In the write business

With its simple style and realistic approach to dealing with the challenges of a start-up, the book is a mustread for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Kartik Varma        Print Edition: December 2009

A truly good book teaches me better than to read it. I must soon lay it down, and commence living on its hint. What I began by reading, I must finish by acting.
— Henry D. Thoreau

Guy Kawasaki introduces his latest book, Reality Check, with the above quote. At 474 pages and 94 chapters, you wonder if you will ever get through the tome, leave alone act on it. While the book appears intimidating, it is anything but. Reality Check is one of the most comprehensive and easy-to-read guides on starting and operating companies, and highly recommended for first-time entrepreneurs in India.

Four years ago, when my business partner and I were contemplating starting iTrust, we were faced with the daunting prospect of formulating a business plan, pitching our idea to venture capitalists, raising money from them, negotiating the terms of funding, and identifying the important things to focus on during the early days of the start-up. I stumbled upon Kawasaki’s popular blog and his best-selling books on starting companies. Most of what I read was a dose of reality on what it takes to be an entrepreneur and an invaluable guide on the above-mentioned activities.

Reality Check is an updated compilation of what Kawasaki has written in the past on his blog and in his books, presented in a user-friendly manner. What I like most about his writing is that it is easy to follow and is virtually free of the jargon or catch-phrases that often plague business books. If you are looking for an academic treatise on start-up companies, this book will disappoint you. Reality Check is not going to give you the secret recipe that guarantees success in your chosen venture. It is, however, a practical guide on the different activities that are essential to creating and operating a company. You will be exposed to dozens of ideas that you might not have otherwise given enough importance to or might even have ignored. For instance, you can learn about how best to write an executive summary, why financial projections for your business for more than 18 months might be a stupid analytical activity, or how to write effective e-mails.

In terms of structure, the book is divided into sections that include fund raising, planning and executing, marketing, selling, communicating and building a team. Each chapter makes efficient and effective use of bullet points, Q&A, tables and lists, formats that add to the readability.

So while you might be tempted to use Reality Check as a textbook at the time of starting your enterprise, the format makes it far more engaging and interactive than any academic tome. No textbook can ever hope to be as irreverent either. With chapters having titles like ‘Top 10 Lies of Venture Capitalists’ and “Is your Boss an Asshole?” you know you are getting an in-yourface, no-holds-barred writing. Kawasaki’s style is indeed entertaining, and as a result, this book is far more effective in educating the reader than comparable books on the same subject. The content has definitely been the subject of countless authors and bloggers, but it is hard to find a tighter and better fitting compilation on start-ups. Most importantly, it provides a list of actionable steps, which can help you learn and act upon almost immediately, thereby improving the chances of successfully launching and managing your venture.

While the book is written from an American and Silicon Valley perspective, it carries universal tips that are applicable in the Indian context as well, albeit with a bit of localisation. We are seeing the emergence of a new generation of firsttime entrepreneurs, most of whom will find that reading this book can accelerate their learning and will be a call to action. Thoreau would truly have called Reality Check a “good book”.

Kartik Varma is co-founder, iTrust Financial Advisors, a leading financial advisory service.

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