I frequently receive requests for recommendations on quality reading material for startup founders. Over the years I’ve put together a list of books with useful advice for entrepreneurs. While it is by no means an entirely comprehensive list, they all contain important perspectives and experience. Of course you can operate a business without ever reading one of these books, but you’ll be better equipped by consuming a few of these first or while you’re on the job.
Leadership and Operation
One of the best ways to learn about leadership and steering a company is directly from the titans of industry. We’re fortunate to live in a day and age where most of these CEOs have penned autobiographies or instructional books inspired by their turbulent, yet successful, tenures at the helm.
Winning by Jack Welch with Suzy Welch
One of these titans is Jack Welch, who brought the international conglomerate General Electric to astounding heights during his tenure as CEO. He preaches no-nonsense communication, investment in the right employees and with appropriate incentives, examination of one’s competition, and improvement of the business via Six Sigma. If you’ve never read about Six Sigma before, I strongly recommend picking up The Six Sigma Way.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
Written by renown internet venture capitalist Ben Horowitz, this book imparts the wisdom garnered from his years of experience investing and managing a plethora of startups and well-funded entities. Some of the most useful advice in this book stems from his real world experiences properly filling roles in the higher echelons of a company and experimenting with department responsibilities.
Rework by Jason Fried and David Hansson
While there is by no means any such thing as a “traditional” startup, the concept behind Rework manages to uniquely fly in the face the way companies typically operate. Written by key personnel behind the popular web app company, Basecamp, this quick read emphasizes how to stay in control of your own business through nontraditional means. Similar to The 4-Hour Workweek, this book encourages entrepreneurs to not focus as much on the regular minutia, responsibilities, and planning behind a business, but to instead concentrate on actually starting the company. They push goals about trying to remain a small operation, turning away investment opportunities, and de-prioritizing customer feedback in favor of listening to your gut. You can read a similar, but more detailed, story in Startupland by Mikkel Svane. This advice isn’t for every startup, as most usually want to hire more employees, collect and aggregate customer feedback, and grow faster with outside investment and pray for an IPO one day. I felt this book was contrary to that normal system and it was important to include to fully round-out this list in case it does work for your company.
Zero to One by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters
Peter Thiel is another famous Angel investor VC. He co-founded PayPal and provided early-stage investments in what are now household names such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yelp. His book emphasizes the importance of inventing a product or building a company that’s new, and the methodology to do so, instead of making incremental improvements to old business models and offerings from the likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page or Sergey Brin. The book will implore you to consider carefully when the right time is to start your business, what your share of the market might look like, and to determine how your company will survive through innovation decades from now.
At the core of any successful business are its specific development strategies. Without an overarching goal or plan, and tactics to support them, your probability for success is left mostly to pure luck. Instead engineer your company’s future by thinking ahead.
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Eric Ries may not have the same repertoire as the other VCs, CEOs, and founders in this list, but what he lacks in prestige he makes up for in blueprinting a nimble startup. Morgan has written in detail before about the book and participating firsthand in its lean startup methodology.
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
With advice like “Never outshine the master” and “Learn to keep people dependent on you” this one isn’t to be taken literally. Most of these “laws” should be taken as notes to keep in mind while conducting your business or what to look out for, such as competitors potentially taking advantage of you. Backed mostly by anecdotes, some of these tidbits are extremely useful, such as “Do not build fortresses to protect yourself – isolation is dangerous.” It’s better to be communicative and not cut yourself off from potentially valuable information.
The Art of Strategy by Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff
Game theory is useful in most walks of life, but it is especially applicable in business. Most of us utilize an innate version of it unknowingly on a daily basis when we try to predict decisions of others. This book explains how game theory and strategic thinking can be used to predict your competitors’ potential actions without pouring into the intense mathematics behind the theory.