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How 25 Startups got their start - Book Review by Brandon Marker | Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Have you ever wondered how Chipotle Mexican Grill got started? How about Coke, Twitter or Zynga? If you want the details, the new book How They Started is a quick, informative read that studies the beginnings of 25 companies we all recognize, use, or possibly hold in the highest esteem. David Lester and Carol Tice have taken an interesting approach and examined the founding stories for companies in different industries. Each case study follows the founder(s) and the birth of the following companies, broken down by industry:

- Manufacturing: Spanx

- Media and Entertainment: Electronic Arts, Pixar

- Services: Zipcar

- Internet: eBay, Etsy, Groupon, LinkedIn,, Twitter, TripAdvisor, Zynga

- Food and Drink: Chipotle Mexican Grill, Gatorade, Jamba Juice, Pinkberry, Whole Foods Market 

- Technology: RIM, Dropbox, Google

- American Classics (Coke, IBM, Disney, KFC, and Microsoft

Each company is viewed from multiple perspectives, beginning with the founders’ back-story, and what they were involved with that led to the creation of the company. The first part of every chapter is the brief founding story, highlighting the success gained and/or maintained. Lester and Tice then step-back into an early, short biography. This was particularly interesting for younger companies like Dropbox, Zynga, and Zipcar, as their founders are not yet known like the Google or Gatorade creators.

Then Tice and Lester quickly transition into the creation of the business and how the product/service was brought to market. This is where we see the struggles faced, catastrophic events avoided, hardships met, and, of course, the road to success. The quick growth of companies always seems to be a blur. Before we know it, they have millions of users/clientele, and are expanding geographically. The stories and troubles depicted for each startup are from the points where most of us were not yet aware of them.

There are several reasons I recommend the book. The first is the wealth of quotes from the founders. If nothing else, locate the quotes and make notes. These are from visionaries, across all fields, and entrepreneurs that gained extreme success. Some founders show incredible vision early in the venture while others show will and determination, and that failure is not an option. My favorite quotes depicted overwhelming and unexpected success. We recognize these entrepreneurs as huge success stories, but they were not always so calm, cool, and collected.

I also like how the book highlights companies from several different industries. You learn how completely different struggles are met and conquered whether they be from high tech, retail or the restaurant industry. You also see the common struggles that all of these founders faced, regardless of their industry. This is where the founder of Spanx, struggling to meet manufacturing demand, can be compared to the founder of Zipcar, who needs capital to stay afloat. These women succeeded and got what they needed, but it was not placed in their lap. Similarly, Pinkberry can be directly compared to Coca Cola, in that both companies had a heavy focus on the branding of their product. Lester and Tice connect the dots with the strategically selected company stories.

Learning about the founding teams is  the third reason I recommend this book.  . From the founding team at IBM in the early 1900s to the four founders at Gatorade, to the six founders at Etsy, you see the group dynamic at work. These chapters reveal how the founders pooled their talents, and depict a different approach that proves extremely beneficial for the companies.

How They Started is very inspiring, giving want-to-be entrepreneurs an inside look at how the early days at some very hot companies were as challenging as you would find at any startup. If these founders can rise above $70 first-month revenues, car crashes or losing a majority of customers for three months, so can any entrepreneur. With 25 companies covered, 50 founders in the spotlight, and countless mistakes and successes shared from first-hand experience, there is plenty to gain from reading How They Started.

Entrepreneurs will be driven by the read. Others will find their entrepreneurial fire lit after a few chapters. And those with a creative side will enjoy the book because of the innovation described on every page.  

This is an enjoyable read with materials presented in an easily understood fashion, which is what you would expect when you pair a writer of Tice’s caliber with Lester’s own startup experience. A veteran business reporter and now freelance writer, Tice regularly writes for print and online publications such as Entrepreneur, The Seattle Times and Alaska Airlines magazine.  Lester founded his own successful company when he was just 22, sold it for millions and then went on to found the UK’s largest small business websites, and, reaching 300,000 business owners a month in the UK.

The book’s quotes and insight will keep you intrigued, as the company growth keeps each chapter exciting. This is not a technical analysis of growth, but a collection of stories detailing the rise of brands we all know, use, and love.



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