Anticipating the Ups and Downs of Entrepreneurship
The only thing worse than a soul-sucking job pushing papers is handing out résumés in search of one. In today’s tight job market, more people are reaching this conclusion and opting to try their hand at starting a small business. Becoming an entrepreneur is a high-risk choice with as many opportunities for failure as for reward. From the halls of academia to the corporate trenches, spring arrives with a wealth of wisdom for the budding entrepreneur. But even with a lot of great titles crowding the shelves, the following six books stand out. Together they highlight some of the most fascinating steps of the entrepreneur’s journey, including the dream, challenges, success, and even the difficult topic of what to do when dreams fail.
With its firsthand accounts from some of the most legendary startups in the marketplace today, Creating a Business You’ll Love: Top Entrepreneurs Share Their Secrets (Sellers Publishing, 978-1-4162-0641-5) will inspire even the most hesitant entrepreneur and offer some valuable perspective for the already committed.
Edited by Mark Chimsky-Lustig, this collection stands on depth and introspection rather than star power. Sure, the big names appear, with contributions from Starbucks’ Howard Schultz and Craig Newmark of craigslist. But essays like Corcoran Group founder Barbara Corcoran’s sharp self-examination of her shortcomings and her strengths make this book rise above the dozens of similar collections.
The small business section of most bookstores is awash with titles on how to write a business plan, the legal ins-and-outs of owning a company, and so on. And while these books address important issues, they rarely touch on the more abstract challenges that regularly contribute to burnout among startups.
With a highly analytical approach, Harvard Business School Tukman Faculty Fellow Noam Wasserman identifies the very specific internal pressures that often push entrepreneurs into making harmful business decisions. The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup (Princeton University Press, 978-0-691-14913-4) draws from both Wasserman’s own research as well as others’ to create a statistical image of the challenges that business owners face. Wasserman illustrates his findings with real-world examples that translate into immediately applicable advice. But rather than creating a prescriptive list of commandments that would be impossible to follow, he adopts a more holistic approach. Encouraging entrepreneurs to study how others have handled similar challenges in the past, his insights highlight the common ground found in seemingly unique situations.
For example, Wasserman’s studies show that each layer of social connectedness (e.g., golf buddies, romantic partnerships, etc.) between people who start a business together adds a nearly 30 percent increase to the likelihood of one of the founders leaving. But rather than discouraging friends and family from working together, Wasserman notes, “they should make sure that they proactively analyze the potential consequences of their prior relationships,” and then he offers a series of steps to reduce the risks of a fallout.
Adopting a more journalistic approach, Inc. magazine columnist Meg Cadoux Hirshberg picks up where Wasserman leaves off by examining the pressures that running a business puts on an entrepreneur’s spouse and children, whether or not they’re actively involved in the family business. For Better or For Work: A Survival Guide for Entrepreneurs and Their Families (INC., 978-0-9839340-0-4) provides a rich source of anecdotes and insights from both the author’s own experience and information she has gathered through interviews. Using a standard self-help format, Hirshberg ends each chapter with four actions for the entrepreneur to take and four discussion points for the entrepreneur to have with his or her family. These range from the simple yet essential, “spend relaxed, informal time with your kids,” to the uncomfortable question every couple needs to ask about their new startup: “Are there circumstances under which you would consider pulling the plug?”
From time to time, even the best ideas sputter and the surest startups falter. Not only is it important to know when it’s time to stop wasting energy on a failed project; entrepreneurs need to know they can handle that crisis when it arrives. John Izzo’s Stepping Up: How Taking Responsibility Changes Everything (Berrett-Koehler, 978-1-60994-057-7) is an excellent tool for businesses and individuals encountering more problems than profits. Blending social and family examples with business scenarios, Izzo offers a model of self-empowerment to form stronger community and business leaders. Or, as he observes, “[People] may sometimes go too far, but by giving them power we encourage them to act like leaders.”
For the toughest times, major corporations employ crisis management teams and plans. Written with both work-a-day people and entrepreneurs in mind, Jim Moorhead’s The Instant Survivor: Right Ways to Respond When Things Go Wrong (Greenleaf Book Group, 978-1-60832-244-2) scales the big business approach into a usable personal tool for those at the startup level. In the first three steps, divided over eleven chapters, Moorhead illustrates how to stay cool when a crisis breaks and how to build a support network. It’s well arranged and well cited, but Moorhead’s background in crisis management really shows in his forward-looking fourth step. By teaching how to conduct life audits and anticipate crises, he guides readers from reactionary management to proactive prevention.
With all the challenges entrepreneurs face, it can be difficult to think in terms of success. But success happens! And in today’s interconnected marketplace, success comes more often to adventurers who see how their ideas operate not just in their home country, but globally. However, expanding a business’s scope from provincial to international can be one of the most daunting trials faced during the startup of any venture.
With its generalized approach to conduct, rather than a specialized examination of regional customs, Ruth Stark’s How to Work in Someone Else’s Country (University of Washington Press, 978-0-295-99136-8) reduces the challenges of working across cultures to basic civility and simple preparedness. Stark draws upon her thirty-plus years of experience working around the world with a variety of government and non-government-based institutions in this wonderfully distilled guide. Her advice is well written, thoughtfully indexed, and expressed with the same careful consideration that has carried Emily Post’s Etiquette through eighteen editions.
Stark closes her book with a “profile of the effective international worker.” From technical competence to positive attitudes, Stark highlights not just skills critical to people working overseas, but strengths all entrepreneurs must find within themselves to succeed.
Investing in Main Street
A seismic shift has disrupted the old traffic patterns of Main Street, USA. Americans of all stripes (blue and red) have started taking a hard look at where their money goes. Even those not camping out on Wall Street have begun to wonder if speculation in the stock market is necessarily their wisest investment choice. These books examine financial strategies that consider people and the environment, and not just the bottom line.
With healthcare reform being one of the top issues of the day, Pavithra K. Mehta and Suchitra Shenoy’s Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion (Berrett-Koehler, 978-1-60509-979-8) is as timely as it is fascinating. Since 1976, the Aravind Eye Care System has treated over thirty-two million patients, most of whom live in extreme poverty, at little or no cost to them. Avarind refuses donations and still remains profitable. Mehta and Shenoy’s work combines the best aspects of journalism and biography to create a compelling, well researched look at one of the most amazing business models in the world today.
Expanding the idea of compassion-based commerce, Louis Böhtlingk’s Dare to Care: A Love-Based Foundation for Money and Finance (Cosimo Books, 978-1-61640-550-2) offers readers a holistic approach to finance based on a care-first concept. Or, as Böhtlingk explains, “money is being used in service of the well-being of people and the Earth, and not at their expense.” While many readers will be comfortable with ideas like socially responsible investing and fair trade, some may find Böhtlingk’s call to shift from a debt-based to an energy-based monetary system unorthodox and even radical. Regardless of their convictions, Dare to Care is thought provoking and worth their reading.
Two other new business titles offer close examination of the community-centric shifts changing the country. From Monica M. Emerich readers have the first analytical study of the Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability, or LOHAS, movement. The Gospel of Sustainability: Media, Market, and LOHAS (University of Illinois, 978-0-252-03642-2) offers a thoroughly cited look at the numbers and philosophies driving the LOHAS movement. And that’s no small task. From the relationship of profit to people, and of the planet to the benefits of living simply, the LOHAS movement is as much about having a sustainable lifestyle as it is a discourse about capitalism and the best use of a planet’s limited resources.
Michael Shuman’s complementary book, Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity (Chelsea Green Publishing, 978-1-60358-343-5) is an excellent guide for people looking for ways to make their money work within their own communities. It is also a call to action. While most Americans think of investors as residents of Wall Street rather than Main Street, Shuman zeroes in on the investments made daily by the majority of the population. “Most of us invest passively, giving our money to private companies through stocks and bonds,” he observes. “Even those of us who only keep our money in savings or checking accounts in a bank are investors, since we’re really equipping the bank to lend to these businesses.” From “buy local” campaigns and community banking to the revival of regional exchanges, Shuman discusses ideas old and new as he explores ways to strengthen community along with individual financial security.