On 13 August 2018, Forbes Magazine featured Kylie Jenner as the world's youngest "self-made" billionaire at the age of just 21 based on the success of her make-up brand 'Kylie Cosmetics.' The term "self-made" was much contested in her case. Indeed while Kylie was able to promote and sell "lip kits" using the substantial number of followers she has amassed over social media platforms like Snapchat, it is impossible to attribute her success to this alone.
Specifically, she had access to many privileges in terms of exposure and connections garnered because of the highly successful reality TV show 'Keeping Up with The Kardashians' - where she is one of the core characters. She had no trouble raising capital for her start-up given that she was supposedly paid over half a million dollars per episode on the show.
Kylie's fame, status and existing wealth helped her business take off and become highly profitable. The existence of these unfairly advantageous components is what the book written by two investors/entrepreneurs Ash Ali and Hasan Kubba titled, 'The Unfair Advantage: How You Already Have What It Takes to Succeed' is all about.
The authors define unfair advantages as a "competitive upper hand" that is unique to an individual or a start-up and posit that, "success in the start-up world is not simply awarded to the hardest workers. It is awarded to those who develop and use their Unfair Advantages."
In its early stages, the unfair advantages of a start-up depend on those of its founders. That is why during a pitch, investors prefer to interview the founders first. In the book, the authors highlight the different types of unfair advantages to shed light on the success of different start-ups and individuals like Mark Zuckerberg, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Evan Spiegel.
Moreover, using the MILES framework, the authors help the reader identify their unfair advantages so that they can leverage them for business success. Everyone has unfair advantages, but not everyone is aware of them or can leverage them for success in business or life.
What does MILES stand for? Each letter in the framework represents a different type of unfair advantage namely: 'Money, intelligence and insight, location and luck, education and expertise, and status,' which the authors dig deep into.
To illustrate, young Mark Zuckerberg was able to invest $85,000 into Facebook, his start-up, which gave him the necessary financial leverage to scale his business (unfair advantage: money). He also had the privilege to study and found Facebook at Harvard, a prestigious university where he could use the status of the university to make it accessible to Harvard students and later other Ivy-league college students to grow his network before he opened it up to the world (status).
On the other hand, Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin used their intelligence and industry expertise regarding search engine algorithms to overtake its competitors.
The book comprises three parts: 'Understand', 'audit' and 'the start-up quick-start guide' which guides readers towards learning about unfair advantages, identifying their own using the MILES framework and integrating it into their potential or existing start-up pitches.
Two concepts highlighted in the book stood out for me while I read it. The first is the role of luck in success. The authors are very clear that simply hard work is not enough to achieve success (for example, a firm spending a lot of resources and money developing a product for which there is no sustainable demand). That is why it is important to work both hard and smart by leveraging our unfair advantages.
Billionaire investor Warren Buffet was once quoted to say that he had won the 'ovarian lottery' by being born in America where he could leverage his genius in the country's financial markets. The book recommends readers be more susceptible to opportunities and aim towards increasing their presence in the world by becoming more noticeable via social media, blogs, social events and taking more chances in general. Aptly, they said, "it's like rolling a dice until you get a double six on a pair of dice, and you can roll as many times you like."
The second notable concept in the book is about mindset which reinforces all the unfair advantages in the MILES framework. Specifically, the authors draw comparisons between a growth and fixed mindset where the former involves believing that we can develop our intelligence and hard work to achieve anything and the latter involves believing that we are naturally good at some things and not at others.
Realistically, the authors advocate for a hybrid 'reality-growth mindset' which involves being mindful of our limitations while recognising that those limitations are more malleable than we think.
Despite being highly informative, the content fell short in some areas. For example, while the framework of unfair advantage developed in the book is useful for understanding the success of different founders and celebrities, I wish they developed this point further with more detailed profiles of individuals like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or even Donald Trump.
Similarly, the final section of the book reads like any other typical business book other than the part discussing how we can leverage our unfair advantages while trying to pick co-founders or raise capital from investors. Honestly, the idea of unfair advantages was interesting enough without relating it to starting or growing our start-ups but I suppose the authors felt like framing it as a book for entrepreneurs was good for business.
Lastly, who is this book for? The authors will tell you it is for anyone interested in launching their successful start-up or wanting to take it to the next level. While the tips on finding suitable co-founders and raising funds and pitching are definitely interesting, I would argue that the first two sections of the books should be read by anyone interested in understanding what it takes to become successful; it is not luck or hard work but a mixture of both.
The book is rated 4.2/5 on Goodreads and I found it insightful enough to keep reading till the end.