Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Raising the Bar Book Review

Looking for the best business books to get me started led to many different results. Books, like anything else, are highly subjective. I've yet to find a book on starting a business that is universally loved.

Raising the Bar is the story of Gary Erickson, the founder of Clif Bar. Hence the play on words in the title, Raising the Bar. A+ job on the title, all in all it might be my favorite thing about that book. Highly clever.

His book showed up on numerous lists. I actually got this audio book from the local library, and I chose it because Think and Grow Rich and Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies were not available. Just the truth people.

The first part of the book chronicles the birth of Clif Bar. How he came up with the idea, what his initial start up was, and how he went about getting the company off the ground. I found this part to be extremely interesting. He comes across as sincere and presents the story warts and all.

His company became successful quickly and before he knew it his partner decided they needed to sell the business. She was sure they wouldn't be able to compete with the big boys. He reluctantly agreed, and just like that he was staring down a $120 million dollar sale to a large company. That was $60 million bucks in his pocket, all he had to do was sign the papers...

He couldn't though. He couldn't walk away from his company, it meant too much to him. His partner however refused to budge. She demanded he buy her out or she would let the company dissolve. He ultimately bought her out and was able to obtain 100% ownership of his business. Which apparently is quite the rare feat when you are talking about a business worth that much. From what I have read, staying private is not easy when you get into that rare air.

This part of the book was great. It really brought the idea home that you needed to be very careful when it comes to choosing your business partners. Once the partnership is formed, it is hard to undo. If you vision of the company grows apart, if there can be no agreed upon compromise, you really face dissolution or buying your partner(s) out.

I also related to the love he talked about in regards to his company. Just a few months into our business quest and I already think of our company as my third child. It's not even technically born yet, but myself and my business partner are doing all the prenatal care to make for a smooth delivery. I was on vacation a week ago, and while lounging on the beach I found myself missing the company. Missing the work I was doing to bring it to life. Make no mistake, it is hard work that makes me crazy at times, but it is also extremely fulfilling work. When I finish a video, a flash program, a webpage, a banner, it is very gratifying. Once it is done, it's done forever. Hopefully to be enjoyed by the world...although my Google Analytics suggests it is mostly me at this point.

The rest of the book sadly does not follow the same theme as the start. The author instead moves into talking about his bike adventures in Europe, his rock climbing, his music playing, and he talks ad nauseum about his company's environmental work. Don't get me wrong, I love the ozone layer and polar bears as much as the next guy, but not when I'm trying to learn about business.

I understand that he is trying to use his stories as an allegory for his business views and practices, but it comes off as a little self serving. He seems smugly pleased with himself, and at some points it becomes a little much. I respect his environmental awareness and sustainability efforts, but it just does not apply to where I am at now in my company building. And because of that, it became hard to get through.

A great opening set a high bar, no pun intended, for the rest of the book to follow. In my opinion it couldn't keep the pace and it changed from a business book into a biography. A biography of a guy whose interests include: bike riding, rock climbing, and trumpet playing. Not one of those things interest me.

Saying that, I still am glad that I read this book. The love he shows for his company was inspiring. His experience with his partners was eye opening. His words on running a company your own way struck a chord with me. I just wish I would have stopped about half way through the book so I could have read something else about business as opposed to things about recreational activities that I don't care about.

If you like bike riding and rock climbing AND you are interested in reading a business book at the same time, then this will probably be the greatest book you have ever read. If not, hit your local library and just read the first half. It was definitely worth that.

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