20 Books that every startup founder needs to read

20 Books that every startup founder needs to read

Introduction

I went down that path (learning how to be an entrepreneur from scratch) and I wish I had chanced upon a renewed list of books that every startup founder should read.

Don’t get me wrong, those are great books, but I think those should be considered the bare minimum to read if your want to launch your own company!

These are my two cents – and if some look odd, or not “entrepreneur-specific”, it’s because they are not intended to be – these are books that can give you the skills you need to be able to stand on your feet once you start your journey.

Think negotiation, motivation and decision-making.

“Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill

Yep, we’re taken it back old-school style with number three on our list of best business books.“Think & Grow Rich” is one of those books that teaches timeless lessons anyone can apply, both in business and in life.

Originally  published back in 1937, this book tells us the principles, habits, and  secrets of some history’s most successful business people: Andrew  Carnegie, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and many more. Pick it up to model  their success.

“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for couple of decades, chances are you’ve heard of “The 7 Habits” by the late great Stephen Covey — but have you actually read it and put it to use as a business book?

If  not, then now’s the time to consider doing that. The power of this book  comes from the time-less principles (or habits) it’s based off of.

Each  of the habits laid out in this book are designed to act as individual  prescriptions for effectiveness in every area of life: physically,  mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and yep — financially, too.

  • Probably the best help-book out there that helps you create a work-life balance between your emotional, physical, professional and personal lives.
  • Why recommend this book? because it’s an essential read that should be taught at schools, me thinks. Think of it as a required 101 material before digging into other books.
  • The seven habits are: 1. Be Proactive 2. Begin with the End in mind 3. Put First Things First 4. Think Win-Win 5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood 6. Synergize 7. Sharpen the Saw
  • It teaches self-strain and how to be principle-centered.
  • One of the most important lessons in this book is time management and the diagram of 4 quadrants of Importance and Urgency. Your self-procrastinating habit will disappear after you get this straight.

“Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazzi

Are  you interested in getting ahead and getting the edge in life — without  having to sacrifice your integrity to do it? If yes, then this is your  book.

“Never Eat Alone” is a classic book on connecting with others, and must-read for anyone living in the current connection economy.

As author Keith Ferrazzi says in the book, “Success in any field, but especially in business is about working with people, not against them.”

“The 4 Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss

This  is the book that helped me make my own lifestyle design dreams come  true. Pick it up if you’re interested in learning to start an online  business that allows you the freedom to live life on your own terms.

“The 4 Hour Workweek” is a step-by-step business book for anyone who wants to deliberately  create freedom for themselves by leveraging the power of the internet.

The central point of the book is that wealth in the world today consists of time, money, and mobility, and that we can lead much better lives by abandoning our assumptions about how life should be and optimizing for all three.

Tim then lays out the framework for implementing this idea:

Definition: Replace self-defeating assumptions.
Elimination: Forget time management; learn to ignore the unimportant. (provides time)
Automation: Learn to put cash flow on autopilot. (provides income)
Liberation: Create freedom of location. (provides mobility)

He then goes in-depth on each point, providing a practical step-by-step process that can be used to achieve each part of the framework.

The Strawberry Startup by Moses Lim

Startups are like strawberries. They have to be nurtured with delicate care, effort and time before the fruits of your labour can be harvested.

The Strawberry Startup provide a structured approach to building your startup and learning about the new, dynamic business speak of the 21st century for the first-time entrepreneur.

While many people talk about how great it is to start a business, few manage to execute their ideas and only a handful become successful.

The author analyzes the problems confronting startups today, shares the insights to be gained and amplifies the lessons through interesting, bite-size stories and case studies.

Rather than spending copious amounts of money attending entrepreneurship courses or wasting time creating lengthy business plans, The Strawberry Startup offers entrepreneurs a simple way for entrepreneurs to test their ideas and execute them with minimal risk.

Moses provides a straightforward approach to creating a successful and sustainable startup in an age where failure is the name of the game.

“Anybody considering starting a business or who already runs one could definitely benefit from buying this book. The author goes in depth into what it takes to get your dream business up and running with a step by step process.

 

I particularly resonated with the advice given in chapter 3 about the one page business plan, definitely recommend.” – Review from Amazon.  

“The E-Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber

As  entrepreneurs, we want the best for our businesses. We want our  business to thrive. To grow. To expand. To prosper… and sometimes, we  get so caught up in make all of this happen, we forget about why we  start the darn business in the first place.

Before we know it, we’ve created a job for ourselves rather than a self-sustaining business. In “The E-Myth Revisited”, author Michael Gerber helps us approach our business as a business — not a job.


“Zero to One” by Peter Thiel

This book is a collection of lectures delivered by billionaire investor and founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel, during his teaching years at Stanford.

Along  with co-author (and former student) Blake Masters, Thiel has put  together a hard-hitting set of standards for entrepreneurs, startups,  and thought-leaders to carefully consider when building a business  that’s aimed at shaping the future of our society.

This bestseller is geared specifically towards the startup community as it offers invaluable advice on what to consider and what to avoid before moving forward. Additionally, the author offers his philosophy on business, which helps the reader generate new ideas he or she may not have considered previously.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

This book has been called the “grandfather of all people-skills books” because it has been assisting everyone from the rich and famous to successful business leaders for more than 80 years.

The reason that this title remains useful and popular is because it describes techniques for handling other people, like six ways to get people to like you, 12 ways to encourage others to buy into your thinking or nine ways to change people’s minds without any resentment.


“Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek

In  this book, author Simon Sinek lays out actionable insights about why  leaders need to replace the old “carrot & stick” models of  management with more sustainable approaches, that are grounded in  empathy and designed to boost engagement and a sense of camaraderie  that’s missing in the modern workplace…

Pick  this book up if you plan on — or already are — leading a business  that’s comprised of teams of people that depend on working together in  order to succeed.

“Influence” by Robert Cialdini

Successful  businesses are built by successfully selling quality products,  programs, and/or services to large numbers of loyal customers…

Successfully  selling to these customers requires an individual to possess the  knowledge + skills of effectively influencing “browsers” into becoming  “buyers.” In his landmark book, “Influence”, Robert Cialdini breaks this down to a science (literally).

In  the book, you’ll learn about “The 6 weapons of influence” and how to  utilize them in order to persuade prospects + people to buy using  science-backed psychological triggers found within all of us.

This is the best marketing book I have read (note: Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout is also very good).

It takes a deep dive into a few dozen of the most famous psychology experiments (and many less famous ones) that show humans as much less rational than we would think.  This book will help you explain why some ideas catch on and others fizzle.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

I could have chosen any of Gladwell’s books (his new podcast is excellent too!). I picked The Tipping Point because it hits on two incredibly important points: (1) there’s very – make that extremely – little distance between success and failure, and (2) great success often seems to arrive in a moment, though that moment is often years away.

It is extremely useful if you are starting a new business or product line, and you want to go viral.

Tipping Point: Short Notes 

  • A Tipping Point for startups is the moment of truth where your products and services pick on and become a viral buying trend.
  • Law of the few: worldwide trends do not begin big, actually you can always trace big waves down to their humble currents. i.e. PSY’s Gangnam Style youtube video.
  • You need Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen to help you connect, recommend and sell your thing respectively.
  • The Stickiness Factor: your startup service or product or even campaign should have a memorable quality. Your site’s UX for that matter, should have a unique, special and addictive way of presenting your offerings.
  • Is the time and place right for your startup to pick up into mainstream? The power of Context states that you should know if you’re offering can go hip in the right environment or not.
  • Harness the power of disinformation, propaganda, rumors, PR, news and underdogs to make an adoptive statement that can help raise your startup/campaign into a millioneth trend.

Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen

Fantastic book about how you make difficult decisions, see other points of view, listen, and get things done.  This book will help you in all aspects of your life and is worth reading for anyone (not just entrepreneurs).

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz

This is an operational book about how best to manage a growing business.  It goes through the worts and hardships about being a CEO.  If you still want to be a CEO after reading this book, than you might actually be a very good entrepreneur.

The Hard Things About Hard Things written by Ben Horowitz is simply an amazing book that primarily focuses on the leadership skills. The book tells about the struggle and it says that there is no shortcut to success or simply anything.

All you need to do is to work really hard and stay confident in the difficult times in order to get succeeded.

The book will tell you about so many things that happened with the author throughout his life. Experiences, good and bad, both are shared by the author and advice is given by him so that you are able to learn something from his experience and that is what the primary purpose of the book is.

The book also tells the readers how to act in different situations and how to deal with the employees. The book also reveals the characters and must to have in an employee. You will be able to know about the huge success and the ultimate failure that the CEO witnessed in his life.

The book also describes how and when to sale the company.

There are total 9 chapters in the book that describes the complete story​.

WHY

The book is a must read as it will guide you a lot and will tell you about the different things that happen with every entrepreneur.

The book will teach you a lot of different things. There are few chapters in the book and each chapter has something to give you. You will be able to know what basically is inside it only after reading this masterpiece. It will tell you about how to make quality decisions in different situations. It also tells the reads about the attitude they must have.

The book also tells about the importance of trust and the similar things necessary to run a company successfully. The young entrepreneurs will also be able to know how to teach different workers in different types and what sort of employees are the best for the company.

So, if you are looking to know about all the above mentioned things (which you should if you want to be succesful entrepreneurs), the book is a must read.

WHO

The book is mainly published for the young entrepreneurs as it describes the complete story of an entrepreneur.

It has all the things that it needs to be. The author has not missed even a single point. The book will guide the young entrepreneurs and the immature businessman. It will tell them how to run the organization in difficult as well as smooth times.

The book will tell the young entrepreneurs about the attributes and the qualities they must have so that they are able to polish those skills and make their company stand out in the tough time.

The book also reveals that the hard work and the excellent decision making ability of the CEO makes the company a best one. It is not just a story. It is a complete package that covers each and every aspect.

Anyone of you can read this book if you are interested in reading some quality stuff. Young boys as well as the older citizens can read this book in order to know how to run the organization successfully and what to do in difficult times, how to make the decisions, how to hire the employees etc.

WHEN

The book is excellent for those who are willing to learn about running the organization.

It can be read before establishing a company or even before making any important decision. You can also read it in a situation where you feel that there is no way out.

In short, you can read it anytime you feel it important. It is good if you read it at the very start so that you know everything in advance.

HOW

It is the best idea to go in a flow. You must start reading it from the very first chapter as it will build your interest slowly and gradually.

There are different aspects covered in each chapter of the book and all of them will tell you about something new and exciting.

The first chapter is basically an idea that will tell make your mind.

In the next chapter there is a hope and confidence of survival and it tells that you must have the positive attitude towards different things.

The later part of the book describes the relationship of work and feeling. It tells that you need to work with the pure feeling and dedication. You will get what you feel. If you feel good, good results will be in front of you.

The chapter 4 will tell you about what to do when things start falling. It will guide you that nobody is going to anything for you. You have to do everything yourself. It also tells about what losers do and how the CEOs should act in these situations.

The next chapter will tell you how to manage different things and how to take care of them so that they are able to produce the best results. It will tell you about quality assurance and different decisions that you need to make with time. The chapter also described few of the things that you need to notice while hiring.

The next chapter afterwards will tell you about few of the political things happen in each organization and how to deal with them.

The chapter 7 will tell you how to stay confident and lead when you simply have no idea in which direction the things are going.

In the 8th Chapter readers will know about the rules of entrepreneurship and it is simple that there are no rules. It will tell you how to act in extreme poor conditions and when to sell the company.

The last chapter is the end of the beginning and the title is pretty much as what it is about.


Why We Buy: The Science Of Shopping by Paco Underhill

This is a really fun book on the science of shopping.  If you are building a B2C business where you are engaging or selling to the consumer, this is a must read from the master observer of shopping.

Hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle as “a Sherlock Holmes for retailers,” author and research company CEO Paco Underhill answers with a definitive “yes” in this witty, eye-opening report on our ever-evolving consumer culture.

Why We Buy is based on hard data gleaned from thousands of hours of field research–in shopping malls, department stores, and supermarkets across America.

“Bold” by Peter Diamandis, Steven Kotler

Want to learn how to leverage exponential technologies to accelerate growth like you’ve never seen before? “Bold” is the business book for you.

In  this powerful book, you’ll learn about using exponential technologies,  moonshot thinking, and crowd-powered tools to create extraordinary  wealth while you make a meaningful difference on the world doing work  that matters…

Expect  to learn new and unconventional methods to leveraging the web’s  infinite tools to raise money, make money, and manage money.

“Getting Things Done” by David Allen

You can have some of the greatest, most innovative ideas in the  world — and have every single one of them flop due to a lack of ability  to EXECUTE.

If  you lack the willingness + capability to get things done with  effectiveness + efficiency, it doesn’t matter how great your ideas are  because when it’s all said and done, success depends upon consistent  action.

Lucky for us, here to help us close out this essential list of business books is David Allen’s “Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity”.

 

Which book to read?

So many options. So little time.

Now that you’ve got your list of top 10 business books books to books – Which  one do you read first? Should you go out and get all of them  immediately? Should you read them all at once? Or should you take a  lifetime to read them?

Ultimately,  it’s totally your decision what you do with this list and how you apply  it to your life and career. But if I may, here’s what I would suggest  you consider as you get started:

 

Short Notes from Bestselling Books  

Here are some notes from the books that we’ve read. Hopefully this helps you to get a better understanding of the books that you wish to buy:

Linchpin

  • Teaches you to be indispensable (irreplaceable) and motivates you to dwell at the heart of your startup.
  • Say no to meaningless work, things should be looked upon from the bigger perspective —-> You should be actually working on changing the world.
  • Work the problem yourself. Imagine there were astronauts on Apollo 13 that did not know how to behave under pressure? Have they been able to solve the dire problems in real time and save everybody?
  • Lead, inspire and be responsible.
  • Linchpin is actually the word for the outer pin that holds the wheel onto the axe. A metaphor for both reliability and importance.

Black Swan

  • Black Swan stands for the overly-stated fact that all swans are White. i.e. “fair as a swan”, meant that she was white as a swan. However, it took one incident of a Black Swan seeing, in newly discovered Australia, to overthrow the fact forever.
  • Past events do not predict the future.
  • There are little incidents in history that have shaped up politics and commerce. No one would have ever predicted them. So why play by the book when you can expect the unexpected?
  • Startups should know that no matter how small, their offerings can be a game changer.
  • The Gaussian way of predicting cash-flows, sales and expenses forecasts year on year, is just an obsolete way of going forward. Your new variables should be the market intself and not what you sold last year.
  • It’s the Butterfly Effect: If a Butterfly flaps it’s wings in India, a hurricane is formed in Brasil. If you’re startup launches something unique in Amman, Jordan it can sweep the world by storm.

 

The Four Steps of the Epiphany

  • You need to understand that 9 out of 10 startups fail in their first year. So learn the odds and play along knowingly.
  • There are 4 phases of iteration and pivoting in your startup lifespan and they are: Customer Discovery, Customer Validation, Customer Creating and then Company Building.
  • In the first phase of customer discovery, you have to tailor-make a solution for a test-market (or better even a single customer segment) that you know are out there using super-simple features. Your offering should be a Minimum Viable Product MVP.
  • The second phase is customer validation, you need to validate whatever service your customers are buying and drop those that aren’t selling.
  • The third phase is when you start your customer creation by moving on from only dealing with your early-adopters. In this phase you are more confident to promote your services to a bigger market share.
  • Now you are ready to spend on building a company and spend on infrastructure, more features and employees. Everything you spend on needs to aim at scaling up and acquire more customers.


Lean Startup

  • Probably the single most important book listed here – read like a programming biography of Eric Ries’s trials and errors while building his startup IMVU.com.
  • Teaches you the importance of iterative project planning vs. the dangerous more linear mode; that has a beginning and an end.
  • Teaches you the importance of developing a prototype dubbed in this book as MVP.
  • When the MVP isn’t acquiring the right customers then something is wrong and you have to pivot the model in order to convert them. Its all about getting customers in.
  • The concept of split-testing or A/B testing is essential when promoting new features and products.
  • Continuous development is key to success.
  • Use actionable metrics that give a realistic indication of your progress. Vanity metrics by contrast will contribute to a delusional startup that has lost the plot. Metrics like number of page views, impressions, and registered users are example for Vanity metrics. While sales, conversions and referrals are metrics to measure progress on.


Blue Ocean

  • Avoid Red Ocean marketplaces where a lot of sharks swim. Because it’s bloody. In another metaphor, it’s a tiring rat race going after what everybody’s aiming at.
  • Create the market yourself. Blue Oceans refer to markets never sought-after before because they just simply did not exist. Your entry into one is in itself a black swan. An event above predicted history. Think Steve Jobs iPod’s launch event. Were there really any competition when the iPod launched?
  • You need to add value, specifically bring in more Value Innovation to the Buyer and your Startup as a result. Buyers and beating their product satisfaction every time, take center stage here.
  • This book teaches you that big businesses are as vulnerable as you are, if they cease to provide value to the customer.
  • You can shape the industry you are in, in fact you can be the whole industry itself.

 

Business Model Generation

  • You do not have to go on a long Business Planning endeavor, all you need to do is outline and build 9 building blocks of your startup, using an innovative way of business planning called Business Model Generation. They are:
  • Customer Segmentation: differentiate you customers based on the variable most relevant to your startup offerings.
  • Value Proposition: ask yourself what value you bring to each?
  • Customer Relationship: what relationship you want to build with your customer?
  • Channels: what are the communication, sales and delivery channels you use with every customer segment?
  • Revenue Streams: what are your revenue streams?
  • Key Activities: define what you do as startup and team to acquire more customers?
  • Key Resources: define what are the HR, machines, programs…etc needed for you to serve your customers most efficiently?
  • Key Partners: who are your key partners that you depend on when selling your customers?
  • Cost Structure: What are your costs and how do you maintain them in relation to all your resources, partnership/supplier and activities expenses?

This article is brought to you by StartupStorey and if you like this article, check out other articles on entrepreneurship. If you like this article, be sure to subscribe to our mailing list! If you’re interested in starting your own business, be sure to read this guide to building your own startup.

 

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11 Replies to “20 Books that every startup founder needs to read”

  1. I’ve read so many different startup books in this past year after recently joining one and loving the culture so much. These are my favorites:

    Chaos Monkeys by Antonio Garcia Martinez – this is a nice “memoir” of his events moving from Wall Street, to Y Combinator, to Facebook, then to Twitter. Great story and excellent writing.

    1. Yes, that is a good book as well. We will include it into our list, thanks!

  2. These books might not be directly about entrepreneurship but I found them incredibly inspiring in terms of having the courage to start on my own journey.

    Mastery by Robert Greene – A long read but it does tease various ways of reaching the ultimate stage using a combination of primal instincts to start off and then staying on the path. The author maps out the various stages and importance of mentors and social intelligence too.

    Antifragile by Nassim Taleb – This man predicted the 2008 financial crisis but this book deals with something more deeper. Entrepreneurship is mentioned in specific parts but the central idea is how to use chaos and probability theory to understand risk taking. Most of the ideas are presented in a non-technical manner

  3. Thank you for understanding what Tim’s book was about. A lot of people write it off as a get rich book once they see the cover. It is a good but and though you may not be able to use all of the information, you can find pieces that are applicable to your life

    1. That review summarizes some of the book but leaves out a lot of great things that are in the book… things that are actually scientific. In fact, the way he determined the title of the book is brilliant on its own and I used that method to come up with a book title for another New York Times best selling author…

      Basically, you have a series of landing pages for different titles that collect email addresses. Then you buy google ad words for keywords in your target demographic. The ads use the various titles you’re considering as the book title. Then you compare the click through rate of each ad and email addresses captured to determine which titles resonate the best and convert into real leads.

      Chunking tasks is another great tip in the book… in fact, handling email in general is a fantastic part of the book that I apply to my personal and work life.

      My friend thought the book was bullshit too, but I told her a few practical tips from the book and she decided to read it.

  4. A lot of people say they learned how to sell from Zig Ziglar.
    I liked Icarus Decption by Seth Godin.

    Some others on my to read list:
    The power of habit
    The magic of thinking big
    The checklist manifesto
    Zero to one by Peter Thiel

    1. Thanks for the recommendations – The Magic of Thinking Big stood out for me.

      I think one of the biggest takeaways for me personally from this book was the fact that by simply thinking “big” you remove a ton of the competition by the fact that most people don’t think “big”.

      We as humans tend to think other people think the exact same way as us. So if you are a very ambitious person you might think a lot more people are very ambitious than is really true.

      So when you are going for your “big” goals, there actually isn’t much competition because the majority of people are shooting for lower goals.

      I read the book over 3 years ago and I’ve noticed this exact phenomenon time and time again.

  5. Rosie Fitzgerald says: Reply

    2 must reads for anyone who really thinks they want to own a business and make it relevant.
    Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber ( pretty sure have a few editions in different industries) to make you think about your approach to running a business.

    Both are great, Napolean Hill was hired by Andrew Carnegie to write his book and is as relevant today as it was when it was written, Gerber’s book is just a great insight into choosing between being successful or failing.

    Good luck!

    1. Great suggestions that you have there! Napoleon Hill’s books are always a good read and we are inspired by his teachings.

      We might be updating this article to include his works as well!

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