No matter where your business is on the journey to scale, learning from the successes and failures of other businesses can give you the tools to approach costly and risky growth dilemmas with confidence. Reading books about startup growth can therefore be one of the cheapest and most effective ways to identify your path of least resistance to scale.
The problem is, you don’t want to waste your time trawling through bad business advice. So we asked successful founders to share their top recommendations to create the definitive list of must-read books for startup founders and their teams.
This list of essential startup books to read in 2021 features a selection of titles we’ve been recommended most often by startup founders. If you have a book recommendation you think needs to be on this list, just send us an email.
One of your favourite things to do with startup founders, investors and growth marketing experts is to geek-out on what ideas and experiences have influenced their growth mindset. Although this list will help save you time searching for the right books to read, taking the time to read a book from cover to cover takes commitment. To ensure you can effectively turn insights into action, here’s two habits we recommend adopting when making your way through this list:
No pun intended. There’s nothing worse than loosing a good source of recommendations.
Not only will this give you deadlines to stick to, reviewing books as a group is a great way for a growing business to align thinking and inspire better approaches to product development and marketing.
At the end of each chapter write a few bullet points that summarise what you’ve read and how it relates to where your business is at currently. Once you’ve completed the book, you can pick it up again and quickly find what inspired you.
Created from over 30 years experience founding, co-founding and funding startups, The Start-Up J Curve provides entrepreneurs with a predictable pattern of success and a forecasts the challenges to overcome at each of the six discrete stages. The blueprint this book provides a shared model which can help founders and investors to anticipate the challenges, overcome the obstacles, and increase the chances of becoming one of the few startups who make it to scale and beyond. Although less known than bestsellers like The Lean Startup or Zero to One, Howard Love’s tools, case studies, and principles provide founders with an essential big picture perspective on the process of growing a business of any kind.
Howard Love has broken down the steps which each successful scale-up has gone through and allowed you to benchmark where you’re at and prioritise what is required to take you to the next step. It’s really good at being able to prioritise activity that actually delivers impact rather than anything that’s just going to distract and take away control.
In this bestselling memoir, Nike founder and CEO, Phil Knight, tells a candid story of the company’s early startup years as Blue Ribbon Sports through to becoming one of the globally recognised and profitable brands. As with many of the best memoirs by successful founders, Knight details how he navigated the risks, failures and early successes which provided the foundations to create a scalable business. For any founder looking for guidance through the personal struggles as a leader and a manager, Shoe Dog will provide the motivation to push through and Just Do It.
This incredible book covers the founding story of one of the world’s most loved brands, Nike. It really shows the challenges of scaling up and not running out of cash as businesses undergoes rapid growth.
I loved the honesty, the trials and tribulations. The never say die attitude, it was a passion that became a business, I think this is overlooked a lot of the time. There are family issues, cash issues, people issues, in fact just about every challenge you have founding and running a company can be found in this book.
It’s an incredibly honest and personal account of building Nike. The setbacks and twists and turns are just astonishing. I always find entrepreneurs’ sprits and tenacity very inspiring. This is so extreme and his drive to never give up is just heart-warming.
Ben Horowitz cofounded the the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz alongside fellow ‘super angel investor’ and best selling author, Marc Andreessen. With all the wisdom gained from investing in technology companies (including Twitter, Skype, Stripe, Medium and many others), Horowitz is celebrated for its practical advice on how to navigate the most difficult parts of running and growing a business; from hiring and firing, to managing your own psychology. The Hard Thing About Hard Things is therefore an essential survival guide for any founder CEO or aspiring founder CEO.
An overall incredibly engaging story about companies we all know delivered as a valuable mix of real examples with actionable learnings. It essentially taught me that even the people I look up to had low points and had to learn on the spot. No one is born ready for this and drive and continuity can be just as valuable as experience and existing know-how. This book reminded me to keep fighting even when things felt impossible.
This book is both in inspiring and informative. It shows you just how nimble and resilient you must be to manage the challenges of the start-up world; team issues, funding issues etc. I often reflect on its contents.
The author does an excellent job in bringing to life what it actually means to build and scale a company as a founder / CEO. Resilience is key – this book will re-confirm and give practical tips on a wide array of topics as decision making, fundraising, and leadership hiring you will find valuable.
Matt Mochary has been a CEO Coach to successful companies including Coinbase, Opendoor, Bolt, and Clearbit. The Great CEO Within provides a crash course into the training that Mochary believes is essential for a CEO to effectively scale a business. This book acts a short and practical cheat sheet for many of the common situations a CEO must face when growing a business, from leadership challenges to methods for making informed decision.
It’s a brilliant guide to effective management – from strategy development and prioritisation, to people & culture and embedding effective process. Highly recommended for any startup founders!
The Mom Test is described as a “quick, practical guide that will save you time, money, and heartbreak”. Based on the idea that you should never ask someone if your business is a good idea as a measure of it’s potential, Rob Fitzpatrick outlines a template gaining the insights you need from potential, exisitng and lapsed customers so you can make more informed decisions. Customer interviews are one of the most essential exercises to grow a business but is one of the most commonly ignored tasks, so this book is great for any founder who wants to take the pain out of the process.
This book contains lots of insight on how to sell and how talk about ideas. It’s easy to botch a feedback discussion or a pitch by talking about wrong things, and The Mom Test outlines the most typical pitfalls clearly and succinctly.
Written by Andrew S. Grove, former chairman and CEO of Intel, High Output Management breaks down a range of techniques for improving team productivity and motivating staff to maximise their performance. Although first published in 1983, this books remains a popular handbook for founders particulary in Silicon Valley. For any founder looking for time-tested management advice, this is a reliable choice.
This book was an eye opener for me because it gave me techniques t help my team more productive. An operating rhythm around 1:1’s and how to hold meetings. Like all good advice, management tips that were obvious in retrospect.
Yvon Chouinard is the founder of the global outdoor clothing brand Patagonia Inc. Often referred to as an anti-business business hero, Chouinard’s memoir gives behind-the-scenes insight into the philosophy and approach to people management that have allowed Patagonia to grow from a rock climbing hobbyist’s passion project into a global success, whilst maintaining a disciplined commitment to sustainability. This book is an essential reading for any founder who is committed to growing a business that does good.
This book shares a powerful story of a founder building a unique company culture. It takes you through the whole startup journey and beyond, giving insights into how the company culture was shaped and continues to live as the company grows.
Verne Harnish’s Scaling Up, addresses practical ways to navigate the common challenges that businesses face when new products fail to generate revenue or meet growth objectives. Breaking down the elements of what is needed to scale a business, Harnish details the practicalities of leading a team, templates to help strategically deliver the product objective, routines for effective execution and managing cash flow. Due to the book’s prescriptive model, many startup founders and entrepreneurs regard Scaling Up as a Bible for keeping growth on track.
Extremely specific guidance from how cash works in a company to how to think about building a people culture that enables high performance to the role of marketing (spoiler: company strategy = marketing strategy).
British magazine publisher and philanthropist Felix Dennis describes himself as ‘a South London lad who became rich virtually by accident’. How to Get Rich is part memoir part guidebook detailing the failures and successes which defined Dennis Publishing. This book is widely celebrated for its honest take on managing expectations in the pursuit of accumulating wealth.
Awful title but the best book about business fundamentals that I’ve ever heard. It teaches you about the core things to keep in mind when growing. It also taught me a huge amount about people, delegation, negotiation, and risk. Most importantly, it gives a really refreshing perspective on balance your youth (and time) with ‘money’. This book has made a lasting impression on me.
This book details the most common approaches to influencing the decisions of others. Dr. Robert Cialdini breaks down the six principles of influence; reciprocation, scarcity, authority, consensus, commitment and liking. Not only does Influence provide useful insights that can be applied to marketing and sales, it can also help to indentify when you yourself are being manipulated.
Although it’s written as a cautionary guide to sales tactics, this is one of the best books out there about the psychology of selling
In The Advantage, best selling business management author Patrick Lencioni argues that the most important factor in the success of a business is its organisational health. Lencioni defines the four disciplines of strong organisational health are building a cohesive leadership team, creating clarity, over communicating clarity and reinforcing clarity. The simple principles outlined in this book are a great starting point for any founder looking for a solid foundation in how to organise a company in a uncomplicated and coherent way.
This is my favourite book on building company culture. Pat Lencioni demystifies why an exceptional culture is critical and how to achieve it with a clear, actionable, and effective framework. Leaders who follow the steps laid out in The Advantage are guaranteed to have a strong culture, if not an iconic one. I posit it’s the only book on culture that a leader ever needs to read… and re-read!
As an easily digestible source to prompt better connection and leadership within teams, this book is an excellent resource for anyone in a leadership role.
The core concept of the book is embracing and recognising the potential in people and their ideas. Framed as choosing courage over comfort, Brown’s theories around vulnerability in the workplace are also explored in her Netflix documentary The Call To Courage and the Dare to Lead podcast. Although not written specifically for startup founders, Dare to Lead is a great read for anyone looking to embed genuineness, dialogue on differences, and empathy into team dynamics at an early stage.
The way we lead people is crucially important everywhere, but particularly in startups. It’s people that make the startup succeed or fail. Brené Brown’s thoughts on vulnerability and how authentic connections and care between team members are vital for a productive work culture are useful for anyone building a team and aiming for healthy growth. An open, empathetic, and trusting culture is a fruitful ground for both happy employees and great company success.
Patty McCord was the Chief Talent Officer at Netflix as it was scaling. As an advocate for a radically performance focused approach to people management, McCord’s story outlines how a rapidly growing business can equip themselves with the talent capable of solving future problems and how a culture of honestly can clearly communicate when team members are and are not needed to deliver the founder’s vision. Powerful is a great read for any founder needing to build a team and culture capable of tackling specific challenges.
A great perspective on building and growing a world class organisation from the perspective of HR.
Following the bestselling Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, in Leaders Eat Last, author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek encourages leaders of teams to understand the impact that leadership roles have on the people they lead. For startup founders, the concept that good leaders empower their teams to function on their own is crucial. Drawing lessons from military protocol, parenthood and evolutionary theory, Leaders Eat Last provides a wide range of examples of how to navigate stress in the workplace and foster an environment that lets a team do their best work.
Business is ultimately about people. It’s the people in your team who build the growth. Simon Sinek understands deeply what drives people and how to use this knowledge in building your business.
In Traction, entrepreneur coach Gino Wickman lays our his Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) model as a method for running a company with more focus and control. Having analysed how people really operate in businesses by refining his EOS over 20 years and with over 400 clients, the book emphasises the need for a clear vision, trust in people to deliver it, and clear communication around priorities. This book is a great resource for any founder looking for a comprehensive and tested framework for driving and validating progress towards achieving business goals.
Managing a growing business can be an all-consuming and utterly overwhelming process at times. When I first came across this book, I was looking for anything that would help give shape, structure and clarity to my work-life. This book provides an easy to understand (and relatively easy to implement) operating system that makes a great deal of sense. It’s also really easy to read, which isn’t always the case for business-focused books. You’ll find plenty of nuggets of wisdom scattered throughout.
Famed for its scientific approach to entrepreneurship, this book popularized the now commonly understood idea that business growth is achieved through learning, testing, measuring, and rapidly innovating. Although Ries’ methodology is biased toward tech, this disciplined approach is now widely adopted by startups, small business, and for new initiatives within large corporations because it provides a guide for how to make the process of starting a company less risky. Focussing on the core basic principles of being lean and agile in response to customer feedback, its concepts of “minimum viable product” and “pivoting” are now ubiquitous business terms. If you think you’re already taking a lean startup approach to your business, its essential you read this book to check you’re doing it properly.
No matter what size of business you run (or hope to run) this book explains clearly the importance of putting early and continual customer testing at the heart of what you do. It is essential to build, measure, learn and tweak your product or service continually to ensure you get your product or service ‘right’ for the customer, rather than build or make something you ‘think’ they will love.
Drawing lessons from history, modern organizational practice and scaleups like Netflix and Uber, What You Do Is Who You Are tackles the question of how to create and sustain the business culture you want. Ben Horowitz defines an organisation’s culture as the way it guides and makes decisions. Presenting four models of leadership and culture-building through a diverse range of case studies, this book provides a great source of inspiration for any founder who committed to not just saying the right thing, but doing it too.
This book is all about leadership. It shows how management is an art based on first principles, grounded in human nature. At the end of the day, creating a startup is an adventure, and no adventure is the same. A great leader is the semi-lunatic that will embark on an adventure, and man it up with a crew that believes in the leader and the mission.
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson define the ideal company culture as “the calm company.” Arguing how company cultures that breed anxiety and stress can negatively impact productivity, this book lays out advice to maximize happiness in a work environment. For any founder looking to avoid encouraging presenteeism and burnout in their company, It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work provides a useful guide.
Too many people think that ‘grinding hard’ is the key to success. People make avoidable mistakes like pressing themselves and their employees too hard. If you make it unenjoyable, you’re much more likely to quit. Particularly, pressing employees is a false economy; the cost of their eventual loss and recruiting a replacement is much greater than the cost of accepting slightly fewer hours per week (their least productive hours anyway). In an ecosystem that glorifies the fundraising treadmill, it’s also important to take a step back and realize you can be very ambitious while still considering factors like trying to be profitable and even trying to be a great and enjoyable place to work. Plenty of great companies did this (Zapier only raised $1m before their recent monster round). There’s also nothing wrong with aiming to achieve something much less than building a deca-corn being ENOUGH for you – only the most full-of-themselves VCs could tell you otherwise. While not everyone needs to bootstrap, a little bootstrap mindset is valuable to any founder.
The phrase “when the world’ zigs, zag.” was originally coined for Levi’s ad campaign but branding guru Marty Neumeier uses it to illustrate how organisations can develop “radical” brand differentiation to effectively cut through noise of the competitive marketing landscape. Although only 178 pages, ZAG contains essential advice for startups who have found product/market fit and are ready to translate their value proposition into a brand that out-positions competition and avoids being considered a me-too product.
Helped myself and my team get to clarity on brand strategy.
Written by the founder of Michael E. Gerber Companies, an American business skills training company, The E-Myth Revisited provides a business approach philosophy to become an “illuminated entrepreneur”. Highlighting the common flaws in the businesses models of small enterprises rather than startups, Gerber positions the reader as a client that he is helping restructuring their business. One of the book’s main recommendations is focussing on building systems to allow processes to be automated or managed by multiple people with limited training. As a result, The E-Myth Revisited is a great read for any entrepreneurs who aim to step away from time consuming processes and focus on what they are best at or enjoy doing most.
Michael E. Gerber argues that new business owners typically fail because they focus on technical expertise rather than on developing business knowledge. He looks at focusing on the business as a commodity instead.
First published in 1997, The Innovator’s Dilemma is renowned as one of best books on how the process of innovation works. Detailing extensive evidence, Harvard professor and businessman Clayton Christensen debunks the myth that market incumbents are slow to recognise new trends, making them vulnerable to outside innovation and disruption. Christensen argues that in fact incumbents are first to identify trends but they often undervalue the potential ROI of entering new markets. For any startup founder, Christensen’s theory of disruptive technology provides a blueprint to structure a company capable of challenging entrenched incumbents.
This book helps innovators understand risks and opportunities. It details value the value you can provide at different phases and the risks posed by entering a market where competitors see you’re on to something worthwhile. He then goes on to advise how to respond and win. Clay was my professor and has been an advisor to so many. He was a brilliant, thoughtful and good man. Definitely worth reading.
I found the book fascinating and it really helped me to think about business and disruption in a different way – I mean how on earth did Kodak go bust? These and many other business mysteries are laid bare in the book.
Tony Hsieh was venture capitalist and former CEO of the online shoe and clothing company Zappos. Delivering Happiness attempts to detail all the most important lessons learned between 1999 when the company was founded to 2009 when the Amazon acquired Zappos in an all-stock deal worth approximately $1.2 billion. In it’s far reaching advice, Hsieh describes his philosophy on the importance of happiness in engaging customers, developing a productive and passionate working culture and finding a personal balance between life and work as a CEO. Delivering Happiness is perfect for any founder looking for an honest account of how to navigate failure and build a business from the bottom up.
I think the basic stuff matters most. It’s all about the right attitude and passion what you want to do and how.
Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) is the goal-setting system attributed to Google’s global growth. John Doerr details how he first came across OKRs at his time at Intel and how this technique of setting simple goals with specific, measurable actions within a set time frame has supported some of the most successful business ventures since. For any founder looking for methods to keep their team on track for success, Measure What Matters is the best possible starting point.
John introduced the OKR (objectives & key results) system with great first-hand, behind-the-scene case studies. It really helped me and the team identify the priorities and find the right aim whilst moving as fast as we can.
It’s no surprise that the book that coined the term ‘early adopters’ has gained a reputation as the bible for bringing cutting-edge products to larger markets. Crossing the Chasm provides a realistic view of marketing technology. Written by Geoffrey A. Moore, a startup advisor who has helped establish high-tech enterprises including Salesforce, Microsoft and Cognizant, this bestseller lays out the mechanics of formulating and evolving a marketing strategy when take a fundamentally new product to the marketplace. This book is a must-read for any startup founder looking for tools to help navigate the stages of product life and for an understanding of the difficult decisions that come along with growth.
It helps to understand how to segment the market and adjust the sales pitch accordingly.
Analysing data from research into more than 150 leaders, Wiseman and McKeown identified five characteristics that distinguish Multipliers from Diminishers. While Diminishers supress the talent and ideas of their team, Multipliers are the catalysts that bring out the best, innovative solutions to problems. Featuring a range of interesting case studies and practical tips, Multipliers is a great resource for any leader comfortable not always feeling they’re smartest person in the room.
As the team has grown and my role has changed from thrashing it out at the coal face to helping others do their jobs this book was incredibly enlightening. Long way off being a certified ‘multiplier’ but its a journey!
Reid Hoffman is a cofounder of LinkedIn, venture capitalist host of the hugely popular Masters of Scale podcast. Chris Yeh is the co-founder and General Partner of Wasabi Ventures, and former advisor and investor to dozens of startups, including Ustream and PBworks. Bringing their experience together in Blitzscaling, the authors set out to define what separates the startups that fail to make an impact from scaleups and unicorns. Focussing on three pillars of growth; speed, size and people, this book provides an interesting insight into how Silicon Valley’s biggest successes define the mindset needed to execute an aggressive growth strategy.
This book talks about emphasizing speed over almost anything when building the business in order to reach a leading market position. He breaks down the different levels of scaling and what the company needs to do in order to move up. Personally, my biggest takeaway was better understanding my evolving role as a founder and how to maximize the learning and efficiency in our company, which helps us reach our goals.
In The Tipping Point, best selling journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell explores the phenomenon that occurs when a small but precisely targeted push causes an idea to spread virally. Starting with an analysis of the personality types who are natural pollinators of new ideas and trends, Gladwell uses wide ranging case studies to illustrate the three rules of the tipping point: the law of the few, the stickyness factor, the power of context. Although the book doesn’t provide practical guidance from a business perspective, the concepts explored are brilliant sources of inspiration.
The book was great at helping you to focus on ‘How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference’ and determining what those little things needs to be.
Rework makes bold claims about the ineffectiveness of most business advice. Fried and Heinemeier Hansson, founders of the software company 37signals, provide alternative advice, championing the easy-is-better approach. By challenging many of the traditional steps of building a business, this book is a great source of inspiration for founders who are keen to do things differently.
The business book for those who don’t read books! I’ve found that the insights of most ‘business books’ could easily be summarised to single chapter, blog post or short TED talk. Rework, instead, removes all the padding and bombards you with tens of digestible, entertaining and thought provoking ideas that you can start implementing into your business culture from day one. With great chapters such as ‘Meetings are toxic’ and ‘Fire the workaholics’ – the first piece of advice that the authors would want me to give is this: Don’t waste time reading tens of business books. Get ready spark notes, watch the TED talk and put the hours you save into building your awesome business!
Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author Harvey MacKay’s casual, down-to-earth style of delivering advice is one of the main reasons for this book’s popularity. Never claiming to reinvent the wheel when it comes to thinking strategically and tactically, Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive outlines realistic methods for improving sales in the marketplace, outperform competitors and being a good leader. Although aimed a more general entrepreneurial reader rather than startup founders, Harvey Mackay’s advice is still relevant and applicable despite being first published in 1988.
This book’s practical, down-to earth sometimes even cynical advice is nothing like the rubbish in all the “grow your business” books that never relate to real life!
Starting with the principle that methods and behaviours that brands are exhibiting have radically changed in recent years, Overthrow II is a provocative and practical guide to becoming a ‘challenger brand’. Structured as a simple framework illustrated by ‘best in class’ examples of challenger brands the book has also been adapted into a podcast spin-off hosted by authors Malcolm Devoy, Chief Strategy Officer at PHD EMEA, and Adam Morgan, founder of eatbigfish. For any founders feeling the pressure to evolve and develop more relevant branding, this book provides practical guidance for creating a narrative that resonates and stands out from the crowd.
I loved this book because it explores the challenger mindset in a really innovative way, with plenty of practical tips for founders and creatives.
Particularly useful for tech entrepreneurs, marketing specialist, author, and Silicon Valley venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki lays out his essential guide for turning an idea into action. Intended to ‘make entrepreneurship easier’, The Art of the Start breaks every piece of advice into simple steps. From raising funds to finding the right collaborators, this book is hugely valuable for anyone daunted by everything it takes to build a company.
Guy really emphasizes the key issues that founders need to tackle to grow a successful start-up ranging from pitching for investment through to achieving product market fit.
In Small Giants, journalist and editor-at-large of Inc. magazine Bo Burlingham questions traditional definitions of business success by analysing the values and strategies of fourteen undeniably successful companies. Presenting his findings in story format, Burlingham scrutinises the business fascination of ‘growth at all costs’. For any founder looking to scale a business, this book provides a humble lesson in creating a product people love over getting as big as possible, as fast as possible.
Small Giants gives you as the founder the confidence to not ‘chase growth and scale at all costs’. The case studies of the various businesses brings to life the concept of a small giant and how to build your business into one.
Provocative and accessible, Mission was written by joint founders of the PR firm Seven Hills. The book provides an honest warning to entrepreneurs about the risks and commitment involved in running a successful business. Drawing on examples from Google and Airbnb, to Whole Foods and Ella’s Kitchen, Hayman and Giles advise that for a business to make it through the hardest parts, its leaders must believe their business is contributing to something more than just the bottom line. Promoting the idea of ‘purpose as the route to profit’, Mission provides guidance on how publicity, company culture and strategy are all easier to manage when the business is anchored in a single goal. Great inspiration for founders defining their commercial purpose.
Explains how it doesn’t matter what industry you are in, the mindset and traits of successful entrepreneurs are always very similar.
The New Digital Age combines the predictions of what’s coming next with technology of the Former CEO of Google from 2001 to 2011, Eric Schmidt, and CEO of Jigsaw (formerly Google Ideas), Jared Cohen. Although first published in 2013, the book looks far beyond the present. Building on the idea that the digital and physical worlds are two distinct civilizations, one thousands of years old and one brand new in comparison, Schmidt and Cohen predict how socio-political concepts of states, revolution, terrorism, citizenship and identity will be disrupted over time. This book is most celebrated for its exploration of the future of technology and it’s most obviously useful for founders searching for clues as to which future of business opportunities will develop as the world changes in response to these advancements in technology.
Everything is a process… Look at the horizon not your feet.
This isn’t a startup book exactly, but it’s a great primer on the theory of why, where, how and when innovation happens. The patterns of innovation that are described in the book can be found everywhere in the stories of successful – and unsuccessful – businesses and industries. It also analyses and challenges some popular ideas like “First mover advantage” that will help you to reason for yourself about whether those concepts will or won’t be a source of value for your business.
American author and professor at INSEAD Business School, Erin Meyer researched and analysed the subtle differences in how different cultures around the world conduct business in order to provide a practical framework and advice for navigating the complexity of collaborating and negotiating deals internationally. The book breaks down business behaviours into discrete categories: communication, persuasion, leadership, performance evaluation and negative feedback, decision making, trust, disagreement and scheduling. Although obviously prone to generalisations this book is a useful tool for any founder looking for an academic head start before doing business internationally.
A great observation of leadership styles from different cultures around the world which provides a great insight into your own management approach.
Black Box Thinking draws its title from the concept behind the indestructible black box’s inside airplanes, ensuring that data what causes accident can be analysed to help prevent problems repeating in the future. Although the consequences in business are less deadly, Syed pulls together lessons and stories from anthropology to psychology, sport to biology, providing guidance on how to ‘break free’ from failures. Although this book’s advice is not specifically aimed at entrepreneurs, its frameworks are highly useful for businesses working through the hardest parts of growth.
Success in startups comes from learning from the inevitable stream of mistakes you make along the way. This book helps frame those failures as opportunities to develop.
The book made me think about constantly challenging set beliefs – even ones that are foundational in our business or product – and look to the data to see how best to move forwards.
Getting to Yes is based on the findings of the Harvard Negotiation Project, a group that works to share innovative theories and practices of conflict resolution and negotiation. The book outlines the authors’ proven, step-by-step strategy for finding to agreements in conflict situations that are mutually acceptable. The idea of striving to create win-win relationship instead rather than positioning for a win-lose scenario can be applied to all the relationships a startup founder must foster to become successful.
Negotiation is a crucial skill for founders to master. Whether bringing onboard new team members, closing first customers or navigating a fundraise… negotiation happens every day at a start-up. You can, and should, learn to become great at it. Fisher and Ury outline in this book a simple framework to apply to negotiations based on their work for the Harvard Negotiation Project. Using this framework has helped me more-or-less daily at Juro.
Although this hugely popular book about the science of sleep by neuroscientist Matthew Walker may seem like an odd fit for a list of best books for startup founders, it’s insights have been championed by Bill Gates. In Gates’ review of the book, he said “I realize that my all-nighters, combined with almost never getting eight hours of sleep, took a big toll. Neglecting sleep undercuts your creativity, problem solving, decision-making, learning, memory, heart health, brain health, mental health, emotional well-being, immune system, and even your life span.” For any founders and their teams feeling the pressures of startup life disrupt their sleep patterns, this book clearly illustrates how more sleep can be used to be more productive and the dangers of not getting enough.
For me as a founder, sleep has always been “a waste of time”. I always felt sorry that sleep needs to be, and wanted to fight it off, and limit its hours to as few as possible. This is the culture and mantra of the busy and productive people. This book has made me realise that sleep is actually hard work for the brain and time well spent. If we don’t sleep enough – we don’t just become prone to sickness and irritable, but we are not learning, and not able to collaborate with others as well. Without sleep can lose 40% of what we’d learned the day before. Founders need to sleep 8 hours per night, and they need to sensibly organise the work schedules of their teams.
After reading this book I realised that nothing, absolutely nothing is as important as sleep to be a healthy and happy person, and a successful entrepreneur. Study after study confirms that we need eight ours of sleep a night, and that the quality of sleep dramatically impacts our ability to learn, problem solve and lead. After reading this book you will never again want to be the “hero” who can function on just a few hours of sleep. It’s foolish, and damaging to you and your business.
When author and journalist Christopher McDougall wondered why his foot hurt, he ended up setting off on adventure to Mexico to track down the mythically-framed Tarahumara tribe, otherwise known as “the running people.” Weaving this adventure with a detailed history of the sport of ultra-running, McDougall shares a range of lessons that can also be applied to business; always start with the problem, surround yourself with wisdom, make decisions like you’re poor, embrace discomfort and smile through it, it’s about the long game – be consistent.
Born to Run is arguably one of the best books that I have ever read and one that I constantly go back to. It’s about running and human evolution, but in my mind it holds key lessons from the Tarahumara that we can apply to business.
The aim of Rapport is to help people rid themselves of bad communication habits and develop the humility to acknowledge that interpersonal skills can always be improved. As world leaders in forensic psychology, Emily Alison and Laurence Alison have translated a wealth of academic literature and studies into practical lessons on how to be a better communicator. Although aimed a general audience, founders can apply these lessons to gain more fruitful interactions in every day scenarios, whether in leading a team or persuading potential customers.
I believe the primary role of a leader is to create an awesome environment for your team to thrive. To do this it helps to understand your team and their struggles, roadblocks, and motivations; challenges within the team and external issues they face. To be a good leader it helps to understand people. This book helps you do that.
Engaging the reader in a lively conversation about how the mind works and how we make decisions, Thinking, Fast and Slow presents the human mind as two systems. System 1 is fast and emotional. System 2 is deliberative and logical. Author Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, outlines how choices made in both our business and our personal lives, providing a range of different techniques to protect against the pitfalls of both fast and slow thinking. For startup founders, these techniques could prove vital in navigating costly and risky decisions.
This book taught me how to approach situations and problem solve in a way I hadn’t before. Understanding how we think is fundamental to tackling challenges in business, and communicating in a team.
Anthony Robbins is a world-reknowned coach whose has made millions from books, cassettes, training and seminars that help people to realise their ambitions. Subtitled as How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny!, this bestselling book uses wide ranging historical anecdotes to inspire the reader’s self-discovery. Although not aimed specifically at startup leaders, the book’s four parts; Understanding your power, Taking control: the master plan, Remodel your life in seven days, and A lesson in destiny, all hold the potential to inspire and motivate anyone with big aspirations.
This book shifted me to immediate and clear action.
Steve Peters is a consultant psychiatrist who has developed the Chimp model, a mind-management programme to help anyone from athletes to executives to control their feelings of self-doubt and avoid being restricted by fear. The book explains the simple scientific reasoning behind how the human brain can be viewed as half human and half chimp, the human is rational and intelligent, the chimp is emotional and instinctive. As with most self-help books, The Chimp Paradox can be divisive, but its popularity, particularly as a business book recommendation, is testament to the Chimp model’s potential effectiveness for founders searching from the success, confidence and happiness.
This book has helped me perform better by enabling me to better control my mind and how I use it. Over the last few years, I’ve avoided traditional business/start-up books as I’ve found the knowledge very specific and trying to shape this into your own journey doesn’t always prove fruitful. However, understanding yourself and your mind and maximising this delivers results in almost every situation.
Taoism, also referred to as Daoism, is an ancient Chinese tradition of philosophy and religious belief is a religion of unity and opposites; Yin and Yang.
In this hugely accessible introduction to the general concepts of Taoism, Benjamin Hoff juxtaposes quotes from A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories which Taoist teaching by Chuang-tse as well as quotations from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Ching. The lessons of self-development and virtuosity that Toaism teaches are useful for any startup founder and this books is a great introduction to them.
A beautiful read that tells you all you need to know about how to live life and find peace. Helped me realise that we only have one life and we need to find balance between everything that is important to us – there is no time to waste choosing to be unhappy.
Who Moved My Cheese is a story about four characters living in a maze who hunt for cheese to make them happy. Using the maze and cheese as a metaphor for goals in life, American physician and author Patrick Spencer Johnson explores the many ways we deal with unexpected change. For founder with big aspirations, this story is an interesting and amusing way of learning how to deal with the inevitable failures that come with ‘success’.
This short book really helps change how we perceive challenges. Crucially it fundamentally changed my outlook on approaching and managing change.
Another recommendation taking inspiration from outside the business advice category, this book written by a former FBI hostage negotiator draws heavily on behavioural and neuro science to explain which negotiating techniques worked and which didn’t in real life situations. Although touted for it’s usefulness in gaining a competitive edge in everyday negotiations such as buying a car or negotiating a salary, Chris Voss’s lessons on emotional intelligence, intuition and building trust are hugely valuable for founders who regularly need to persuade people to help them build their vision.
Rory Sutherland, vice chairman of Ogilvy UK believes that reason plays an increasingly small part in our lives. Combining insights from the latest in behavioural science, historical anecdotes and lessons in branding best practice, Alchemy celebrates the how the most impactful ideas make you feel more than they make you think. For any founders looking to build emotion into their branding and product, this book provides the justification to stop playing it safe and start embracing the irrational.
Written by billionaire entrepreneur, venture capitalist and co-founder of PayPal, Peter Thiel, Zero to One claims that progress can be achieved in any industry or area of business, providing endless possibilities for technological innovation. The key to successful innovation according to Thiel is to learn to ask the questions that lead to finding value in unexpected places, rather than copying what worked for others. Thiel’s sometimes ambitious and hopeful, sometimes contrarian and sceptical theories can split readers, but for any founder looking to stress-test the potential of their big ideas, this book is an essential read.
Having analysed the attributes of 2,600 CEOs and over 13,000 hours of interviews, The CEO Next Door draws practical insights from the patterns in the ways CEOs of top companies think and behave. With this information, Botelho, Powell and Raz share valuable leadership lessons to help would-be-CEO’s to prepare for the job, get hired for the job, and succeed at the job. In addition to offering advice on how to tailor your approach to individual situations, the books research also provides the data to prove that many CEO’s did not go to top top universities and many of the most successful have had turbulent careers.
Bill Walsh is celebrated as one of the greatest coaches in history of the NFL, famous for transforming the fortunes of the San Francisco 49ers franchise. He is also remembered for innovating an offensive style of play that changed the way the sport was played. Made up of a series of exclusive interviews between bestselling author Steve Jamison, Walsh and some of his past players, this book provides actionable advice for any leader, and endless down-to-earth stories of success and failure. This “non-corporate” perspective on leadership is a great way to gain new perspectives on how to lead and build a startup team.
Written by co-founders of Strategyzer.com, this is a fantastic resource for anyone disappointed by the failure of a good idea who wants to learn how to design, test, and deliver what customers actually want. Packed full of practical tips and frameworks, this book not only shows you what makes a great value proposition, it also helps you to avoid getting distracted by wasting time and energy with ideas doomed to fail.
In this instructional book by Steve Blank, guru of Customer Development, he outlines a disciplined process for ‘learning and discovery’ which helps startups search for a business model that will actually work. Often cited as the precursor to The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, The Four Steps to the Epiphany is more demanding of the reader, packed full of charts, graphs, and providing a far more detailed and manual-like introduction to key concepts. For the best learning outcome, we recommend reading the The Lean Startup first and then moving onto this more advanced theory.
Running Lean is another popular guide for anyone looking to adopt the lean startup approach and currently testing whether an idea has the potential for product/market fit. Ash Maurya details a systematic process to ensure you’re business idea actually solves a problem that people need solved and that your solution is needed enough that people are willing to pay for it. Due to its level of practical detail such as customer interview templates, its is widely regarded as an essential handbook for any entrepreneurs who is looking to increase their odds of success, without wasting time.
For anyone who has read Running Lean, completed each step in the process, built a minimum viable product and wondering what to do next, Ash Maurya’s is the logical next read. Drawing lessons from unicorns like Airbnb and Dropbox, Maurya presents a model for plotting and measuring the success and failure of startups as they attempt to scale. By defining what metrics are important and when this tactical handbook is ideal for any founder daunted by the prospect of product development, iteration, optimisation and scaling.
Whether you’re a beginner or expert in product management, The Lean Product Playbook provides clear, step-by-step guidance on how to adopt a Lean approach and how to use it to build a product that customers will love (and pay for). Ideal for hands-on founders earlier stage startups looking to validate product/market fit, the concise methodology Dan Olsen outlines offers an ideal extension principles outlined in The Lean Startup by Eric Reis and the Lean series by Ash Maurya.
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