How to Enchant Your Way to Tech Success, Kawasaki Style

3/18/11Follow @wroush

You’re a technology entrepreneur—more power to you. You’ve built a great product that solves a real problem—congratulations. Unfortunately, that’s only half the battle. Maybe even less than half. Now you have to make the world believe in you and your product.

That’s the part of entrepreneurship that many innovators and startup founders aren’t prepared for. They’re far more comfortable whiteboarding and coding and QA-testing than pitching and persuading. Xconomy is a startup too—our code just happens to be human-readable—and I know how long it took me to come up with a brief, compelling way to explain our company’s vision. At first, I bridled at the task; I’d been brought up to think that journalists don’t market, they report and write. Eventually I realized that it takes something extra to win over busy readers who already have many information sources to choose from. These days, everyone is a marketer—and why shouldn’t they be? Only a monopolist is spared from selling.

If Guy Kawasaki had written Enchantment a few years ago, I might have been quicker to pick up this fact. Subtitled The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, the book reached stores on March 8, and it has already hit the New York Times bestseller list in the category of hardcover advice and how-to books. I think it’s a profitable read for anyone who cares about the way they, their company, or their product are perceived.

If you’re an entrepreneur and don’t already know who Guy Kawasaki is, you might want to rethink your dreams of tech-industry stardom. While working for Steve Jobs at Apple in the 1980s, he practically invented the profession of product evangelism. Those were the days before anyone knew what a Macintosh was good for—and one of the stories in Enchantment is about the way Apple, by staying close to its own customers, discovered the machine’s first true killer app, desktop publishing. Kawasaki went on to become a seed-stage venture investor through his firm Garage Technology Ventures, and his company Nononina created the news aggregator sites Truemors and Alltop.

It’s safe to say that Kawasaki’s previous business books—especially the dot-com tract Rules for Revolutionaries (2000) and the early-stage startup bible The Art of the Start (2004)—have inspired and guided thousands of fledgling entrepreneurs. But given the technological advances that make building products and starting companies even easier than in the recent past, and given the enormous hopes now hanging on small businesses as engines of economic recovery, both of those books feel a little dated now. I think Kawasaki picked a good time to revisit what is clearly his central passion: helping other entrepreneurs be more successful.

Enchantment, in a nutshell, is about selling your invention or cause without selling your soul. Kawasaki defines enchantment as “the process of delighting people with a product, service organization, or idea.” And while “delighting” people certainly sounds benign enough, Kawasaki acknowledges that there’s a dark side to this art, and that plenty of people get enchanted into doing things that are bad for them—in fact, there’s a whole chapter about how to resist other people’s efforts to enchant you. While I don’t want to oversimplify Kawasaki’s message, I think his secret for enchanting people in a good way is pretty straightforward: be a mensch.

What does that mean? Smile, for one thing. Don’t be judgmental or intimidating. Speak clearly. Say yes a lot. Pick a cause that you’re truly passionate about, because that passion will be contagious. Share what you have, listen to people, answer your e-mail promptly, and be a “baker” (somebody who works to make the pie bigger) rather than just an “eater.”

These are all fairly simple, even old-fashioned ideas (although it takes real commitment to live by them), and Kawasaki lays them all out in the first three chapters. People who’ve mastered such habits are probably 80 percent of the way to succeeding as entrepreneurs. If people like and trust you, after all, they’ll be far more willing to work with you or try out your products.

The rest of the book is a compendium of specific ideas about how to launch a cause, how to overcome skepticism, and how to … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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