A Conversation with Cynthia Kocialski, author of Start Up from the Ground Up

Cynthia Kocialski is the founder of three companies – two fabless semiconductor and one software company. In the past 15 years, she has been involved in dozens of start-ups and has served on various advisory boards. These companies have collectively returned billions of dollars to investors. Cynthia has worked with established companies to bring start-up techniques and technologies to corporations desiring to process improvement and efficiency.

Prior to her work in the start-up community, Cynthia has held a wide range of technical, marketing, and management positions at major corporations. At IBM, Cynthia began with financial software to facilitate the tracking of sales and inventory for international operations. She later moved into development and engineering management working of scientific workstations. Finally, Cynthia transitioned into technical marketing and strategic planning role for graphics and digital video components for personal computers. At Matrox, Cynthia was the general manager, overseeing the R&D area of digital video and image processing product lines,
Cynthia graduated of the University of Rochester with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and applied statistics. She also has graduate degrees from the University of Virginia in both electrical engineering and systems engineering.

She also writes the popular Start-up Entrepreneurs’ Blog and has written many articles on emerging technologies.

Her latest book is Start Up from the Ground Up: Practical Insights for Entrepreneurs.
You can visit her website at www.cynthiakocialski.com.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Cynthia. Can you tell us how long you’ve been writing and how your journey led to writing your latest book?

My book is about start-up companies. I do a lot of work with start-ups. In recent years, the start-up community has been in turmoil because it is tied to economic conditions, which has given me the opportunity to pause and really stop and think about start-ups – what makes them work and what mistakes entrepreneurs make over and over again.

I began the Start-up Entrepreneur’s blog prior to writing my book. I noted what types of posts seem to catch readers’ attentions. Entrepreneurs were attracted to posts on getting funding and getting customers to speak with them. Investors, on the other hand, were attracted by how entrepreneurs frustrate them with their lack of understanding of investors. So there it was, entrepreneurs wanted funding, but investors didn’t fund start-ups because they didn’t see them as knowing what was necessary and important.

Q: I love your title. Can you tell us why you chose it?

I let the audience create and chose my book title. I conducted some online surveys. I gave people a short description of my book, and had asked hundreds people to suggest titles. I took the titles I liked best and then did another survey. I asked them which the best title was. I even added some titles of the better selling business books already available. No one liked the titles that I came up with! But I was in good company because no one liked the titles of best sellers either.

I did add the subtitle without a survey. I did keyword research and there were three keywords that I wanted to appear in either the title or subtitle – new business, startup and entrepreneur. My book title is “Startup from the Ground Up - Practical Insights for Entrepreneurs, How to Go from an Idea to New Business”.

Q: Why did you believe your book should be published?
I self-published my book. I spoke with authors, some who had self-published and some who had used a publisher, and asked their opinions about how to publish. I can remember asking a published author what a publisher did for him and his response was “Not much really.” When I probed about marketing and promotion, the published authors told me you had to do much of this yourself. So I made the decision to self-publish because I couldn’t see what the value add was for a publisher.

Q: We all know that publishers can’t do all of the publicity and that some lies on the author. What has your publisher done so far to publicize the book and what have you done?

Since I am the publisher, I have done as much as possible to promote my book. The funny thing is writing, publishing and marketing a book is much the same as starting a company. The same principles apply. Some points I make in my book are start-ups are not DIY projects, they are DIWO (Do-It-With-Others) projects and success hinges upon building the right team. So while I have been doing some promotion myself, like setting up speaking engagements at conferences, I have engaged with outside services to promote and market my book.

Q: What book on the market can it compare to? How is it different? What makes your book special?

Before I started writing my book, I did some research on similar business books that resulted from the same keyword search as those I chose. For the better selling ones, I read the best and worst reviews. From the reviews, I created a list of what readers expected from the book, what they liked, and what they disliked. I used the information to guide my writing.

I could have written an academic style book – interesting and research oriented, but not useful. What readers wanted was practical, down-to-earth, specific knowledge of how to get a business started and going. They wanted the recipe and they wanted the instructions to be quick-to-read and easy-to-understand. That’s what I tried to give the readers.

I went to the institutional and professional investors that invest in start-up companies and asked what they thought was necessary in the very beginnings of a company. I’ve personally been involved with many start-ups, but collectively, these people have seen thousands of companies get started – and only some succeed. This created the minimal items that need to be put in place just for an entrepreneur to get going. Between my experiences in start-ups and those of other entrepreneurs, I was able to fill in the investors’ general notions of what’s needed with real life examples and specifics.

I modeled my book after Harry Beckwith’s popular marketing books. Every chapter is short and imparts some nugget of useful, practical information about performing marketing. His chapters are self-contained so you don’t have to read the previous chapters to get the point. I’ve found entrepreneurs to be impatient people, who want quick answers about how to do something. They don’t want to read a 300 page book on how to do one of a thousand details needed to operate a company.

Q: Open to a random page in your book. Can you tell us what is happening?

The opened page discusses the investors’ perspective. It shows what investors think is important. If you ask a new entrepreneur what is the most important key to success, the answer will almost always be a great product. Ask an investor the same question, and guess what, the product is one of the least important keys to success. For an investor, the company is the product. Investors want to know how entrepreneurs are going to create and build a company, not how they going to develop a new gadget. What investors know is that a great company will find and discover the right products and markets that will make the company successful. That great product the entrepreneur has in mind is just the initial stake in the ground, the opening move.

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

In the technology industry, there been speculation and discussions about augmented reality books. I want to try writing one of these types of books, where the written word is coupled with the different digital technologies to enhance what’s written.

Of course, the topic would once again be start-ups. My theme is the life of a start-up as the company grows and flows through the machinery of the business world. One of my favorite books is “Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy”, and I would like to write a book with a similar approach, except in my case, the start-up company itself is the product. We’ve become a world of specialists with niche skills. It seems as though we lost the generalist who knows how the whole start-up needs to operate and can gather these specialists together to succeed, and who also knows the entrepreneurial macro-system and how a fledgling company operates within it.

Q: Thank you for your interview, Cynthia. Do you have any final words?

Every start-up begins with great enthusiasm and passion for the business. The teams are flowing with optimism and positive attitudes. Start-ups are great to be around in the honeymoon phase. The question is when reality arrives and it’s not as easy as it first seemed, does the entrepreneur and team view the road ahead as a struggle or an adventure. Those who view it as a struggle will quit before they get to the end because there are other options available to them in the working world. Those who enjoy the thrill and excitement of the adventure will succeed.
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