[Book Review] ‘The $100 Startup’: Chris Guillebeau’s Excuse-Killing Guide to Starting A Business NOW

by Mellissa Thomas


What reasons have you given yourself for why you have not started your business yet?

Do you dread putting that business plan together?

Are you numbingly confused about how to generate revenue?

Have no idea where start, period?

Doubt you have enough expertise or qualifications to start your own business at all?

Well, there is now a resource available that kills your doubts and excuses to help you start your business now.


The Bleak Workscape

By now, you are probably sick of hearing the ugly (un)employment statistics, so let me twist the blade just one last time to get you moving: the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics pegs total U.S. unemployment at 8.1% for 2012.

If you went to college, you are still not safe: the USBLS reports the college grad unemployment rate is 4.1%; and college dropouts come in at 7.7%.

Those numbers make one thing clear: you cannot wait for anyone else to create jobs; you will need to create your own. But you already knew that, right?

So what is stopping you from starting your business? Doubt and fear (usually of rejection and/or failure).

The help you need is here now, so commit to killing both of those today. Start small, and build your business up further once it is off the ground.


The Most Effective Way to Start

People always say it takes money to make money, and it really does. Sometimes the most effective way to move forward is to invest in robust resources, so do yourself a favor and read Chris Guillebeau’s book, The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future.

Guillebeau, a successful globetrotting entrepreneur, blogger, speaker, and a college dropout himself, lays out fourteen meaty chapters of actionable advice, backing it up with case studies of what he calls “accidental entrepreneurs,” people who were forced to start their own business due to layoffs, or who started a project that they didn’t expect to generate revenue that ended up paying very well.

If you are concerned that the book is mostly fluff, it is not. It is three years in the making with concentrated results from interviews and surveys with some 1,500 successful entrepreneurs all over the world (plus his own entrepreneurial experience).

Here is a chapter-by-chapter primer to get you started.

(You will want to print or bookmark this.)


Chapter 1 – Renaissance

1. According to Guillebeau, you need these three things to start a business:

  • a product or service
  • an audience willing to buy it, and
  • a way to get paid


2. To know what kind of business to start, figure out your market convergence (the common point between your passion and what other people care about).

If you are not confident your passion converges with what others need, use what Guillebeau calls skill transformation. In his words, “if you’re good at one thing, you’re probably good at other things too” (p. 20). Basically, apply your knowledge to a related topic and build a business from that.


Chapter 2 – Give Them the Fish

1. Chapter title translation: people want their products nicely packaged and handed to them, instead of you showing them how to do it or get it.

Here is Guillebeau’s personal example: he set up a project that showed people how to get travel discounts, but got a lukewarm response. He then regrouped and launched his current project, Travel Hacking Cartel, which provides travel deals directly to his customers instead of showing them how to find them, resulting in a 600% increase in sales.

2. The book has value-packed info boxes in most of the chapters, starting here. The first is a list of business idea sources, so even if you do not want to come up with a business idea using the tools in Chapter 1, the “Where Do Ideas Come From?” info box on pages 27 and 28 shows you four key areas to explore. Here are two for you:

  • an inefficiency in the marketplace: find a flaw in an industry or procedure, and start a business that fixes it. People flock to solutions.
  • new technology or opportunity


3. The “Six Steps to Getting Started Right Now” info box on pages 35 and 36 includes the three points in Chapter 1 and adds the publicity step (you cannot build your product or service and hope your customers come – you have to take your product to them.


Chapter 3 – Follow Your Passion…Maybe

1. Chapter 3 basically lets you know the blunt reality of the “follow your passion” adage: not all passions can be made into a business, and not everyone wants to make their passion a business for fear the rigors of running the business will ruin the fun.

2. This might shock you: “you can establish a specialized consulting business in one day–the more specific, the better” (Guillebeau, 2012, p. 54).

Do not worry, Guillebeau provides a handy resource for setting up a consultancy if you are interested in starting one: the “Instant Consultancy Biz” info box on pages 43-44 (which is also available as a PDF download from the book site).


Chapter 4 – The Rise of the Roaming Entrepreneur

1. Ever thought of being a location-independent entrepreneur? It is possible, and this chapter delineates what you need to make that happen, including a useful travel info box on page 63, “A Brief Primer for Location Independence”.

Here are three little nuggets for you from the nine-bullet box:

  • keep your work in the cloud (i.e. Dropbox)
  • start your travels in Latin America or Southeast Asia (they are more hospitable than most regions)
  • having a U.S. or Canadian passport can get you into most countries


2. If you are a writer or blogger, you will love the meatiest info box in the chapter, “Become Your Own Publisher” (p. 69), which is also available as a downloadable PDF from the book site.


Chapter 5 – The New Demographics

1. Here is the main thing you need to understand in this chapter: ditch the rigid demographics model when defining your market (age, income, education, location, etc.) and instead use psychographics: define your target audience by values, skills, beliefs, interests, and passions.

2. One of the most amazing jewels in the entire book is in this chapter: if you are still struggling with what kind of business you want to launch at this point, or if you have several business ideas and cannot seem to choose one, use what Guillebeau calls the “Decision Making Matrix” (p. 85-87).

Here is how the matrix works: list all of your business “possibilities” in rows, and label five columns thus:

  • Impact
  • Effort
  • Profitability
  • Fit with Vision
  • Total

Rate the first four columns for each business possibility on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being the least) and then put the sum in the “Total” column. Once you have filled the matrix in, get to work on the business idea with the highest total.


Chapter 6 – The One-Page Business Plan

1. As the name suggests, Guillebeau provides just that on pages 102-103, and was gracious enough to also provide a downloadable PDF version on the book’s site.

2. Every business needs a mission statement, but Guillebeau challenges you to narrow yours down to a tweet–140 characters–and provides an info box to help you do it on page 105.

3. He also explains that a key to your business’ success is testing your market to find what works and what does not, and provides the “Seven Steps to Instant Market Testing” info box on pages 96-97, which is also a downloadable PDF from the site.


Chapter 7 – An Offer You Can’t Refuse

Guillebeau lists six essential things you must do when creating an irresistible offer for your service or product; here are three for you:

  • list the benefits (emotional fulfillment or value), and back them up by including relevant features (actual description of what you will do)
  • know the difference between what your customers say they want and what they actually want
  • overdeliver (give your customers more than they expect, i.e. a thank you message or note, extra downloadable freebies, etc.)

Chapter 8 – Launch!

Guillebeau provides a comprehensive 39-step product launch checklist in this chapter (p. 140-144) for what you need to do before a business or product launch, how to ramp up to the launch, what to do on the big day, and what to do afterward.

Thank goodness he also offers the PDF on the book site.


Chapter 9 – Hustling: The Gentle Art of Self-Promotion

Guillebeau hits on the importance of building relationships as “a strategy, not a tactic” (p. 156), (meaning it is a long-term thing, not a quick revenue source) and also offers “The One-Page Promotion Plan” info box on page 159, as well as the PDF.

And he also includes a message/email template on page 151 for building your friends’, family’s, and colleagues’ anticipation for a new project you are working on (no info box or PDF here, sorry – you will have to buy it to see it).


Chapter 10 – Show Me the Money

As the title states, this chapter guides you through properly pricing your product or service, and Guillebeau provides three important tips here, but here is the one you need to know right now because it bucks common business practice: price your product or service based on the value provided, not the cost of producing it.


Chapter 11 – Moving on Up

This chapter shows you three ways to tweak your business model to increase your revenue. Here are two for you to chew on:

  • the upsell: offer a complimentary item in the sale (a.k.a. “would you like fries with that?”)
  • the cross-sell: offer related items (a.k.a. Amazon’s “Customers Also Purchased This” feature)

Chapter 12 – How to Franchise Yourself

If you are feeling comfortable or bold enough to expand, this chapter is for you.

Franchising yourself involves doing one of two things:

  • either reaching more people with the same message (expanding your reach),
  • or reaching a totally different audience with a new message (a new/different business)

Guillebeau uses Problogger’s Darren Rowse as a great example. Rowse reaches the blogging crowd with Problogger, serves an altogether different audience at the far more successful Digital Photography School, and his a third blog for the social media marketing audience, TwiTip–Twitter Tips. Same man, three different blogs and services, three income sources.

There is even more useful expansion info in this chapter, so be sure to read it.


Chapter 13 – Going Along

This chapter basically covers the crossroads you will inevitably reach in your business: stay small, go bigger (hiring employees or contractors and such), or find a happy medium (working a job part-time while working on your business part-time).

There is also a very useful “Health Insurance” info box, which is always an entrepreneurial thorn, so definitely read that to learn what your options are.


Chapter 14 – But What if I Fail?

In the final chapter, Guillebeau points out that failure is not guaranteed, so stop fearing it. Even if you do slip, the key is to learn from the experience and move forward as quickly as possible. As Nike says, just do it. Now.


In Summary: What You Need to Do Now

That was a lot of info, so if you made it this far, I humbly applaud your endurance. Here is your homework.

1. Go to and click “Resources” to download the six sweet info-packed PDF guides:

  • Instant Consultancy Biz
  • Become Your Own Publisher
  • Seven Steps to Instant Market Testing
  • The One-Page Business Plan
  • The 39-Step Product Launch Checklist
  • The One-Page Promotion Plan


2. Go to the “Order” page and purchase the book from the distribution channel you desire.

3. Start exploring those PDFs while you wait for the book to arrive as well as the Decision Making Matrix I described in Chapter 6 above.



The future of your business starts now. Guillebeau provides all the tools you need in his book, and I have given you many of them here. Get on it!


Book cover image courtesy of Chris Guillebeau. Used with permission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *