The Art of the Start 2.0: Interview With Guy Kawasaki

Coming from an author, you may find this strange: I have very few hardcover books adorning my office library any more. I’ve become an e-reader. The only books I keep are signed editions…they are meaningful gifts, and I’d never dream of donating them to my local library the way I have with all the others.

I have more signed Guy Kawasaki editions than I have from any other author, a testament to how prolific he is. But of all the bestsellers he’s penned, his 2004 The Art of the Start is my all-time favorite. It’s dog-eared, highlighted, and Post-It Noted all over the place. I read the original edition two years before I was fortunate to cross paths with the man. I read it as I was preparing and positioning myself to leave the long-term partnership with Toyota I was in at the time.

I’ve tried, in earnest, to poke holes or truly disagree with anything in the book. It’s about as ironclad as a book can be. The only opportunity to do so reside in the examples. Every author risks the examples he or she cites becoming irrelevant or retrospectively untrue. Well, Guy must have realized that, because he has just published The Art of the Start 2.0, on the heels of The Art of Social Media (which I interview Guy about here).

Disclosure: While Guy generously offered a review copy, I declined, in favor of buying both the hardcover and the Kindle versions. The first as a companion to the original edition of The Art of the Start in case I see him to get a signed edition, the second simply to have available on my mobile devices for constant reference.

The new edition is even better than the original. As it should be! I read it cover to cover. Readers take note: Guy provides a few “bottom of the CrackerJack box” rewards for finishing the book that are worth far more than the price of the book in and of themselves!

I caught up with Guy to ask him a few questions about the new edition.

Obviously you believe enough has changed in the startup since The Art of the Start was published to deliver a new edition nearly two-thirds longer. What are some of those changes?

A few minor things have changed in the last ten years, such as the emergence of social media, cloud computing, crowd funding, and the reduction of costs in almost everything that entrepreneurs need to start a company. Also, there is little need to write a business plan for investors anymore. Finally, funny fact, in version 1, I used Microsoft as a positive example in many places. I had to swap that out.

Thank you for using my name — MATT — as an acronym for how to organize all the Milestones, Assumptions, Tests, and Tasks. In my experience, we are good at the Milestones and Tasks…not so good at the Assumptions and Tests. Assuming your mileage doesn’t vary too much from mine, why is that, in your opinion?

We violently agree. It’s because documenting assumptions takes a high degree of objectivity and tough love and because testing requires actually shipping and selling. Milestones are relatively easy to come up with, and task are logical requirements to achieve milestones.

Your definition of elegance squares nicely with mine (and thank you for the citation), and your line, “Elegance is what is not there, not what is” forms a good bit of my worldview. What are your current favorite examples of elegance that weren’t around when The Art of the Start was first published?

Wow, this is a tough question. The Audi A5/S5 is, in my opinion, an elegant car. The FujiFilm X100T is an elegant camera. The Withings Activite is an elegant smart watch that looks totally analog.

You’ve improved on Eric Ries’s minimal viable product (MVP) concept. What was missing?

I hope he thinks I improved it. I call my version the MVVVP. The extra Vs stand for valuable and validating. My thinking is that a product needs to be more than viable—i.e., economically feasible. A product has to be valuable—to dent the universe and not simply generate margin. And a product needs to validate the vision of the company, not just be viable and valuable.

For example, Apple could sell laser printers. Anything with an Apple label is viable these days. But would it be valuable? Not really. It would just be an Apple-labeled Canon printer. Would it validate Apple’s vision for the world? Doubtful. You can say the same thing about Microsoft’s keyboards.

What, if anything, in 2.0 represents a complete rethink of something in 1.0?

The area of the most rethinking is the necessity of writing a full-blown business plan to obtain funding. This isn’t true anymore. A pitch and prototype—and maybe just a prototype—is enough.

Say more about the Opposite Test, because it’s only a bullet in the book, but I think it’s far more profound and worthy of more attention, perhaps an example. (I hear a lot of businesses saying their competitive advantage is taking care of the customer. For that to be a differentiator, another business has to be able to say their competitive advantage is not taking care the customer. I think a lot of startups don’t “get” strategic positioning.)

The Opposite Test is to ask yourself if your competition is saying the opposite of what you’re saying so that you are truly different if not unique. For example, in software, every CEO says her software is fast, bug-free, easy-to-use, and scalable. So your use of the same adjectives is meaningless.

I agree with you about positioning yourself against the current leader in a given industry segment. I get a good bit of “if we do that we just reinforce our also-ran status,” from more mature, yet still small, companies. Thoughts, response?

If positioning against the market leader makes you look like an also-ran, your product or service sucks. It’s that simple. Then you shouldn’t position against the market leader. Maybe you shouldn’t even exist. Every startup, without taking too many illegal drugs, should be able to position against the market leader and look attractive.

The 10-20-30 rule is one of the stickiest techniques I’ve ever seen, and perhaps my favorite presentation tip of all time. “The Only 10 Slides You Need in Your Pitch Deck” (on SlideShare) is elegant. You field a lot of pitches…how many follow your advice?

Between zero to five percent. I’m not making this up. Hardly anyone adheres to my advice—and this includes the people who start the meeting with, “I’m a really big fan. I read all your books. I’m sure you’ll like my presentation.” I think it’s because everyone thinks the 10-20-30 rule is for the great unwashed masses, hoi polloi, mediocre companies, but he or she needs and merits fifty slides.

It’s a good thing I read to the end, otherwise I might have asked: “Of all the advice and techniques in The Art of the Start, what do entrepreneurs most neglect to their detriment?” Instead I’ll ask: What did you tell the Jackie Chan girls?

Entrepreneurs most neglect the advice that they should not scale until they have actual sales or registrations. Most scale too early and run out of money. I’ve never seen a company fail because it couldn’t scale. And, I told the girls that I was Robert [Rich Dad, Poor Dad] Kiyosaki.

Now THAT is funny. But only if you read to the very end!

You can buy The Art of the Start 2.0 on Amazon for $12.