When underdogs break the rules” while waiting in a government office. The article has a rare tactical nous offering us little guys with a set of guidelines to take on bigger gorillas. The possibility of dramatic change from the least expected places provided an intriguing insight – it was not just pulling oneself up by the bootstraps,   rather one needed to be consistently thinking about the context that one operates in to design effective strategy.
I mentioned the article to a couple of friends, and the gushing praise for Malcolm Gladwell left me gobsmacked. I was really missing out on an exceptional thinker I thought. Therefore, the next business trip, I bought a copy of Outliers: The Story of Success.  My expectations were thus sky high, expecting an exceptional and unique understanding of how we understand success, and why it happens. Had I written this review immediately after reading it, I would have joined the gushing brigade and praised the book. Gladwell writes exceptionally well, and is a master at story telling. It was an easy, provocative and entertaining read.  The second reading – in preparing this review – was a different experience entirely with the argument not being convincing, even though the writing remains exceptional.
This review combines insights from my first and second reading of this book, but before that is it important to understand the intent of the book.
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Is Tim Ferris killing Main Street? Reviewing the Four Hour Workweek

Book Cover - 4 Hour Workweek on ZapreneurTim Ferris weaves a mixture of a self-promotional story and business strategies with the promise of working four hours a week. He counterpoises the four-hour workweek, with the forty hour workweek. In so doing, he unwittingly raises the question – Can entrepreneurial activity still contribute to economic growth and job creation?
The American distinction between Main Street (representing small business) and Wall Street (representing financiers and investors) offers a way to understand this question. It is a theme being played out in the Occupy Wall street, with many local campaigns being undertaken. In the wake of the financial crises, we have justifiably criticised Wall Street for making easy money, for trading nothing (i.e. paper) and for screwing up the world. Main Street in turn is the saviour, the engine of innovation and job creation. Yet, it is possible to create businesses that mimic the worst traits of Wall Street – no jobs, no real products, and no innovation – and dress it up as Main Street. This is my reading of The Four Hour Workweek – a manifesto to create personal gains, without the multipliers (e.g. economic growth, job creation) associated with small business.
Tim Ferris provides the scope for his book as follows:
“The vast majority of people will never find a job that can be an unending source of fulfillment, so that is not the goal here; to free time and automate income is.”
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Book Launch – Poor economics by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo

poor economics banner from website
Banner from the Poor Economics Website

 
“Revolutions need love” argued Minister Trevor Manuel in his introduction to Professor Abhijit Banerjee. Minister Manuel passionate reference to the link between love and revolution was as a reference of reverence to Albertina Sisulu – an outstanding and passionate leader of the South African revolution. In fact, the setting of Constitutional Hill – an old women’s prison – in a room decorated with powerful images of the female freedom fighters incarcerated at the jail providing a powerful backdrop to  the South Africa  launch of a book called “Poor Economics: A radical rethinking of the way to fight global poverty”.  Professor Banerjee, the speaker for the evening, is co-author with Esther Duflo of a hotly debated book. It has become a major talking point in the online channels focussed on development, especially as it challenges other mainstream attempts to make development issues real and popular.
I am hoping to have time to read and write a review of the book. The launch lecture however was exceptionally interesting, demanding and humbling. One description of the book given by Minister Manuel was that it was like learning to understand how the internal combustion engine works before learning to drive. Minister Manuel opinion was that the book told us that about how the engine of public policy worked, and through in turn the drivers of public policy became better drivers.  In a telling admission Minister Manuel indicated that there many issues that went beyond the econometric modelling that guided the frontend of public policy.  The Minister would have been more accurate to argue that the book tells policy makers not only why the engine is broken, but also questions if econometric modelling is the appropriate engine!
Banerjee highlighted four areas in development policy where slogans and ideology have driven policy choices. The book he argued was a reaction to this overly ideological context that informs anti-poverty policy. He argued that this focus on ideological solutions was a rhetorical stance, but more worryingly that public policy failures could be explained through the powerful; imposing their solutions on poor communities. The examples covered health, education, health, hunger and microcredit.
The details for each of these areas is different, but the storyline  is remarkably the same across the different areas discussed. Policy development is initiated by government officials; often on the advice of multilateral institutions; to solve a particular problem. The solution is praised as an innovative approach to the problem, but often reflects a particular stance on a problem, with a premade solution. The solution is often unlikely to work because:
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The White Tiger and the Rooster Coop

The White Tiger book cover
Notice the white tiger and the rooster on the cover

Aravind Adiga in The White Tiger raises important questions and completes an important feat – rendering the complex concepts of poverty traps and the rah-rah around entrepreneurship accessible in a devastating tale.
The entrepreneurial story is often about young men – women rarely feature as protagonists – undertaking the journey from rags to riches.  Through hard work, attending the University of Hard Knocks the protagonists find a route to social mobility and respect. This universal storyline has been criticised so consistently that to equate entrepreneurial success with hard work, dedication and perseverance – without referencing to contextual factors – is to be guilty of the Haratio Alger Myth. The author Haratio Alger, was an extremely popular American author writing in the 19th century, who told stories of industrious young men overcoming their poverty, with hard work, initiative and perseverance, and through that becoming not only wealthy, but virtuous people. There is an importance in not reproducing this myth, for as much as we admire the successful and ethical entrepreneur, it provides little understanding of the reasons for her success.
Can the opposite however be true? In criticising those perpetuating the  Haratio Alger Myth we may overemphasis the contextual factors that have led to entrepreneurial success. Yet, there is a deeper conclusion that we may reach – entrepreneurial success may transform the lives of the person, but it is not powerful and disruptive enough to change the underlying economic system, meaning that the majority of people stay trapped in conditions of exclusion and exploitation. A demanding question that South Africa must face, and the reason The White Tiger – set in India – has relevance to us in South Africa.
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