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Book Review: The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

“Imagine handing a letter to your boss that reads, “Dear Boss, I’m writing to let you know that your services are no longer required. Thanks for everything, but I’ll be doing things my own way now.” 

Imagine that today is your final day of working for anyone other than yourself. What if—very soon, not in some distant, undefined future—you prepare for work by firing up a laptop in your home office, walking into a storefront you’ve opened, phoning a client who trusts you for helpful advice, or otherwise doing what you want instead of what someone tells you to do?

All over the world, and in many different ways, thousands of people are doing exactly that. They are rewriting the rules of work, becoming their own bosses, and creating a new future.”

The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

 

Opening thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I’ve read a lot of books like this; business “how to” books on all the different elements one needs to start his own business. Most often they cover things like coming up with a genius idea, marketing, distribution..you know, the boring stuff. In fact, most of them are reminiscent of those university text books that made you wonder “Why on Earth am I learning this?” And even worse, they usually have you thinking, “Yeah, this ‘business’ stuff is way too complicated for me.”

The $100 Startup is refreshingly different. It’s not about stargazing and teaching you how to become a millionaire. It’s a simple, nuts and bolts approach to starting a business, aimed at people who don’t know where to start and don’t have a lot of money to play with. No fancy jargon or “secrets of the rich” stuff. In fact, more often than not it goes straight to the most important part: how to start getting sh*t done.

 

The author

The book is written by Chris Guillebeau (awesome last name, I must say), an entrepreneur, world traveller and blogger. I found the travel aspect of his lifestyle particularly interesting, which enticed me to read the book in the first place. One of his life goals was to visit every country in the world (which he has now done), something that I would also like to do. Needless to say, he’s lived an admirable life and undoubtedly has some wisdom worth sharing.

 

What’s it about?

The basic premise of the book is that you don’t need a lot of money to start a profitable business. The author aims to show, through real life examples, how people with no business experience can turn their passions and hobbies into an income, with the end goal of leaving their job and doing what they love for a living. Moreover, he aims to show it can be done for less than $100, as the title suggests.

 

What I liked

The thing I liked most about this book is that it didn’t over-complicate things. I find a lot of business books try to paint business out to be some mysteriously complex thing that just seems so overwhelming; so many fancy words and ideas, many of which are irrelevant to a newbie entrepreneur. The $100 Startup focuses on the basic premise of all businesses: making a sale. Go out and sell one mattress. Now you have a mattress business. Next step, sell two mattresses. Then three. It kind of makes you think, “Wow, that makes so much sense, and it’s actually not that hard.” You suddenly realise that 90% of the battle is just getting off your *** and getting started.

I also liked how there is minimal ‘theory’ in the book. Everything is based on real life examples; people who have actually started their own businesses and turned them into a profitable success.

I particularly enjoyed the case study of one guy who started a paleo diet business. After spending countless hours researching the theory behind the diet, he got fed up and thought it was too complicated to understand. Sensing that many others would feel the same way, he set up a website that didn’t bother to explain the diet at all. He simply laid out a eating plan, telling the user exactly what to eat for each particular meal. He didn’t try to sell users a 500 page book that said “eat steak and carrots because your body will digest it in a way that will be beneficial bla bla bla…” All he told them was, eat steak and carrots today. Full stop. He realised the user needed no further information for the diet to be effective, and so didn’t try to give any. The value was not only in the diet, but in the amount of time people saved by using his service. Today his website generates over $6,000 a month.

The book is full of simple examples such as this, dissected into relevant parts that are easy to understand. Any idiot author can write out hypothetical examples of starting a business.  True value is found in seeing the ways real life businesses have gone from startup to profit, and this is exactly what the book is loaded with. Guillebeau has done insane research for the book, interviewing over 1,000 budding entrepreneurs, and the value of that research certainly shows.

One final point that I thought was excellent was how he cautioned readers to think hard about turning their hobby into a business. Sometimes hobbies are best left as hobbies – things that you can simply enjoy as a pleasure of life. If you mix work and play, it can get to the point where you never get the chance to just ‘play’. It’s like when pro athletes get too tied up in the fame and money and forget how much they really love the game. For some people, the two are often best kept separate.

 

What I didn’t like

There are some examples where I felt he could go into a little more detail. For example, there are cases which he only touches on briefly, saying little more than “He decided to start a consulting business, he started a website, got his first client and now he has over 100 clients and makes $X per year.” I found cases like this didn’t add much value to the book, other than to prove that those particular types of businesses could work. Sometimes the most insightful details are the small ones. What kind of suit did he wear? What did he say to his first client?

I would have also liked more examples of ideas that had failed. It’s no secret that a large number of startups tend to go bust, so surely the author would have interviewed a few. I think these examples would have been far more insightful than the many success stories he decided to focus on. As the saying goes, you can’t expect to win unless you know why you lose.

Lastly, the title is a little misleading. Most examples in the book don’t start their businesses with less than $100 (although some do). However, it is encouraging that the majority of them do manage to get started with relatively little funds.

 

You should read this book if…

  • You’re one of those people who thinks of business ideas but never knows where to begin.
  • You’re afraid to take the first step in a venture.
  • You’re good at something arty (singing, dancing, writing, drawing, designing) and would like to make it your ‘job’.
  • You’re interested in building a side income with one of your hobbies or passions, or just a side income in general.
  • You want some guidance on starting a business without hearing words like “gross profit margin” and “return on equity”.
  • You’re just looking for a little inspiration from people who are living unconventional lives.

If you already own a successful business you may find the insights a little lacking, but for first time entrepreneurs I feel like there’s a valuable wealth of knowledge in this book. It’s also reassuring that the author has several successful ventures behind his name and is a well known internet personality. Something tells me he knows what he’s doing. At $10, it’s an absolute steal.

 

Bren rates it: 7/10


Photo credit: Stewart Butterfield (flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau

  1. Just came across this on a web search and I suppose it’s an old thread. But I’m just reading Chris’s book right now and actually finding it a bit discouraging. Most, if not all, of the people in the book had a lot of resources–high-paying jobs of abt $100k a year or more, lots of money in the bank, or friends/relatives with money, etc. But many of us today are struggling and have little in the bank and little money coming in. I wouldn’t be able to do what the mattress guy did, for example. He had money to buy the mattresses, rent a store front, transport the mattresses, etc.

    I say this because I’d like to hear ideas for people like me who really only have about $100. But I suspect that it really just isn’t possible to start a business unless one has the resources mentioned above…

    I admire Chris Guillebeau and think he wrote this book to encourage those of us struggling in this economy. I just think it isn’t always feasible for some of us who lack resources sadly.

    1. Hi Meri,
      Yes one of my criticisms that many people in the book didn’t actually have a true “$100 startup”. However, I hope by the time you finish the book you’ll find more examples that apply to you. One that pops off the top of my head was the girls who sold the maps – all they really did was start a website, which costs about $25. Also the guy who organised people’s frequent flyer points, as well as the guy who started the paleo website. Let me know if your thoughts change once you finish it!
      Bren

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