It’s not often that entrepreneurs write books about their experiences; a strange thing considering the wealth of knowledge they accumulate over the years. South African entrepreneur Roger Norton has decided to do just that with his book Start Here: A Quick Guide to Building Startups.
In Start Here, Norton writes about all of the steps that entrepreneurs need to follow in order to take their idea to a business.
Ventureburn had a chance to chat to Norton about his book, the writing process, and what the now-author plans to do with this tome of information.
Ventureburn: Why did you decide to write Start Here?
Roger Norton: I’m often surprised at how few entrepreneurs know the fundamentals and have a very naive view of building tech startups. There is a lot of information out there but I find that a lot of the articles or books go very deep on a particular topic. What was missing was a high-level guide of the overall process, that would help entrepreneurs know what they should learn more about next.
I meet with quite a lot of entrepreneurs on a day to day basis and when I find myself repeating a topic, I write that out into a blog post (rant). Over time these added up and I decided to string them together and flesh them out for the book. By directing entrepreneurs to the book first, it helps me skip through the basics and get to the point that the entrepreneur really needs help with. Moving and learning fast is one of the biggest advantages of a small nimble startup and the direction of that focus is where I try help.
VB: Even though it is a guide to startups, are you only targeting new entrepreneurs or “older” ones as well?
RN: It’s a process to build any idea into a product and then a business. It’s the steps that you’ll need to follow regardless of if you’re a first-time entrepreneur or an “older” one.
VB: What has the writing process been like?
RN: Long. I probably had about 60% of the content already written in one way or another, but it was a 12-month feat to string it all together, making sure that you don’t repeat yourself and that the story flows. Then I gave it out to as many family and friends would read it and edited it down for another six months. I cut about 20% of the content at this stage to try and get it really tight, only to realise that I’ve now cut it down below what I need for a decent hardcover print run… So there will be some more edits and stories added before that happens.
VB: Why did you decide to self-publish instead of look for a publisher?
RN: I wrote the book to help the entrepreneurs that I’m already working with. If it can help others as well that’s great, but I’m not doing it for the money so trying to get a publisher on board didn’t really make sense.
I’m also not a professional author and by using a platform like LeanPub, it allowed me to focus on the content and structure and it takes care of all the literary things like contents pages and formatting. This makes it a lot less daunting. I can also control my own pricing and distribution, making changes and edits even after the ‘launch’. This makes it a lot less daunting and allows for the feedback learning loop.
VB: Will this be a book that is continually updated or is it complete as is?
RN: This is version one. I’ll go back and make minor updates every couple of months as I get feedback or my thinking evolves. I can definitely see myself doing a full overhaul at some point and adding in a lot more examples and experiences. I’ve also been working with David Campey to write the Lean Iterator Playbook (from leaniterator.com) which is kinda like a more technical manual than this, but it’s certainly an evolution on this thinking.
VB: One section you didn’t touch on are employees. When creating a startup, what are your thoughts on employees and company culture?
RN: Interesting point. To be honest I think that it’s most important to get the right co-founders in place as that will drive your work ethic and culture. From there you need to hire smart, hard-working people who get along with that culture. Founders are often jack-of-all-trades, so it’s important to always hire people smarter than you in at least one area.
Norton has also allowed us to published the first three paragraphs of the first chapter of his book. Look out for part two of this piece, which features a meatier extract.
Step 1: Identify a Problem
If you have an awesome idea for a new startup, stop. Write down your idea, put it away, and instead start by identifying the under-lying problem that you’re trying to solve.
Contrary to popular wisdom to “focus on solutions not problems”, building a startup is not about knowing what you want to build up front. It’s about knowing what problem you want to solve and constantly evolving your solution to better solve that problem.
The surest way to fail at building a startup is to try to build a particular product. Chances are, no one is going to really want it and, like thousands of other really well designed and built products, it’ll be a dead end. Look no further than Google Wave, Minidisks, Microsoft WebTV or Facebook Home: they’re some of the most well known, highly funded failures that were great solutions looking for problems. They overlooked a need from the customer by focusing instead on their technical solution. They were great concepts and products, but they didn’t originate from a customer need.
Start Here: A quick guide to building tech startups is available as an ePub, PDB, Mobi, and app from Leanpub here.