Growing a Business (Book Review)


title: Growing a Business

author: Paul Hawken

what you’ll learn: how to build a successful business, even if you have never done it before

Why You Must Read It

In my article, 4 Reasons Why Powerful Men (and Women) Read, you learn that you should read to find hidden gems that few people know about. I have also shared the many gems I have found in my years of reading.

But at last, I believe I found have a gem that is both truly valuable and truly unknown … until now.

Ever since my graduation from college, I knew that I wanted to carve out my own path. There were two ways I can do so:

  • I can build my own business (and control how I make money).
  • I can invest (and have my money work for me).

I first tried building my business. I created an online store from the ground up, one code at a time. I focused more on the technical, backdoor aspect than on attracting an audience and building trust. The online store worked fine. But I didn’t make a single sale. I scrapped my business after 6 months.

I then immersed myself in investing and Warren Buffett’s philosophy. I acquired a whole ton of insanely useful knowledge — unlike my years in college learning empty, academic theories (i.e. capital asset pricing model). To this day, my investments are doing well.

Buffett said two things, which persuaded me to revisit my failure and to rebuild my business:

First …

I am a better investor because I am a businessman, and a better businessman because I am no investor.
– Warren Buffett

Learning how to build a business will help me invest better. Hence, I can make more money from my investments.

Second …

Generally speaking, investing in yourself is the best thing you can do. Anything that improves your own talents; nobody can tax it or take it away from you. They can run up huge deficits and the dollar can become worth far less. You can have all kinds of things happen. But if you’ve got talent yourself, and you’ve maximized your talent, you’ve got a tremendous asset that can return ten-fold.
– Warren Buffett

Learning how to build a business will help me for life. It doesn’t matter what happens with the economy or with the country, I can survive. It doesn’t matter where I go, I can survive.

The government can confiscate my assets. Disaster can destroy whatever I own. Friends can leave me. But if I know how to be useful and how to provide value continuously, I will not go hungry or homeless.

Essentially, I will have a talent that will make me money anywhere. But it is not really about having money. It is about having freedom.

Business is money. But moreso, business is freedom.

If my basic needs are met, I can be bold because I have nothing to lose. And if my desires are minimal, no one can control me because I want nothing. I have freedom to do whatever I want.

For years, I soaked up as much as I can about building businesses. I have read countless books — a lot of them are very technical. But none of them has told me the truth like Paul Hawken’s Growing a Business.

Business is not just about clobbering together something, getting venture capital funding, and cashing out for millions. It is more than that. It is a reflection of your soul. It is art.

Hawken certainly knows what he talking about. He started a natural foods store in 1967 with just $500. By the time he sold it, in 1973, his business grossed $25,000 a day.

He then co-founded Smith & Hawken, originally a garden tool supplier, in 1979 … again on a shoestring budget. In 4 years, Smith & Hawken had $1 million in sales. In 1990, it had $55 million in sales.

(Hawken then left the company in 1992 to focus on public speaking and writing books to promote his passion: environment-friendly businesses.)

In both ventures, put his convictions before profits. He did what felt right by him. His businesses reflected who he was — environment-friendly and sustainable. And as a result, he was rewarded with a whole lotta profits.

What makes Growing a Business a truly unknown gem is that it was published in 1987 and then forgotten as time moved forward. Even though it was published almost 30 years ago, the information is not outdated.

Hawken’s ideas and philosophy are futuristic … almost prophetic for its time. A lot of the ideas from business books published in the 21st century were already inked into the pages of Growing a Business. In 200+ pages, you will learn the most important lessons in business — some not even taught in colleges and universities.

More specifically, you’ll learn:

  • the one skill you need to succeed in business (no matter if you are “smart” or “dumb”)
  • how to bootstrap (or how to start a business without losing your shirt) <– my favorite

  • how other companies (which are still going strong to this very day) persevered through hardships, like how David fought against Goliath and won
  • how to stay in business for the long haul (because an enduring business is a marathon, not a sprint)
  • his seemingly crazy idea about why growth could be bad for your business
  • the pitfalls of having too much money when starting out
  • the #1 most important ingredient of marketing
  • the most important asset a business has (that few people even realize)
  • how to get funding from the right sources (venture capitalists are not always the best)
  • how to set up your business (sole proprietorship vs. partnerships vs. corporations)
  • how to hire the right employees
  • how to instill customer loyalty without spending an extra darn cent

I could do what legendary copywriter — Eugene Schwartz — does and add the page numbers to each of the bullet points. But frankly, I’m a lazy bum. If you’re not willing to spend even one thin penny (which is the going price for a used copy) to learn the secrets of this hidden gem, there is nothing I can do to help you.

If you seek not just money, but freedom, there is no better way to reach your goal than with your own business. If you aim to start your own business and use it has a pivot point to reach your destiny, you cannot lose with this masterpiece.

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Table of Contents

1 – Something You Live to Do

2 – Be Careful, You May Succeed

3 – Small, Fat, and Happy

4 – If It’s a Good Idea, It’s Too Late

5 – The Art of the Incremental

6 – The Company You Keep

7 – Money

8 – The Lemonade Stand

9 – If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Sell Him

10 – You Are the Customer, You Are the Company

11 – In Good Company

12 – The Verger

Choice Excerpt

No One Is in Charge

As you get involved in business and slowly rise into the stellar world of commerce and finance and deal with bankers and the like, you will notice that, as in Gertrude Stein’s epigram about Oakland, there is no there there. No commercial mecca, no sages a lot smarter than you, no litany or secrets. Even if you should reach the very top of financial and corporate America, you’ll find people like you find on the local school board. It’s just us. People will try to throw jargon at you, drown you in their superior knowledge, impress you with their worldwide contacts. Their limos will be long, offices high, expense accounts generous. But underneath that veneer, the judgment and intelligence of the best and the brightest that Forbes has to offer are about on a par with what you find in daily life. These people are still practicing, too. Never be intimidated.

The world of commerce is so complex and is changing so quickly that no one in a large corporation is on top of the situation. Many of the captains of industry are just hanging on for the ride. Not long ago, a vice president of chemical giant Union Carbide confessed that the executives of the company had “no idea how to manage a large corporation.” And he said this before the catastrophe in Bhopal. Even a clear-cut problem is often beyond management’s power to solve, given the complexities of the corporate systems.

The logistics of a large corporation are staggering. The variables involved in running it are beyond the computing power of the biggest computer — forgetting even the minor fact that many of those variables are human. Running even a relatively smaller Fortune 500 company such as Apple Computer is so complex it makes the conquests of Alexander the Great seem like child’s play. The stories in the newspapers and magazines about the omniscient genius at X, Y, Z Corp. are good copy and little more, intended to appeal to the reader’s own dreams of glory. Don’t be fooled.

In contrast, the owner of a small business can luxuriate in the relative control he or she has over the operation. But as the business grows, the entrepreneur will slowly become aware of the appropriateness of the root word of “corporation,” corpus, which means body. If the business gets large enough, it takes on a life of its own and the founder becomes a passenger on the host.

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  1. Hi Alex,

    Good stuff! I have always believed in acquiring knowledge and skills over money. Why? Because, like you said, no one can take your knowledge or skills from you but, if given the chance, some people will take you to the cleaners.

    There’s nothing wrong with having money; after all, it can buy me a fish. However, if I can teach myself the art of fishing, I can feed myself if (when) the dollar becomes worthless.

    Top Dog

    • Alex Ding says:

      Top Dog,

      You’re on the right track. It’s about becoming better and honing your fishing skills. I’m glad to see that you started a website of your own. But the work is just beginning. I expect you to keep plugging away at it. And who knows? Maybe you’ll find some fishes along the way.

  2. Having a skill set does help tremendously! Learning to build a business from scratch does help the person learn what he or she needs to make it profitable.

    Great Post Alex!

    • Alex Ding says:


      You can’t just talk the talk. You also gotta walk the walk. Jose, after 1+ year online, did you ever think about turning what you know into $$$?

      • To be honest i never really thought about it until you brought it up! I might have to think about it and see what i could come up with!

  3. Informative post Alex. I’ve yet to venture on this book myself, but it does seem enticing.

    That’s true that you cannot be taxed on your assests of skill and mind; they are really yours to keep. They’re tools that grow sharper every time you read and use them.

  4. I’m definitely going to have to check this book out. I too am particularly fond of bootstrapping, as outlined in the education of millionaires.

    Great post Alex!

    • Alex Ding says:


      Good to hear from you.

      The Education of Millionaires is such a great book. Did you finish it?

      Definitely check out this book too. After reading it, you’ll feel like you can’t fail.

      • Yes, I read education of millionaires start to finish. A very well written, enlightening book. A manual rather, full of stories and information.

  5. Bhavesh Patel says:

    Having a skill set does help tremendously! Learning to build a business from scratch does help the person learn what he or she needs to make it profitable.

    • Alex Ding says:

      That is why I recommend anyone who is interested in business to build one from scratch. Don’t just get a job and hop onto what has been done. Start from the ground up and learn everything.


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