Start small, Stay small Book Review – A developer’s guide to launching a startup

3 minute read

Welcome again! This week, i’ll review one of my favorite entrepreneurship books (even though its not one of the most famous): Start Small, Stay Small, by Rob Walling, a solo serial entrepreneur that has funded and run quite a few different SaaS businesses and runs a podcast that is totally worth checking out.

The main reason i like this book so much is because of its sheer simplicity. In the entrepreneurship world, i often get confused and actionless with so much to do and so little resources. As the author puts it:

Everyone knows how difficult it can be to launch your first product, and frankly, a lot of the startup advice out there just makes it harder. From validating an idea, to testing message-to-market match, coming up with a marketing plan, and actually building the product, it’s a miracle anything gets launched at all.

In this philosophy, this book doesn’t try much more than propposing a few simple changes to the routine of a developer so that he can start building what people actually use and would pay for. That means you won’t find in this book such a thing as “25 channels to promote your SaaS business”, but rather “How to nail mailing lists”, in a rather straightforward and down-to-earth manner.

Start Small, Stay Small cover. What's the deal with all those white-on-black covers?

Start Small, Stay Small cover. What’s the deal with all of those white-on-black covers?

Another really relevant part of the book, that i take with me in every venture, is its idea of a niche market approach. It goes as far as defining an entrepreneur as  a “technical visionary who creates software for a niche market”. While lots of people would disagree (maybe even get angry!), it feels like this is an useful definition, as it fits generally well with the remaining of the book.

I love how this book takes simple rules of thumb you could always resort to when in doubt. One of the things i often speak when discussing features with my team is

“Market comes first, Marketing second, Aesthetic third and Functionality a Distant Fourth”

Now, don’t get me wrong, we all hate a software that doesn’t even work, but the point is that the market is the one who should say whether something works, and not the developers. Simply imagine and try to count how many completely broken and low quality softwares you might have used today. Why did you use them? Maybe because they look great, or they are the easiest to use, or they do precisely what you want, but nothing else? All of these questions are defined both by one of the three main topics, but not by functionality.

This isn’t the only part of the book with a somewhat low regard for technical expertise. In this book, you’ll also read that you should write as least code as possible and outsource as much as possible. That means that, instead of writing a highly customized CSS theme with a SASS + Webpack + PostCSS for your web application, a simple Bootstrap loaded from some CDN would do just fine. Instead of building a landing page from the ground up, perhaps cloning one of the thousands of free templates would save you a lot of time.

That all being said, i would also like to thank this book for one of the best techniques i ever found to assess que quality of some content, like a blog post, a podcast or a workshop: action note taking. The idea is that while you read the content you take actions notes, that is, ideas of actions you can implement on your business or other ventures. If you adopt the baseline of taking at least a few action notes for every time you consume media, you’ll quickly find patterns and will discover that maybe that one website with thousands of tips and articles maybe isn’t being that useful at all.

Well, now that i have read this book again, i’m completely satisfied after finding my notebook filled (again) with action notes. Now, its your call! Go grab your copy and have a great time with this book, as i did! See ya!

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