How growing a business grows you

Book Review: The Startup Garden by Tom Ehrenfeld

Unless this is the first time you’ve clicked in (you can catch up with us here) you know that I’m a management coach, and I have my own business.

Today, my direction as an entrepreneur is crystal clear to me; I’m driving on a well-lit road. The mission statement for Say Leadership Coaching was easy for me to write, and every time I read it I am even more certain of the course I’ve charted for myself. The first draft of my Business Plan was done in less than a day’s time.

Yet two short years ago and recently unemployed, I was sitting on the floor in a Borders Bookstore with only very vague ideas of what I was going to do next. I was writing Managing with Aloha at the time, however I knew first-time authors don’t make a living on the books they write — if they manage to get them published at all — and I needed to do something more. But what?

I’d been in business for all my working life, but always for someone else. I had always thought of myself as a good manager, but not as the leader with the BIG IDEA. So while I was very confident I knew how to run a business, the problem for me was figuring out what business to run. Despite all my previous experience, which was pretty substantial, all I knew with 100% certainty was that I wanted to work for myself from that day forward. For me, it was more than about time, it was long overdue.

In first announcing The Startup Garden as our Book of the Month for August, I told you a bit of the story of my trip to the bookstore that day. To save you another click,

I remember spending a good two hours in Borders Bookstore one morning, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of their business book section devoted to Entrepreneurship and Small Business. I pulled nearly every book off those bottom three shelves and previewed them, and when I had made my selections and walked to the cashier, The Startup Garden was one of only two books which had made the cut.

There was a lot I liked about Tom’s book. It looked to be an easy, fast read. It told stories of people who sounded a lot like me. The chapter headings were simple and straight-forward, and they all appealed to me: Coincidentally I’d been trying to find more on “bootstrapping” and here was a whole chapter on it. And those blurbs, the testimonials written by others the cynics say nobody reads? I read them all, and I loved what people said. In particular, these two sentences on the back cover told me that this book was for me:

Any number of books will tell you how to start a business. The Startup Garden shows you how to start your business—one that matches you dreams, hopes and aspirations with the skills and experiences you have acquired throughout your life.

I don’t like starting from scratch when I don’t have to. I had already logged a lot of work hours in my life, and the thought that not a single one of them were wasted, and that they’d still be very useful in my life to come, cheered me up immeasurably.

I had read Tom’s Introduction and first chapter, Finding Your Calling, before I left the bookstore, and I was sold. That’s why I’ve offered you those free excerpts, (and I imagine that’s why Tom smartly offers them on his website) hoping they would do the same thing for you. I love the life I have right now, and I want you to love yours.

When you read Managing with Aloha and Talking Story and you get to know me better, you begin to see that I’ve actually known what my calling is for a long time now. I am happiest when I’m coaching and mentoring managers, and I do feel I’m very good at it. However as much as that had become a constant for me, two years ago it was still a consistent theme versus my guiding light. Turning ‘calling’ into a business is not as natural as it may seem.

That is unless in growing your business, you continue to grow too. And that is exactly what The Startup Garden firmly but gently helps you to do, for yourself, and on your own terms. In my case these past two years have meant I’ve grown into a whole new identity for myself versus the Big Biz Corporate Exec I used to be. Today, I’m Small Biz Coach and Solopreneur and loving it. It’s the best business match for me, my growth, and my calling.

There’s been a lot of ‘I’s and ‘me’s in this post so far, however I’m sharing my own story in the hope you’ll identify with it; I don’t think we’re all that different. In The Startup Garden Tom shares the stories of many more entrepreneurs, and those stories are among my favorite parts of the book; they are peppered throughout it to illustrate the points Tom teaches. He exposes the vulnerability of the nascent entrepreneur while bringing their story to the happy ending we hope for, even if that happy ending was just a very valuable lesson learned. In reading their stories, you are sure to see different parts of yourself in the real people he profiles, like Gus Rancatore of Toscanini’s Ice Cream & Coffee, Roxanne Coady of R.J.Julia Bookstore, and Marion McGovern of M Squared. If you have a dream, you say to yourself, I can do this too!

I’ve now read The Startup Garden cover to cover 3 times, and although I already knew the stories, those second and third readings were very different for me. The second time I read it was about a year ago, soon after Say Leadership Coaching had enjoyed its first birthday. I was traveling quite a bit, and relishing my new life I became fascinated with the study of small businesses different from mine, eager to collect other lessons-learned for my own applications. I was meeting emerging leaders outside my normal business circles, people like Scott Hodge, Todd and Terry Storch, and Yvonne DiVita. At this time, The Startup Garden became a sort of lens for my field studies.

My third reading was this past June after I had personally met Tom, and this time my coach’s radar went up and started buzzing.

The metaphor of a garden which Tom uses (read the How to use this book section in the Introduction) struck me as being great for managerial mentoring, particularly with the way it illustrates the transitions new managers go through when they get promoted through the ranks, and they have to grow into the shifts in their thinking. It is NOT true that managers will never think and act like owners until they become one themselves, and in particular, business owners who have never been in their employees shoes must learn to treat (and respect) their staff as their business partners.

The Startup Garden is inspiration, encouragement and resource, and thus it is one of those how-to books that can fall prey to naysayers, those naysayers being readers who don’t actually put anything they’ve read in it into practice. If people say they want more resources than the bountiful ones Tom offers at the end of each chapter, I’m guessing they want to be spoon fed and haven’t taken any of them yet.

Like all the books that have meant something in my life, like our current MWA3P study, and yes, like Managing with Aloha, you’ve got to get real, commit, and answer the questions the author asks you. You’ve got to do the exercises offered, and put new tools into practice. You’ve got to do more than read it, you’ve got to study and DO it if you are to benefit. Knowing my own shortcomings, I put Tom’s book aside momentarily after I had read Chapter 3, The Numbers that Count (Learn financial literacy) and reconstructed my pro forma into the three financial statements I really needed: Income Statement, Balance Sheet, and most important, my Cash Flow reality check. Two years later, they’ve served me well and I no longer waste time with analysis paralysis or getting more creative about it when there’s no need to.

On the opposite end of the scale, if you are fifth gear into learning and self-development, you will appreciate that Tom leads up to some tough love in Chapters 6 and 7 of his book. Amen to this part on page 157:

Sure, lightning can strike your company in all kinds of ways, but an entrepreneur who fails to address his or her limitations is courting disaster.

That’s because your entrepreneurial vehicle will amplify your character flaws beyond your wildest imagination. If you are self-effacing, your company will be low profile. If you shy away from the numbers, then it’s likely your company will not use its resources productively, to say the least. If you don’t like confronting people, then expect your company to have sloppy dealings with your customers. It’s human to have such flaws. But running a company demands that you deal with this human condition.

There will be more “book review” of The Startup Garden in future posts this month, and you may want to take note that I’ve started a new Talking Story category for it; my generic books category is getting pretty full.

Buy your own copy of The Startup Garden today, and feel great, knowing you are investing that $18.95 into creating your own future. You’ll want to be marking it up with me as we go along — Tom, if you ever print a special edition hard cover I’m your first customer!

Related post:

Why The Startup Garden?  Written yesterday as a preface to this book review. It explains why you should consider reading Tom’s book even if you don’t want to be an entrepreneur, and have no intention of going into business for yourself.


  1. says

    Hi Rosa–
    I’ve been lurking quietly for the past week, and wanted to say thank you so much for your wonderful treatment of my book! I can’t wait to start answering questions and engaging more with you over the course of this month.
    In the meantime, let me say that your experience of my book was very much in sync with what I hoped for from readers. You grew your business out of beliefs, skills, and experiences that were already close at hand. By reflecting on what really mattered to you, and then connecting this to a viable business, you were able to get started on what has clearly become a thriving enterprise.
    This type of entrepreneurship, from the inside out, in which you are able to connect resources and passions that you are already connected to, defines the most healthy ventures in my book. They tie you, the founder, to the enterprise, which leads to a more dynamic and meaningful company. Unlike businesses that are based entirely on a fictional opportunity, a market space defined by a business plan which has no connection to real people and no real traction in the here-and-now, you are starting from what matters, and connecting it to your dreams.
    At any rate, thanks again, and I am eager to hear more thoughts from your readers.

  2. says

    hello Tom and Rosa,
    I’m certainly looking forward to follow and join this conversation about Cultivating gardens of knowledge. A fun thing is that my personal attraction and professional approach to MWA is the excellent example of entrepreneuring that you, Rosa are so heartily and kindly sharing with us readers that made me purchase your beautiful book in two copies. There’s a little story connected with this purchase. Usually buying books by mail for Denmark through Amazon does not give me any problems, but this time the parcel was caught in a tax inspection, and the price was suddenly more than doubled because of mail and extra tax expenses. But I can assure you that I feel this was worth paying for, and i’ve offered a copy to my mentor in he hope we will use it for a conversation about how to model this kind of entreprise.
    Now I just have to get reading the second half of WMA, and I’ve promised myself not to start buying any more books before I’ve read at least some more of those that I’ve already placed on my bulging bookshelf. I’m reading for pleasure, but also because I myself am dreaming of realizing this kind of personally important enterprise, sooner or perhaps later. Some things already need to be getting done with. I’m writing, I’m blogging, I’m getting ready -but I’m still looking for that essence of my future plans fo lighten up and show me which way to follow. I’m in no hurry yet. Just sneaking around to see what’s going on!
    And, all of this means I’ll have to do with the free chapter and this discussion until later. I could start hoping I could be one of the lucky winners of Tom’s book – much rather than that bag of Kona coffee, however good it may be!

  3. says

    Aloha Susanne, mahalo nui for reading and sharing your comments with us; both this one, and on my Black Beauty post (No cooks near those darling puppies – not to worry!)
    I’m so sorry my MWA books were so costly for you! I must figure out something for better distribution internationally… but do stay tuned, for much more goodness coming up this month here with Tom, and all absolutely free!
    Thank you so much for all the support you give me, and for your continued sharing here with our Ho’ohana Community.