Monday 23 January 2012

Start It Up

At the end of 2011 I was trying to weigh up the pros and cons of accepting investment for my company, Little Riot. I didn't fully understand the ins and outs of such an undertaking, so my friend at Shell LiveWIRE, Paul Lancaster suggested I checked out Luke Johnson's book, Start It Up.

Like the keen bean that I am, I ordered it from Amazon. You can too, if you want, for only £8.60 of your hard earned cash. I know book reviews are generally something most people stopped writing after primary school (literature journalists excluded) so I'll try and keep this brief. In a sentence: if you're running a start up, or thinking about starting a company, read this book.

If you're still reading, I'll tell you a bit more. If you don't know who Luke Johnson is (I have to admit, I didn't either) I can't really sum his business achievements up in a paragraph, so all you probably need to know is that he took over Pizza Express and grew it from a collection of 12 restaurants, to 250. He's also a chairman of the RSA and the former chairman of Channel 4. And somehow, he has effortlessly channeled his many years of experience into one book.

The content is spot on. There's no messing around; the mix of guidance and practical advice is easily swallowed because it is peppered with real-life situations Johnson himself has navigated. His writing style is conversational, direct and down to earth. He doesn't throw around all those big words that strike fear into even the most budding of entrepreneurs.

I primarily read the book for for the financial advice, and it was a great place to start. There is a succinct but clear rundown of the common sources of finance available to most start-ups. At the time of reading, I felt the chapter was quite short, as realistically I was probably looking for a bit more detail... but then afterwards, I realised most of my confusion came from not really understanding what each of my options actually involved. So in hindsight, it was a great starting point - I found out what I needed to know and therefore which one I wished to research further (angel investment, if you're wondering).

My other favourite thing about the book is the way it addresses the "are entrepreneurs born or made?" debate; ie. can you teach someone to be entrepreneurial and business minded, or does it come naturally to a certain 'kind' of person. Johnson reckons the most important characteristic to have is the ability to make decisions, in a term he calls 'a bias for action'.

"They are not the same as other people. They have an ambition, a competitive urge and a lust to take risks that is way beyond the norm"

However, he then goes on to agree that nurture can too an entrepreneur make. He believes the key ingredients of a good businessman/woman emerge from a mixture of hard work, their upbringing and hands-on experience. Overall, he puts forward several compelling arguments for both sides of the endless debate, leaving the reader to ultimately make up their own mind.

Overall, the book was a good read and probably one of the better business books I have read. It was interesting, engaging and actually quite hard to put down. It serves its purpose as a motivating, all round  business book. If you take nothing else away from it (unlikely) - you will at least learn some interesting business facts. Did you know that KFC's "Colonel" Sanders' founded his chicken empire at 47, but it didn't take off until he was nearly bankrupt at the ripe old age of 66?