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Book Review: The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki

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Many moons ago Eric Olsen asked me if I was interested in taking a look at a recently released book on entrepreneurship. I said yes and promised to review the work. Alas, things didn’t work out as planned. A Presidential election, the birth of my first child, ankle surgery, and a number of more mundane events intervened to prevent me from reviewing the work in question in a timely matter. What follows is my belated attempt to make good on my promise.

I know what you are thinking: “Why is Kevin reading a book on starting a business anyway?” Well, for one, I have some entrepreneurial ideas up my sleeve believe it or not. And two, it sounded like an interesting book.

The book is The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki. Despite my interest in starting a business, I am not necessarily the best judge of a book on the subject. I have almost no experience in the actual money making sector of the economy (with a history degree? Yes, shocking I know). So I can only judge the book by its clarity, readability, perceived usefulness, etc. Under those criteria I found it to be worthwhile. It is a concise, readable, and thought provoking look at the challenges of entrepreneurship.

Kawasaki keeps it simple with chapter titles like Causation, Articulation, and Activation. Each chapter is short and focused, with equally simple and clear subsections and a FAQ (Frequently Avoided Questions) section at the end. This is not a complex management text but a book intended to get your thought process juiced and on the right track.

The book flows out of the Five Most Important Things an Entrepreneur Most Accomplish:

1. Make Meaning

2. Make Mantra
3. Get Going
4. Define Your Business Model
5. Weave A Mat (Milestones, Assumptions, and Tasks)

The rest of the book uses similar lists, charts, and bullet points to communicate its message. You could read this book on your morning commute (provided you don’t drive of course) or on your lunch hour. Kawasaki hits the high points of each critical activity: initial organization, pitching your business, recruiting, raising capital, branding, etc. Along the way he points out various pitfalls while puncturing common myths and outlining how conventional wisdom can often lead you astray.

Kawasaki, managing director of an early-stage venture capital firm and a columnist for Forbes.com, keeps the tone light and is always quick with an anecdote. But you don’t get the sense he is just a motivational speaker; he has lived this stuff and speaks from experience. Very little in the book seemed revolutionary, but the insights and advice are valuable; especially when organized and communicated in such a accessible format. It is very easy to panic, lose your focus, or get off on the wrong trajectory when undergoing the stresses and strains of starting your own business. Kawasaki’s chief virtue is a relentless focus on what is important and what will work.

I would recommend The Art of the Start to anyone planning on starting their own business or have thought about doing so; or those with an interest in entrepreneurship. It is remarkably free of jargon, easy to read, and yet full of stimulating ideas on how to start a successful business. When I do start my own business I have a feeling I will be returning to this helpful work.

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