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 cement people’s loyalty once you’ve won it. The section I found most stimulating came in Chapter 7—”How to Make Enchantment Endure”—and it was called “Build an Ecosystem.” It’s about creating a community of people who will advocate your cause because their success, as Kawasaki puts it, is intertwined with yours. Twitter, for example, has won a lot of free evangelists by providing a free application programming interface (an API) that allows outside developers to tap its messaging network; developers benefit by providing their users with nifty features that help people share information from inside their apps, while Twitter benefits from the network effects of all the new people using the service.

Kawasaki’s got me thinking about how we can do a better job of building our ecosystem right here at Xconomy. I think we’ve got something worth promoting: quality journalism and events for the technology and innovation community. Now we need to address the other challenges that Kawasaki lays out: recruiting evangelists, appointing an “ecosystem champion,” giving community members some meaningful way to contribute, fostering discourse and criticism, and rewarding people for participating. The bigger point of Kawasaki’s book is that none of this stuff happens automatically, just because you have a good product—which means, in our case, that at some point we’ve got to stop writing articles and start showing people why they should care about them.

Enchantment picks up steam toward the end with two very practical and social-media-oriented chapters about how to use “push” technologies (e-mail, Twitter, and PowerPoint) and “pull” technologies (websites, blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube) to get your story in front of people, and then another pair of very entertaining chapters about using the power of enchantment to delight your employees or your boss. If there’s a weakness to the book, it’s that it feels a bit like a grab-bag, a miscellaneous collection of ideas that Kawasaki has tried or seen other entrepreneurs try, without all that much logic or narrative to tie them together. After the first three chapters—which should be required reading for all business-school students with dreams of being the big boss someday—there’s no real need to go through the book linearly; you can do just as well by dipping into the chapters relevant to your situation.

At 211 pages, however, Enchantment is an easy (and enchanting) read. It closes with an especially charming “coverphon” (a play on colophon) about the creation of the book’s cover, which shows an origami butterfly. It’s the story, Kawasaki writes, of “how I crowdsourced designs from 250 talented people around the world, selected one idea from an engineering student in Indonesia, convinced an origami master in Boston to create a new butterfly, and lucked out by knowing a designer in Silicon Valley.” He makes it all sound so serendipitous, but I think the real message here is that Kawasaki is such a great guy, no pun intended. (I know him slightly, and he really is.) People want to help him because it’s fun, educational, and mutually rewarding to do so. Kawasaki is, in a way few authors are, the living embodiment of his book—one of the original enchanters of the technology world.

Here’s an 11-minute, abridged version of a 1-hour speech Kawasaki gave at Stanford University on “The Art of Enchantment.”

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

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