“If only this book would have come out years ago. building my business would have been so much simpler” — Simon Sinek
Simon Sinek is the author of Start With Why and one of the most quoted writers on the internet. His 2009 book has become a business bible for leaders on thinking, acting, and communicating.
So when he lavishes praise on another book, it comes with merit.
The book he refers to is How I Built This by Guy Raz.
Back in 2016, Raz started a podcast interviewing innovators and entrepreneurs and taking a deep dive into their businesses. For an hour each week, they would discuss the successes, the failures, and the lessons.
It became like business porn to me as I listened each week for an hour to some of my business idols. And I was introduced to lots of new ones. As I was building my own business, I was inspired by their stories and tried to implement as many lessons from these podcasts as possible.
When Raz released a book at the end of 2020, I had to buy it immediately. It was top of my Christmas wish list, and Santa duly delivered the book to me, which I eagerly devoured.
It covers many of the podcast interviews with more insights, and Raz identifies patterns that emerged in the stories. The book is written in a format that takes us through the stages of a business and weaves in so many real-life examples that makes it half playbook/half case study.
It is the one book that I now recommend to anyone interested in starting their own business.
I found two interesting statistics while writing this article.
That’s a massive gap between the number of people who believe they could start their own business and those that actually take the step. Unfortunately, too many are worried about taking the plunge and so remain in their comfortable — yet unrewarding — job.
Raz says in his discussions that most of the ideas started with a little spark.
“A spark that got nurtured, sometimes very slowly, until one day the person who would eventually bring that idea to life woke up to realize the thing that used to get them out of bed in the morning was no longer the thing that fired them up. It was something else now.”
Many entrepreneurs suggest keeping a safety net while exploring and testing your idea and taking steps to build a business on the side. And eventually, turn the side hustle into a full-time business.
Herb Kelleher started SouthWest airlines but kept working as a lawyer — for a remarkable fourteen years — as he built his business. That is perhaps being a bit cautious, but it is very common to keep working full-time jobs while building a startup. For example, Sara Blakely sold fax machines while building Spanx, while Phil Knight worked as an accountant working six days a week and using his wages to invest into Blue Ribbon Sports, which later became Nike.
You don’t have to quit your job to start a business, but you do need to take that spark and turn it into a fire.
“Anyone who reads How I Built This will have an incredible advantage, Guy provides the compass, the map, and the headlamp you need to navigate the wilderness of entrepreneurship.” — Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Air BnB
Reading this article, you may be thinking, I already have the idea and have launched my business. Would you still recommend reading this book?
The book keeps a flowing narrative across its three main parts — the call, the test, and the destination. The three sections allow entrepreneurs to jump into the section most relevant to their journey.
While it’s best to read the whole book, you could race through part one and spend time reading, highlighting, and taking notes on the second and third sections.
Here are my Cliff Notes on the sections.
Section one focuses on the idea, the research, and finding your co-founder. One point that resonated strongly with me was finding a business partner. Not only to help with the business but to help with your mental wellbeing — surviving the stress and pressure of starting a business.
Finding the right partner can be tough — I got this wrong myself with my most recent business.
This focuses more on the funding, the marketing, the structures, and in some cases, the pivot. Entrepreneurs who are in the early to mid-stages of their business can start the book here and comb through the lessons and nuggets of business wisdom.
There are ways to deal with catastrophes — including a masterclass in damage management by James Burke, the CEO of Johnson and Johnson, and how to bounce back from adversity.
What is the end goal?
You may dream of becoming a unicorn, of IPO’s and making it onto the Forbes Billionaires List. I hope you do. But in reality, it is unlikely. However, in this section, there are lessons on managing partnerships, when to sell and when to stay and what Raz stresses might be the most important — how to stay kind.
Together these three sections connect into a GPS system for starting and building a sustainable business.
I sold my business earlier this year and have hung up my entrepreneurial hat. But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn from books like these.
I eagerly read Amardeep Parmar’s list of best business books each year and add several to my reading list. And as a writer, I like to combine business lessons I read with my own thoughts and insights.
One of the chapters that stood out to me from this book was Build a Culture, Not a Cult. It’s something that a lot of businesses get wrong. Raz focused on Yve Chouinard, who founded Patagonia.
Chouinard’s story was fascinating and one I was unaware of. After reading this chapter, I had to read Chouinard’s book, Let My People Go Surfing, which outlines how Yves built a company admired for its low turnover rates and motivated employees. Given we are in the midst of the so-called Great Resignation, there was a lot for leaders to learn.
After reading that, I wrote an article Patagonia has provides the perfect blueprint to avoid the great resignation which went viral. So even though I no longer run a business, Raz (and Chouinard) have helped me with my own work.
Last week, I got a call from a friend of mine, Adam. We started a business together when we were just twenty years old. Since then, we have bounced ideas off each other like we are running a two-person Shark Tank.
He was after advice for his eighteen-year-old stepson.
“He’s smart and has a fantastic business idea. I just need to motivate him to take the next step. I know he will be successful; he just needs a kickstart.”
Adam then ran through the idea with me; I agreed it sounded great. He then asked me what he could do to help his stepson.
I recommended that Adam buy him a book. And to call me after he reads it.
Who knows, maybe Adam’s stepson will be on the How I Built This podcast in the future.
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Author: Ash Jurberg