Review (short): Kawasaki's 'The Art of the Start'

Guy Kawasaki’s book ‘The Art of the Start’ provides a fantastic glimpse into key tasks and the mindset required for startups. Here are my favorite lessons I picked up. 

According to Kawasaki, there are 11 entrepreneurial art forms required to be successful in a new venture: “starting, positioning, pitching, writing a business plan, bootstrapping, recruiting, raising capital, partnering, branding, rainmaking and being a mensch.” In case you're wondering, a mensch is yiddish for "a person with dignity or honor." There’s a lot in those 11 forms, but a few stood out to me based on the work I’ve done, or hope to do.

Mantra. First, Keep it simple stupid: Create your “mantra,” not a mission statement. A mantra is a three to five word phrase that gets to the essence of your driving force. "Mantra" is a Sanskrit term, meaning "sacred utterance" or "sacred thought," originally used to facilitate concentration by Hindis, but it can also be used as calling for transformation. “Think Different” or “Don’t Be Evil” are two classic examples. They are easy to recall, and provide clear rallying calls internally and externally.

Pitch. I’ve discussed PowerPoint pitches in past posts, but here again are the top ten slides you need to include in your pitch.

  1. Title – Your name and contact information.
  2. The problem – What issue did you develop your product or service to solve?
  3. Solution – How does your product or service solve a problem?
  4. Business model – This covers your costs, distribution channels and how you’ll charge.
  5. The product’s special charm – Explain what makes your offering unique.
  6. Marketing and sales strategy – How you will reach customers for a reasonable cost.
  7. Competition – A realistic assessment of the marketplace you are entering.
  8. Management team – Outline their backgrounds and skills.
  9. Financial projections – Include other pertinent fi scal information.
  10. Current status, next steps – How you will use any money you raise.

Make sure the font is legible (30 pt) and that you’ve got it down cold. Match the tone to the type of product, but ensure it doesn’t appear 100% rehearsed because that’s just boring. Have an actual product you can show off? Fantastic, visuals are great, and demos are better. Once you’ve gotten your pitch put together, you’re ready to translate that into a plan.

Business plans. You might be thinking that you need a 25 page business plan to be successful. Probably not. What’s most important is work done to create the plan. I’m a huge fan of the business model canvas [watch the vid below], but there are plenty of options. What’s most important is that you consider each of the elements, not that they are 100% locked down.

  

Once you’ve gotten this settled, adding additional details up front is just delaying ‘real work.’ Get your MVP or prototype built and hit the pitching trail.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” - Dwight Eisenhower

I agree with Kawasaki that the most important part of your business plan is the four paragraph executive summary that explains “the problem you solve, how you solve it, your business model and the underlying magic of your product or service.” You’ve already captured that in your pitch, so now it’s a matter of putting pen to page.

It’ll be tempting to put in all sorts of financial projections and statistics. Just realize that VCs and execs will likely challenge your assumptions right away so be ready to explain your analyses that got you there and how you’ll deal with unforeseen obstacles that can throw a wrench in your $100B idea.

Prototype. I had to look back to see when The Art of the Start was written (2004) because I kept thinking of Eric Reis’ MVP concept from the Lean Startup. Kawasaki recommends getting your product to market as soon as possible, even if it’s not perfect or polished.

“Don’t wait to develop the perfect product or service. Good enough is good enough”

Want a bit more information? Download this ‘manifesto’ that provides a bit more insight into Kawasaki’s book.

Or, check out Kawasaki himself in this video.