The Science of Growth is an essential startup guidebook

Oh no, not another startup business strategy book! But Sean Ammirati’s debut, The Science of Growth, is a meaty and useful manual for any entrepreneur that is looking to grow their business and learn from the mistakes and triumphs of the past. Ammirati and I worked together several years ago at ReadWrite.com, and now he is a Pittsburgh-based VC and business professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He offers plenty of wisdom here.

Many business books don’t have much to say after you have read their first chapter. The Science of Growth has a lot of useful takeaways, including exploding the myths of the first mover and always having a big launch event. He also explains why the best technology or getting the most VC funding doesn’t always make a company successful.

The book takes pairs of companies and looks at why Facebook, Google and McDonalds succeeded while Friendster, Yahoo and White Castle didn’t. Ammirati delves into four key prerequisites for growing your business: the founders should share a core vision, the basic idea should be scalable, it should solve a real problem and provide a solid first interaction. He then compares a set of ten paired companies to show how they differ.

For example, Facebook was later to the market and took longer to grow its first million customers than Friendster but had a more focused approach and created a better initial experience for its customers. McDonald borrowed money to finance its growth while White Castle didn’t. Google had a clean home page while Yahoo’s was cluttered with categories. WordPress was easier to install than Movable Type to get started with blogging. And so forth.

The book catalogs some major movements that were critical to companies’ growth. Twitter is largely credited with launching at the 2007 SXSW show, but it used clever marketing to bring attention to its then seven-month old product by paying for video monitors that it placed in the hallways to attract conference goers. Airbnb got a boost when Denver residents listed their spare rooms for Democrats who wanted to come there to hear Obama’s 2008 convention speech. WordPress took advantage of the moment in 2004 when Movable Type started charging for its blogging software.

For those who want to learn from the mistakes of the past so their businesses can find future growth, this is essential reading.

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