Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution: A Handbook for Entrepreneurs


“A start-up is a journey of failures,” writes Uri Levine. Good luck!

Entrepreneurial Wisdom: True or False?
“A start-up is a journey of failures,” writes Uri Levine, who describes himself as a passionate entrepreneur and disruptor, and a two-time “unicorn” builder. He quotes Albert Einstein, “If you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried anything new.”

Quick! You, or someone on your team, must read and report on this fabulous book, just published Jan. 17, 2023:

Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution: 
A Handbook for Entrepreneurs

by Uri Levine

The author notes that Ben Horowitz was a CEO prior to becoming a successful venture capitalist. Once Horowitz was asked, “Did you sleep well at night, being the CEO of a start-up?” The response: “Oh yes. I slept like a baby. I woke up every two hours and cried.” That’s actually true—but what about the following statements?


[   ] 1. WOZ TOOK NOTES! Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, loves this book! He writes in the foreword that he “read every word, taking handwritten notes on paper.” (True or False?)

[   ] 2. FIRE FASTER. Uri Levine said the “first trigger for writing this book” was when a CEO heard Levine speak about the hard firing/hiring decisions that CEOs must make. On the second day of the event, the CEO told Levine, “It’s done. I fired my cofounder. It was painful and I didn’t sleep all night long, but once I announced that to the company, everyone approached me and said, ‘Thank you, it was about time!’ So, I know I did the right thing.” (True or False?)

[   ] 3. UNICORNS DEFINED. Levine is the co-founder of Waze, the world’s largest community-based driving traffic and navigation app. Google acquired Waze for $1.15 billion (not a typo) in 2013. Levine is also a former investor and board member of Moovit, the “Waze of public transportation.” Intel acquired Moovit for $1 billion (not a typo) in 2020. By the way, start-ups which sell for $1 billion or more are called unicorns. (True or False?)

[   ] 4. PAIN! “A problem is easily defined,” writes Levine. “When you tell someone about it, that person should say, ‘Yeah, I have that issue as well!’” The author says problems fit into a two-by-two matrix with two axes: “Total Addressable Market” and “Pain.” And before you disappoint investors with your new idea, be sure you review the four quadrants in the matrix:
   • “Winners” (high usage/value and many users)
   • “Niche” (high usage/value, but few users)
   • “Losers” (low usage/value and few users)
   • “Dreams and Nightmares” – This includes everyone, but “low value or low frequency of use”—think of the DMV: a pain, but your visits are not frequent enough for someone to fix it. (True or False?)

[   ] 5. FAILURE IS OK. Oh, my! Chapter 2, “A Start-up Is a Journey of Failures” slams you with 35 pages of warnings! Expect failure and good luck in the “desert of no traction.” In the early days of Waze, “We turned the app on worldwide all at once, and it was a disaster. It was simply not good enough—except in four countries: Ecuador, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Latvia.” 
   • “Failure is not only OK but also necessary.”
   • “Failure is not a badge of shame.”
   • “Launch before your product is ready.”
   • “How much time should you allocate to your journey of failures? Years!” (True or False?)

View the book’s promo video (1 minute, 27 seconds).

[   ] 6. START-UP “STARTIPS.” Every chapter concludes with five or more summary bullet points, “Startips,” such as:
• “Make your mistakes fast.”
• “If you’re afraid to fail, you’ve already failed because you’re not going to try.”
• “Rule of thumb: Users convert on the third try.”
• “The proven lifetime value of a customer needs to be at least three times higher than the customer acquisition cost, otherwise you don’t have a sustainable business model.”
• “Price is determined in the market, and not by the company. The cost, however, is determined by the company, and the market doesn’t care about it.” (True or False?)

[   ] 7. FIRING/HIRING. Levine believes you’ll know if a new hire will fit in within one month—and that’s why he titles Chapter 6, “Firing and Hiring” (with the emphasis on firing). “Remember that a great hiring manager will have a hit ratio of about 80 percent and a miss ratio of about 20 percent. Even Golden State Warriors basketball star Steph Curry doesn’t score 80 percent from three-point range.” (True or False?)

[   ] 8. OPERATING IN PHASES. Whether you’re 24/7 on a for-profit start-up or a nonprofit start-up, this book is must-reading. Example: How do you discern what is your “MIT”—your Most Important Thing? If you get this wrong, says Levine, you’ll hire the wrong person for the wrong phase. “Be careful not to hire too early,” he cautions. (True or False?)

[   ] 9. PMF. Get ready to become a student of Product-Market Fit (PMF). “The most dangerous moment for a start-up is when you think you’ve figured out product-market fit even though you really haven’t.” Peter Drucker would have loved this book—it’s all about listening to the customer and also watching the customer try out your new product, program, or service. Another warning: “You need to do iteration after iteration of your product before you ever hire a salesperson.” (True or False?)

[   ] 10. ROLLER-COASTER JOURNEY. “If building a start-up is a roller-coaster journey, then fundraising is a roller coaster in the dark. You don’t even know what’s coming. Closing a deal would be in the dark, upside down, and in reverse…” (True or False?)

[   ] 11. TEN-FOOT POLE! In 2010 when Waze was almost out of cash, Levine pitched a very successful venture capital fund. In an adjoining room, Levine heard one of the potential investors comment, “We wouldn’t touch Waze with a ten-foot pole.” Fast forward to the day Google acquired Waze, the Waze team discussed whether they should send those non-investors an actual ten-foot pole! “We didn’t, but we enjoyed considering it!” (True or False?)

[   ] 12. FAST GROWTH. How fast can, or should, you grow? Chapter 10, “How to Get to a Billion Users,” is absolutely fascinating—with 32 short topics (I counted them) on growing your enterprise, including “50 Other Ways It Didn’t Work,” and a very practical whiteboard exercise, “50 Ways to Bring Your Users.” (True or False?)

[   ] 13. FUNDRAISING! Levine believes funders invest for two reasons: they liked the story and they liked the CEO. “You need to be at your best, and appearance does matter. So, the CEO goes to the first meeting ALONE [boldface by the author]. That way, no one else is on the stage with the CEO to take away the spotlight.” Note: This reminded me of the wisdom in the book, Backable(True or False?)
   • For-profit leaders and start-up wanna-be’s.
   • Nonprofit leaders. (Very relevant insights!)
   • Any team member tasked with launching a new product, program, or service.
   • Anyone whose fear of failure has short-changed your organization’s growth.
   • Every CEO and board member.
   • Anyone who loves Shark Tank (including reruns!) – Note: Watch for my February review of Burn the Boats.  

LOL! I loaned my review copy of this compelling and comprehensive book to an entrepreneurial friend. He loved the detailed narrative, but I needed my copy back (with my notes!). So I ordered this book for him.

TRUE OR FALSE? SPOILER ALERT (in Spanish!). ¡Todas las afirmaciones son verdaderas!

To order from Amazon, click on the title for Fall in Love with the Problem, Not the Solution: A Handbook for Entrepreneurs, by Uri Levine. Listen on Libro (11 hours, 48 minutes).

1) According to Uri Levine, there are four different types of user categories: Innovators, Early Adopters, the Early Majority (afraid to try new things—don’t like change), and the Late Majority (“will use something only if they must”). So…per the “User Segmentation” chart on page 209, do we understand our users—and how different they are from you and me?
2) “A start-up, in order to be successful,” writes Levine, “needs to do one and only one thing right, and to increase the likelihood of doing so, it needs to say no to everything else.” He adds, “Focus is about doing one thing at a time.” So…let’s look in the mirror. How many times have we said “no” in the last 90 days?

Mastering 100 Must-Read Books – Part 2: Books-of-the-Year

Book #15 of 100:
The Advantage

For your team meeting this week, inspire a team member to lead your “10 Minutes for Lifelong Learning” session by spotlighting Book #15 in Mastering 100 Must-Read Books

The Advantage: 
Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business

by Patrick Lencioni

Books #6 through #21 spotlight 16 books that I named the Book-of-the-Year from 2006 to 2020. Patrick Lencioni says that “bad meetings are the birthplace of unhealthy organizations and good meetings are the origin of cohesion, clarity and communication.”  

• Read my review.
• Order from AmazonThe Advantage
• Listen on Libro (5 hours, 25 minutes)
• Download the 100 Must-Read Books list (from John and Jason Pearson)

In Lencioni’s next to last chapter, “The Centrality of Great Meetings,” this best-selling business guru writes, “If someone were to offer me one single piece of evidence to evaluate the health of an organization, I would not ask to see its financial statements, review its product line, or even talk to its employees or customers: I would want to observe the leadership team during a meeting.”

Note: to read my reviews of four more Patrick Lencioni books, see Part 3, “The Mount Rushmore of Leadership Legends,” in Mastering 100 Must-Read Books. 

“You’re Leading a Parade!”
George Duff, my friend and mentor, was welcomed to his heavenly home on Jan. 1, 2023. He was 91. A celebration of life service was held on January 14 on Mercer Island, Wash. I’ve been so blessed with rich memories of George this month, including this wisdom: “Remember, you are talking not to a crowd but to a parade that is changing all the time.” (Read my blog for ECFA here.) Read my tribute here

Note: George Duff was a volunteer champion of Free Wheelchair Mission (watch for my review of the new Miracle Wheels book). Visit FWM to send a tribute card to the Duff family.

PEARPOD | TELLING YOUR STORY. Nervous about launching your new product, program, or service? Join the club! We’ll walk you through the “MIT” steps and, maybe, provide therapy along the way! Contact Jason Pearson at Pearpod (Design, Digital, Marketing, Social).