When Zach Strom of CED approached me about whether I would be interested in writing a guest post for this blog, he and I had a great conversation about how the processes of launching a startup and writing a book have a lot in common. We agreed that the blog’s readers might appreciate some observations on that theme.
From my experience with both, here are a few principles that apply well to both writing a book and launching a business:
- Be clear about the “why”. Whether you are writing a book or launching a business, not all reasons are created equal. My book-writing commitment was driven by my curiosity and my desire to learn. So I spent a year and a half researching instead of writing. I conducted 55 hours of interviews, reviewed 51 books, absorbed 83 research papers, and catalogued over 500+ online blogs, websites, and magazines. From beginning to end, the process of getting a book published took about four years. A different business author, driven by different reasons (to promote a product, for example) might want to get their book to market as quickly as possible. They might choose a self-publishing route rather than my longer, more deliberate approach. There is no single right way to go about it. What’s right for you will depend on your motivations and your goals.
The same principle applies to the entrepreneurial process. Whenever a founder tells me that they are launching a startup, my first question is “Why?”. What is driving you? Is it a desire for wealth? Are you building something to sell or hoping to create a lifestyle business? Are you driven by a need for autonomy, a great product idea, to get away from an awful boss, take weekends off (a laughable concept for most entrepreneurs), or to launch a world-changing cause?
Some reasons pack more motivational punch than others, and your purpose and motivation will drive (or at least should drive) how you approach your venture, who you enlist to join you, and many other aspects of your startup equation.
- Don’t get too attached to your earliest ideas. Accomplished writers recognize the truth in the well-known phrase “writing is revising.” Looking back, I’d estimate that 75% of my “writing” time was spent reviewing, editing and revising material that I had already written. That included throwing out plenty of cherished paragraphs and pages. I had to learn to not fall in love with my early ideas or drafts. They were usually nothing more than starting points.
In the same way, many thriving businesses look nothing like what the founders thought they were creating. Apple, Google, and Microsoft were not the first ideas of their founders. So, whether writing a book or launching a business, don’t fall in love with your first idea. One of the keys to startup success is a quality I call focused flexibility, where entrepreneurs are able to commit wholeheartedly to an idea while also remaining open to changing it.
- Be realistic about how much time and effort are required. Writing a book and launching a venture almost always require much more time, effort, and money than first estimated or hoped. You will have your good days, where things go better than expected. You’ll also hit a few brick walls and encounter thickets of resistance and disappointment. At times, you’ll be smothered by writer’s block, and will fall behind your optimistic schedule.
But whether writing a book or launching a startup, don’t be deterred. Move with speed but prepare for the long haul. This means being well resourced as well as frugal, and being personally resilient so that you can withstand the ups and downs of the startup journey. All of those success stories on the covers of Inc. or Entrepreneur magazines have their own histories of doubt and adversity. In the end, stamina and perseverance will rule the day. Staying power is a huge differentiator between failure and success.
- Focus on your audience (or market). Whether you are going for a traditional publisher or self-publishing, a simple principle will prevail: If you want to have an impact beyond your friends and family, the only true validation of your work is the marketplace. I tested my book concept early by attending a “pitch conference” in Manhattan, where I had a chance to pitch my book idea to a combination of publishers, agents, and other authors. The experience was invaluable, and humbling. People didn’t care so much about some of the concepts I was most passionate about, and I scrambled back to square one.
Another galvanizing moment of truth came when I first secured a literary agent, who encouraged me to throw out much of my original manuscript and to whittle it down to a simpler, more powerful premise. The end result was a publishing deal and a book of which I’m proud. Thankfully, I paid attention to early signals from the publishing marketplace.
In much the same way, an aspiring entrepreneur’s business concept has no real validity until it endures the scrutiny of paying customers. An idea isn’t great until the market says it is. Founding teams that get this concept and figure out how to allow the market to shape their products over time will enjoy greatly enhanced odds of success.
John Bradberry is CEO of Ready Founder Services, providing consulting services and products to early stage ventures and investors. He is the author of 6 Secrets to Startup Success, published in March by the American Management Association (AMACOM).