Cruising the airport magazine stand while airing for the departure of my flight to London last week, the cover of the Chris Guillebeau’s new book, $100 Start-Up caught my eye. My ipad was already loaded with reading material, including Eric Ries’ Lean Start Up which I’d put off reading for months, so I wasn’t in the market for a hard-covered book. But as I skimmed the jacket, I saw that Guillebeau had also authored The Art of NonConformity, and I recalled that I’d purchased one of his ebooks online years ago and which I enjoyed both for the content and the design. So feeling as if I knew the author, I bought the book. And didn’t put it down until near the end of the flight.
Leaving aside the new age-y subtitle (Reinvent the way you maybe a living do what you love and create a new future), $100 Start Up is a solid practical guide to making the most of limited resources to start a company. In many ways, $100 Startup the practical, common folk complement to Ries’ more sophisticated, business-oriented Lean (which I’m still working through) in that it provides a template for how anyone can bootstrap a business out of few hundred dollars.
Although $100 Startup doesn’t feature any lawyers or startup firms (Guillebeau specifically limited his interviews of entrepreneurs to those who didn’t have any special training or skills, so there aren’t any professionals included), the transferability of many of the concepts is self-evident. Though it takes more than $100 to start a law firm, it’s heartening to know that tons of money and infrastructure aren’t integral to success. In addition, many solo lawyers looking for an extra stream of revenue can also reference $100 Start Up for ideas on how to quickly earn money to supplement their incomes.
Key to the $100 Start Up is the concept of “niche” or what I’m now calling app-ification of law practice. After all, if you don’t have much money you need to focus relentlessly. The first couple of chapters are intended to help readers identify a narrow business concept that inspires and excites them, while providing a service or product that potential customers want. Guillebeau illustrates the selection process with a matrix with boxes for passion; skill; problem and opportunity — fill in all four, and you’ve got a business concept.
Guillebeau is also immensely detailed about the transition from idea to implementation. His 39 step “launch checklist” is designed for introduction of a specific product like an ebook – though it could just as easily be used to promote a law firm seminar or open house. Guillebeau also discusses ways to market what you’re selling through strategic use of free content giveaways and of course, social media. There’s also some interesting discussion of pricing – and while the actual numbers aren’t much use to lawyers, the explanation of the underlying psychology of pricing and the benefits of pricing higher but selling less are informative. The last part of the book discusses the potential for growing the $100 startup as well as potential exit strategies.
Again, there’s some stuff in here that may make good lawyers cringe. The sample “partnership” agreement for $100 startups that Guillebreau includes is just a few lines long and a potential recipe for disaster. Clearly, $100 start ups don’t have much money to spend but even a template from Legal Zoom or Nolo are probably safer than what is proposed in the book. Some of the email marketing recommendations border a bit on spammy and of course, it goes without saying that you need to consult your local ethics rules before opening a side venture or adopting some of the techniques.
Still, $100 Start Up inspired me. It reminded me of how fortunate we lawyers are to live an age where building something out of nothing is easier than ever, and how all of us hold the capacity to change our future if we focus on the possibilities while putting one foot in front of the other.