Startup Owner’s Manual review: A lot left to be desired

Look what I found in my mailbox: The Startup Owner´s Manual by @sgblank!

Today I finished reading “The Startup Owner’s Manual” by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf. It came as highly recommended, and is currently ‘the book’ on startups to get.

The book has material for every type of entrepreneur and really tries hard to be a blueprint on how to build and scale a startup. It tries so hard that at the end it ultimately fails, and I’ll describe my view in detail.

I am not saying the book is crap as the sheer amount of work that went into creating the book is easily seen and for every respect. As a result of reading the book I took a handful of notes that were good and new ideas.

But let me also explain what went wrong. One of the drawbacks of the book is that the authors seems to be a bit disconnected from the random Joe entrepreneur the book is written for. In my opinion this happens as both authors are seasoned, serial entrepreneurs and are riding at the front of the startup hype wave. It is a whole another world. However most of the people this manual is written for are far, far behind.

Advice like “in order to get customers try Adwords and use Twitter” (not a direct quote but one of the themes in the book) seem naive. There are so many tricks in running a successful Adwords campaign that whole books are written on the topic, that I would expect at least some practical advice which is not given. Do authors know how does it feel when you open a new Twitter account and have zero followers? Even Steve Blank would have hard time building a Twitter account from zero to the level it can drive significant traffic to the new startup, let alone random Joe entrepreneur. That’s really the second drawback – the book tries to cover everything, but rarely is something covered in enough detail so it leaves you uncertain about many things. It’s hardly a “manual” in that respect.

Its ultimate fail in my opinion is that is just tries too hard. It basically made a science of building a startup and by the time I finished reading it, I was almost certain that this is not the way you should build a startup. To give you a vivid comparison, I felt like I read a book that tried to explain how to date in 400 pages. Use this lotion, shave the beard this much, wear this type of suit, pick this kind of restaurant, behave in this manner, tell her these lines, if that doesn’t work tried those instead,  and so on and on… . But dating does not work that way.

Really, you can describe a successful dating recipe in two sentences:

  • Be yourself
  • Try to be decent, and treat her with respect

If you were to go on a date armed with a knowledge of a book like this, the following would happen:

  • You’d be nervous all the time and have hard time trying to remember everything that was taught to you
  • You’d constantly fear you’ll screw up something as you did not follow the instructions accurately
  • As soon as she asks a question that is not covered in the book you’d be in trouble
  • If your date fails, next time you’ll try to “smell better” or “pick a different restaurant”

Relax, the purpose of dating is not the dating itself, but to find a partner that one day may be the mother of your children (it is! unless you are not a grown-up yet. If you want to create startups for fun than this book might be for you).

It feels that the true entrepreneurship works similar to these principles of dating . I think one could lay a foundation of a successful startup in two sentences as well:

  • Solve an itch you are having
  • Love it

This is pretty much how I built my first startup which incidentally became a success although I did not know much on how to build a startup. After that, I read a lot of books on entrepreneurship which made me feel like I knew much more (and technically I did) but every startup I tried afterwards failed. I have a feeling that it might be partially a consequence of just trying too hard to play by the “rules” and not following my heart enough. That’s a digression probably.

Anyway, if you are in a hurry, instead of reading this book I would simply stick to an article like this excellent startup advice by James Altoucher.



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