Built Not Born: Reading it is Like Picking a Billionaire’s Brain


"Built Not Born" is like getting hours of business mentoring time with a billionaire. Five stars!

Built Not Born: Reading it is Like Picking a Billionaire's Brain

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Can a billionaire’s advice book be relevant to an entrepreneur or small business owner?

That is a question I usually start with when I pick up a book written by an uber-successful person. Sometimes such books are relevant and useful. More often, they are not.

Built Not Born luckily falls into the category of relevant and useful — in fact, very much so.

A Review of Built Not Born

If you are an entrepreneur or owner with a burning desire to do better, this is one book you need to get. After reading it I guarantee you will walk away with insights to make your business more successful. Most of all, it will make you a more more effective business owner.

And you will have no trouble digesting the advice. The writing style is plain spoken and pragmatic. It mirrors how most small business owners speak. The book is logically organized and easy to follow. You’re going to love it!

Picking a Billionaire’s Brain

If you ever wanted to be able to pick a billionaire’s brain, you get that experience reading this book.

Built Not Born: A Self-Made Billionaire’s No-Nonsense Guide for Entrepreneurs is exactly what the title says.

In one sense the book is the story of the author’s business life. It has plenty of reminiscences from the author’s 50 years in business.

But it’s not a biography. The stories from the author’s business career are there to illustrate business points.

Built Not Born (HarperCollins, 2020) by Tom Golisano is a business advice book. Think of it as business mentoring from a billionaire, in a book form.

Who is Tom Golisano?

Just exactly who is Tom Golisano and how did he get to be a billionaire? Turns out, he founded Paychex, the huge payroll service.

Golisano has the street cred to write this book because he himself started as an entrepreneur. He writes, “Unlike many books on the market, none of what I’ll tell you in these pages is theory. I’m going to share with you what I learned when, with $3,000 and a credit card, I took a basic business idea and turned it into one of America’s largest and most profitable corporations.”

Today Paychex (PAYX on NASDAQ) has a market cap of $30 billion.  Not bad for an initial $3,000 stake, is it?

I had heard the name Golisano because I am located in Naples, Florida. Nearby we have a Golisano Children’s Hospital supported by the author’s charitable foundation. The name association is what made me take a first look at the book, after receiving an advance review copy from the publisher.

But what made me keep reading is what I discovered once I cracked it open. More on that in a moment.

Golisano had the help of ghostwriter Mike Wicks.  Wicks seems like a good choice because he has experience writing how-to books for small business people.  According to his website, his work includes a number of books about starting and growing a business.

Built Not Born by Tom Golisano - section

Why You Should Read Built Not Born

Golisano’s pragmatic style is what makes this book so valuable. The book covers topics that keep business owners up at night. You will find sections on topics such as:

  • Staffing (“Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill, Fire When Necessary”)
  • Making sales (“It’s Not a Cash Flow Problem — It’s a Sales Problem”)
  • Business models (“Would You Buy What You Sell?”)
  • Finances (“Money Matters”)
  • Mistakes in business (“Regrets, I’ve Had a Few”)

When I first crack open a book, I usually pick a random page. In this case I happened to land on page 16, and it instantly grabbed my attention.

That page has a table, “Annual Overhead on a Small Store”.  (See image above.)  The table illustrates a back-of-the-envelope approach to assessing whether a business is viable.  Golisano says that for any business you should be able to “grab a piece of paper and outline a plan detailing how it might become profitable — on a single page.”

So he did just that. He created a chart outlining the main expenses of a small retail store as an example. He then estimated how many sales would be necessary to make a profit in the store.  And he did it in three paragraphs!

No fluff, no enterprise-speak with big words.  Just straight to the point.

Throughout the book Golisano emphasizes why business acumen is important. He is a proponent of an entrepreneurial life, but believes entrepreneurs need more than business passion to succeed. He observes, “… an entrepreneur needs to possess a sense of reality. Too often passion overtakes common sense.”

Nuggets of Small Business Wisdom

Built Not Born is full of small nuggets dropped here and there, sometimes with dry humor.

At one point Golisano notes that just about any “company that bills by the hour is hazardous to your bottom line.”  If you’ve ever hired a law firm or PR agency that charges by the hour, you know exactly what he means!

One of the best parts of the book is a section called Takeaways. At the end of each chapter you will find key points summarized in about seven to 10 bullets.

In fact, a good way to go through this book is to flip to the Takeaways at the end of each chapter. Find a few bullets on topics that interest you. Then go backwards and read the sections that address those bullets.

Or, you could read this book the conventional way, from page one through to the end. Nothing wrong with that.

Other Thoughts about Built Not Born

By now, I hope this review of Built Not Born conveys that it’s an excellent business book.

But I always ask myself, is there more I wanted to hear from the author? If the author is any good, I always want more. Two things come to mind:

  • Technology:  It would have been good to get Golisano’s guidance on when to apply technology and how to evaluate ROI from it.  Today, tech is key to small businesses driving greater profitability. And without the right tech you may disappoint customers.  For example, imagine you run a boutique e-commerce business. Today we have the Amazon effect, where shoppers expect “also bought” suggestions and fast delivery.  Do you have the technology to keep up? Can you afford to try?
  • Taxes: More emphasis on the benefits of tax planning would have been good, also.  Golisano addresses taxes to a degree in the context of choosing a legal structure. But understanding tax deductions and credits helps owners “find” the money to invest in business expansion. Certain tax strategies such as the 20% ‘Qualified Business Income Deduction’ can make a nice difference.  Owners who have been around for a few tax seasons know it’s not just about what you make. It’s about what you keep. And it’s about the other things you can invest in to make your future more profitable, instead of writing big checks to the IRS.

Perhaps Golisano will write a follow-up book covering issues like these.

Why Read Built Not Born

Read this book if you are an entrepreneur, seasoned business owner, or aspiring entrepreneur. Whether you are just starting out or have been in business for 16 years like me, you can’t know everything. There’s value in continuous learning from someone who’s been there, done that.

Built Not Born is available for pre-order and comes out in February 2020. It will also be available in audio formats.

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Images: Amazon; Anita Campbell

Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.