Nail It Then Scale It

Paul Ahlstrom and Nathan Furr Book Review

Posted by Weston Lay on November 22, 2019

This is a book that I've been looking forward to reading for quite some time. A few years back I had the opportunity to go through the NISI (Nail It Then Scale It) Process but I didn't realize it until years later. At the time, I was working with a young airmen that had just received his Ph.D. from Harvard and as we worked together in the same group he taught us all the principles in this book. It wasn't until a couple years later that I attended a start-up incubator and aligned the actions to a written process. The NISI process was that process.

The premise of this book is that the majority of startups fail because they never get around to nailing their business model. Startups have traditionally been treated like miniature corporations and that is not a good way to look at a startup. The job of a startup company is to search for and find a successful business model. Only then should the startup attempt to scale up with funding and marketing. The way to do this is to treat the startup like an experiment.

Get Out of the Office and Into the Field

Paul and Nathan talk about quite a few startups they have dealt with in the past and they presented the case that almost all startups miss this point. They don't get out into the field and talk with people. This does not mean "sell" people on your idea. That will come later. Startup founders need to have a hypothesis and they need to be constantly testing it. First, you need to explore the potential pain points of some group of people. Than come up with a hypothesis and go out to your group and test your theory. After doing this repeatedly, you'll end up with a really strong pain point to come up with a creative solution for. This requires you to get out of the office and actually have discussions with your target group of people.

One of the best ways to evaluate if you've found a pain point strong enough is to evaluate these five things. What's the market size of the pain you're going after? What's the market growth for the future? What differentiates you from the competition? Are there any laws or regulations that stand in the way of solving this pain? What's the sales cycle? Paul and Nathan have come up with the Big Idea Canvas that helps startup companies go through this evaluation period of deciding how big the pain of this idea really is.

Nail the Solution

Once you've come up with a pain point strong enough that people get excited talking to you about solutions, then come up with a single solution. Remember that this solution is still a hypothesis. Don't marry this solution, don't get attached. Build that solution as fast and cheap as possible with just the main points. Again, get out of the office and into the field. Talk with people about how that solution would work and get feedback on if that's even a good solution at all. Bring home the feedback, make rapid changes and get back out into the field. It's all about test, feedback, iterate, test, feedback, iterate, test, feedback, iterate.

All along the way, you are the scientist trying to prove or disprove your hypothesis and you shouldn't care which way the decision falls. If you disprove your theory than you've saved yourself a lifetime of struggle. If you prove your theory than you've found yourself a good business model. You'll know when you are done testing your theory when you approach your target market with your tested pain point and solutions and they say "Wow, this is exactly what I'm looking for. Can I buy this from you right now?"

Nail the Go-To-Market Strategy

What's the sales model? What's the price point? What are the other channels that are required to make this startup successful? This is where I think the Business Model Canvas comes into play. The Business Model Canvas was created by Alexander Osterwalder and is a visual way to understand the structure of the business. Paul and Nathan alluded to this model in the book but didn't go into much detail. Even throughout the process of discovering the Go-To-Market Strategy. It's vital for startups to stay a frugal as possible. This gives them a chance to take another swing at the ball. The more iterations you are able to do, the closer you get to actually solving a customer pain. By staying lean and conserving capital you have the ability to take swing after swing in order to really nail the business model and solution. Only when you have nailed everything down than you should pour the gasoline on the fire with funding and scale your business.


The main pro to this book is that it highlights a new process that is scientific based. It's all about getting your bias out of the way and testing hypothesis. The entire process is intuitive and you find your head shaking the entire time, "Of course this is the correct way to build a startup." But the implementation usually doesn't come because most people say "That doesn't apply to me though." If followed correctly, Paul and Nathan show that a startup can have a lucrative life and exit.

The cons to this book is that it is a little more like a textbook. Although the book is very actionable, it may be difficult for some to take action. The process is all laid out, but there is so much information that it may be difficult to follow all the steps. I would've also liked to see this book tie a little more closely to the Business Model Canvas. I think a hybrid theory would be excellent.

Nail It Then Scale It by Paul Ahlstrom and Nathan Furr


This is a must read for any startup that is looking to actually build a large scalable business. I believe the bias here would be technology companies or companies with very low overhead. The process makes sense and treating a startup like a science experiment is the best way to stay concerned, but not connected to your ideas.

Other books like this one is the Business Model Canvas by Alexander Osterwalder. I would put this book into the textbook/steps for action camp. For me this book gets a ten out of ten. It's an amazing book that you can tell really has some "hard truth" moments and as long as you follow this process you have the playbook to create and grow a very successful business.

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