Though I’ve never been a founder, I’ve been an early member of startup companies and internal ventures (such as being a founding member of the, at the time new, Boston office for Fitbit ) so I was curious to read Jurgen Appelo’s book Startup, Scaleup, Screwup: 42 Tools to Accelerate Lean and Agile Business Growth, and see how relevant it was for me. It turned out to be very much so. Appelo combines lean and agile principles with a model for business development that is relevant for both an entrepreneur starting a company, and an intrapreneur, leading a product initiative or a team.
Since the book weaves many agile concepts and processes, such as backlogs, burn down charts, and retrospectives, into the process, I was tempted to title my review something like “Agile for Startups” or “A Startups with Agile values.” But those names would misstate two key take-aways from the book. First, agile themes like “Inspect and Adapt” are just a really good way to start a venture, as new ideas require that you get constant feedback and adapt to it. If this weren’t the case and you knew what would work and how to do it, it would not be a venture. Second, this isn’t just about startups companies. Appelo addresses these idea in the context of an entrepreneurial startup or any intrepreneruial internal venture. In either case, you need to demonstrate value to secure a continuing funding source, or fail. And the feedback loops agile approaches like experiments and retrospective are essential to building that value.
Reading through the book I was struck by how often Appelo makes points that are both obvious and iconoclastic. At one point he asserts that “growth” should never be a goal in itself, but way to achieve success, such as delivering value to more customers, which seems counter to common business thinking, but which makes perfect sense. Similarly he describes how teams often frame cultural fit as being “similar” rather than “complementary” -- which is to say that a new person fills a gap on the team.
The book covers everything from funding, and planning to hiring. The hiring ideas are reminiscent of the ones I learned from Johanna Rothman in Hiring Geeks that Fit, albeit with slightly different terms, which are in essence, figure out how to what qualities you need in an employee, decide how you measure them
Appello’s Witty, irreverent and humorous style make this one of the more entertaining business books to read, and the style reflects a perspective on business that might make you want to reconsider things you took from granted. At the very least you’ll be tempted to explore the supporting materials that are linked at the end of every chapter
Whether you are in a startup, involved in building a new product for an established company, of just curious about how businesses succeed, Startup, Scale Up Screw Up is an enjoyable, informative, and actionable read that will likely generate many ideas of things to do or learn more about.