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I assigned this 2012 book to my “entrepreneurial production” class because I like Ernesto Sirolli’s perspective on start ups and entrepreneurs. (His 1999 book, Ripples from the Zambezi: Passion, Entrepreneurship, and the Rebirth of Local Economies is really great for understanding how he learned to just “shut up and listen” — watch his TED talk — but it’s not as pragmatic as this book.)
The main point of this book (subtitle: “a simple guide to combining business wisdom with passion”) is that few entrepreneurs succeed on their own. Teamwork is useful — even necessary — because
- A startup product or service needs attention to production, marketing and finance. Pretty much everyone is better or worse at each of these skills.
- Teams share the burden of work as well as limiting (not) brilliant ideas that can derail or distract efforts to produce value for customers.
- Communication among team members forces them to quantify and quality ideas that may be “obvious” in their head but make little sense when explained to others.
The book is short (100pp), clear and useful. Rather than discuss it chapter by chapter, I will leave a few notes that may interest potential readers
- “Passion” (meaning “suffering”) is important for entrepreneurs, as success is neither quick nor inevitable.
- Outsiders are usually ignorant of what a community needs (the development aid trap), so they should try to find and enable locals who are passionate about their solutions.
- Entrepreneurs often have good ideas but little experience. That’s why they may need partners who can speak from experience and/or fill in areas where the entrepreneur is weak.
- The big three roles are production, marketing and financial management (P, M and FM). Every team must have at least one person with a comparative advantage in each of these. The division of labor among team members will make it easier to allocate time, faster to make decisions, and better at innovating on each of these critical margins.
- If you don’t like or can’t do P, M or FM, then find someone who can fill that role. You may not need to pay them, as they may have their own passion for the idea.
- Good production people are always looking for ways to improve, but don’t let them keep a product off the market indefinitely!
- Good marketers genuinely want to help people, not dump crap on them.
- Good financial managers can tell you where you are and help you understand where you’re going, using only numbers, but those numbers need to be realistic.
- Investors invest in business teams, not ideas. Get a good team and write a good business plan. A bad business plan means the team is too weak in its members or cooperation.
- “Entrepreneurship is much more a social game than an individual one. The most striking characteristic of a successful entrepreneur is perhaps the ability to identify, cultivate, and use other people’s competencies.”
- If you need a partner for P, M or FM, then find someone you like who does that role and ask them for a referral. They may not be free, but they probably know someone in the same field who is available.
- “Solitude is the death of the entrepreneur. Just as you must look inward to understand your passion, you must look outward to find others to help you. Success in business rests primarily on these two actions. Never be reluctant or embarrassed to seek assistance, and do so with prudence and optimism. Remember, there are “magical helpers” out there waiting for a passionate “hero” to commit to the entrepreneurial journey.”
Bottom Line: I give this book FIVE STARS for providing useful advice to would-be entrepreneurs and insight to those of us who want to understand the elements of success. Go forth, find partners, and bring value to the world!