The $100 Startup

By Chris Guillebeau

Date: 31 July, 2019

Just the Highlights in : 11 Minutes

Buy the book Here

By Chris Guillebeau

Summary and My Thoughts

This was a really enjoyable read and each chapter includes a small section responsible for providing a thought-prompt to at least set you on a similar path as the success cases referenced continuously within the book. One common criticism that I’ve read and can agree with is that details on the various anecdotes are a little sparse, it almost reads as if each successful business owner in the book almost immediately began to see success shortly after starting which can appear unrealistic to most experienced readers. Despite this, most of the book simply uses moments within these anecdotes to support the concepts discussed in the chapter rather than delving too deeply into the entire historical story of the businesses themselves. The primary principal takeaway of the book is that given these modern times, it is easier than ever to start a business with a very limited amount of capital. When deciding which business to start, you should find the convergence of your interests/skills and a problem that a target market is seeking a solution to which you can provide with your skills. The success of your offering depends on how well you can self-promote your business, brand, your ability to build up to a successful launch, and also the offer itself. Once you have a successful business, you can think about the role and responsibility that the business should play in your life: should it simply finance your freedom, should you grow it bigger, or should you grow it to a point to successfully sell it?

Part I - Unexpected Entrepreneurs

Chapter 1 - Renaissance

The chapter details a few anecdotes of entrepreneurial success stories involving persons who unwittingly began a successful micro-business after a significant life change such as employment ending. This is a sampling of a much larger study that considers a vast number of non-traditional business (those that required significant up-front investment from banks or venture capitalists). The criteria for this study is that the business must have at least four of the following characteristics: a follow-your-passion model, low startup cost, >= $50,000 net income, no special skills required, full financial disclosure, and fewer than five employees. Next this chapter introduces its first lesson, Convergence, describing the concept which involves the intersection between your skills/passion and what others are willing to pay for. The second lesson, Skill Transformation, or surveying your skill set and determining how combinations of various skills could be leveraged to create a successful business, applying your skills and knowledge to a related topic. The third lesson, The Magic Formula, is described as “Passion or skills + usefulness = success”, You simply need a product or service, people willing to pay for it, and a way to get paid; if any one of these parts are missing, you don’t have a successful business.

Chapter 2 - Give Them the Fish

Instead of teaching your customers how to fish, simply give them the fish. Give them what they want. Learn to communicate your product or service in a manner that’s appealing to your customer base. Generating ideas can come from many different avenues such as spotting an inefficiency in the marketplace, capitalizing on new technology, a changing space, or a spin-off or side project. Ask yourself, a) How would I get paid with this idea? b) How much would I get paid from this idea? c) Is there a way I could get paid more than once? Value means helping people, in the context of a micro-business you should begin your efforts with helping people. Value also focuses on a customer’s emotional needs. Think benefits (emotional) rather than simply features (descriptive) when considering your product or service. There are three strategies: 1) Dig Deeper to Uncover Needs - What a customer says they need versus what they actually need may be different. 2) Make Your Customer a Hero. 3) Sell What People Buy - Instead of selling what you think the customer needs, sell what the customer wants to buy. Make your business about helping others. Ask yourself how you can help people more. Your business should either add money, love, attention or remove stress, anxiety, or debt from a person’s life.

Chapter 3 - Follow Your Passion…Maybe

When considering building a business from your passion, you must remember the concept of convergence from Chapter 1. Sometimes this is as simply as matching the right passion with the right audience. You usually don’t get paid for your hobby itself, you get paid for helping other people pursue the hobby or for something indirectly related to it. Passion plus good business sense creates an actual business. (Passion + Skill) -> (Problem + Marketplace) = Opportunity. There are many ways to monetize your business: Fixed price services, Fixed price products. Variable price products. Free service underwritten by advertisement and sponsorship.

Chapter 4 - The Rise of the Roaming Entrepreneur

The book details three case studies of entrepreneurs whose businesses allow them to live independent of any specific location. Location independence is an advantage of successful micro-businesses that lack brick and mortar store fronts and multiple employees. Information publishing is one of the most common types of businesses that is location independent. Digital publishing can include one-off products, fixed-period courses, and recurring subscriptions. Instead of “If you build it, they will come.” it’s more like “If you build it, they might come.” There is a great deal of work up front in publishing digital information content that someone would find worthy of paying for. Once again, your efforts should be directed toward creating something that you know that people will want to purchase, not creating something in a vacuum and expecting people to gravitate toward it.

Chapter 5 - The New Demographics

Instead of categorizing your target market with traditional demographics such as age, location, sex/gender, race, and income; utilize new demographics such as interests, passions, skills, beliefs, and values. Sometimes as a business owner, you may need to change what you offer and also to whom you offer it. You can latch on to a popular hobby, passion, or craze. An industry or movement with lots of lovers and haters always present a good business opportunity. Another strategy is to sell what people buy (and ask them if you’re not sure). Most people like to buy but not be sold. Persuasion marketing involves trying to convince people of something, think door-to-door salesman. Instead, find out what people want by asking them and give it to them. When considering ideas, simply ask your prospects, current customers, or anyone that you think might be a good fit for your idea. Be specific, ask if they would be willing to pay instead of simply liking an idea. Ask open ended questions. You can ask on a small one-on-one basis or a group basis or you could use a paid survey service (generally keep the surveys less than 10 questions). Capture all of your ideas in a possibilities list, Evaluate your ideas in your possibility list by asking: “Does this project produce an obvious product or service?”, “Do you know people who will want to buy it?”, “Do you have a way to get paid?“.

Part II - Taking It To The Streets

Chapter 6 - The One-Page Business Plan

Many of the success stories curated in this book involve getting started quickly and seeing what happens rather than spending a great deal of time planning. First, select a marketable idea, think usefulness rather than innovation. You need to care about the problem that you’re going to solve and there needs to be a sizable population of people who also care. You can check the number and relevancy of Google keywords to determine if the market is big enough. Use keywords that you would use to find your product or service. The product should focus on solving a problem that the market knows it has (i.e., blatant admitted pain) rather than persuade someone that they have a problem that needs solving. You need to show people how you can help remove or reduce pain, everything being sold is for either a deep pain or deep desire. Always think in terms or solution and make sure your solution is different and better (not cheaper). Ask others in your potential target market about your idea. Second, you want to keep costs low by investing sweat equity rather than money, this will lessen the impact of potential failure. Third, get the first sale as soon as possible as the best possible strategy to fight against inertia. Fourth, market before manufacturing to make sure there is significant demand for your product before you spend the necessary capital for manufacturing. Fifth, respond to initial results, after the initial success, you may find it more efficient to outsource your fulfillment, revisit the success factors of your product and service and determine how to build on top of those factors, and adapting to customer feedback. Plan as you go and bias your decisions toward action.

Chapter 7 - An Offer You Can’t Refuse

To construct an offer that your prospects won’t refuse is to first sell what people want to buy and then market to that target market by constructing a compelling pitch. To create this pitch: First, you must understand that what we want and what we say we want are not always the same thing. Passengers value more leg room on planes but not enough to pay for it, they place more value on low cost flights. Second, most of us like to buy, but we don’t usually like to be sold, nobody likes a hard sell. Third, despite the second point, your offer should provide a gentle nudge to encourage immediate action. You should include a FAQs (i.e., Frequently Asked Questions) page explaining your product, an incredible guarantee, and over deliver on what your customer expects. Think about possible objections and develop responses in advance for your FAQs page.

Chapter 8 - Launch!

A planned launch campaign involves conveying a timeline of messages leading up to the launch such as: An early look at the future which is the initial mention of the upcoming launch and includes only a small amount of detail about the product or service. The next message is why this project will matter which conveys why your customers and prospects should care about your product or service. The next message, the plan for the big debut, is less about the product or service and more-so about the launch of the product or service itself. The next message should immediately precede the launch itself and include launch details and last minute reminders to convert anticipation into decisions. The last message is that for the launch itself and it should be fairly short since your buyers should already be prepared to buy. If this is a fire sale or time limited sale, you will see both a peak at the beginning followed by another peak right before the close of the event. Another goal of a good launch is to build and preserve relationships with your various prospects.

Chapter 9 - Hustling: The Gentle Art of Self-Promotion

A charlatan is all talk with nothing to back up their claims. A martyr is all action but is unable or unwilling to talk. A hustler is the ideal combination: work and talk. You should do a lot of creating and a lot connecting. First, take the time to make something worth talking about (don’t be a charlatan) but then start connecting with people in your immediate circle and ask for their help. If you build it, you might come; but you’ll probably have to tell them about it. You want to market organically and keep your actual marketing costs as low as possible by building relationships with those within your target market and community.

Chapter 10 - Show Me the Money

Without money, there is no business; many business owners make two related mistakes: thinking too much about where to get money to start their project and thinking too little about where the business income will come from so spend as little money as possible and make as much money as possible. Traditional borrowing is no longer essential. You can also use crowdfunding to help with start-up costs if necessary. There are three key principles to focus on profit: 1) Price your product in relation to the benefit, not the cost of production. 2) Offer customers a limited range of prices. 3) Get paid more than once for the same thing (subscriptions).

Part III

Chapter 11 - Moving On Up

Typically in the case studies presented in the book, it was much more difficult to start the business than it was to grow the business once it had been started. You can improve the income in an existing business through small changes that create a big impact called tweaks. These tweaks can include increasing the conversion rate, marginal increases in traffic, or increasing your cost slightly. Combining these tweaks can result in a significant change in income from your business. You can tweak your price through upsells, cross-sells, sale after sales. Upsells offer a higher level version or additional item upon purchase. Cross-sell offers related items to customers making a purchase. Sale after sale is a special offer made to customers immediately after a sale. Keep taking action by continuously tweaking your business. Some other examples of tweaking include: creating a testimonial hall of fame of your best customers, encouraging referrals, holding a contest, introducing a new guarantee (or emphasize no guarantee). Another common tweak is converting your product to a service or your service to a product. Horizontal expansion involves serving more customers with different though related interests. Vertical expansion involves going deeper by serving same customers with different levels of need.

Chapter 12 - How to Franchise Yourself

Franchises are typically an expensive way to buy yourself a job rather than actually owning your own business. You can leverage contractors, outsourcing, affiliate recruitment, partnerships and other services to essentially allow yourself and your business to be meet in more than one place at the same time. This introduces the hub-and-spoke model, where the hub represents your primary online home base and the spokes are your outposts to diversify your services and test other possible business opportunities. You should be careful when you’re evaluating different avenues to outsource your business operations and other aspects of your business.

Chapter 13 - Going Long

After successfully starting their business, every business owner faces the question of what role this business should play in the lives. You can choose to allow the business to stay small and provide freedom in their lives or they can choose to grow the business and even hire employees. Regardless of your choice, you should focus on working on your business rather than working in your business. You should set aside a short period of time every morning to think the forward progress of your business such as business development (e.g., new products, services, partnerships), offer development (i.e., sale, launch events, new offers), fixing long-standing problems (i.e., root of existing and often ignored issues), pricing review (i.e., price increase, upsells, cross-sells), and customer communication (i.e., newsletters, updates). You should continue to monitoring your business by 1) selecting two metrics that you’re aware of at any point and 2) leave every other metric to be monitored on a biweekly or monthly review session where you delve deeper into the overall business. Example metrics include: sales per day, visitors or leads per day, average order price, sales conversion rate, and net promotor score. A business is scalable if it is both teachable and valuable. To sell your business will require you to reduce the owner dependency of your business.

Chapter 14 - But What If I Fail?

Instead of waiting on permission, simply step out and take the leap. Most of the fears of the business owners surveyed in this book fall into two categories: external and internal. External concerns relate to money and the changing marketplace, competition possibly stealing or copying their business. Internal concerns relate to their own inertia and psychology. Always remember those moments when you have success because those memories will help you when times are more difficult. Don’t waste your time living someone else’s life.


Blake Adams is a writer, software developer, technical consultant, and financial independence enthusiast living in Oxford, MS.

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