CED Book Review: Burn the Business Plan

Gretchen with Burn the Business Plan by Carl J. Schramm

Gretchen with Burn the Business Plan by Carl J. Schramm

CED’s book club pick for February was Burn the Business Plan by Carl J. Schramm. Burn the Business Plan was a foundational tome for Nolan as he crafted our State of Entrepreneurship report, and is filled with insight re: demographics of entrepreneurs. Here’s the quick overview: “Burn the Business Plan punctures the myth of the cool, tech-savvy 20-something entrepreneur with nothing to lose and venture capital to burn, showing that most people who start businesses are juggling careers and mortgages just like you.”

Here’s Nolan’s review:

I found this book to be eye-opening in many respects. As the title suggests, Schramm’s book is partially about busting myths and conventional wisdom about entrepreneurship. It turns out that techie, establishment-bucking millennials actually start very few businesses compared to 40-year-olds with corporate experience. And business plans? They lie somewhere between useless and harmful in Schramm’s estimation. Most successful business founders never wrote one, and business schools probably dissuade too many would-be entrepreneurs from starting businesses by forcing them on students.

Schramm’s fascinating background lends some heft to these arguments, even where data seems to be lacking. He started his career as an economist, and left academia to start a wildly successful health care tech firm. He then led the Kauffman Foundation, dedicated to spurring entrepreneurship around the world. Schramm’s personal journey as an entrepreneur was one of the highlights of the book for me.

Burn the Business Plan is part manifesto, part memoir, and part self-help guide for entrepreneurs. It’s hard to be all of those things in one package, and Schramm falters a bit in the delivery. Much of the content consists of case studies of entrepreneurs Schramm has known, and while interesting, these often lose focus. I was left feeling that the book could have been edited down without losing anything valuable.

Despite those flaws, this is an important book. In our work at CED, we have to understand how starting a business fits (or doesn’t) into the life of an individual. I was especially convinced by his arguments about the value of gaining experience in a large firm, which runs counter to the millennial entrepreneur stereotype. I don’t take a hard stance against business plans (the evidence of their effectiveness is mixed) but tend to agree with Schramm that they’ve been over-emphasized, and shouldn’t be forced on entrepreneurs as a starting point.

Ultimately, Burn the Business Plan changed some of my perspectives on entrepreneurship. In a crowded field, that’s really saying something.