One of my favorite startup books is The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. But I have a bias – it’s bent toward processes, checklists, and following a clear path no matter how unpredictable. Steve Blank, I admire him too, and I mean a lot. I love his scientific approach to startups in The Startup Owner’s Manual.
The Book Every Startup Founder Should Read
There’s a new book every startup-founder needs to read. It’s not a step-by-step prescriptive approach to building a startup. Instead, I found a strong human element in this book similar to what I found in The Hard Thing About Hard Things, another book startup-founders should read.
Instead, my focus is on the book by Brett Fox entitled, Learn How to Take a Punch.
Don’t know who Brett Fox is? Forty million readers have read or scanned his answers on Quora. He’s been featured in HuffPost, Forbes, Apple News, Mashable, Inc. Business Insider, and Observer. I thought his book was so good, I just had to interview him.
What Do I Mean by Human?
What’s it like to be a startup CEO? Ponder the following line for a minute or two:
I wake up from my nightmare. We couldn’t close funding. My wife is sound asleep next to me. I am shivering, even though it is 72 degrees. I hate the shivering.Fox, Brett. Learn How To Take A Punch: Building Your Startup Isn’t A Marathon, It’s A Prizefight (p. 9). Kindle Edition.
By the way, it was 3:00 a.m. when he woke up.
That’s what I mean by Brett being transparent about being a startup founder. It’s scary. Especially when funding will occur in June – two years later that is.
Key Themes in Learn How to Take a Punch
While Brett’s book is not the mini MBA for startup founders, I’m calling it the prerequisite before starting a business. Or, even seasoned entrepreneurs who have started and sold multiple ventures will gain valuable nuggets from this startup book of wisdom.
Below are just a few of the notes and highlights in my copy:
- Deal with entrepreneurial fear head-on – make sure you can unload on a person other than a family member when dealing with these intense emotions.
- You need the grit to get through tough times – it’s stamina for the marathon.
- Raising money is not as easy as you think. Just wait till your try finding and securing that first $1,000,000. Plan for one year as the timeframe for raising cash.
- I thought hiring a CTO was hard, but Brett reminds us that hiring a VP of Sales is difficult. However, wait till the business is scaling before making that hire.
- The most important role for any CEO is recruiting and hiring great team members (Brett’s recommendations on page 31 seem so simple, but why is it so hard to do?).
- Phil Knight and fanatical team players.
- No, no, no … you don’t need a COO for the startup, you are.
- Don’t underpay – be in the median range.
- The divorce rate is around 50%, so how do you improve the odds of co-founders sticking it out?
- Cultural fit – fanaticism, integrity, smarts, cultural fit.
- Sandy Koufax – great mention (I’m not telling).
- Be careful about seeking VC funding. If you do, you lose options.
- Knowing when to scale or pull back is one of the most difficult things you need to do as a CEO. Knowing when to scale is never clear.
- MVPs have to be 10x to 100x than what’s better than what’s currently available in the market.
- Know when to work with an investment banker or broker.
Product-Market Fit Revisited
If you devour great writing about startups, then you’ve read one of the best articles ever written about product-market fit by Tren Griffin entitled, 12 Things about Product-Market Fit.
Get the product-market fit right, and you have success, right?
Not so fast according to Brett. You need a great team as he reminds us of Rachleff’s Law:
- Great Team + Terrible Market = Market Wins
- Terrible Team + Great Market = Market Still Wins, but
- Great Team + Great Market = Something Special Happens
Brett presents his own spin on Rachleff’s Law by stating the key to startup success is going after a great market, having a great team, and having great investors.
The Art of the Start, Part II
I loved Guy Kawasaki’s, The Art of the Start. In that book, he mentions the the 10-20-30 Rule for PowerPoint. Just 10 slides, 20 minutes, and 30-point font.
Brett has a presentation thought process too which requires the answers to three important questions:
- What does my product or business do?
- How much better are you than the competition?
- What’s the size of the market that’s being attacked?
On Selling the Company
I enjoyed Brett’s advice on selling the startup. He states, “You’re not building a company if your intent is to sell it.
He says real companies have a long-term strategy. Real companies have a vision. But your vision is to just be bought – great reminder.
I’m not giving away the punch line, but be prepared for some possibly new terms that will be meaningful in your startup journey:
- Zone of Insolvency
- 409A Valuation
- Leading Indicators of Product-Market Fit (brilliant concept)
- Appropriately Frugal
- Short Supply Lines
- Investor-Company Mismatch
The Final Verdict
Easily, this book is 5 out of 5 stars. Read it first, then feel free to shoot Brett a question or two on his website.