Startup book review: Unicorn Tears

The history, the lessons and the ambitions of the US tech startup industry are documented in some of the best books I’ve ever read, such as Peter Thiel’s Zero To One, Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things, and (for me, at least) absolutely everything by Joel Spolsky.

Australia’s smaller, newer tech startup industry has fewer books and fewer authors to guide you, though I’d recommend Startup Focus by Mick Liubinskas and Phil Morle. (Please, if you’re reading this, recommend your favourites).

I’ve just finished Jamie Pride’s Unicorn Tears. I loved it. It’s compulsory reading if you aspire to be a tech startup founder or cofounder in Australia or New Zealand.

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It’s hard to be open about your own flaws, mistakes and biases when you’re a startup veteran making a living out of offering advice to others and often investing in their businesses.

Jamie’s had an incredible journey over the past twenty years — it’s nearly killed him, but it’s changed him for the better, made him happier, and ultimately successful. In Unicorn Tears he opens up about what he observed really worked for him, didn’t work for him, and what worked/didn’t work for the other startup founders out there.

Jamie’s ‘Hollywood Method’ of lean product research and development is worth the cost of the book alone, distilling so much into a simple template for minimising risk and yet making it easy enough that anybody who’s ever seen a movie about the movie business will understand.

Founder ‘fitness’ — your physical, mental and emotional health — is another area where Jamie has both personal experience and a great set of principles to guide you.

“Unicorn tears” is Jamie’s shorthand for the 92% of tech startups which fail in their first three years. It’s very Australian to focus on minimising your chances of failing rather than reaching for the stars, but Aussies live on an arid continent, where the lack of smart capital, skilled talent, customers, industry and government support can kill your startup just as surely as our landscape and wildlife could kill your founders.

Amongst all the startup reading about how to build a billion dollar unicorn, it’s great to read an Australian startup veteran’s advice on how to minimise the risks of failure. It’s a fair dinkum read.

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