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Review of The Minimalist Entrepreneur by Sahil Lavingia

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If you are planning to bootstrap a business or you have recently launched a business or a new project and need some guidance, or if you are an aspiring individual interested in learning more about the concept of entrepreneurship,  this book is for you. The Minimalist Entrepreneur: How Great Founders Do More with Less is packed full of practical tips to help you plan, set up, and manage your business. The book is a synthesis of the author’s real life experiences in the world of business and entrepreneurship. That is, reading the book will enable you to get a first hand account of a person speaking from within the trenches, sharing his failures as well as successes and pulling important lessons from both experiences. 

The Minimalist Entrepreneur
Source: Amazon.com

My experience reading self-help books has taught me to be wary of  glittering book titles and the Minimalist Entrepreneur is no exception. I came to it with a burgeoning sense of suspicion and doubt that it will be just a rehash of the bullshit already available online and for free. I am glad it is not and I am also glad Sahil proved me wrong. 

Minimalist Entrepreneur summary and ideas

The central argument of the Minimalist Entrepreneur is that creating a successful minimalist  business does not need to be a complicated process nor does it need to solve every problem and it certainly does not sacrifice profitability for scale. Surprisingly enough and counterintuitive to the current hype in the business world where growth and scaling are sought at all costs, Sahil stresses the importance of seeking profitability from day one. 

Minimalists entrepreneurs, as Sahil Lavingia explained, “aim to be profitable from day one or soon after, because profit is oxygen for businesses”.That being said, Sahil in a sense, realizes the ethical strain of the profitability motto and tries to imbue it with a humanist perspective claiming that minimalist entrepreneurs do not seek profit by selling their customers to advertisers but rather by selling products to customers. 

According to Sahil Lavingia, building a minimalist business boils down to these key factors which you can use as a roadmap towards the core philosophy of minimalist entrepreneurship:

1. Seek profitability first

2. Start with community

3. Build as little as possible

4. Sell to your first hundred customers

5. Market by being you

6.Grow yourself and your business mindfully

7. Build the house you want to live in

Who is the minimalist entrepreneur?

Sahil views the minimalist entrepreneur as someone who is value-oriented and is motivated by a genuine purpose. A minimalist entrepreneur is “all about making a difference while making a living”. Sahil outlines a number of features that characterize  minimalist entrepreneurs including:

  •  Minimalist entrepreneurs seek profitability first 
  •  Minimalist entrepreneurs are community oriented and cultivate authentic relationships 
  •  Minimalist entrepreneurs “build only what they need to, automating or outsourcing the rest”.
  •  Minimalist entrepreneurs “don’t spend time convincing people- they spend time educating people”.
  •  Minimalist entrepreneurs “share their stories from struggle to success”
  •  Minimalist entrepreneurs “own their businesses, they don’t let their businesses own them”
  • Minimalist entrepreneurs “hire other minimalist entrepreneurs”

How to create a successful minimalist business?

A key idea Sahil stresses through the book is that of the minimalist entrepreneur being first a creator and only second an entrepreneur. It is the process of creation that should come first because it is where the foundation of successful entrepreneurship lays. Additionally, a successful business is built around the idea of solving a problem. You observe your community with an analytical eye  and  uncover the things they have problems with then build a minimalist business that offers solutions to those problems. 

Sahil urges creators to make profit from their creation, which is totally commonsensical. We all want to be rewarded for the time and effort we put into creating our work. However, I think Sahil takes an aggressive capitalist approach to this very process of creation. His prioritizing of profitability over anything else vitiates the whole concept of creativity of its essence. In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert convincingly explains how creators stifle their creativity by strapping it to paying the bills. If your creativity is the center of your business, which is certainly a great thing, make sure you don’t overburden it with having to pay for your living or else you risk depleting your creative reservoirs and running short of creative ideas.

Sahiil outlines four practical steps to build a minimalist profitable business:

1. Specify exactly who your potential customers are. Make it as specific as possible. Your customers are your community.

2. Identify clearly what kind of problem you want to solve for them and how much you will charge.

3. “Set a hard deadline and focus fully on building a solution, then charge for it”.

4. “Repeat the process until you’ve found a product that works, then scale a business around it”.

The solutions or services your business offers to customers need to meet one or more of the four major utilities: place utility (make it geographically closer or accessible to users), form utility (make it accessible by ‘rearranging existing parts’, time utility (turn a slow process into a quick one), and possession utility (eliminate a middleman). To illustrate  how these utilities work, Sahil cites the example of the app theCut which was founded by Obi Omile and Jush Patel. After struggling with finding barbers and scheduling appointments, Obi and Patel created theCut, which is a “barbershop technology platform that allows users and barbers to schedule and manage appointments”1. theCut, as Sahil declared,  “provides utility for both sides. Clients save time, and barbers find new clients (possession utility), spend less time communicating with current ones (time utility), and receive mobile payments (form utility).”

In the final section of the book, Sahil concludes with a humanist note which surprises me given the aggressive capitalist tone underlying Sahil’s message. After building your minimalist business and hopefully it takes off and becomes a success, you need to make space for your social life, your family and friends. In fact you need to make space for these people during the whole process because if you wait till you finish a work project it might be too late.  The last thing you want is to build a successful minimalist business at the expense of your family and social life. Strive to be a ‘time billionaire’ and not a ‘dollar billionaire’. Contemplating on his whole business journey, Sahil draws the following lesson:

“I had lived the founder life for four years, working whenever I wasn’t sleeping, neglecting relationships with friends and family, and generally putting work ahead of all else. With all that behind me, I was free to chart a different course. I found that when I wasn’t trying to placate investors or make the company grow faster than it was meant to grow, finally, I had time. While I was no longer on track to become a dollar billionaire, I realized I was a “time billionaire,” someone Graham Duncan defines as having at least a billion seconds left in their life— or at least thirty-one years.”

Quotes from the Minimalist Entrepreneur:

“You don’t learn, then start. You start, then learn.”

” Minimalist entrepreneurs focus on getting “profitable at costs” instead of growing at all costs”.

“A business is a way to solve problems for people you care about—and get paid for it”.

“Your audience will grow much larger than your customer base—but your customer base is a subset, likely the most passionate, of your audience.”

“‘A healthy man wants a thousand things, a sick man only wants one,’ Confucius is purported to have said. Rephrased in the context of this book, a minimalist entrepreneur without a successful, sustainable business only wants one thing (that!), while one who has achieved it has the world as their oyster.”

References

  1. theCut, Forbes