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‘The Art of the Start,’ An Entrepreneur’s Bible

Woman with arms outstretched to the sky forms a surreal shadow on the floor with her wings

The ‘Art of the Start’ by Guy Kawasaki was the bible for entrepreneurs starting companies twenty years ago.

It sill can be.

Starting Prairielaw, a virtual law community, almost thirty years ago, I discovered Guy’s ‘Selling the Dream,’ a handbook and workbook for putting evangelism to work – convincing people to believe in your product and ideas as much as you do.

Using fervor, zeal, guts and cunning to get where I needed to get in starting Prairielaw was not new to me. I was a trial lawyer for seventeen years, I believed Guy – and carried his book everywhere.

When Guy’s Art of the Start came out I was just starting LexBlog. I was looking for someone to help me overcome all the mistakes I made with my first startup – though I learned a lot on my own. Guy’s book was it.

Here’s what I took from ‘The Art of the Start,’ which Guy described as ‘The Art of a Business Plan,’ a small part of his book.

  1. A good business model forces you to answer two simple questions: “Who has your money in their pockets?” And “How are you going to get it into your pocket?”
  2. Target a specific niche. The more precisely you can describe your customer, the better. Many entrepreneurs are afraid of too narrow and specific a focus because it won’t lead to worldwide dominance. However, most successful companies started off targeting a market or two and growing (often unexpectedly) to a large size by addressing other markets.
  3. Keep it simple. If you can’t describe your business model in ten words or less, you don’t have a business model. Avoid whatever business jargon is hip (strategic, mission-critical, world-class, synergistic, first-mover, scalable, enterprise-class, etc.). Business language does not make a business model.
  4. Copy others. Commerce has been around a long time, so by now people have pretty much invented every possible business model. You can innovate in technology, marketing, and distribution, but attempting to come up with a new business model is a lousy bet. Try to relate your business model to one that’s already successful and understood. You have plenty of other battles to fight.
  5. Make it expansive. Business models involving creating a bigger pie rather than grabbing more of the same pie work better for startups. This is because customers expect to discover products that are innovative and cool and are less interested in me-too, better sameness from startups.
  6. The biggest message I took was that you don’t you have a worthwhile product until people take money out of their pockets and put it in yours.

I wasn’t thinking venture capital, LexBlog was self funded.

I was thinking as Guy says ‘The first question (who has the money) requires identifying your customer and the need that she feels and the second question (how to get the money in your pocket) requires createing a sales mechanism to ensure that your revenues exceed your costs.’

Man, I was focused on money and pockets – and my niche, described in five words, “We build blogs for lawyers.”

I met an entrepreneur in Miami a couple weeks ago. He was looking to for ideas from me.

I explained I’m no guru, but I am big believer in the ‘pockets.’ Build something people are buying from you and you’ll know you have something.

LexBlog is not as big as other legal tech companies, but we’ve been around awhile – and I have Guy to thank for on selling the dream and the art of the start.

With LexBlog’s launching Lou, an AI enabled publishing assistant (five words), I feel a bit like we’re doing a new start up. Truth be told that’s why I went and looked up Guy’s the Art of the Start, yesterday.