CBJ Book Review:

This originally ran in the May 18-24, 2009 issue of the Corridor Business Journal.

Pow! Right Between the Eyes!
Andy Nulman
Wiley Books, 244 p., $22.95

I love comedy, but I find that when people try to blend comedy and business advice, the results are usually so stale as to be off putting at best, worthless at worst.

That makes Andy Nulman’s book a – wait for it… surprise. His book, subtitled “Profiting from the Art of Surprise,” certainly tries to get the reader laughing at the same time he is learning, but it does so with just the right balance of mirth and worth that it is the rare example of a comedic business book that works.

Mr. Nulman’s key tenet is this: “The element of surprise is the most important aspect in contemporary business.” In a world where you can go into a McDonald’s in India and get a burger that tastes just like one in Cedar Rapids, or walk into any Walgreens and know exactly where to find the cold medicine, that might seem a strange thing to believe.

But, Mr. Nulman writes, the problem with the expected is that it doesn’t generate any excitement about your product. “The end result is a yawn-inducing, decreasingly effective, peasoup-esque haze.”

Surprise your customer – or better yet, your potential customer – and “it slices through the dreariness of the dreaded ‘murketing’ message.”

Once he explains why surprise is vital and describes what it is, he spends much of the rest of the book telling the reader how to do it. Here, Mr. Nulman’s background in entertainment is put to full use. He knows how to present a case study and make his pitch, engaging the reader at the same time he stresses key points.

Two important chapters, however, are the difference between the book being a novelty and being seriously valuable. In them, Mr. Nulman warns against undertaking marketing efforts solely for the sake of shock and titillation. In one, he shares what a surprise is not, while in the other he cautions that while there is value in surprise, done wrong it can have unintended consequences. Constantly raising the element of surprise can be just as boring as having no surprise at all, he warns.

For those looking for quick takeaways, the chapter “The Art of the Business of Creating Surprise” is the best destination. Over the course of 60 pages, Mr. Nulman offers several ideas and anecdotes about ways to use surprise to spread the word.

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CBJ Book Review

This originally ran in the May 4-11, 2009 issue of the Corridor Business Journal.

So You Want to Start a Business?
Edward D. Hess and Charles F. Goetz
FT Press, 194 p., $18.99

There is an interesting distinction in the subtitle of this book, which reads, “8 Steps to Take Before Making the Leap.” In the introduction, the authors write that they actually are addressing the eight mistakes that typically derail startup businesses.

Further, they write that these mistakes are at the real culprits behind failures that have been attributed to a larger perceived problem: the lack of capital. “Running out of money is the result or consequence of more fundamental, underlying failures,” they write.

The book begins with an introduction that lays out what those eight mistakes are, then recasts the problem to state its solution when it is given its own chapter. For example, the first mistake is “choosing a bad business opportunity.” The related chapter is titled, “What is a Good Business Opportunity?”

The book wouldn’t be as valuable if it simply left things here. It’s one thing to know how to avoid a problem. It’s another to see why you’re prone to make that error in the first place and to recognize if you already have. An early chapter provides the needed context, better explaining what these errors are and what they lead to.

In the case of the first mistake about good and bad business opportunities, they authors write about ideas that seem good, but that won’t earn you enough to cover costs and make a living. Execution is more important than the idea, they write, and without it, a good idea can lead to a bad business opportunity.

With that context in hand, the first chapter makes more sense – as do subsequent chapters thanks to their own contextualizing introductions – and sets you up for the math-intensive discussion of product, customers and execution that follows.

Other problems covered in the book include selling at the wrong price, failing to hire and retain the right people and being unable to grow and scale the business. Each is discussed in a technical chapter that really uncovers the nuts and bolts.

As usual, this book might be of help to someone contemplating making the entrepreneurial leap, but it seems as if it would be better for someone who has already taken the plunge but who is dealing with challenges. Here, the immediate application of its concepts to a problem might be more helpful than the more abstract guidance they offer someone creating a business plan.

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