BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

Shaken, not stirred?

This is one of those books that I “got wind of” on the Internet, and shot a review copy request off to the publisher. I'd been familiar with Tech Cocktail for years, and have attended numerous of their events, and even exhibited (with the folks) at their recent Startup Showcase ... so, when I saw posts regarding their co-founder Frank Gruber's new Startup Mixology: Tech Cocktail's Guide to Building, Growing, and Celebrating Startup Success, I figured I'd reach out to the good folks at Wiley to get a copy.

There is no great mystery in what the book's about (it's pretty much spelled out in the sub-title – although one might wonder “where are the drink recipes?” from just looking at the book's spine), it's about startups, with a particular focus on the tech side of things. As almost my entire career has been in and around startups, this certainly had my attention from the get-go.

I've seen comments about this as being a “textbook” for the startup world, and while it is fairly inclusive of everything one needs to know or do (in the broad strokes, of course) to launch into an entrepreneurial effort, it's very much styled as a discussion … with Gruber being in first person for much of the book, and outlining his experiences and those of a long list of fellow business starters (with both positive and negative results). While I'd agree that this would be a great book for everybody considering starting a business to read, I think it would be challenging to base a course on.

Startup Mixology is structured in six “parts”, which have two to four chapters each, these being broken up into specific topic sections, with side boxes featuring several dozen people, organizations, resources, etc., highlighting points in the various areas. I always feel like I'm being lazy when I do this (as you could get the info by flipping through the book or Amazon's “Look Inside” feature), but some books do well with a look at their “flow”, so here's how this is set up:
Getting Started
      Entrepreneurial Mind
      Product-Market Fit
Team And People
Sales And Marketing
Growth And Change
Now, much of that list is pretty obvious, but other parts are less so … some of the examples, for example, in “Product-Market Fit” are telling, and led to some fairly dramatic “pivots” from some great idea that nobody needed to something that is wanted: “... if you don't listen to your customers … you might spend a lot of time, money, and energy building an amazing piece of art that never sees the light of day or helps anyone”. Another thing that might be surprising (especially to old-school types) is having “Celebration” deemed worthy of its own chapter. Needless to say, this isn't a “one size fits all” thing, and much of the chapter is given over to ways to determine what's right for one's own particular situation.

Zappos' Tony Hsieh casts a noticeable shadow across the book, from penning its Foreword, to being the subject of various stories and examples. Notable among these is, in the Culture chapter, where the “10 core values” of Zappos are listed … oddly, this was only one of two things I bookmarked while reading through the book (again, the tone is more discursive than pedantic – leaving fewer “bits” to bring you here), but I'll spare you another list, especially as it's fairly specific to one business. However, Gruber does note: “Company culture matters. Whether you're a startup or a large organization, the people who make up your business and the culture that guides it are critical to success.” … and goes on to recommend Hsieh's book Delivering Happiness. Apparently Hsieh is also responsible for Tech Cocktail moving out to Las Vegas, as he leads “The Downtown Project”, which is revitalization/investment effort to bring tech and related businesses to Sin City.

Having been in a number of startups, there are parts here which are both amusingly familiar, and poking at still-tender emotional scars. While almost all of the “Bootstrapping” chapter was painfully recognizable from my own career path, one thing that stood out in the Funding chapter was the concept of needing to build in a “fudge factor” in determining what sort of dollars you're looking for – as much as 50% over what your original estimates are – plus the aspect of “founder tuition”, citing the example of one gal who estimated that she'd “wasted half of her initial $1 million in angel funding on her own mistakes”.

Obviously, this is not a Pollyanna-esque tract on the wonders of starting your own business. Much of the “philosophical” underpinnings are based on “lean startup methodology”, and the “fail fast” school of thought, and there are cautionary tales throughout, and a “The Harsh Reality” section in each chapter (even in the “Success” chapter!). This does provide one with a very informed look at what hazards are out there, in a wide range of contexts and situations, and offers up examples of companies that have made it as well as those who didn't.

Again, the conversational approach that Gruber takes in Startup Mixology makes this a quite accessible, if not necessarily “breezy”, read – while providing a wealth of assembled wisdom from the individuals and companies discussed. This just came out at the end of June, so the business-oriented brick-and-mortar book vendors should certainly have it available, and the on-line big boys are currently offering it at about a quarter off of cover. If you have an interest in business in general, startup ventures in particular, or related fields, I think you'll get a lot out of this.

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Tags: book review
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