Review: Start It Up by Luke Johnson

  • Start It Up by Luke Johnson

Artist and writer Rebecca LaMarre reviews Luke Johnson's Start It Up: Why Running Your Own Business is Easier Than You Think


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Luke Johnson is an entrepreneur who has an estimated personal fortune of £120 million.  He is best known as the chairman of the casual dining restaurants PizzaExpress and Strada. This book is meant as a source of inspiration, hoping to usher in a new wave of would-be business owners cowering under the shadow of the looming recession.

As such it is filled with inspirational quotes from Steve Jobs, Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt, Warren Buffet and others. It appears that Johnson is well read, as he includes many references to not only other books about business, but also the Iliad, Dr Faustus and the novels of Kurt Vonnegut.

The information in this book comes from Johnson’s long career as an entrepreneur and focuses on personal reflections, anecdotes and musings.  As it says on the cover, “A how-to book by someone who has.” A vivid picture is painted of the glory days of dinner parties paid for on the business account, board meetings, after-dinner clubs and intimate business relationships that disintegrate and “feel like a divorce”. Johnson devotes a few chapters to exploring the technicalities of separating work from life, insisting in several places that for a successful entrepreneur initially that separation must not exist.  He apparently waited to marry and had children quite late, not wishing to subject a family to the “ups-and-downs” of the business world. The successful entrepreneur must be hungry, not sleep and make sacrifices.

Largely the book focuses on personal qualities and decisions required to run a successful business, rather than practical or technical advice. Johnson claims that technical advice is not useful to read; rather, one must go out into the world and learn by doing. He does have some tips to keep in mind, however. Mainly the advice is tied to the theme of the section; in ‘People’ he cautions against choosing a business partner too hastily, and procuring thorough background checks when hiring employees. In ‘The Cycle’ he assesses the seriousness of the current economic recession and concludes a chaotic market merely means old excess is getting removed, making way for new start-ups and younger people with new ideas.

He devotes a chapter to the glories of capitalism titled ‘What’s So Terrible About Making Money?’ – so if you previously had any doubts about the ethics surrounding how you might earn a living, you can now rest easy. However, if you were asking those kinds of questions, this book is probably not for you. This book is for warrior entrepreneurs who are bold and dynamic, saving the world from being poor and fighting for the health of their country’s economy. 

The book is also not for people who make excuses. Any objection you might have as to why you might not be cut out for business will be debunked. Johnson devotes many chapters to discussing the possibilities of finding funding, the benefits of ‘moonlighting’, or being a “5-9er”, someone who works on starting their enterprise after finishing their first job for the day.  If there is a main message to this book it can be boiled down to something like, “You do have enough time, you can find enough money even in a recession, and if you don’t mind failing a few times and sacrificing sleep and family you can become stinking rich.”

Much of the book is focused on stoking the fire of the enterprising spirit to set up big businesses. After reading it, I felt inspired but still didn’t have the first clue how I would go about beginning, but I suppose this is why Johnson stresses the importance of finding a mentor who can support your endeavours. If anything, this is a role Johnson would like to fill, and aims at through writing this book. After reading it, many people will feel equipped and ready to go out looking for opportunities to bring their business into the world, knowing they can make it big if they only try hard enough. Others, faced with Johnson’s no-holds-barred ambition, may feel a little scared. 

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