Book review: The $100 Startup

In March, I attended the SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas, and I had a chance to meet a few online personalities face-to-face, like former GRS staff writer Adam Baker of the Man vs. Debt blog. I also attended a session called The $100 Startup, a book reading led by Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity.

Long-time readers know that J.D. and Chris are good friends, which is why J.D.'s not reviewing this book. I, however, hadn't met Chris until attending his SXSW session. I'd like to think this would make me an unbiased book reviewer, but the truth is that the guy is just instantly likeable. His session that day felt much like it did to read his book: a personal conversation with a friend who sincerely wants to help you out.

So there's my disclaimer — nicest guy ever. Luckily for me, his book is a must-read for anyone who's harboring a desire to start a small business ('cause how awful would it be to have to write a scathing review of a book by the nicest guy ever?).

The Book's Beginnings

Chris has traveled to almost every country in the world and says he's met two kinds of people, those like himself who have the time and income to live the lifestyle they want, and those who feel trapped. So he set out to extract knowledge from the first group and boil it down into specific tactics and examples.

To say he did some serious research is an understatement. More than 1,500 entrepreneurs were considered for inclusion in the book. They had to meet the following qualifications:

  1. Make at least $50,000 per year from their business.
  2. Started the business on a very low budget. (The average cost of initial investment for entrepreneurs included in the book is $610, with a median cost of $125.)
  3. Willing to cough up financial data and demographics.

Chris interviewed more than a hundred people, pored over more than 4,000 pages of surveys, and made hundreds of phone calls to compile the most critical lessons into a blueprint. In other words, this is not The Secret. This is an actionable guide that you can customize.

Here's an excerpt from the introduction, in which Chris describes his goal for the book:

“What if you could achieve your own life of freedom by bypassing everything you thought was a prerequisite? Instead of borrowing money, you just start — right now — without a lot of money. Instead of hiring employees, you begin a project by yourself, based on your specific personal combination of passion and skill. Instead of going to business school (which doesn't actually train people to operate a small business), you save $60,000 in tuition and learn as you go.”

I know more than a few smart, capable, would-be entrepreneurs who never take the leap because of invisible barriers. “I don't have an MBA,” or “I need $50,000 from the bank.” Maybe you do need those things for some kinds of businesses, but throughout the book Chris shows example after example of people who started businesses they love without either of those things.

Related >> Anyone Can Start a Side Business

The Blueprint

The book is broken up into three major parts:

  1. Unexpected Entrepreneurs. This section covers how to connect your skills and interests with what other people want.
  2. Taking it to the Streets. In this section, the book digs into the details with a one-page business plan, guide for creating a “killer offer,” and how to raise funds, launch, and hustle for customers.
  3. Leverage and Next Steps. Here's where you learn about how to test pricing and positioning, create a franchise, grow in line with your goals, and push past failure.

Along the way Chris uses examples and stories from the real-life entrepreneurs he interviewed to illustrate each tactic. But let's talk specifics.

Here are my favorite takeaways from the dog-eared pages of my copy of The $100 Startup:

  • Action wins. “In the battle between planning and action, action wins,” writes Chris. He's not saying to leap without looking, he's saying that you could spend years tweaking a plan and never get your business off the ground. Then he gives you seven steps for market testing so you can stop dragging your heels and launch already.
  • Master the art of the non-sleazy hustle. Before I struck out on my own, the idea of selling myself was terrifying. It still is, but I've found a few ways to cope. Chris not only walks you through how to locate and segment your customers, he even gives you a script for a low-key sales pitch that you can customize. If I'd feel comfortable using it, I think anyone would.
  • Connect with people on a regular basis. It'd be easy for me to hole up and write for days on end, but creating is only half the equation. If you want to be successful, you have to devote time to connecting with others, too. “If you're not sure where to spend your business development time, spend 50% on creating and 50% on connecting,” writes Chris.
  • Profit is more important than tweeting. “On any given day, there are all kinds of things you can do that have nothing to do with making money,” he writes. In other words, forget tweaking your website or designing the perfect business card and go find some paying customers!
  • Experiment with pricing. Chris tells the story of one entrepreneur who made $35,040 more the year he tested his pricing. He found that the higher of two prices resulted in five fewer sales per 1,000 customers, but $355 more in revenue because of the higher price. “Experimenting with pricing is one of the easiest ways to create higher profits (and sustainability) in a business,” he writes.

Finally, one of my favorite parts of the book is the appendix in the back of 25 businesses, their offering, and the benefit. Everyone thinks they can identify features and benefits, but most people are bad at it. I'm not great at it myself. Instead of telling you “sell the benefits!” like so many business books do, Chris shows you how it's done. One example he gives is Paleo Plan, which offers a weekly diet and recipe guide. But what do customers really want? A plan? No, Paleo Plan customers want to take control of their health by eating naturally, while leaving the details to someone else. Chris says instead of teaching your customer to fish, just give them the fish! Give them what they actually want.

Related >> Book review: Eventual Millionaire

The Bottom Line

If you have zero desire to start a business or if your goal is to be the founder of a big Internet startup, this book isn't for you. But if you're interested in starting a small business doing something you're passionate about, I highly recommend it.

Reading The $100 Startup feels like having a coffee with a friend — a friend who gently tells you to drop your lame excuses (like needing a bank loan or a 30-page business plan), then gives you homework. It's the book I wish I had when I was trying to find my own path to self-employment.

More about...Books, Side Hustles

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
31 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
Kraig @ Young, Cheap Living
8 years ago

This is great stuff. Although I haven’t read this book (and I plan on it now), I do agree with these points. The one that sticks out most to me is, “Get out there and do it/Action Wins”. I’ve seen it first hand with starting my blog. I’m not a writer, but I’m passionate about personal finance and my point of view/strategy is quite unique. It turns out people actually like what I write. Now, I’m very much into blogging and am planning on going to the Financial Blogger Conference this fall to do some serious networking. It all happened… Read more »

Greg Miliates
Greg Miliates
8 years ago

You’re absolutely right: taking action is what leads to change. I’ve found this to be true in my own path, switching from employee to business owner.

It’s not always easy taking action though, and it can feel scary–even if you’re not doing anything risky. To get around that, I found that starting small, and tracking the actions I take helped me see the progress I was making, and made the process less daunting.

Greg Miliates
StartMyConsultingBusiness dot com

Josh @ Live Well Simply
Josh @ Live Well Simply
8 years ago

This sounds like a fascinating read. It’s on my reading list as of today. 🙂

John @ Married (with Debt)
John @ Married (with Debt)
8 years ago

Chris is a pioneer, which you can see from the legion of imitators. You can easily tell someone who has read his stuff, because their lifestyle design website usually looks EXACTLY like his.

That’s ok.

I’m really looking forward to this book, as I am in the midst of my own $100 startup.

Laura
Laura
8 years ago

This sounds like a great book. We are in the process of starting a business ourselves and a lot of what you said makes sense. We currently sell eggs and have been contemplating raising the price. Maybe it would be a good idea to test it even though we are selling at the going rate right now.

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago
Reply to  Laura

I’m going to presume you have a small, organic operation.

If so, don’t sell the eggs–sell the life your chickens lead, as contrasted to the horrors of factory chicken farms. Stress the fresh air, the freedom the birds have to run around and scrabble in the dirt–all the good stuff that people increasingly (and rightfully!) care about.

You’ll be able to charge quite a bit more.

Joe @ Retire By 40
Joe @ Retire By 40
8 years ago

My long term goal is to be self employed so this book sounds like it is a great read. Let me check if my library has it.

David
David
8 years ago

This sounds like it will be an interesting book to read.

It is always good to get fresh ideas and to study what it is that makes people successful.

But I know that the path to success is different for each person and is generally not duplicatable.

Joe D.
Joe D.
8 years ago

Excellent review, April. I’ll be reviewing it soon on my blog as well, as I was lucky enough to win a copy of the book from Chris’ site. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to start and grow a side business.

guinness416
guinness416
8 years ago

I think this is the fourth post I’ve come across in my rss reader this morning about this book. Overkill! Definitely looks interesting though, and I am looking forward to attending his Domination Summit in the summer to see if people are able to put the theory into practice.

SB @One Cent at a Time
SB @One Cent at a Time
8 years ago

This book is selling a dream. Unless you improve yourself and learn to manage your time and energy no book’s going to help you. I will try to come with business idea first before reading this.

Paul
Paul
8 years ago

Does this book fall into the category of an author making money by telling people how to make money? Sorta like Paris Hilton being famous for being famous? Just askin…

Greg Miliates
Greg Miliates
8 years ago

Yes, the book may be selling an aspirational dream, but it’s not an unrealistic dream. There are plenty of roads you can take to achieve that dream–or one like it. The biggest steps are in changing your worldview and taking action. Although changing your worldview might sound easy, it can take time. For me to shift from thinking like an employee (and complaining about my job, boss, etc.) to thinking like a business owner took time, and my thinking gradually shifted over the period of a year or so. Even then, it took me a while to get from the… Read more »

David Hunter
David Hunter
8 years ago

Gee, thanks April… Your review makes me want to run to the book store and pick up a copy. NO time to order from Amazon! haha

kbliven
kbliven
8 years ago

I already have a copy in the mail from the Only72 sale. Your review makes me wish for a speedier delivery.

Thanks for the review!

P.S. I think the heading “Profit is More Important than Tweeting” should be “Profit is More Important than Tweaking”. Definitely two different things.

David
David
8 years ago
Reply to  kbliven

I think that line is referencing all the companies / startups that obsess with having a presence on facebook / twitter / etc. rather than actually making a profit.

Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager
Jenna, Adaptu Community Manager
8 years ago

April – Are you coming to WDS?

Paula
Paula
8 years ago

This sounds like a great book and I will read it. When I was young, my ex-husband and I started our first business, at age 22, with under $20. This money was used to build a jig with which we used to earn our living. We revolutionized our segment of the cosmotology implement industry in the next thirty years and one business became four businesses. We were making a very good living but plowed all the earnings back into our businesses for the first fifteen years. Yes, you can jump in with both feet and go, in the beginning of… Read more »

Frugal Portland
Frugal Portland
8 years ago

I think I’m going to have to set aside time to devour this when I get home!

Marianne
Marianne
8 years ago

This sounds like a good read! My husband and I make a good team in that he is a dreamer and comes up with lots of ‘great’ money-making ideas and I am the realist that brings him back down to earth. I often wonder though if I am holding him back a bit too much as I am good at coming up with all the ‘excuses’.

shaunt
shaunt
8 years ago

Went to buy it but was twice the price on kindle than to actually but the book. Weird!

Warp3
Warp3
8 years ago
Reply to  shaunt

I found that very odd as well. Strangely, the Nook version is only $12.99, though ($10 less than the Kindle version).
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/100-startup-chris-guillebeau/1105608055?ean=9780307951526

Ms Life
Ms Life
8 years ago

I will definitely order this book – I hope they make deliveries to Austria! It seems like a good read.

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago

Thanks for the article. I shared it with a friend who is starting up a cleaning business. She’s taking over clients from a pg friend and has NO business experience and as far as I know she’s taking all of her advice from the friend and hasn’t done any research regarding owning a busines and self-employment. =( Perfect timing. Thanks!

Paul
Paul
8 years ago

Checking the public library today to see if they have a copy. My kids and I recently launched a company with $228.50.

http://shaferpower.com/category/the-bottom-line/

Michael Palmer
Michael Palmer
8 years ago

This is a great book, and I think we need more entrepreneurs out there starting small businesses that will hopefully grow into large businesses someday. I think it’s important though to first gain some specific knowledge and skill that you can offer. That knowledge and skill may first need to be gained from working for a good company for a while. I don’t think it’s wise to just go out and start a business right out of school – for most people anyways.

Ace Johnson
Ace Johnson
8 years ago

I have to get this book! I think it will help me greatly to get ideas on how to market myself as a business of being a Comic/Host/M.C. I really enjoy Talking to groups of people and enjoy interacting with them. I hope I will get an idea from this book that will help me get going!

Helen Raptoplous
Helen Raptoplous
7 years ago

Excellent review! You really opened up my mind as to what a good book review looks like, thank you! I read this book and LOVED it! I could not put it down and found great inspiration, story after story. People from all walks of life with all different talents, took action and made some awesome things happen. I was in great awe of how “Naomi Dunford” went from living in a shelter (high school drop out and single mom) to creating a business where she gives marketing feedback and advice because that is something she is good at. Her business… Read more »

Bing
Bing
7 years ago

I bought the book several months ago but have failed to read it. I’m going to to start today as I have let “excuses” get in my way of being successful. Very excited to start and pleased I read the blog.

Imran Ali
Imran Ali
7 years ago

A very thorough review of the book and you gave your honest opinion. I am actually going to buy this book. Keep up the good work!

Ian Hibbard
Ian Hibbard
5 years ago

Considering you might have read through books, which others haven’t read and probably few other people have even heard of, what’s important, is that you’ve entered them and come out of that experience enriched because of it. Emerging as you become emboldened through the experience of participating in a different perspective for a while, that’s the authentic strength of an excellent book!

shares