A Review of The $100 Startup, a Book by Chris Guillebeau

29 July

Aren’t these two sentences powerful?

Imagine a life where all your time is spent on the things you want to do.  Imagine giving your greatest attention to a project you create yourself, instead of working as a cog in a machine that exists to make other people rich.

These are the first two sentences of the book The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future by Chris Guillebeau.

Review of the 100 Startup

These two sentences hooked me right in – I just quit my corporate job in early 2012.  For the first time, I am not working for someone else.  I spent most of the last 25 years working in business, finance, policy, marketing, and content management.  My new focus is to do what I love – making things with my own two hands, while enjoying the crossroads of business, technology, and productivity.

Theme of the Book

The book is really all about freedom and value.  Freedom to make a living doing what you love by providing value based on your unique combination of passion and know-how.  This is SO applicable to the DIY niche, with which I wholeheartedly identify.  Soak in another quote from the book, you creative folks:

Often, the combination of freedom and value comes about when someone takes action on something he or she loves to do anyway: a hobby, skill, or passion that that person ends up transforming into a business model.

Throughout the book Chris shares stories of ordinary people (unexpected entrepreneurs) who have turned their passion into profit, in many cases starting out with as little as $100.  These inspiring stories aren’t just told in a general sense – the author shares very specific details, unlike many of the business books out there.

I especially like the example of Happy Knits, a yarn store in Portland (page 195).  Their online sales strategy is strengthened by their close ties to the knit & crochet social network Ravelry, and their focus on quality and love for their customers really makes them stand out.  I’m not a knitter or crocheter myself, but as a sewist I can’t help but think of The Fat Quarter Shop as a comparison.  Their support of the online sewing community is phenomenal – they sponsor tons of sewing bloggers and various online events, and maintain a consistently friendly and engaging presence on Twitter.  Their online store is also top-notch.

I read the $100 Startup after seeing people rave about it on Twitter.  I’d never heard of Chris Guillebeau before, so I looked up his blog and read a little about him.  He struck me as a mix of Michael Hyatt and Tim Ferriss, so I was sold.  I ordered the book from Amazon and read it in a few hours.  I really need to read it again because it is completely full of detailed and helpful ideas – my brain could use another immersion.

Here are some of my favorite parts of the book:


Value simply means helping people.  Think about how you can help people, using your personal talents.  And when you describe the value you provide, talk about the benefits people receive, rather than the features of your product.  Using the Happy Knits example, rather than using the fact-based description “Retail shop that sells yarn”, they use the emotion-based promise “Knitting is fun! Come in to learn, restock, knit, or just hang out.”

As you ponder what your product value really is, think about what people really want.  The table on page 37 is so simple and true.  People want more love, money, acceptance, and free time.  People want less stress, conflict, hassle, and uncertainty.

Review of the 100 Startup Value

Your Passion

One of the most powerful messages in the book directly correlates to the creative DIY niche:

…you usually don’t get paid for your hobby itself; you get paid for helping other people pursue the hobby or for something indirectly related to it.

Sure, I could sew up a ton of iPad cases or make hundreds of mosaic glass vases to sell.  But a good healthy profit just won’t happen with that model, given the time I’d have to put into it (without outsourcing).  And my love for sewing and mosaic art would probably go down the toilet.  Not fun.

The 140-Character Mission Statement

This is how I discovered Chris – by seeing Twitter-pated readers raving about the 140-character mission statement. People were enjoying crafting their own mission statements and sharing on Twitter.  It’s basically a combination of your value and the people who pay for it, emphasizing the benefit.  If you sell quilt patterns, it could be “I help people be creative by making a quilt for themselves or someone close to them.”  If you’re a pet sitter, it could be “I help busy owners feel at ease about their pets when they’re away.”

The Strategic Giving Marketing Plan

My favorite part of the book was the concept of strategic giving.  It’s about genuinely caring and being helpful without the thought of receiving anything back.  When you help people, your business grows.  Think about it, people are naturally drawn to others that give.  Good karma at work.

Checklists and Tools

Chris is a strategic giver himself, sharing scads of helpful checklists and guides, scattered throughout the book as well as at 100startup.com.  A few of my favorites:

  • The Possibilities List & Decision-Making Matrix (page 86)
  • The Thirty-Nine-Step Product Launch Checklist (page 140 & at 100startup.com)
  • The One-Page Promotion Plan (100startup.com)

Contest vs. Giveaway

These are ALL OVER in the online DIY community.  Particularly in the crafting and sewing space, bloggers are hosting contests or giveaways to get people engaged on their site.  And I am seeing WAY more giveaways than contests.  Giveaways are purely random drawings, with the winner receiving something cool for free.  Contests are  a bit more complex, involving competition and judging.  Did you know that giveaways don’t create as much true engagement?  Contests produce more meaningful participation, since they involve more than a name and email address in a comment to a blog post.  Chris recommends to experiment with both methods over time, to see what works best for you.

Hub and Spoke

I was very familiar with the hub and spoke concept before this book, by following the social media marketing niche for quite awhile.  The hub is the center of your online presence – most often, your blog.  This is where you want people to visit.

Review of the 100 Startup Hub and Spoke Model

The spokes are all the other areas you spend time online – Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google +, Pinterest, Flickr, and IRL (in real life) events.  These are meant to support your hub, not BE your hub.  This can get really difficult because of how engaging and addictive some of these spokes are, especially Instagram and Twitter for me.

The content on spokes is not owned by you, but the content on your blog hub is YOURS.  Liz Strauss hits this point home with her post Don’t Build Your Business Castle on Another Guy’s Land.  Definitely worth a read.

The whole hub and spoke theme is a big issue in the DIY niche right now.  I see tons of active users on Twitter, Instagram, etc., that don’t even have a blog.  I see sewing bloggers’ calls to action pointing to their Flickr stream, rather than to their blog (especially troubling if they have blog sponsors, who are paying for exposure).

I am by no means perfect when it comes to this.  I often need to corral myself and read My First Blog Post, where I revealed “Sometimes I feel like my postings on other social networks get lost into oblivion.”

My Key Takeaways

  • Value – I asked myself “How can I help people?” and my answers now appear on my About page, and are:
    • I can share personalized guides for people to apply smart plans to their creative passions.
    • I can give people meaningful ways to create something truly unique, beautiful, and functional.
    • I can help organize their creative side.
    • I can relate business concepts to the DIY creative. (Ha! I’m doing that right now)
  • Your Passion – I am protecting my passions.  I don’t want my love for making things to turn into work that I don’t enjoy.  No assembly-line sewing for me!  The LAST thing I want to do is open an Etsy shop to make volumes of handmade things to sell.
  • The 140-Character Mission Statement – I’m still tweaking this, but here goes: “Be creative in a smart and intentional way, using simple organization and business concepts. I’ll show you how!”  Ugh, I think it needs work….Chris, your thoughts?  🙂
  • The Strategic Giving Marketing Plan – I am going to be genuinely helpful and give people what they need.  The hard part for me is to decide on the right mix of what to give away, versus what to sell.  When should pdf patterns and tutorials be free vs. paid?  So far, I’m a strategic giver and am offering them for free.
  • Hub and Spoke – I just need to keep this in my mind.  I need to continue to publish to my blog, rather than spending all my time on other social sites.  Good steps I’ve already made: I have my own URL and I’m not reliant on a photo social site for media library hosting.


I enjoyed the book and wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who wants to start a project on their own.  Actually, anyone with a blog would benefit reading it.  Even though a few of the concepts weren’t new to me, I still learned a lot from this book.  It’s a great mix of business tips, real life stories, and detailed guides.  And I was pleasantly surprised to read about some successful creative DIY companies – that’s a first in a business book!

Have you read The $100 Startup?

What’s your favorite takeaway and your 140-character mission statement?



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