Does author Carl Schramm truly believe entrepreneurs should “Burn The Business Plan” as the provocative title of his book suggests? If you were to ask the former president of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the answer would likely be no.
Schramm’s colorfully titled, Burn The Business Plan: What Great Entrepreneurs Really Do  does offer plenty of other suggestions though. Schramm, a university professor at Syracuse whom The Economist calls the “evangelist of entrepreneurship,” wrote this book to dispel the myths people hear about entrepreneurship and share the truths for building sustainable success.
What Is Burn the Business Plan About?
Burn The Business Plan covers key scenarios entrepreneurs face in terms of setting entrepreneurial expectations. The first chapter makes its case for burning the business plan , of course, but the rest of the book gets to the motivation behind business building. The book also looks at resources, both professional and personal. It also looks at how to learn from other entrepreneurs and how to create an entrepreneurial culture.
The rest of the book focuses on the motivations driving entrepreneurs to build a business. Good points and counterpoints exist in the chapters, with supporting materials where possible. In Chapter 5, for example, Schramm cautions about toxic mentors and gives four examples. When seeking an example of how entrepreneurs can improve their learning speed, Schramm mentions OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act), an approach to decision making used by pilots when making quick judgments. Devised by John Boyd, an Air Force pilot who served in the Korean War, this approach helps entrepreneurs broaden their view, one of Schramm’s main purposes in writing the book.
What I Liked about Burn the Business Plan
Schramm does a very good job of providing useful explanations that show the reader why certain business ideas are accepted without question even though they can’t stand up to scrutiny. I liked the book’s emphasis on creating a platform and selecting mentors. When Schramm explains how an idea is executed, he notes how this happens through product trials.
“No one knows at the outset …exactly how her idea will be valued by customers. Thus, every startup becomes a platform on which to develop and test the utility of an evolving product.”
As software becomes part of a business model, businesses have to rethink how they deliver products and services. That means deploying multiple dynamic plans rather than a single static business plan and rethinking your road map regularly as information changes.
Schramm’s ideas flow smoothly from chapter to chapter without being repetitive. In fact Chapter 6, Big Companies Can Be Schools For Start Ups, was a standout chapter to me. Schramm explains how large enterprises benefit startups in a somewhat unusual way. While these behemoths certainly can scale, they can also become bureaucratic. This sometimes leaves open untapped opportunities and innovations. And these can entice employees who had never showed any interest in entrepreneurship before to launch businesses in order to take advantage of these opportunities. Schramm calls these people Spinout Entrepreneurs and explains how and why they can contribute to a small business’s success.
“Very few spinout entrepreneurs start companies outside of the industries in which they work. The obvious reason is that they have acquired specific knowledge….Executives within an industry often move from one company to another. They are not hired because they are bringing company secrets, but because they know the common culture of the industry.”
Schramm shares a few specific stories, like entrepreneur Gary Burrell, head designer for King Radio, who went on to design communication and navigation systems used by King’s customers.
Schramm says Ewing Kaufman, founder of Marion Labs and the Ewing Marion Kaufmann Institute (Schramm’s former employer), had especially inspired him. In fact, Schramm ended up dedicating the book to Kaufman. According to Schramm, Kaufman had always encouraged this kind of entrepreneurship, even if it meant a few employees would leave:
“Ewing Kaufman delighted in knowing that many new companies, at least fifteen, were created by former employees of Marion Labs. He viewed his company as a nursery for other entrepreneurs.”
Schramm also explains however the need for something extra on the part of entrepreneurs who find themselves in such a place:
“But being in an innovative environment is not enough. An aspiring entrepreneur needs to pay close attention to the process by which companies develop new products.”
I know many lost entrepreneurs who have identified a product or service, but not a clear idea on how they will deliver that product. The Amazons of the world know about delivery, and Schramm appreciates it too. He provides stories of successful entrepreneurs and gets past the typical “passion-is-important” pronouncements to look at the practical side of what works and what doesn’t.
What Could Have Been Done Differently?
What may have been missing in the book was a chapter on team dynamics. While the book relied on many well-chosen stories to make its points, more detail might have been helpful to see exactly how people behind the scenes made things happen.
But much of this lack of detail is down to the book’s brevity. And the slimness of the volume is also its virtue, delivering important, easy to digest insights to busy entrepreneurs who may not have the tome for a lengthy read.
One significant concept Schramm hits home is how innovation can come with knowledge acquired along the way. One example of this from the book is how two University of South Carolina coaches applied their observations about the materials used in many sports uniforms to launch Sheex, a performance bedding manufacturer.
Why Read Burn The Business Plan?
Entrepreneurs should learn how to plan without letting their plans become restrictive. Reading Burn The Business Plan will help you see how to focus not just on your vision but on how to make a vision into practical reality delivering real value for customers.