Xconomist of the Week: Jason Baptiste and the Ultralight Startup

Where did this guy find the time to write a book? Never mind that. Jason Baptiste is on the prowl again.

The co-founder and CEO of New York-based Onswipe, a tablet-based media and advertising startup, has just released his new book, The Ultralight Startup (Portfolio Penguin, 2012). It’s a how-to-entrepreneur guide with lots of details from Baptiste’s various startups and examples from contemporary Web and tech companies. Portfolio let the whole book be readable for free online, but only for 24 hours. Sadly, that time has now passed.

But the impact of the book on entrepreneurs could be just beginning. Writing from experience, Baptiste tackles everything from the genesis of a startup to fundraising, hiring a team, testing a product, and making money. Along the way, he brings in case studies for certain strategic aspects of growing a business, such as Dropbox (referral program and freemium revenue model), Mint (impact of blogging), Salesforce (software as a service model), Google (early business development deals), and Zynga (Web advertising).

The book provides candid tips for entrepreneurship, and it manages to come off as inspirational about the process without glamorizing it. “Building a company is like running a marathon that lasts for years and only gets more competitive as you become more successful,” he writes.

Baptiste also relays some personal moments that stand out—like when he and Onswipe co-founder Andres Barreto had to take turns sleeping on the bed and the floor since they could only afford one room in San Francisco. Or when they applied at the last minute to the TechStars New York accelerator program, and almost missed the deadline because of a bad Internet connection and an ill-timed pizza delivery. (Entrepreneurs will appreciate Baptiste’s minute-by-minute accounts of meetings and follow-ups with venture capitalists. And his advice on how to work with the press—please disregard his love for TechCrunch, though.)

Baptiste has built up a large following in the startup and innovation community over the past few years, largely by blogging and tweeting. That eventually led to Onswipe, which started as a WordPress plug-in—his blog didn’t look good on the iPad—and has since become a tablet platform and content network for media sites (tag line: “apps are bullshit”). It’s still early for Onswipe, but the company is off to a strong start.

I caught up with Baptiste (who’s also an Xconomist) by e-mail to ask a few questions about his new book:

Xconomy: Let’s talk about the book’s title. Is “ultralight startup” a play on the lean startup model?

Jason Baptiste: Similar words, but way different things. I don’t think ultralight is a model, but just a nice term to describe the overall way startups are created. The book reads a lot like a survival guide and has lots of different case studies. No one way is right. Pick and choose what’s right for you!

X: Philosophical question: Can entrepreneurship really be taught from a class or a book? Don’t you have to do it, to figure it out for yourself?

JB: You have to experience it for yourself, but there’s a good way to be guided while going through those experiences. Most entrepreneurs fail by making simple mistakes when it comes to product and building the team. I hope this book helps them avoid those mistakes while figuring it out for themselves.

X: Can you give a couple of examples of key mistakes?

JB: Raising funding too early and building a bloated product are big ones. Most people want to add in tons of features and never ship the product. The best thing to do is see what you can put out into the world in 60-day sprints.

X: What do you hope will be the broader impact of your book?

JB: I hope I inspire more people to start startups as well as educate employees at current startups what the whole experience is like. Growing up it was acceptable to be a doctor, lawyer, or banker. My hope is that the same ends up holding true for entrepreneurship and that my book plays a small part in that.

X: The big news for startups this week is the Instagram acquisition by Facebook. What lessons or inspirations do you take from that story? (Some apps aren’t bullshit?)

JB: Ha, apps for content are still bullshit more than ever. It’s really that they built something using where the world was going and had a big vision. Think about it, they don’t have a website. They built only for a world going forward that is socially connected, always on, and mobile.

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