The Real Startup Book

Updated 7 days ago

What's a Real Book

Go to any jazz jam session and you’ll see one book on stage: The Real Book.

Every serious musician has it. The Real Book is a large tome with text that looks like someone took handwritten music charts, photocopied them, and then stuck them in a binder.

Each page is a jazz standard. "All Blues" by Miles Davis, "Autumn Leaves" by Johnny Mercer, "A Night in Tunisia" by Dizzy Gillespie, and even more esoteric tunes like "Peaches in Regalia" by Frank Zappa.

Unlike other “fake books” that have details on how to play each note and where to put your fingers, The Real Book was minimal. Each page had the key signature, time signature, chords, melody line, and not much else. It was just enough detail to play the song and vague enough to allow for the extensive improvisation that makes jazz jazz.1

It was heaven.

The Real Book answered a simple question for musicians: “How do we play that song?”

Where a musician’s job is to play songs, the startup product manager’s job is to learn. Learn about our customers, our value propositions, our channels. Learn about all the pieces of our business model.

The goal for The Real Startup Book is to answer a simple question for startups: “How do I learn about the different aspects of my business model?”

We have unanswered questions about our business, and the answers lie out in the real world with real users. With each question we ask about our business model, there is a method to answer it.

The Real Startup Book will help us find those answers by showing us which methods are the most appropriate. The methods should be adaptable for our situation, industry, country, and business model.

It should not be overly dogmatic and should leave room for interpretation. Depending on our unique circumstances, we can still improvise.

This is not a textbook. It's not a “How To” guide or a “fake book.” It’s a well-organized toolbox to help you find the right tool for the job at hand.

Keep it, refer to it, and toss it to the side when you need it.
More importantly, please write on it. Scribble, scratch, and change it.

If you think it’s wrong, submit a change to [email protected]
If you have a suggestion, send it in. If you create a better method, let us know.

This book is Creative Commons licensed and should be continually improved and shared. So please help us by finding problems and fixing them!

1 Of course I learned much later that The Real Book was illegal.
First published in 1971, it didn’t pay any royalties to the musicians who wrote the songs. But it was the standard book that everyone used because it was the most complete and accurate.

It was also published in multiple keys so that musicians with varying instruments would be able to refer to the same song, with even identical page numbers, and not miss a beat.

Nowadays, The Real Book is legitimate and is published by Hal Leonard, which does pay royalties as appropriate.