January 24, 2013
Don’t have time to read? Here’s a quick but comprehensive summary of David S. Kidder’s “The Startup Playbook,” released on January 2.
Who should read this: Entrepreneurs in the first five years of their company who want to learn key practices, behaviors, and ideas for success.
Elevator pitch: This book has about 400 pieces of distinct advice from entrepreneurs like Steve Case, Chris Dixon, and Reid Hoffman. After reading a summary of their story, you get their top three tips – their “playbook” – plus specific advice on things like customer development, marketing, and leadership. It’s similar to Founders at Work, but the advice is more clearly delineated rather than woven into the story.
Author: David S. Kidder is an angel investor and entrepreneur, who cofounded and sold three startups. He is also the author of The Intellectual Devotional series.
Instead of a chapter-by-chapter or entrepreneur-by-entrepreneur summary, I’ve taken the “playbooks” for all 41 entrepreneurs and organized them into categories. Most of the advice falls under idea generation, which should tell you how crucial it is.
- Chris Anderson, founder of Future Publishing and CEO of TED Talks: Observe people’s real passions to figure out what they want.
- Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose.org: Don’t just scratch your own itch, but an itch you actually care about.
- Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx: Cultivate a vision for your product by devoting time to thinking, honing in on a clear goal (hers: get on the Oprah Winfrey Show), and solicit feedback not from family but people who can help.
- Steve Blank, founder of E.piphany and author of The Startup Owner’s Manual: Start with your core expertise (something you have business experience in), focus on an idea that truly excites you, and don’t dismiss entrepreneurship education.
- Rodney Brooks, founder of iRobot and Rethink Robotics: Identify the intersection of your talents and the ways you imagine the world being a better place. Also identify “megatrends” that will create major new markets.
- Jeff Bussgang, founder of Open Market, Upromise, and Flybridge Capital Partners: Focus on customer pains that are a high priority for them, and build a solution that has immediate and obvious benefit.
- Marc Cenedella, founder of TheLadders: Find the intersection of your abilities and your passion, and do something nobody else can do.
- Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar: Take advantage of excess capacity (assets people have but don’t use all the time), enable collaborative consumption, and figure out what you’re good at before finding a market.
- Chip Conley, founder of Joie de Vivre Hospitality: Approach the market like an outsider unburdened by assumptions or traditions.
- Chris Dixon, founder of SiteAdvisor, Founder Collective, and Hunch: Find founder/market fit, and fill “whitespaces” (places where there is demand but no supply).
- Caterina Fake, founder of Flickr and Hunch, chairman of Etsy: Make something that people would use every day.
- Mitch Free, founder of MFG.com: Ideas will find you, rather than the other way around.
- Eileen Gittins, founder of Blurb: Pick a market that is large, growing, and within your reach.
- Joe Green, founder of Causes: To decide between ideas, flesh them out first and then compare.
- Scott Heiferman, founder of i-traffic, Fotolog, and Meetup: Find an idea that you’re obsessed with; and focus on things that are actually useful.
- Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn: Pick the biggest idea you can handle; and pick ideas where you can be ten times better than the competition.
- Ben Horowitz, founder of Opsware: Make something that’s ten times better than the competition’s.
- Cyrus Massoumi, founder of ZocDoc: Solve one of your users’ top problems, and focus on one area and one sector.
- Stephen and Heidi Messer, founders of LinkShare: Find opportunities that other people don’t see.
- Hosain Rahman, founder of Jawbone: Focus on a full experience, and build products that make it better; and focus on something customers care about.
- Adeo Ressi, founder of TheFunded.com and The Founder Institute: Start with multiple ideas and narrow them down; find the intersection of your strengths and the world’s deficits.
- Kevin Ryan, founder of AlleyCorp, CEO of Gilt Groupe: Pick ideas that you can execute on, because execution is more important; and pick ideas that you’re obsessed with.
- Kirill Sheynkman, founder of Stanford Technology Group, Plumtree Software, and Elastra Corporation, managing director of RTP Ventures: Make something better or faster.
- Jeff Stewart, founder of Mimeo, Urgent Career, and Lenddo: Start with lots of ideas and pit them against each other.
Customer development, launch, and early stages
- Anderson: Hone in on passionate niches of early adopters.
- Conley: Start small to catch mistakes fast and save money.
- Free: The only way to test the market is to actually test the market.
- Gansky: Set aside time to fully understand your business before launch.
- Gittins: Look for three assumptions to validate.
- Green: For cause-based organizations, motivate people by creating relationships with them and leading by example.
- Hoffman: To get a head start, launch an idea before it sounds like an obvious solution.
- Massoumi: Start by understanding your end user.
- Ressi: Put as little money into an early company as possible, until you’re sure it can survive on its own.
- Stewart: Look for data to make predictions, then listen to feedback from the customer.
- Jay Walker, founder of Walker Digital and Priceline: Don’t only talk to people who are your target customers, but other people, too – they may have unique insights.
Cofounders, company culture, and hiring
- Best: Trust your team to improve processes within the company.
- Matt Blumberg, founder of Return Path: Run your office with the mentality of a party host, eager to make everyone comfortable.
- Case: Hire people who can move the company forward, not just handle its present condition.
- Lisa Gansky, founder of Ofoto: It’s okay if personalities at the office clash slightly – you get more “spark.”
- Gardner: Share information freely.
- Seth Goldman, founder of Honest Tea: Help your employees grow into new roles.
- Jeffrey Hollender, founder of Seventh Generation and American Sustainable Business Council: Be transparent to the point of discomfort; and create corporate bylaws that reflect your values.
- Messers: Find a cofounder you can trust who will also be very honest with you.
- Michael and Ellen Diamant, founders of SkipHop: Divide roles clearly.
- Anderson: Find passionate users who will help with grassroots marketing.
- Diamants: Invest in things like websites and logos to appear bigger than you are.
- Gittins: Learn to tell stories to attract employees, customers, and partners.
- Goldman: Sell your products like an activist selling a cause.
- Scott Harrison, founder of Charity: water: Build a brand that is visually striking, starting with design.
- Hollender: Reveal your company's flaws – customers will like you better, just as they would an imperfect human being.
- Horowitz: Your product is your differentiator.
- Elon Musk, founder of PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors, chairman of SolarCity: Focus on building a great product.
Funding and partnerships
- Blumberg: Choose VCs you can trust and keep them updated regularly.
- Brooks: To sell VCs on your idea, ask: “Can you imagine X not being true in fifty years?” (X being the thing you’re proposing to do).
- Free: Try to bootstrap.
- Jim McCann, founder of 1-800-Flowers.com: Get funding to avoid the distraction of having little money to work with.
- Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of Acumen Fund: Find investors who also want to act as partners in building the business.
- Blumberg: Choose mergers or acquisitions when they make sense, rather than believing you have to make everything from scratch.
- Diamants: Find partners you can trust.
- Bussgang: Analyze what information you do have and make decisions with your eyes open.
- Cenedella: Show up and don’t quit.
- Jeff Dachis, founder of Razorfish and The Dachis Group: To figure out what to do now, work backwards from your goal; and expect to be laughed at when you enter a market.
- Kevin Efrusy, founder of IronPlanet and Corio, general partner at Accel: Be courageous enough to shift direction rather than trying to save a dying idea; take risks on opportunities that could be big; if the market is being disrupted, be sure to change along with it.
- Fake: If you don’t find the right problem and the right people to work on it, even working 24/7 isn’t going to cut it; and look out for side projects that could become the focus of your business.
- Gansky: First define, then refine, then scale your business.
- Gardner: Diversify your paying customers (and hence your risk).
- Goldman: Understand your core task, value, or skill and stick to it.
- Green: Be on the lookout for opportunities that could be big.
- Horowitz: Set out to be a monopoly, but still keep watch on your competition.
- Tony Hsieh, founder of LinkExchange and Venture Frogs, CEO of Zappos: Be on the lookout for ways to evolve ahead of your competition; be like MacGyver and make things work with what you have.
- McCann: Prioritize your tasks and figure out what can be done imperfectly.
- Rahman: To keep up, you need to innovate all the time.
- Linda Rottenberg, founder of Endeavor Global: To expand, wait until you’re “pulled” into new markets by supporters and customers; and to get to your big vision, practice “minnovation” (small tweaks along the way).
- Sheynkman: Define your revenue model clearly.
- Stewart: A business is composed of hundreds of small ideas around pricing, marketing, manufacturing, etc.; and to motivate yourself, try to avoid stagnation.
- Walker: Recognize that problems are complex, since they involve humans.
- Best: Give your users transparent choice.
- Conley: The customer experience should be joyful.
- Dachis: Be a Renaissance man to give yourself broad experience and knowledge.
- Dixon: Study the history of business and technology to better predict the future.
- Ecko: If you’re an artist or creative, learn to control the emotions that come along with that; and accept criticism and negative feedback.
- Gittins: Be willing to accept critiques of your idea.
- Hsieh: Be humble to avoid overconfidence.
- McCann: Surround yourself with worthy people and ideas because you will unconsciously absorb them.
- Messers: Be prepared for your different roles at different stages of a startup.
- Musk: Try to avoid wishful thinking.
- Novogratz: Focus on your vision and potential rather than being bogged down by mistakes; and recognize how much help you’ve gotten from people who lived before you.
- Rottenberg: Strive to be called “crazy.”
- Ryan: Allocate your time by figuring out what leads to the biggest returns.
- Sheynkman: Observe and participate in all different roles in your company so you understand them.
- Walker: Stop and think.
Big vision and goals
- Tom Gardner, founder of The Motley Fool: Know your end game.
- Harrison: Your purpose and passion should come through in everything you do; and be able to clearly state a powerful goal and purpose.
- Heiferman: Imagine what success would look like and keep it in mind.
- Musk: Choose ideas that “impact the future of humanity.”
- Steve Case, founder of AOL and chairman and CEO of Revolution LLC: Change the world, and find an idea that you can truly be passionate and persistent about.
- Marc Ecko, founder of Marc Ecko Enterprises: Success takes a long time.
Grade: B. This book is chock-full of advice, but that’s part of the problem. If you read it straight through, your brain will start swimming in all these different, sometimes conflicting tips. I’d recommend buying it, putting it on the shelf, and maybe reading one person’s “chapter” (six pages) per night. That’ll give you time to think about each individual’s journey, process their individual advice, and see how it applies to your startup. Ultimately, I think, it’s your job to come up with your own “playbook.”
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