The Art of Starting
Everyone should carefully observe which way his heart draws him, and
then choose that way with all his strength. -Hasidic saying
GIST (GREAT IDEAS FOR STARTING THINGS)
I use a top-ten list format for all my speeches, and I would love to
begin this book with a top-ten list of the most important things an
entrepreneur must accomplish. However, there aren't ten-there are only
1. MAKE MEANING (inspired by John Doerr). The best reason to start an
organization is to make meaning-to create a product or service that
makes the world a better place. So your first task is to decide how you
can make meaning.
2. MAKE MANTRA. Forget mission statements; they're long, boring, and
irrelevant. No one can ever remember them-much less implement them.
Instead, take your meaning and make a mantra out of it. This will set
your entire team on the right course.
3. GET GOING. Start creating and delivering your product or service.
Think soldering irons, compilers, hammers, saws, and AutoCAD-whatever
tools you use to build products and services. Don't focus on pitching,
writing, and planning.
4. DEFINE YOUR BUSINESS MODEL. No matter what kind of organization
you're starting, you have to figure out a way to make money. The
greatest idea, technology, product, or service is short-lived without a
sustainable business model.
5. WEAVE A MAT (MILESTONES, ASSUMPTIONS, AND TASKS). The final step is
to compile three lists: (a) major milestones you need to meet; (b)
assumptions that are built into your business model; and (c) tasks you
need to accomplish to create an organization. This will enforce
discipline and keep your organization on track when all hell breaks
loose-and all hell will break loose.
I have never thought of writing for reputation and honor. What I have
in my heart must come out; that is the reason why I compose. -Ludwig
Many books about entrepreneurship begin with a rigorous process of
self-examination, asking you to determine if you are truly up to the
task of starting an organization. Some typical examples are
Can you work long hours at low wages?
Can you deal with rejection after rejection?
Can you handle the responsibility of dozens of employees?
The truth is, it is impossible to answer questions like this in advance,
and they ultimately serve no purpose. On the one hand, talk and bravado
are cheap. Saying you're willing to do something doesn't mean that you
will do it.
On the other hand, realizing that you have doubt and trepidation doesn't
mean you won't build a great organization. How you answer these
questions now has little predictive power regarding what you'll actually
do when you get caught up in a great idea.
The truth is that no one really knows if he is an entrepreneur until he
becomes one-and sometimes not even then. There really is only one
question you should ask yourself before starting any new venture:
Do I want to make meaning?
Meaning is not about money, power, or prestige. It's not even about
creating a fun place to work. Among the meanings of "meaning" are to
Make the world a better place.
Increase the quality of life.
Right a terrible wrong.
Prevent the end of something good.
Goals such as these are a tremendous advantage as you travel down the
difficult path ahead. If you answer this question in the negative, you
may still be successful, but it will be harder to become so because
making meaning is the most powerful motivator there is.
It's taken me twenty years to come to this understanding.
In 1983, when I started in the Macintosh Division of Apple Computer,
beating IBM was our reason for existence. We wanted to send IBM back to
the typewriter business holding its Selectric typewriter balls.
In 1987, our reason for existence became beating Windows and Microsoft.
We wanted to crush Microsoft and force Bill Gates to get a job flipping
fish at the Pike Place Market.
In 2004, I am a managing director in an early-stage venture capital firm
called Garage Technology Ventures. I want to enable people to create
great products, build great companies, and change the world.
The causation of great organizations is the desire to make meaning.
Having that desire doesn't guarantee that you'll succeed, but it does
mean that if you fail, at least you failed doing something worthwhile.
Close your eyes and think about how you will serve your customers. What
kind of meaning do you see your organization making? Most people refer
to this as the "Why" or mission statement of an organization.
Crafting a mission statement is usually one of the first steps
entrepreneurs undertake. Unfortunately, this process is usually a
painful and frustrating experience that results in exceptional
mediocrity. This is almost inevitable when a large number of people are
commissioned to craft something designed to make an even larger number
of people (employees, shareholders, customers, and partners) happy.
The fundamental shortcoming of most mission statements is that everyone
expects them to be highfalutin and all-encompassing. The result is a
long, boring, commonplace, and pointless joke. In The Mission
Statement Book, Jeffrey Abrams provides 301 examples of mission
statements that demonstrate that companies are all writing the same
mediocre stuff. To wit, this is a partial list of the frequency with
which mission statements in Abrams's sample contained the same words:
Fortune (or Forbes, in my case) favors the bold, so I'll give you
some advice that will make life easy for you: Postpone writing your
mission statement. You can come up with it later when you're successful
and have lots of time and money to waste. (If you're not successful, it
won't matter that you didn't develop one.)
Instead of a mission statement and all the baggage that comes with it,
craft a mantra for your organization.
The definition of mantra is
A sacred verbal formula repeated in prayer, meditation, or incantation,
such as an invocation of a god, a magic spell, or a syllable or portion
of scripture containing mystical potentialities.
What a great thing a mantra is! How many mission statements evoke such
power and emotion?
The beauty of a mantra is that everyone expects it to be short and
sweet. (Arguably, the world's shortest mantra is the single Hindi word
Om.) You may never have to write your mantra down, publish it in
your annual report, or print it on posters. Indeed, if you do have to
"enforce" your mantra in these ways, it's not the right mantra.
Following are five examples that illustrate the power of a good mantra:
Authentic athletic performance (Nike).
Fun family entertainment (Disney).
Rewarding everyday moments (Starbucks).
Winning is everything (Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers).
Compare the Starbucks mantra, "Rewarding everyday moments," to the
company's mission statement, "Establish Starbucks as the premier
purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our
uncompromising principles while we grow." Which is more memorable?
Imagine that someone asks your parents or your organization's
receptionist what you do. Can it get any better than a three-word mantra
such as "Authentic athletic performance"?
A final thought on mantras: Don't confuse mantras and tag lines. A
mantra is for your employees; it's a guideline for what they do in their
jobs. A tag line is for your customers; it's a guideline for how to use
your product or service. For example, Nike's mantra is "Authentic
athletic performance." Its tag line is "Just do it."
The third step is not to fire up Word to write a business plan, launch
PowerPoint to craft a pitch, or boot Excel to build a financial
projection. Wrong, wrong, wrong!
My goal in giving you this advice is not to reduce the sales of
Microsoft Office-remember, I'm off the anti-Microsoft podium. There's a
time for using all three applications, but it's not now. What you should
do is (a) rein in your anal tendency to craft a document and (b)
This means building a prototype, writing software, launching your Web
site, or offering your services. The hardest thing about getting started
is getting started. (This is as true for a writer as it is for an
entrepreneur.) Remember: No one ever achieved success by planning
You should always be selling-not strategizing about selling. Don't test,
test, test-that's a game for big companies. Don't worry about being
embarrassed. Don't wait to develop the perfect product or service. Good
enough is good enough. There will be plenty of time for refinement
later. It's not how great you start-it's how great you end up.
The enemy of activation is cogitation, and at this stage, cogitating the
"strategic" issues of research and development is a problem. Questions
like, How far can we leap ahead? What if everyone doesn't like what
we do? and Should we design for a target customer or make what we
would want to use? are beside the point when you're getting a new
venture off the ground.
Instead, observe these key principles of getting going:
THINK BIG. Set your sights high and strive for something grand. If
you're going to change the world, you can't do it with milquetoast and
boring products or services. Shoot for doing things at least ten times
better than the status quo. When Jeff Bezos started Amazon. com, he
didn't build a bookstore with a paltry 25,000 more titles than the
250,000-title brick-and-mortar bookstores. He went to 3,000,000 titles
in an online bookstore.
FIND A FEW SOULMATES. History loves the notion of the sole innovator:
Thomas Edison (light bulb), Steve Jobs (Macintosh), Henry Ford (Model
T), Anita Roddick (The Body Shop), Richard Branson (Virgin Airlines).
History is wrong. Successful companies are started, and made successful,
by at least two, and usually more, soulmates. After the fact, one person
may come to be recognized as "the innovator," but it always takes a team
of good people to make any venture work.
POLARIZE PEOPLE. When you create a product or service that some people
love, don't be surprised when others hate you. Your goal is to catalyze
passion-pro or anti. Don't be offended if people take issue with what
you've done; the only result that should offend (and scare) you is lack
Car design is a good example of the love-versus-hate reaction; consider
the bifurcation of people's reactions to cars such as the Mini Cooper,
Infiniti Fx45, and Toyota Scion xB. People are either devoted fans or
relentless critics, and that's good.
DESIGN DIFFERENT. Depending on what management fad is hot, you might be
tempted to believe that there is only one ideal way to design products
and services. This isn't true. There is no single best way. Here are
four different and valid approaches-and I am sure there are more.
"I WANT ONE." This is the best kind of market research-the customer and
the designer are the same person. Therefore, the customer's voice can
reach the designer's mind uncorrupted by corporate politics, reliance on
the status quo, and market researchers. Example: Ferdinand Porsche said,
"In the beginning I looked around and, not finding the automobile of my
dreams, decided to build it myself."
"MY EMPLOYER COULDN'T (OR WOULDN'T) DO IT." Not as romantic as "I want
one," but this is a credible path. You already understand the customer
base, competition, supply sources, and industry contacts because of your
background. You still need to build the product or service and get
customers, but many questions are already answered. For example, alumni
of Unit 8200 of the Israeli Defense Forces went on to create companies
such as Checkpoint after developing security software for the military.
"WHAT THE HELL-IT'S POSSIBLE!" This theory isn't popular when times are
tough, and microscopes are flourishing. At these times, the world has
turned conservative and demands that every market be "proven." Markets
for curve-jumping, paradigm-shifting leaps are seldom proven in advance.
For example, when Motorola invented cellular telephones, no one leaped
to buy them. At that time, portable phone was an oxymoron because phones
were always attached to places. There was no market for phones that
customers could move.
"THERE MUST BE A BETTER WAY." The organization born of this philosophy
is based on the idealistic notion that you can make the world a better
place by doing something new. In many cases, the founders had
backgrounds with no logical connection to the business. They simply got
an idea and decided to do it. Example: eBay. Pierre Omidyar, the
founder, wanted to implement a system for a "perfect market" for the
sale of goods. (The story of his girlfriend wanting to sell Pez
dispensers was an after-the-fact PR tale.)
USE PROTOTYPES AS MARKET RESEARCH. In the early days of an organization,
there is high uncertainty about exactly what you should create and
exactly what customers want. In these times, traditional market research
is useless-there is no survey or focus group that can predict customer
acceptance for a product or service that you may barely be able to
describe. Would you buy a new computer with no software, no hard disk,
and no color that simulates the real world-including a trash can?
The wisest course of action is to take your best shot with a prototype,
immediately get it to market, and iterate quickly. If you wait for ideal
circumstances in which you have all the information you need (which is
impossible), the market will pass you by.
The expected outcome of the "get going" principle is a first release of
a product or service. Remember: it won't be perfect. But don't revise
your product to get prospective customers to love it. Instead, revise it
because customers already love it. Let me put it in religious terms:
Some people believe that if they change, God will love them. Others
believe that since God loves them, they should change. The latter theory
is the prototype to keep in mind for how to get going and keep going for
DEFINE YOUR BUSINESS MODEL
You want to make meaning. You've come up with a mantra. You've started
prototyping your product or service. The fourth step is to define a
business model. To do this you need to answer two questions:
Who has your money in their pockets?
How are you going to get it into your pocket?
These questions lack subtlety, but they are a useful way to consider the
reality of starting an organization-even, and perhaps especially,
not-for-profits, which have to fight for money just to stay alive. You
can't change the world if you're dead, and when you're out of money
More elegantly stated, the first question involves defining your
customer and the pain that he feels.
Excerpted from "The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything" by Guy Kawasaki. Copyright © 2004 by Guy Kawasaki. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.