Lessons from a life of startups, coding, countryside, and kids
There’s a gazillion business books out there, everything from tactile guides to strategic visions, from dry textbooks to inspiration biographies. A lot of good books didn’t make this list1 but I think it represents a good “journey” from the fear and uncertainty of venturing out on your own, to the building of a strong, reliable, profitable business.
The first book addresses the uncertainty that everyone feels when making a huge life changing decision, like starting a business. It’s not the most practical book but it will help you to put your life into context, help you understand the risks and delve into any anxiety you or you dependants feel. To this day I still consider the concept that
“nothing changes unless you change it”
If you haven’t already run your own business, or been involved in the mechanics of how business work, then this is the perfect crash course. It’s not enough to just have a product, you’re getting into starting a business and it’s necessary to understand that.
The ‘E’ in the E-myth is ‘entrepreneur’. It dissects why people really start business and how this myth of the entrepreneur contributes to their eventual stress, overwork and the failure of their business. It’s a must read! Too many people start businesses to escape from a job without realising that they’re creating another one for themselves, and the boss can be mean. The book discusses how every business needs elements of the technical, the manager, and the entrepreneur.
“working on your business, instead of in your business”
There are two types of people: those with a fixed mindset, and those with a growth mindset. Now, since you’re starting a business you probably think you’re a growth mindsetter but it’s not necessarily the case. I really thought I had a growth mindset but I’m very very fixed. Knowing which mindset you are—which you really are—means that you can confront those issues.
In one world [fixed mindset], failure is about having a setback. Getting a bad grade. Losing a tournament. Getting fired. Getting rejected. It means you’re not smart or talented. In the other world [growth mindset], failure is about not growing. Not reaching for the things you value. It means you’re not fulfilling your potential.
This is an old book, and the title sounds like the worst self-help tripe but do not be fooled! Your success in business will depend on understanding this book. You will need to sell your idea to investors, sell your product to customers and sell your job opportunity to prospective employees… and you’ll have to do this by understanding their dreams, desires, and motivations. You’ll need to exercise your empathy muscle.
“You desire! You desire. You unmitigated ass. I’m not interested in what you desire or what the President of the United States desires. Let me tell you once and for all that I am interested in what I desire”
Now that you’ve started thinking about other people, it’s time to commit to your customer’s best interests. This book is about how to provide real value to your users, how not to make a great product but a make a badass user. It switches the focus from your product to your users. You’re not making a new CRM, you’re helping your users to become better sales people.
Don’t make a better X, make a better user of X
You’ll probably have heard about “lean” and this is the book that started the current trend in startups. It’s important to read so that you understand many of the lean concepts such as a Minimum Viable Product (MVP), validated learning, build-measure-learn and so on. However, I’d caution that the book can’t be taken as gospel and should be critically evaluated. In particular, the reliance on statistical analytics isn’t appropriate in many businesses due to the lack of volume. It’s the only book here that I don’t unreservedly recommend, though it is still important.
You’re getting to the actual building-a-product stage so it’s time to think about how people will use your software. This isn’t a book of UI design rules, but an introduction to the concepts of UI design and about getting inside a user’s head. It also deal with the idea of simple uncomplicated user testing (expanded on in “Rocket Surgery Made Easy”).
I think every Web development team should spend one morning a month doing usability testing. In a morning, you can test three or four users, then debrief over lunch. That’s it. … No reports, no endless meetings.
Like so many roles, marketing is going to be the founders job initially. The Brain Audit lays out a framework for positioning your business and writing your sales copy. Even just the chapter on getting the best testimonials will pay back a hundred times.
Increasingly your business will be about negotiation: with suppliers, partners, investors, customers, and even employees. You need to have a foundation in what good negotiation means and, no, this isn’t about “tricking” the other party. The best deals are where everyone walks away happy but sometimes it can take a while to figure out exactly what the other side really wants.
Whilst many of aspects of business can now be conducted online, there’s still a lot of face-to-face work for founders. And what people say isn’t always what they mean. Sometimes their feet, or their shoulders, or their arms, say more than their mouth. This book will help you understand these clues so you’re not surprised when an investor enthusiastically says “yes!” but the deal never materialises.
Habits are the one of the magic tricks of productivity. They free our brain from making the conscious decision to do a task and make it automatic. Consider this: when you shower in the morning, you probably start with one part first. You don’t have to consider what order to wash yourself in, it’s just become a habit. How useful would it be if your planning, or writing, or team meetings could be made as automatic?
It might take a while before this book becomes really useful but after you’ve exhausted all your existing connections, and sold to all the obvious customers, it’s time to build a predictable revenue machine. This book lays out the game plan for doing that.
If you have to throw your VP Sales at every big deal, you don’t have a scalable sales process