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Book Report – How I Built This by Guy Raz

Herein a single nugget from each chapter in Guy Raz’s How I Built This:

  1. Carol’s Daughter founder Lisa Price reluctantly launched the beauty products company at a church flea market at her mother’s behest. Making lotions and creams was so personal to her that she never thought anyone else would care.
  2. Jim Koch’s father – a brewer himself – tried to talk him out of starting Boston Beer Company because it’d mean leaving behind a high paying consulting career. The only danger the younger man faced was staying in work he found unfulfilling.
  3. Along with his partners, Daymond John wore layers of FUBU gear into a Las Vegas trade show to sell to retailers because they couldn’t afford to exhibit. He was a master of managing debt and the famous Red Lobster fallback plan.
  4. Jen Rubio & Steph Korey, co-founders of luxury luggage company Away, perfected their product by watching people pack. If that sounds beyond tedious, you may not be willing to do everything required to get things just right.
  5. Household cleaning products manufacturer Method launched after childhood pals Adam Lowry & Eric Ryan reconnected by random chance on a flight. In short order they differentiated a category mired in a “sea of sameness.”
  6. Airbnb might not have ended up turning the hotel industry on its ear if Joe Gebbia and his co-founders hadn’t knocked on countless doors in New York City. By getting hosts to take better pictures, they unlocked the secret to home-sharing.
  7. It was Bumble’s founder Whitney Wolfe’s mentor who came up with the name to connote how a queen bee makes the first move. But credit Wolfe with solving the swiping problem of idiotic men not reading whether a woman is interested.
  8. Footballer Tim Brown co-founded Allbirds via Kickstarter, but he really just wanted to make himself cleanly designed shoes. Thoughtful sourcing led to committing to a wool base, a mission his New Zealand government supported.
  9. Lara Merriken’s homegrown surveys and focus groups guided her starting Lärabar because as far as she knew, no one was making something that tastes indulgent and yet is healthy for a hike. Commitment and hustle helped fill a real need.
  10. PhD snobs looked at Manoj Bhargava like “just some lowly business guy” when he approached them about collaborating on a shot-sized energy drink. While they continued clocking in at work, he created 5-hour Energy. #LastLaugh
  11. Tobi Lütke only wanted “to build the world’s best twenty-person company.” It was that sort of play-hard-to-get nature that made Shopify that much more attractive to VCs and his insistence on keeping corporate headquarters in Ottawa is inspiring.
  12. As for basic prospecting, look no further than the founding of Instagram. A decade ago, Kevin Systrom & Mike Krieger tapped their network for the top journalists and designers to approach to try their fledgling app. Yeah, it worked.
  13. Jerry & Janie Murrell had no business getting into the hamburger business in 1986. Yet along with their four sons they opened a hard-to-find food stand to test word-of-mouth marketing effectiveness. Today there are 1,500+ Five Guys.
  14. The story of the Vermont dairy Stonyfield is maddening. The “trough of sorrow” co-owners Gary Hirshberg & Samuel Kaymen bellied through in the 80’s would make Andy Dufresne proud. It sold three years ago for nearly a billion dollars.
  15. Jennifer Fleiss learned firsthand just how limited the thinking can be in venture capital when men simply couldn’t grasp Rent the Runway. Wealthy men ask wealthy women if renting dresses is a good idea and they say, “No, dahling.”
  16. Dippin’ Dots is pure sugary fun unless you’re the founder, Curt Jones. In the sad tale of misunderstanding the difference between a real threat – and reason to litigate – and a mere nuisance, he wound up on the outside looking in.
  17. Speaking of dessert, Jeni Britton Bauer gave a master class in crisis management when a pint of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams tested positive for listeria. Recalling 265 tons of product was the right thing to do and the company swiftly recovered.
  18. Likely you already know that Stacy’s Pita Chips was started by happenstance at a one-time sandwich stand. But for inspiration on live cold calling, know that Stacy Madison waltzed into stores with free samples and now they’re everywhere.
  19. Andy Puddicombe (how British!) once left everything behind to become a Buddhist monk. It was his and fellow founder Rich Pierson’s belief that “mindfulness” is for all that evolved a seminar business into Headspace.
  20. Got junk? Brian Scudamore knew he did when firing the entire team to relaunch 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. As with throwing all your letters back in Scrabble, sometimes it’s best to hit RESET when a certain combination is taking you nowhere.
  21. Chet Pipkin endeared himself to early-PC makers by helping them see that connecting a printer was a massive source of frustration for end users. His Belkin International provided the ugly yet effective cables that solved a pressing need.
  22. In one of the more jarring tales, Katrina Lake & Erin Morrison were in litigation with each other longer than they were co-founding partners of Stitch Fix. Lesson: figure out how to “squash petty power plays and surrender your ego” or else.
  23. The fate of clothier Bonobos was similar. Co-founders Andy Dunn & Brian Spaly had an awkward divorce with the former self-described as “the sum of cumulative terrible mistakes.” There’s a happy ending but man, look out below.
  24. For how to “exit slowly,” see Angie’s BOOMCHICKAPOP. Founders Angie & Dan Bastian orchestrated the sale of their popcorn company such that all key people were taken care of, avoiding the “rich vs. king” conundrum, opting for happiness.
  25. Eileen Fisher, founder of the eponymous women’s clothing brand, is a similarly generous soul. Her first hire remains there 35+ years later, rewarded alongside hundreds of co-workers with a stake: this B-Corp. is 40% employee owned.
  26. Recall the sexist Peloton bike ad campaign from Christmas 2019? It seems that controversy is behind them. Of note is how co-founder John Foley launched the company: by getting eight close contacts to give him $400K in seed capital.

Raz’s Afterword includes an inspirational piece about how people who love you – not unlike those Peloton’s Foley appealed to – want to see you succeed. My two cents: get even more motivated by those who’d just as soon have you fail out of pure jealousy that you even had the nerve to try. Here’s to the naysayers driving us all to new heights.

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3 months ago

I don’t know how you do it. Your reviews become more noteworthy with each edition. Thanks for what you do.

3 months ago
Reply to  John Burke

John, I’m deeply flattered by your kind commentary. I hope the new venture is going great guns. Thank you!

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