Start-up. Scale-up. Wise-up.

Published 10.11.2018

In each and every start-up there is a constant. An idea. A spark that lit the fire beneath someone and got them on the path to building a business. Most of these ideas don’t even get as far as becoming a real business.

Were they bad ideas? Not necessarily.

I am contacted by a vast array of start-ups. Working with them is a huge part of my job. And something I love. One of the first pieces advice, or nuggets of wisdom I give is ‘Ideas are the easy bit. Execution tough. Winning customers even tougher.’

One of the biggest killers of bid ideas is the founder’s comfort zone. Stay in it and you fail. Outside of it is where the magic happens.

Any founder that doesn’t get their head around sales and marketing, getting traction, winning customers and driving scale – is doomed. Getting funding was easy five years ago. You just needed the idea. Today you need proof of concept. And customers. Or your funding is virtually impossible to get.

So being focused purely product is doomed. Every start-up should be 50% focused on product and 50% focused on gaining traction. As said brilliantly in one of the books I will talk about later.

If you cannot get traction, even the best idea is doomed.

In the comfort zone, which I get exposed to far too much is not just what the founder is good it. It’s what has worked before. The first I understand. The second is madness. Or ego. Or stupidity. And certainly always bullshit.

Sure, learn lessons from your past… but what worked once, worked because it was the right thing to do in that context. And with a new proposition or idea, we must relearn, retest, rethink and be humble enough to reduce ourselves to being a blank page and an open mind.

The worst thing I ever hear is ‘when I did xxx’. It’s history. It’s gone. It’s the past. Stop sitting in your comfort zone. And start looking at ‘what if’, ‘what could be’ and ‘what next’.

Comfort zones kill big ideas.

Brutal? Maybe. Fact. Absolutely. The best work anyone has ever done is when they step out of there comfort zone. I know it isn’t easy. I HATE coming out of my comfort zone. And the older I’ve got the less I want to do it.

But the more important it is.

Now, I love good reading list. Today I considered which six books are the right ones to guide a start-up founder from idea through to execution then traction and then, ultimately, into profitability. In order of the kind of challending thinking

Here they are. And in the best interests of simplicity there’s only five. And no, before you ask I am not on Marty Neumeier’s payroll. He’s just really bloody good.

Now, in order of which to read to read first, here they are. But I’d read them all. Fast. Keep an open mind. What think you know. Un-think it.

I get one bit of feedback on this list all the time… ‘Why isn’t Sinek’s ‘Start with a Why’ in this list?’ Honestly… because I think the book is more powerful to shock existing brands back into good brand behaviour, than it is for start-ups and early stage businesses. These books are better suited for the start-up and early stages of business.

So, here’s the list – the very minimum as founder should be reading:

Idea stage…
The Brand Flip. By Mart Neumeier

Marty says the theme of this book is ‘Why customer now run companies – and how to profit from it. It’s a book that will shift your thinking, from your produce to your customers and back to your product. One of the greatest lines in the book… ‘People are not focused on products, but meaning.’

It’s brilliant. Arresting. Provocative. Quick to read. And tackles brand in a way that only Marty can do. If you love it – read Zag too. It’s genius. And was close to being the featured number one. But enough of the content and theory of Zag that matters, is captured here for this book to win. Just.

Execution stage…
The Lean Start-up. By Eric Ries.

‘How constant innovation created radically successful businesses’ – this is the bootstrap guide to life. This book is essential reading. In an era of limited resource, high expectation and massive competition it’s critical reading. PLEASE read this.


Getting your first customers…
Traction. By Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares.

This is a superb read that promises ‘how any start-up can achieve explosive customer growth’.

It’s a great work. It has two fantastic methodologies in Bullseye and Critical Path thinking. It will stop you sitting in your comfort zone. And get you thinking about growth in a whole new way.

Building an ideas led business…
The  Designful Company. By Marty Neumeier.

Yes. Here he is a again. Described as the book that can ‘Help to build a culture of on non-stop innovation’ Marty unfolds the world of Design Thinking – and how that should live and breathe in your organisation.

Understanding your business…
Lean Analytics. By Alitsair Croll & Benjamin Yokovitz

Part of the ‘Lean’ family this book focused on ‘Using data to build a better startup, faster’. It’s great. Far too many businesses have loads of data – but do far too little with it. This is a real world view of how to leverage what you can learn. Another killer read.

Building and maintaining your brand…
The Brand Gap. By, yeah – you guessed it, Marty Neumeier.

A book that promises: ‘How to bridge the distance between business strategy and design’ – but it’s so much more. Seth Godin once said ‘If you want to build a successful brand keep your promises’. So, so, so true. And this book is the toolkit.

And that’s it.

Six books that I cannot recommend highly enough for startups and anyone wishing to challenge their own thinking no matter what stage their business or career is at.