The successful entrepreneur's playbook

Book cover of How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs
In 2008, Jenn Hyman, a double Harvard graduate (undergraduate and business school), co-founded an online designer dress rental business called Rent the Runway, where women could rent expensive couture for a slice of the cost. Despite her pedigree, when she initially went around fundraising, her pitch was largely dismissed by venture capitalists who just didn’t “get” the business model. But Ms Hyman persevered because she strongly believed in what the start-up was trying to achieve — it wanted to boost the self-confidence and empower women by offering them the opportunity to wear designer clothes that otherwise would have been out of their reach. Today, Rent the Runway has clocked revenue in excess of $100 million and employs over 1,200 people.

The story of Jenn Hyman’s entrepreneurial success is part of the wider narrative of the book, How I Built This, written by Guy Raz and Nils Parker. The book is based on hundreds of interviews of inspiring founders and innovators conducted by Mr Raz for the popular NPR podcast of the same name. With this book, Mr Raz has attempted to lift the veil on entrepreneurship and de-mystify the process by sharing lessons learnt from those conversations.

Mr Raz explains that the entrepreneur’s journey is very similar to a classic hero’s journey and the book is structured into three parts to reflect the key stages of this path. First, there is the call, where the founder decides to act on his entrepreneurial itch and takes the plunge into the unknown world of business. In the second stage he navigates through trials and tests that challenge his personal beliefs and business acumen. And in the final stage, he reaches his destination where his start-up has achieved some level of stability and he is most likely to be confronted by the founder’s dilemma of whether he should sell his business or stay on.

By opening up the playbook of successful entrepreneurs, the book lays out concepts such as forming partnerships, bootstrapping, raising OPM (Other People’s Money), creating hype, iterating and pivoting. But it is really the latter part of the book that is most revealing. It speaks of the role of passion, decency and luck in determining the final outcome of the business. These elements are often overlooked but are integral to the success of the venture.

How I Built This: The Unexpected Paths to Success from the World’s Most Inspiring Entrepreneurs
Authors: Guy Raz with Nils Parker
Publisher: Macmillan
Pages: 320
Price: Rs 468

The book features origin stories of companies such as Airbnb, Dell, Ben and Jerry’s and Stacy’s Pita Chips, among others. It also leverages words of wisdom from heavyweights in the venture world such Paul Graham, Ben Horowitz and Reid Hoffman. By employing vivid and deft sketches of the founders and their companies, the writers have managed to weave an entertaining narrative that takes the reader along on the entrepreneur’s journey. Occasionally the narration of certain stories seems oversimplified and shallow. But then again, the coverage of the book is broad and the focus is more on the insights and lessons extracted from the stories. Hence, this aspect of the book does not necessarily distract the reader.

The American actress Mae West once stated: “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.” So, dear reader, if you have indulged fantasies of turning your side hustle into a business venture, or are simply done being employed and dream of captaining your own ship, then this book will turn out to be a handy guide to help you in the process. There is no greater shortcut than learning from the experiences of the others who have traversed the path before you. This book could also be very useful for business students.

Earlier, a 20-something graduating from college had typically two paths in front of him: Get a job in a company or pursue further education. Now another alternative has emerged — start your own company. Easier access to funding, improved start-up infrastructure and declining associated costs have all contributed to make entrepreneurship an increasingly attractive career choice for university graduates in recent times. In this scenario too, this book presents itself as a compelling read. Going through this text, I am reminded of a quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “Every worthwhile accomplishment, big or little, has its stages of drudgery and triumph: a beginning, a struggle and a victory.” And as Mr Raz demonstrates, this couldn’t be more accurate for building businesses.

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