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When I started out in business, I didn't have a clue. I'd never even taken a basic finance or marketing course in college. But suddenly I found myself at the helm of a business, and I took a lot of lumps for my inexperience. This section will be especially useful for those contemplating a start-up, but anyone who owns a business already can also benefit from this material. Here are some of the business fundamentals I learned the hard way.
1. Above All Else, Don't Make Crap
If you're in business or are contemplating a start-up, this is where to start: Produce a great product. If what you're marketing -- or the service you're providing -- isn't high-quality, you can't succeed. Sounds simple, huh? Well, it's not; it requires a rare combination of innovative ideas, good people, abundant financing -- and hard work.
All great products start with a clever idea. Is yours good enough?
Original enough? Would you buy the product you have in mind? Be honest -- would you really?
All right, maybe your idea is great. Now you need the most important ingredient of all -- cash. Without proper financing, you can have the greatest idea in the world, but still get nowhere. For more on this, see chapter 2, "Money Matters." Money in the bank is what you'll need to hire good people: Talented employees are always expensive, but they're worth every cent.
If your company is barely surviving on mediocrity, don't prolong the inevitable. As hard and frightening as it is to do, shoot your business like a gimpy racehorse. Never borrow money to keep a fledgling operation alive.
During my initial years in business, I was operating on seed money raised from local doctors, family members, lawyers, and businessmen. Looking back, it was ludicrous to think that I could compete on a national and international level without substantial venture capital. Piecemeal funding led to shoestring product budgets, which in turn made it impossible for my company to produce A-level titles that could compete in the industry. Instead, our C+/B products usually sold just enough copies to keep our doors open.
The fear and uncertainty of failure motivated me to crawl forward. I know now that I should have walked away; I would have been better off closing the operation down and joining a large, well-financed, solidly established company in the industry. If I'd gotten in on the ground floor of a company like Electronic Arts (and I had that opportunity), I could have retired by the time I was thirty. Instead I clung to the dream of owning my own business -- but inadequate funding and inexperience made that an impossible dream. Don't make the same mistake.
2. Really Double-Check That It's Not Crap
You must take the time to assure the quality of your product. Quality assurance is a hot topic in today's business world. Many companies in my industry are releasing products before they are finished. Why? If the company is public, a late product release might spell collapse for its stock price. If it's privately held, being late with a big-money product launch could mean a serious cash-flow crisis.
But the short-term benefit of selling a lousy, unfinished product pales in comparison to the long-term damage that comes from disappointing or deceiving your customers. Before you consider launching a substandard product, ignore the gun at your head and weigh the consequences honestly. How badly will the public react? I assure you, worse than you can imagine. And they won't forget. Quality service must be a cornerstone of your business.
Even minor bugs can ruin a gaming experience, but with all of the variables involved, it's next to impossible to ship a perfectly clean game. That's just the nature of software.
But I've worked for two different companies that ripped off their customers by releasing computer games before they were completed. In both instances, it wasn't just that there were a few bugs to be worked out in a final round of tests. These companies released products that were missing entire segments from their original designs. One firm had to meet quarterly numbers to avoid a downgrade in its stock; the other had a public offering in the works. The CEO of this business decided to release a product that was -- and I'm not kidding -- 90 percent incomplete just to get the initial sell-in numbers on the books.
In both cases, the reputations of these companies took a public beating. Industry magazines dubbed them publishers of unfinished vaporware (software that is promised but never actually completed), making them laughingstocks, and irate customers posted raging messages on bulletin boards and chat rooms all over the net.
Of course, this was the world of software, where expectations are often underfulfilled, and somehow these companies managed to survive. But it's not always that easy. Imagine buying a car that went belly-up in a week. Many of today's emerging industries are doing the equivalent, but the public won't put up with poor performance forever.Every Mistake in the Book. Copyright © by F J Lennon. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted September 23, 2001
Before reviewing this book, you should know that it contains many coarse words, vulgar stories, and references to immoral behavior. All of these are cautionary examples, but if such candor negatively affects you, you may prefer another book. I asked the question in the headline, because this book is primarily of value to those who can hear a story and amend their own behavior to avoid the mistakes presented in the story. Since most humans seem to have to do it the hard way, this book can also be appealing as a source of humorous stories about working in start-ups and established business organizations. Although this book will be most attractive to young people planning to start up a new business, it will also be very valuable to anyone starting a business career without much knowledge about what happens in and to companies. Mr. Lennon claims to either have made every mistake in this book, or to have observed someone else who did. Having been there, and done that gives the book an authenticity that makes its lessons more powerful than if they had merely been assembled from the business pages of newspapers and magazines. One of the CEOs I admire most once told me that he learns much more from hearing about the mistakes that others make than from the heroic sagas of success. I suspect that many people feel this way. Mr. Lennon started up a small computer game company from his college dorm room. Constantly underfunded and often distracted by problems, the company limped along for many years through different owners and technologies. Along the way, the author met many people who he describes as snakes, who took advantage of him. So . . . many expensive lessons ensued. His final advice in the epilogue is to ¿Be cool, work hard, play nice, use your noggin, exercise common sense, don¿t burn bridges, and don¿t be a snake.¿ In the first chapter on Basics, he encourages you to provide useful products and services, act with integrity, have good quality, be honest, and be respectful of others. He also wants you to know its very hard to start-up businesses, and the odds are against you. In the second chapter on Money Matters, he tells you to get more than enough money, to have a business plan attractive enough to attract venture capitalists (or you are kidding yourself about your chances), follow the law in raising money (or he has great checklist of what to take with you to the penitentiary), keep your own savings secure outside of the venture, pay your employees first, and be honest with creditors. In the third chapter on How to Manage Managing, there is a delightful test of your management style that will tell you whether you are too directive or not directive enough. You also get advice to set a good example in all things, watch the booze (the stories here are pretty wild), get your hands dirty, be truthful, let people do their jobs, set expectations, and plan how to get and keep super people. In the fourth chapter on In the Trenches, you will learn to avoid looking for love at work, and how to handle being mistreated (make a loud statement). In the fifth chapter on Let¿s Get Personal, you are encouraged to learn what you don¿t know about now, to listen, stop complaining, keep everything in perspective, take the initiative, and behave yourself. Although the book may sound flip from my description, it is really more like ¿cool.¿ Anyone who has worked in a company (or read Dilbert) would have come up with a similar list, but somehow this home brew of advice slides down smoothly when it¿s all so new. I enjoyed the book and found almost nothing to disagree with in it. I admired Mr. Lennon for his candor in telling so many stories on himself. His humility should serve as a good example for us all. After you finish reading, learning from, and enjoying Every Mistake in the Book, I suggest that you think back where you were able to learn in the past from the experiences of othersWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 7, 2001
As a business student at one of the top universities in the nation, I appreciate the advice given by Lennon. It's everything my professors have been trying to portray but much more. This book gives sound advice while being hysterically funny. I was laughing out loud! Lennon has been where we are all about to go and is an excellent resource.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 9, 2001
This book is a must for anyone in the business world. Lennon provides invaluable lessons that were learned the hard way in the real world but delivers it in a very insightful and extremely funny way. His examples and advice are the real thing and not just business theory. This book will definitely help anyone avoid the pitfalls in business and keep one step ahead of the competition.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 10, 2001
I couldn't put this book down until I reached the back cover. Along with a great balance of insight and humor, this book has some fire to it. Many would enjoy--from young, bootstrapping entrepreneurs to veteran warriors of the business world. I savored every chapter.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.