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Practical advice for start-ups, with a high-tech angle

In ''The Art of the Start," author Guy Kawasaki has accomplished something rare: He's written a how-to business book that is simultaneously smart, practical, and fun to read. There's lots of useful information in this book for start-up entrepreneurs.

The subtitle's claim that the book is a ''guide for anyone starting anything is a bit of an exaggeration. In truth, what Kawasaki has written is an exceedingly good guide for people who want to launch high-growth technology start-ups. (In full disclosure, I once managed a program in which Kawasaki served on a team of mentors for entrepreneurs.)

Kawasaki writes that his book is applicable to a much broader audience; he even suggests it will be useful for people who are starting nonprofits or churches. But the book's frame of reference is really the high-tech world.

Kawasaki says that there are ''seven milestones that every start-up must focus on. If you miss any of them, your organization might die." The list includes items such as ''finish a prototype" and ''raise capital" that, while applicable to many start-ups making a high-tech product, may not apply to other kinds of start-ups -- such as small services firms that don't plan to raise outside capital.

Kawasaki does include some good advice for potential ''intrapreneurs" -- people who want to create entrepreneurial-like activity within established companies. It is, however, for high-tech start-up entrepreneurs that this book will most come in handy.

Kawasaki covers a range of key topics, from pitching your business to investors to growing a business through self-financed ''bootstrapping" to building your brand. His advice is generally solid and at times specific. In his chapter on making presentations to investors, Kawasaki even reminds entrepreneurs to use good-sized fonts in presentation slides. His reasoning? ''Think about it: Any venture capitalist who survived the dot-com carnage is probably over 40 and has deteriorating vision. A good rule of thumb for font size is to divide the oldest investor's age by two, and use that font size," Kawasaki writes.

Kawasaki himself could be described as a venture capitalist dot-com survivor. Well-known for his work as a marketing evangelist in the early days of the Macintosh computer, Kawasaki in 1997 cofounded, now Garage Technology Ventures.

Kawasaki does admit in his book that he learned a hard lesson during the Internet boom years. In a section urging entrepreneurs to ''understaff and outsource," he writes of his own mistake in overstaffing at Garage. ''At its peak, the headcount of Garage was 52 people. After a series of layoffs, I reduced the head count to under 10 people."

The process of layoffs, he admits, is traumatic both for people and for the organization. ''Do as I say, not as I did," Kawasaki concludes. ''If you want to bootstrap your organization, then intentionally understaff."

Overall, Kawasaki's many years of experience in the high-tech world lend his book savvy insight. One chapter that stands out is about what he calls ''the art of partnering" -- specifically, the arts of managing strategic partnerships, networking, and e-mail communication. That chapter is full of practical tips and, like much of the book, has a lighthearted tone that makes it enjoyable to read.

Any entrepreneur who has tried to work with a big company will be amused by a chart in which Kawasaki translates the difference between what a big organization says and what will really happen. One example: ''Big organization says . . . 'We can move fast.' " Translation, per Kawasaki: ''No one has talked to the legal department yet."'

All in all, Kawasaki has done an excellent job. ''The Art of the Start" should be read by anyone who is seriously trying to launch a high-tech start-up.

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