Category Archives: reading

Discovering the MaRS #startupbookclubTO: The $100 Startup

After a great day at work, I bundled up against the cold and squeezed into the rush-hour crowd on my way to to the MaRS Startup Book Club at 101 College Street. I wondered if it would be like The Jane Austen Book Club or more like the 400+-person entrepreneurship events I’d gone to at MaRS. I didn’t know what to expect. I think it was my first book club meeting ever.

I’d gone through my emergency stash of business cards at an unexpected clip, and I still hadn’t gotten around to experimenting with Moo-based sketchnote cards. On a whim, I footed it to a nearby shop and got a hundred copies made of my sketchnote of The $100 Startup. I figured that since we were going to discuss the book, my sketchnote would be a handy thing to give to people instead of a business card. Fortunately, I’d had the foresight to include contact information on the sketch.

Still-warm copies stashed safely in my bag, I dashed to MaRS a few minutes late. I found the room at the back of MaRS and walked in slightly breathless – to find my sketchnotes preceding me, printed out on individual large sheets (11”x17”?) for each attendee. Did that ever send me over the moon!

20120509-sketchnotes-100-dollar-startup

It was fantastic! We started with a round of introductions coupled with favourite stories from the book. For me, looking at the fish drawing reminded me right away of that point that sometimes you shouldn’t teach a person to fish, you should just keep it simple and give them the darn fish. We talked about joint ventures and strategic alliances. We talked about delegating. We talked about testing ideas and dealing with failures. We talked about building confidence.

And boy, were there ever so many book recommendations… I recognized some of the books like Predictably Irrational, and many were completely new to me. Fellow bookworms! Other people who fill index cards and type notes with thoughts and quotes and ideas from books! I think I’m going to have so much fun swapping notes with people.

It was generally agreed that The $100 Startup was an easy read, the kind of thing you’d give to people who are interested in starting their own business, but perhaps less of a recommendation for people who are already neck-deep in the Startup Owner’s Manual or things like that. I’m a relative newbie (I’m only just getting to apply those things I’ve been reading about for years!), so I got a lot out of this book, and I’ve been experimenting with the ideas in it.

You know that feeling you get when you stumble across somewhere you actually, surprisingly fit in? Your tribe? I think this might be another great tribe to belong to. =) I have sooooo much to learn about business, and I think this is a great place to start.

Thanks for organizing this, Keri Damen and Marielle Voksepp! Can’t wait to get to know the others and to read the next book.

Interested in joining the book club? There doesn’t seem to be a separate LinkedIn group for it yet, but you can probably reach out to Marielle over Twitter and ask to be added to the mailing list.

Process: Reading nonfiction books

Process - Reading nonfiction books

Here I resolve to use book darts more often, to review my notes more deliberately, and to try sketchnoting ideas instead of being intimidated by the task of summarizing an entire book on a single page. I’m happy with the ones I did, but they’re hard to do because they require a much closer reading! <laugh>

I like drawing about how I do things. It’s more fun than describing the process with text, and I can annotate it with opportunities for improvement.

Visual book review: Enough, by Patrick Rhone

20120321-book-enough-0

enough is a collection of essays by Patrick Rhone on the idea of having enough. He compares it to the dynamic process of balancing on a tightrope, where you have to find your own centre of balance and you’ll always need some kind of help – stretching your arms, using a bar or an umbrella, and so on. In addition to reflections on minimalism and limiting life to make it comprehensible, he includes thoughts on technology, tools, behavioural change, and other life tips.

There are many books in this field, from John C. Bogle’s book with the same main title (Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life, affiliate link), to Leo Babauta’s The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life, affiliate link). Patrick Rhone’s book isn’t particularly packed with mind-boggling or life-changing insights, but it might still be an enjoyable read for a quiet, reflective afternoon, particularly if you also have a technology-related background or find yourself occasionally tempted down the path of more apps! more tools! more gadgets! (Not that I know anyone like that, no….)

enough
Patrick Rhone, 2012
Kindle e-book

See other visual book notes!

Visual book review: Critical Inquiry: The Process of Argument

book-critical-inquiry

I first read this book in October 2010 while scrambling to learn as much as I could about communication and rhetoric in preparation for marriage. Since then, there have been zero household arguments, which is not a bad thing. Fortunately, the Internet, newspapers, and books provide a steady stream of logical fallacies that let me exercise the skills I picked up from this book.

The insight that stuck with me from this book was that you should repair holes in your opponents’ arguments—argue their case more strongly than they did—before demolishing the strengthened arguments. People rarely do this, but I’ve seen a couple of good examples on the political/feminist blogs I read.

It reminds me of what we need to do in order to help people deal with their concerns to new ideas or technologies. It’s not enough to fight against straw-man arguments. You may need to be more concerned about people’s concerns than they are, before you can help them find a way forward.

Critical Inquiry: The Process of Argument
Michael Boylan (Westview Press: 2009) – ISBN 978-0813344522

See other visual book notes!

Visual book notes: How to Read a Book

20120306-visual-book-notes-how-to-read-a-book

(Click on the image for a larger version of the notes.)

Whenever I want to pick up more tips on how to read better, I turn to How to Read a Book. This is not some speed-reading manual that overpromises and underdelivers. It’s a thoughtful, practical guide to getting the most out of your reading: picking the right speed for a book, taking better notes, building a topical index of books and their relationships with each other… (Still working on that!) The book has plenty of tips for reading specific subjects, and even includes exercises to help you improve your skills.

If you already enjoy reading books, this is probably going to be a fantastic book for you. If you’re working on getting more books into your life, this might have some tips that will help you read more strategically.

How to Read a Book
Mortimer J. Adler and Charles van Doren
New York: Simon & Schuster 1972 Rev. ed.
ISBN: 0-671-21209-5

Visual book notes: 6 Secrets to Startup Success

20120229-book-notes-6-secrets-to-startup-success

(Click on the image to see a larger version, which could be good for reading my teeny-tiny handwriting. If you need a text version instead of an image, leave a comment or e-mail me at [email protected].)

You know how I was looking for books about people-centered entrepreneurship? Checking the Amazon list of books on new enterprises led me to 6 Secrets for Startup Success by John Bradberry. Its main point is that entrepreneurs tend to fall in love with their ideas and end up ignoring reality. Bradberry points out six common failures associated with being too attached to your idea, and suggests ways to avoid those pitfalls. One of those ways is to focus on people instead of on your product or service idea. This is more of an overview book than a step-by-step guide with concrete tactics, but it’s a good wake-up call if you’re starting to get lost in your own dreams.

In addition to the chapter about focusing on people, I particularly liked the chapter on figuring out your math story. Bradberry points out that companies go through different stages and that your core question is different in each stage. In the first stage, the question is: “Do we have a concept that anyone (other than us) cares about?” After you successfully answer that question through prototypes and experiments, you can move on to the question, “Can we actually make money at this? How?” Validating your business model lets you move on to the next question, “Is this business scalable? How can we create significant value over time?” Many businesses struggle because they get all wrapped up in the third question before they’ve answered the first. It’s a good idea to keep those considerations in mind, of course, but it’s important to pay attention to the steps that will get you to that point instead of jumping ahead and pretending you’re a huge company.

What I’m learning from this book: Yes, it seems to make sense to focus on people and let them teach you what they want. (The Lean Startup makes this point as well.) There’s room in the world for wildly visionary companies, but it’s perfectly okay (and much less risky) to start by creating something people already want.

Whom this book is great for: Worried that you’re getting too wrapped up in your entrepreneurial vision? This book might help as a reality check. If you like answering questionnaires as a way of learning more about yourself, you’ll also want to check out the appendix, which has a long self-assessment for founder readiness.

You may also be interested in The Lean Startup (Eric Ries, 2011; see my visual book notes), which has lots of good ideas for testing your business and iterating your way towards success. The Lean Startup book will help translate the chapters on the pull of the market and startup agility into concrete terms.

6 Secrets to Startup Success: How to Turn Your Entrepreneurial Passion into a Thriving Business
John Bradberry
2011, AMACOM
ISBN: 978-0814416068

Buy this book: Amazon.com (Hardcover, Kindle), Amazon.ca
If you buy stuff through the links above, I get a small commission, yay! Commission-free links: Google Books, Toronto Public Library