You will remember I shared a write up some time ago, where I suggested 9 books you should read before starting a business. Among that group of books, Guy Kawasaki’s ‘The Art Of  The Start’ stood out for me. What were you expecting? It’s about startups…

This book is special. If I am to summarize it in one sentence, I will not need to go beyond the front cover of the book. It reads, “The time-tested, battle-hardened guide for anyone starting anything”.

Can’t really do better than that now, can I?

Mr. Kawasaki, in this book, deals with key areas of business such as writing a business plan, pitching your business, bootstrapping, recruitment amongst others. And for every one of these key areas, he dedicates a chapter.

Notables such as Pierre Omidyar (founder of eBay) have endorsed this book. Other high profilers such as Arianna Huffington (President, Huffington Post) and Mark Cuban (Owner, Dallas Mavericks) also pitched it with their endorsements on the updated version of this master piece.

I have decided to take some time to reveal to you some lessons – some new to me and some refreshers – that I have gleaned from this work. So if you have or you have had (or are yet to encounter) any hitches at any point in the life of your startup, you will do well to read this thoroughly.


1. Microscopes and telescopes are complementary

Many entrepreneurs are usually on different sides of the divide when it comes to their preference as it concerns the phases of business cycles. There are two main schools of thought here.

In the first phase, a case is made for level-headed thinking. A call to return to the fundamentals of business cycles; a return to the traditional way of doing business. Here experts will always demand for full-blown forecasts, scrutiny of every item and expenditure and lengthy market research.

Kawasaki describes this phase as the microscopic phase.

Then there is the phase that is dominated by those of a ‘dreamy’ persuasion. Here, entrepreneurs look into the future to dream up the ‘next big thing’ that will change the world. They love to place big financial bets on their crazy ideas and it does pay off sometimes. They are the reason innovation is still alive.

Kawasaki calls this phase the telescopic phase.

There is a lovely quote in the introduction of the book that gives it all meaning.

When telescopes work, everyone is an astronomer, and the world is full of stars. When they don’t, everyone whips out their microscopes, and the world is full of flaws. The reality is that you need both microscopes and telescopes to achieve success.”

These two phases of the business cycle are complementary and as such should be employed in tandem if we are to achieve holistic business success.


2. Your business should always make “meaning”

By this, Kawasaki is saying that the objective of any business should be to make the world a better place. Yes, you want to make money and of course, do better than your competition. However, if this is what drives you, then you will very soon run out of gas, and so will your business.

For your business to truly make meaning it must answer one or more of the following questions in the affirmative:

  • Making the world a better place
  • Increase the quality of life
  • Right a terrible wrong
  • Prevent the demise of something good

Having these as your goals are a great advantage to you as you navigate your business through difficult paths. There is nothing as rewarding as doing good; it is the greatest motivator in business and in life.

Kawasaki gives an example in the book that shows his shift in mentality. In 1983, while he was at Apple Computers, crushing IBM was the sole purpose of their existence. In 1987, they switched rivals from IBM to Microsoft.

In 2004, Kawasaki is the managing director of Garage Technology Ventures, a venture capitalist firm that in his words, “want to enable people create great products, build great companies and change the world”

You cannot argue that his transition from ‘corporate assassin’ to ‘do-gooder’ has contributed a lot to his present success.


3. Mantras are more effective than mission statements

A mission statement is a wonderful thing; it is designed to show briefly what your business has to offer. Some will say that it is the ‘why’ of your business. The problem with a mission statement, however, is that it is expected to excellently capture the essence of your business in a few short sentences while also being all-encompassing. This tension between trying to be brief and exhaustive usually yields results of mind-boggling mediocrity.

You will be surprised at how many mission statements use pretty much the same words in different arrangements.

While starting your business, skip the mission statement in favor of a mantra.

A mantra by definition alone already feels better than a mission statement. It is a verbal formula that is repeated during prayer, meditation or incantation, such as an invocation of a god or a magic spell.

Long story short, it is a short collection of words that are repeated and concentrated upon to achieve an intended task.

What mission statement can boast of such power and evoke such emotion?

Mantras are short, sweet and effective. You do not have to write down your mantras; your employees should have it etched into their hearts and minds. It works better that way, sort of like when the Hindu monks meditate.

Here are some excellent examples of what a mantra should look like:

  • Authentic Athletic Performance (Nike)
  • Think (IBM)
  • Rewarding Everyday Moments (Starbucks)
  • Fun Family Entertainment (Disney)

Now imagine someone asks you or any member of your staff what you do and you are able to say, “We provide fun family entertainment”

That packs more punch than any mission statement. To obtain more clarity on this, compare the following Starbucks mission statement to its mantra above: “Establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow.”

I am sure you can tell which is more memorable.

Do not dispel mission statements completely. You can come up with one when your business is established and you have a better idea about where you are headed.


4. Polarize people

Not everyone is going to like your product or service – that is the plain truth, so if you are fighting to achieve that then you need some heavy dose of reality. Your objective should be to inspire passion – for or against.

People hating your product or service only shows that they are paying attention to you. Their venting and bad reviews can actually reveal a flaw you need to correct.

The only thing you should be scared of is lack of interest. Kawasaki spots car-designs as an example of the love-versus-hate reaction. Mini Cooper lovers hate the Toyota Scion and these, in turn, hate the Infiniti Fx45 and the hate cycle goes round and round. People are either passionate fans or tireless critics, and that’s good.

As long as people hate you or love you, you are golden.


5. Observe the 10/20/30 rule when pitching

the art of the start


Many entrepreneurs tend to be over-enthusiastic when faced with a group of potential investors. They try to tell every detail of their business and only end up boring their audience. When pitching, remember that the purpose is to stimulate interest, not close a deal.

So keep your pitch short, sweet and reveal just “enough” information, not everything.

Kawasaki recommends applying the 10/20/30 rule: 10 slides, 20 minutes, 30-point-font text. The number of slides here might seem limiting but it forces you to focus on the absolute essentials. Add a few more if necessary but NEVER exceed 20 slides.

You want to be able to finish your pitch before the traditional one-hour appointment time elapses.

This has two benefits. The first is that you may not be allowed the full hour if the meeting prior to yours is running late. So planning for 20 minutes ensures that you will finish your pitch.

The second thing is that having picked their interest, you will want to have enough time left to field questions from your audience. Wrapping up early means you have the rest of your time to address these questions as adequately as possible.

The 30-point-font text is for slides where all the information on it addresses a single issue. You want everything on the slide to look like they agree with each other. Plus you do want everyone in the room to be able to see what is on your slides, don’t you?

Also, make sure that what you have on the slide only paraphrases and enhances what you are saying. If there is too much information on the slide, chances are people will spend time reading the slide and as a result, they will not listen to you.

Investors are more assured of your capabilities when they get the chunk of the information from you and not from 3-by-4 cardboard or a computer screen.

It was Isaac Newton that said, “if I have seen any further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. Guy Kawasaki is definitely one of those giants for me. So before you proceed on that startup, go get that book.

Your Turn

Have you read that classic book? What lesson did you learn from it? Kindly share your lessons in the comment section. And share this with your friends.