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Book Review: The Startup Garden

Tired of books about starting a business that don't address the really tough questions? Inc's Finance Editor Jill Andresky Fraser reviews Tom Ehrenfeld's new book, The Startup Garden, which she says is full of "savvy, actionable ideas."
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The owners of start-ups and young businesses are typically plagued by two truly huge problems: their own isolation, which usually translates into a dearth of all kinds of key resources, and lack of capital, which is usually the main problem that they focus on because it impacts their daily cash-flow realities.

As Inc's finance editor, I've seen what feels like an endless supply of books that aim to address the needs of fledgling entrepreneurs, but I think most of them are a waste of a business owner's time. They're often embarrassingly boosterish as well as shockingly light on real substance. Important questions -- Where do I go to get money if all my options seem to have dead-ended? How exactly do I know whether my business plan is disaster-proof? What does it mean to be a boss (and a good boss) if my work experience has mainly consisted of being a frustrated employee until now? -- are seldom addressed.

The Startup Garden (McGraw-Hill, 2002), by Tom Ehrenfeld, is a rare exception: supportive, without being naive; comprehensive, but still a quick, light read; and full of savvy, actionable ideas, especially on the finance front. A 30-page chapter on "the numbers that count" alone justifies the book's $18.95 price tag. Ehrenfeld, a former Inc writer, provides shrewd insights about what bankers, investors, and other potential supporters of a new business will want to see and hear about. I also particularly like his discussion of "financial literacy," code words for what I consider an absolute necessity: for start-up owners to start thinking and communicating in the same sophisticated financial terms that the corporate world relies upon.

Each of Ehrenfeld's seven chapters is jam-packed with real-world anecdotes about the challenges and success strategies relied upon by a wide range of business owners, who run the gamut from Roxanne Coady (the owner of what is arguably the United States' best-known independent bookstore, R.J. Julia Bookstore, in Madison, Conn.) to Gus Rancatore (the founder, owner, and operator of the three Toscanini's Ice Cream stores, in the author's hometown of Cambridge, Mass. -- as Ehrenfeld puts it, the stores "produce what is in my biased opinion the best ice cream in the world"). Bravo! One thing that helps this book stand out from a pack of look-alikes is the way that -- thankfully -- Ehrenfeld doesn't hesitate to share his "biased opinions" with new entrepreneurs about a whole variety of subjects.

For readers who want or need more information, the book also contains lots of leads to specialty resources, on and off the Internet. One measure of any business guide's value is the caliber of its resource, and the caliber here is high. As elsewhere in the book, Ehrenfeld reveals the breadth of his knowledge -- as well as his sympathetic understanding of the highs and lows of the entrepreneurial experience -- by annotating his recommendations with plenty of personal comments. One good example: when discussing a book called Startup, by Jerry Kaplan, Ehrenfeld notes that it's his "favorite narrative account of someone launching a business," in part because it's a "great story of learning from failure (although some would just call [Kaplan's] adventure a practice run for a successful company)."

Do you want to learn more about The Startup Garden? Then check out this excerpt from the book about financing options.

Copyright © 2002 G+J USA Publishing.

Last updated: Apr 23, 2002




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