Diana Kander’s novel, “All In Startup,” helps startups find their way

Diana Kander sees it time and time again, and it's painful. The senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation mentors a lot of early-stage companies through her work with the Foundation and the University of Missouri-Kansas City's Bloch School and E Scholars program. Each startup kept getting stuck in the same spot: they didn't know how

Diana Kander sees it time and time again, and it’s painful. The senior fellow at the Kauffman Foundation mentors a lot of early-stage companies through her work with the Foundation and the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Bloch School and E Scholars program.

Each startup kept getting stuck in the same spot: they didn’t know how to practice lean principles and properly do customer development. Because customer development is such a subjective realm for new entrepreneurs, she says they unknowingly end up with bogus results.

“They’re fooling themselves into thinking they’re getting the right feedback,” she said. “They talk to the wrong people and ask the wrong questions. There’s so much more to do to find out if there’s a real problem.

“Entrepreneurs think they need capital to get started. It’s the biggest fallacy in the entrepreneurial scene right now. We don’t hear as many stories about what I call the ‘customer-funded startup.’ I think not being able to raise capital is just an excuse.”

She’s turned her passion to help startups get past those early struggles into a new book, “All In Startup,” which looks at customer development, lean principles, testing assumptions and finding worthwhile problems to solve. But just as much, it spends a lot of time on the dilemmas, trade-offs and struggles entrepreneurs face.

She’s using the novel format to get it all across. The story follows a man who has company with a ton of debt, who gets a ticket to the World Series of Poker. While he’s there he meets a female entrepreneur, and together they have nine days to turn his fortunes around.

Kander practiced what she preaches for the book, creating a “reverse book club” that she met with every couple weeks to give her constant feedback on her product—expertise in every area covered in the book, including an expert poker player. That process led her to seven complete re-writes of the book.

After a successful four-month search for a publisher, Kander is ready to release it to the world, though she could use your help on Indiegogo. Her campaign has far surpassed the initial $10,000 goal—its at $25,362 right now—but she hopes to get 1,000 entrepreneurs to contribute, no matter the amount. The big vision is to have the book in entrepreneurial classrooms across the country.

“This can help schools go from textbook to experiential,” she said. “Educators aren’t entrepreneurs. Let’s get them out of classroom and learn the entrepreneurial mindset.”

She’s currently working with UMKC and Columbia College to get “All In Startup” into classrooms—anything from introductory to advanced. Along with the book, she’s creating lesson plans that pair with the book. Questions stem from the issues the main character faces. Once it gets into the hands of professors, she wants them to take over and create their own plans, which she can then share across the country.

It took her a long time to get to the finish line, but Kander doesn’t know another way. The birth of her six-month-old son didn’t slow her down either.

“As an entrepreneur, I don’t know how you take time off from a passion,” she said. “It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It’s just like a startup, but it’s so much fun.”

 

Students react to reading Diana Kander’s “All In Startup”:

 

Credits: Images and video from “All In Startup” project page on Indiegogo.

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