New York Times Bestseller, The $100 Startup written by Chris Guillebeau tells you everything you need to know about starting your own business by providing value to others and while securing freedom in the process. In fact, "freedom" and "value" are the two overarching themes of this book. The author who himself is a successful writer, entrepreneur and world traveller analysed 1,500 respondents who were able to establish businesses making over $50,000 a year, despite having startup costs of less than $1,000.
In most cases, the businesses had been started with around $100 or around Tk8,500. Additionally, these respondents ran businesses that required no special skills, had less than five employees, and had disclosed their financial performance to the author. By focusing on fifty of the most intriguing case studies, the author provides insight into what enabled these "solopreneurs" to capitalise on the skills they already had to achieve more freedom and financial success.
By "solopreneurs", the author highlights the fact that most of the startups or micro-businesses in his research were run by a single individual or a partnership. He argues that in the age of online businesses, everyone has the potential to start a successful business without being restrained by bank loans, employees, MBAs, detailed business plans, etc. Guillebeau gets into the nuts and bolts of building a business through the lens of those who have been successful at it.
Firstly, how do you get started? The answer: combining one's passion and skill with market demand via skill transformation. Although some people may be lucky enough to be passionate about providing services that there is a demand for, the author indicates that a degree of skill transformation is necessary. For example, the book talks about a waitress who was able to transform her "people skills" to establish a successful PR consultancy firm that publicised clients.
Additionally, to identify market opportunities, the reader needs to conduct market research (using Google Forms, Survey Monkey, etc.), solve existing problems, latch onto a popular hobby or craze. Once a potential market has been identified, the book offers detailed instructions including a One-Page Business Plan template to enable aspiring entrepreneurs to get started as soon as possible.
Furthermore, the author advises readers to focus on the value or core benefit that their product or service provides instead of its features. To illustrate this point, customers eat food at a restaurant not because they care about how their food is made but because they want to be served, enjoy the ambience and not worry about cooking themselves. By focusing on exactly what the customer wants by appealing to beliefs, values and passion (i.e, we want more freedom, happiness, free time while seeking less hassle, stress), entrepreneurs will be able to reach a much wider demographic and craft a killer offer.
The book later comprehensively delves into devising a successful product launch event through various marketing techniques like memberships, guarantees, hype generation, etc. The author generously included a 39-step launch checklist for those who want to get product launches just right.
There is also a lot of helpful advice related to digital marketing such as strategic giving (offering free advice and genuinely going beyond expectations to help customers) to build customer loyalty and hosting competitions and giveaways to boost audience engagement. Unsurprisingly, there is also a One-Page Promotion Plan included in the book to enable interested readers to "hustle" effectively.
When it comes to securing funds for investment, the author maintains that borrowing is strictly optional as getting into large amounts of debt over a venture that may or may not work out is unreasonable. He does not advise readers to quit their jobs to pursue a business opportunity and recommends starting a side-business first and gradually developing it (using the money from a full-time job to finance it).
Once the business is set up, the book has an entire section dedicated to its growth which discusses pricing strategies (limited time offers, premium products), business models (i.e, why subscription-based models are so profitable), and A/B testing.
The author spent over $35000 exploring these strategies and shared his findings in the book. He also encourages joint-ventures and partnerships for expansion, even including a One-Page Partnership Agreement for readers to replicate. However, he remains split on outsourcing (virtual assistants, freelancers, etc.) to help businesses grow, presenting arguments from both sides.
Guillebeau also briefly compares the $100 Startup Model to those meant to be sold (think Silicon Valley startups) and concludes that his model requires substantially less capital, technical knowledge, and employees which gives entrepreneurs more freedom in the long run. He also suggests that business owners should spend 45 minutes a day without the internet to brainstorm business development ideas and solve long term problems. Most importantly, he addresses the importance of action over planning as most of us are afraid to take a leap of faith and hopes that his book can sway the odds in our favour.
Guillebeau also briefly delves into roaming entrepreneurship (travelling the world and running online businesses) sharing the experiences of an international wedding photographer and "language hacker" although it may be unrealistic in the Bangladeshi context.
Similarly, certain sections like using Paypal to receive payments and health insurance problems are not very relevant to local readers. Yet, there is still a lot of valuable business planning and digital marketing lessons to take away from this book for readers to potentially start their businesses.
Aspiring entrepreneurs will find themselves referring to this book over and over while building their businesses. I found my head buzzing with business ideas as I read it. The late Steve Jobs had once said, "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life", the book helps us not to.
(The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future; Edited by Chris Guillebeau, Crown Publishing Group, pp. 304)