March Books


I got a bunch of reading done this month, mostly because I found myself on an airplane fairly often.  Of the four, The Last Lecture was the best.

Rework – Rework is the newest book by 37 Signals founders Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.  They are well known for creating simple, easy to use online products that help business get things done.  Rework is the follow up to their first book, Getting Real, and attempts to show people how to work more efficiently and effectively.

I first became interested in 37 Signals when I heard Jason Fried speak at an entrepreneurship conference in Milwaukee where I was also speaking. Fried stressed simplicity, focus and building something you would use because if you are building something you’d use, you are already an expert.

My favorite chapters were Go, Progress, Promotion and Productivity.  They explain how to get started, make progress and then promote your business.  They also have a ton of great tips about how to be more productive.  My biggest take away is that companies should be teaching instead of promoting.  Most companies do not teach, they promote.  Companies that teach lessons to their customers have bigger followings, which leads to free promotion.

The book is a little repetitive at times, but is worth reading.  I’m fairly familiar with 37 Signals because I read their blog regularly, so most of the ideas weren’t groundbreaking, but it was nice to hear everything in a single place.  If you don’t read their blog or haven’t heard about 37 Signals, this book is a must read.  If you are familiar, you can save the money and just read their blog again.

Mark Cuban recently said “if I had to choose to invest in someone who’s read Rework or has an MBA, I’m choosing rework every time.”  While I wouldn’t go that far, I’ll want any new Entrustet hires to read the book as part of their initial training.

The Checklist Manifesto – I heard about Checklist by Atul Gawande while reading Switch last month.  It sounded interesting and I planned on picking it up.  Luckily, my Aunt came to visit and happened to have the book.  I read the book on the plane to SXSW and really enjoyed it.  Gawande is a brilliant surgeon who wanted to know how he could improve medical care.  He got interested in checklists after marveling about airline safety.  In the book, he investigates how checklists can be used to prevent mistakes in any industry. He first helped implement a clean IV lines program that help Michigan hospitals reduce infections almost entirely, which saved lives and millions of dollars.  He later helped the WHO implement a standard checklist for surgeries that has saved countless lives and money.

The book is a quick read because it is written more like fiction than non fiction and provides tips to increase productivity and help you get things done, while avoiding mistakes.  Highly recommended.

Leadership and Self-Deception – Someone gave me this book right before I got on a plane when I was complaining that I didn’t have anything to read.  It’s a self help book, styled as dialogues between an employee of a company and his bosses.  Written in 2002, the main idea is that it is not what you do, but why you do it that matters.  The central advice is that whenever you want to do something to help another person, you should do it, otherwise you make excuses for yourself and it starts a downward spiral.  I don’t agree with everything from the book, but I believe that the world would be a better place if people were motivated to help others more often.

The Last Lecture– I had seen Randy Pausch’s last lecture on youtube before, but had not read the book.  For those who don’t know, Randy Pausch was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer and was given 6 months to live.  He spent that time trying to make life better for his wife and his three young children.  Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon and was given the opportunity to give a “last lecture.”  It was recorded and Pausch used the time to talk about how to live life, pursue your own dreams and enable the dreams of others.  It is a sad and uplifting book at the same time.  It is well written and funny, informative and wise.  I especially liked the section about enabling the dreams of others.  The Last Lecture is one of the best books I’ve ever read and should be required reading in high school classes.

Introducing Entrepreneur 101


A few different people have asked me “what sorts of things should be taught in a college level beginning entrepreneurship class?”  I always had a few answers, but never came up with a comprehensive syllabus.  After speaking in a class earlier this week at the UW Business School, I decided to write up a basic syllabus for a 16 week college course that I’d call Entrepreneur 101: A Practical Guide to Starting A Business and added it as a page to my site.  I would love to teach a class like this on the college level for interested entrepreneurs.

Introduction to the Course

Too many classes focus on theory and large, overarching issues instead of practical things that you will need to know to start a business.  Hopefully this class will prepare you to actually start your business by giving you the tools to do all of the nitty gritty work that is necessary to get started.  At the end of the semester, students will compete in a business plan competition in front of a panel of judges.

Week 1 – Introduction to Entrepreneurship

Class: There are many types of entrepreneurship, not just high tech.  It’s easier than you think and college is the best time to start. How to Live Before You Die.

Required reading: How to Start a Startup, What Startups are Really Like, The 3 Advantages of a Startup, Entrepreneurs Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Week 2 – Idea Generation and Business Plans

Class: How do you take an idea to a business plan?  How do you write a business plan? Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce

Required reading: The World is Flat, 9 Business Selection Criteria, 13 Sentences, College is the Best Time to Start a Business

Homework: Start thinking about a business to start for the business plan competition.

Week 3 – Types of Businesses Organization

Class: What type of entity should I use? LLC, Corporation, Non profit?  Learn how how to sign up for LLC.

Required Reading: 18 Mistakes that Kill Startups , The Top Ten Lies of Entrepreneurs

Homework: Sign up for an LLC, but don’t pay for it.  Start working on your business plan.

Week 4 – What are the Necessary Legal Docs Required?

Class: Operating agreements, partnership agreement and their  importance.  Guest speaker: A lawyer familiar with these issues.

Required Reading: Top 10 Geek Business Myths, The PayPal Wars

Week 5 – Taxes, Banking, Accounting

Class: How to setup a FEIN, get a free business bank account and start learning about Quickbooks.

Homework: Go to a bank and get a free business bank account set up (you don’t actually have to sign up), start exploring Quickbooks.

Week 6 – Quickbooks

Class: How to use Quickbooks in a small business or startup

Homework: Create a Quickbooks file for a hypothetical startup.

Required Reading: How to Get Taken Seriously Running A Startup Under 25

Week 7 – Credit Card Processing

Class: Teach how credit card processing system works, fill out forms

Homework: Call multiple resellers and see who can get the best rate.

Week 8 – Servers and SSL

Class: Overview of types of servers, server companies.   What is an ssl? Overview of ssl companies.  Test on first half of class.

Required Reading: Don’t Be Afraid of the Competition, My Rules for Startups

Homework: First draft of business plan due

Week 9 – Overview of Programming

Class: Types of programming languages, how programming works works, explanation of databases, what to look for when hiring a programmer.  How to register a domain name.

Required Reading: The Tipping Point

Homework: Register a domain for under $8.

Week 10 – Legal

Class: What to look for in a lawyer, what you need from them and the importance of a legal advisor.

Week 11 – Mentors

Class: Overview of why you need a mentor, who is willing to help, how you should look for a mentor.

Required Reading: Every Startup Needs a Mentor Team, The Entrepreneurial Push

Homework: Connect with a potential mentor on Linkedin, Twitter, email or phone.

Week 12 – Networking

Class: Why you need to network, strategies for successful networking, how to stay in contact with people.

Required Reading: The Business of Meeting People, Freakonomics

Homework: Get business cards for yourself, check out Brazen Careerist.

Week 13 – Blogging and Online Stores

Class: How to set up a blog, overview of WordPress, Blogger etc.  Overview of online shops.  Intro to Shopify.

Homework: Set up free wordpress blog.

Week 14 – Online Advertising, Social Media, Analytics, Document Sharing

Class: Overview of online advertising, CPM, CPC, Twitter, Facebook.  Intro to Google Adwords, Analytics, Docs and Calendar.

Required Reading: Made to Stick

Homework: sign up for Google docs, share a document with me.

Week 15 – Guide to Raising Money, Office Space

Class: How to value your business? Overview of friends & family, angel investors, VCs.  When is the right time to get an office?  How do you get the best deals?  Where should you look?

Required Reading: The Top Ten Lies of Venture Capitalists, To Office or Not to Office

Week 16 – Business Plan Competition

Final Exam – Business Plan Competition with panel of judges, based on Burrill Business Plan Competition.

I really think that this sort of course would be incredibly beneficial to a student who is thinking about starting a business or even thinking about working for a startup.  These types of skills will give students a nice foundation so that they can start their own business.  Check out my full list of resources on my Entrepreneur 101 page for links to all of the companies I would use for each of these lessons.

So help me out: What am I missing?  Would you take a class like this?  Do you think universities would be willing to offer a class like this?

Entrepreneur Profile: Justin Beck, PerBlue


Note: This post is the third in a new series called “Entrepreneur Profiles.”  These posts focus on an interesting entrepreneur who I’ve gotten to know and hopefully provide a window into their business that you might not otherwise find in a newspaper or magazine.

Justin Beck is the co-founder and CEO of PerBlue, a software startup in Madison.  PerBlue’s flagship product, Parallel Kingdom, is the first location based game built for the iPhone and Android and has over 80,000 players worldwide.  Founded in January 2008 while he was still in school, Beck and his team have worked to create a successful game and an interesting business model.  Beck graduated with a degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Wisconsin.

Nathan Lustig: Hi Justin, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.  Can you give me a brief overview of your company?

Justin Beck: Sure.  PerBlue was created when we started developing our flagship game, Parallel Kingdom, in January 2008. The first version was released in October 2008 and we’ve been steadily gaining players and improving the game ever since. The game is on its 3rd major version and we currently have over 80,000 players.

We have 7 more or less full-time people working for us and are growing nicely. We have also developed several other applications for the iPhone and Android platforms but our most successful app remains Parallel Kingdom.  As we’ve grown we have found our business to be building great multiplayer games for mobile platforms.

NL: What kind of background did you have to be able to start a mobile gaming company?

JB: I have been programming since I was 12 years old and love to do it.  I graduated from UW-Madison with a Computer Engineering and Computer Science Degree and I interned as a software engineer at Google and as a program manager at Microsoft on their ASP.NET team.

NL: Many founders of startups have some sort of an “ah-ha moment” when they first got the idea for their company.  Did you have one and what was it?

JB: I’m thinking that could be true for us.

I was working on a different startup with some friends from Google.  We were going to build a community bar and real-time chat for webpages as a script mashup, which was going great.  But when Andrew Hanson (my partner) and I were doing homework one night, we starting thinking about the next game we should make.  I was like, we should build something mobile, something people actually would play, simple, and we should throw GPS into it somehow to make it interesting.

From that conversation, we started with Parallel Kingdom.  It was about a month later when I realized the mobile space was really growing and I should invest myself into build a company around that space.  This was before the iPhone Appstore even existed.  I would say that was my “ah-ha” moment.  I just knew it.  It wasn’t a tough choice.

NL: What is the biggest reason you founded your startup?

JB: I love adventure.   I saw building a company as the next challenge in my life.  Two of my life goals were to work at Google and Microsoft.  I had been there and gotten offers from them, but this opportunity came up and the timing couldn’t get much better.  Many people assume lots of things about people who run their own business, many of these are explicitly not true with me.

I actually really like working for someone else and trying to make them as successful as possible.  I also really have no interest in the money.  I took a 2 year pay cut to do PerBlue.  So for me, it’s the adventure and challenge.

NL: What is the biggest unexpected challenge you had to overcome?

JB: I would say my biggest unexpected challenge was how hard it is to be a really good manager of a creative team. I am still working on it, but doing it well is very hard.

NL: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a startup?


1.       Play to win, commit yourself to playing the game and be willing to be very flexible in how you navigate the pathway.   Watch and model people who have built successful companies and learn from them.  (Watching failure doesn’t teach you how to succeed)

2.       Have a specific goal: we are going to do “this.” Drive yourself and your team to this goal.

3.       Have a schedule, (roadmap) that is a reasonable plan of getting to that goal.

4.       Commitment and talent are the 2 most important traits of your teammates.

5.       Stay focused.  You can only build one business at a time.  Choose your business and stick to it till its done.

6.       It’s a marathon not a sprint, pace yourself emotionally, mentally, physically

NL: What are three websites you check everyday?

JB: Not many. Pandora, Facebook, Google Analytics, PKStats, Bug Tracking is my honest list. But websites I check weekly bi-weekly when I am thinking about strategy or competitive research.

I have my executives I try to watch.  Marc Pincus (Zynga), Eric Schmidt (Google), Jason Fried (37signals)

I like watching talks, Google Tech Talks are amazing.

NL: Do you have any funny stories or amusing anecdotes about starting or running the company?  Do people ask you “when are you going to get a real job?”

JB: There are lots of funny stories.  One of the easiest ones to explain is DB Death Day and yes it is a PerBlue holiday.  We had some problems with the database and issued a statement that:  “There was a massive forest fire in PK, resulting in every tree in the western hemisphere being burnt to the ground.”  Along with the loss of every GeoBuzz post.  It was a sad day, but somewhat comical looking back.

I have actually never heard that statement about getting a real job.  Most people are very encouraging.  Most people don’t understand what it takes to build a business. So that makes their empathy hard. I think the most negative person towards PerBlue was my recruiter at Microsoft when I turned down their offer and counter offer, but that was her job.

NL: What/who has been the biggest help to you and your company?

JB: My mentors have been amazing.  During PerBlue’s life I have now had about 7 mentors, as the life stage of the company changes the mentors I use and depend on also changes.  But I can’t imagine doing this without mentors.  My partner Andrew has also been an amazing asset, starting a company with a partner is an extremely wise idea.  Team is what makes the company, without the PerBlue team, we would have never gotten off the launch pad.

NL: What is the most fun part of running your company?  The least?

JB: I would say the most enjoyable parts of running PerBlue, are working with the team, building and solving big problems, having things work, and seeing players love the game and play it so much and actually see our business become successful.  I personally get a lot of gratification when I see my co-workers growing and become excellent at what they do.  I think the least enjoyable part of my job are the days when it seems like everything “breaks” or when things just don’t go like you need them to.

NL: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, you had some great advice.  Good luck in the future.

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Entrepreneur Profiles: Fashion Entrepreneur Sukara Sterling


Note: This post is the second in a new series called “Entrepreneur Profiles.”  These posts focus on an interesting entrepreneur who I’ve gotten to know and hopefully provide a window into their business that you might not otherwise find in a newspaper or magazine. Sukara Sterling is a young entrepreneur and friend who started her own clothing boutique on State Street.  This post is about her experiences with life after her store.

HI! my name is Sukara Sterling and I am a young entrepreneur. I opened up my very own clothing boutique when I was 21 years old on famous State Street in Madison,Wisconsin.  I named my shop after me, calling it Sukara Sterling.  I owned and operated it for nearly 5 years, closing it in July 2009.  After closing my store, I searched and searched for the right job, and was offered many, but I really realized I really wanted to be my own boss.

People always ask me “how did you go from growing up in the country to owning your own boutique at age 21?”  It all started at a young age.  I was always interested in fashion as a child.  I grew up in the country playing outside with my siblings, exploring abandoned buildings and playing in the Maribel caves. Being the outdoorsy child that I was, I somehow also had an interest in fashion.

I can remember making my first garment, I think in 4th grade. It was made out of a farm print fabric (I’d like to bring that look back….hahaha). Anyway, from there I continued to have an interest in fashion and also started to learn more about business. I remember buying my first business book as a Sophomore in high school and bringing it to class with me.  The book brought a ton of attention and lots of questions from the my teachers and students. I told everyone I wanted to own my very own clothing boutique. I definitely got a mixed response.  Some thought I could never do it and others gave me their full support. (Thanks to those who did ;).

Next, I graduated from high school and went on to college. Let’s just say I picked the wrong school and switched colleges a few times. Never finding my niche at school, I ended up dropping out, even though I loved fashion and had been able to choose to major in fashion marketing.

I had two major problems.  First, I had to pay all my bills through school, leaving me with hardly any time to study. I had two part time jobs and I was also a full time student.  My first job was as a waitress.  I loved that job, the money was good, and I had a blast running around the restaurant with my co-workers.  Some of the girls are now my life long friends, they were also college students at the time, and moved on to other things.

The second problem, and this one was a BIG one was, in class I would sit and think, “gosh why cant I just do this in ‘real life’, and skip the stuff I don’t need?” Well, that is exactly what I decided to do. The second part time job I had was at a clothing boutique called Lupe. The women who owned it wanted to get out of her lease and I saw this as a great opportunity to start my own store by taking over her lease.

That is exactly what I did. After a few weeks of getting everything needed together including taking out a small loan, I inked my name on the lease with a hefty monthly rent. I really wasn’t worried about how I would pay the bills, I just knew that it was what I wanted. For me when there is a will, there is a way.

I changed the name of the store to Sukara Sterling, restocked the store with my own inventory and was on my merry way for a great learning experience. Let’s just say I jumped into this.  I didn’t know much about business and only had read a few books. I went with the flow and learned what I needed to run a successful business and grew with my new company. I learned to do everything including, HR, Accounting, Taxes, Managing, Operations and my favorite the buying. I remember going to my first show for a buying trip in LA and having no idea what I was doing. I just nodded my head and agreed acting the part, they bought it. It worked.

A few weeks later I was ripping open boxes of new inventory, and reaping the benefits of checking out customers and making some cash. As a few years went on, I got bored with being in the same place; I needed more flexibility in my life, not to mention the economy decided to tank and sales were down. I saw this as the perfect time to sell out my inventory and move on with new ventures. Owning and operating the store gave me tons of experience and exposure and enabled me to be qualified for some pretty sick jobs. I closed in July of 2009 and attempted to move to Los Angeles. I made some money, learned a ton, but it was time to move on.

My beautiful sister is also an entrepreneur, running her own jewelry label out in LA.   She was lovely enough to fly home and road trip with me and my dog Benson across the country from Wisconsin to California. In California I was lucky enough to find some great job opportunities even though California’s unemployment rate is very high compared to other places. I was offered an office job and a job as a store manager for a fashion label, but, let’s just say LA is not my bag, so I turned down the job offers.

I found that it was great to visit, but decided it wasn’t right for me to be living there. Among other reasons, oddly enough I needed rain, and there was hardly any rain in California and bunch of other stuff I didn’t love. I packed up everything and came back to where I am from, still in search of my perfect place to live.  I was comforted where there was fresh rain and green cut grass in good old Wisconsin. I drove solo across the states in 36 hours.  If you drive straight through, it takes 30 hours. So if you do the math, you can see I slept little and only stopped when needed for gas. I slept once for 4 hours in the beautiful Rocky Mountains, waking up to a shiny dusting of snow. I loved driving across the country solo, it gave me plenty of personal one on one reflection time and thinking time, which I love.

I applied for jobs in several different states when I got back.  I still didn’t know where I wanted to have my home base. I was lucky enough to get job offers in several different states from several different companies. I was offered a job in Boston, but wasn’t ready for Boston.  Got offered a job in Chicago as Store Manager for a clothing line that I love, but I finally realized that I did not want to live in a big city whether it was LA or Chicago. Finally, I took a job in Milwaukee, working as store manager for a large clothing retailer.  I saw this as a huge opportunity because I would be managing a store that did $7mm  a year in sales, and it was a different path for me coming from my background in boutiques. However, that wasn’t for me either.

I realized that corporate America is really not my friend and I needed more freedom and flexibility in my life. That is when it dawned on me that I need to be doing my own thing again, fully running my own show. I decided I would look for some consulting work and quit when I found that.

Fortunately, my experience has given me a leg up in the harsh world of trying to find a job. The work came to me faster than I thought. I went in for an interview and I was on the payroll 5 minutes after my interview ended and immediately started working that same day. I am now currently working for a company called Madison Avenue Worldwide. This awesome couple who I adore dearly has given me a great opportunity. They were looking for someone to help them start a retail store from scratch. That is where I come in. I was hired to do exactly what I know how to do. Start a retail business. It is the closet thing to working for myself that I can get right now.

My job is to implement all the procedures and operations for a retail store that was just started called Fashion Playground. I am in charge of basically starting the store from scratch and getting it running and profitable. I am doing all the public relations, marketing, HR, writing the store manuals and implementing all the procedures and policy’s etc. for store operations. It is a great concept idea for a store where the kids get to come in and be their own designer for their own garment. I was recently informed that after I finish up with my current project with them, I get to start traveling for their other company and will be doing marketing and PR which I am really excited about. The owners of this business are very lovely and have given me the flexibility that I want and positive feedback that I was hoping for.  This jobs gives me a good mix of entrepreneurship and the steadiness of knowing I’ll have a paycheck.

While moving around and trying to figure out where I should live I also realized that I need to be a citizen of the world, because I love traveling so much. I do however, still want a home base but am not sure yet where that is going to be. I am thinking a mountain town somewhere, perhaps Big Sky, Montana where my brother lives or the northern west coast in Portland to join my friend Mrs. Tedford.

I’ve also learned that its kind of fun not knowing.  I like to go with the flow and see what happens because it keeps life more exciting. The moral of my professional life story thus far is that I would ultimately like to be fully running my own show from a laptop and a cell phone from anywhere in the world. In order to get to this point, I need to work hard and get my own business’s going.

In addition to working fulltime, I am working on a few other companies that I am starting, designing a fall 2010 clothing line, representing a clothing line outside of New Zealand called Federation as the USA and Canada rep, working with global summit (a non-profit that I helped found) and doing other consulting on the side. Hopefully it will all will pay off so I can get the lifestyle that I want and ultimately strive for!

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