“…the single most powerful pattern I have noticed is that successful people find value in unexpected places, and they do this by thinking about business from first principles instead of formulas.”
One of the best startup books for contrarian advice. Thiel says that startups should chase *small* markets, and that monopolies are a *good* thing. While it never claims to have a formula for success (there is no such thing, writes Theil), Zero To One provides extremely useful thinking for what it takes to build startups which can have a real impact on the future.
“…people essentially are only good at answering two basic types of questions when they don’t know what they want: what is it they don’t want and what they’ve done in the past.”
The critical insight of Ask is that startups *cannot* simply ask customers what they want – because they do not even know themselves what they want. Instead, it provides a different framework for getting feedback from customers in a less direct, but far more effective manner. As such, Ask is among the very best startup books for product validation.
“Customers don’t care how much time something takes to build. They care only if it serves their needs.”
The book responsible for ingraining terms like “minimum viable product” into the startup lexicon. The Lean Startup is highly influential and often-quoted, and “lean thinking” has become a catch-cry among successful founders everywhere. It provides a framework for finding out something that customers both want, and will pay for, as quickly as possible – so that the product can then iterate from there.
“The genius of niches is they are too small for large competitors, allowing a nimble entrepreneur the breathing room to focus on an underserved audience. Once you’ve succeeded in that niche, you can leverage your success to establish credibility for your business to move into larger markets.”
This list of the best startup books need to cover all types of founders. As Walling points out, there are many paths beyond becoming the next billion-dollar unicorn. Getting outside funding isn’t for every startup founder. Start Small, Stay Small pitches another way – self-funding development (i.e. bootstrapping).
This book contains practical marketing advice and how to effectively test an idea with users before building it.
“Strict adherence to written procedure is critical, but we counterbalance this strictness with our eagerness to make instant adjustments should the environment change or should someone come up with a better idea.”
Not only one of the best startup books, but one of the best business books as well. The book begins from the foundation that entrepreneurship is about building systems – and proceeds to lay out a way to build those systems out into an operation which eventually runs without the input of the founder.
“Enterprises can’t innovate like startups and that’s a major opportunity for entrepreneurs. They may have the budget to fund large innovation projects, but they don’t see the industry the way hungry startup founders do; they lack the agility to react quickly to new and emerging market opportunities.”
Taking a different approach from the other best startup books, Lean B2B is all about entrepreneurship at the *enterprise* level – i.e. dealing with organizations which tend to have a reputation as buraucratic and slow-moving… but with big problems and the budgets to pay for them. When you’re small, selling to these bohemoths means playing by a different set of rules than most people of aware of. Lean B2B lays out how to do it.
Michael E. Gerber
“If your business depends on you, you don’t own a business – you have a job. And it’s the worst job in the world because you’re working for a lunatic!”
A classic business book originally written in the 1980’s, and still highly relevant to this very day. The “E-Myth” of the title refers to what Gerber calls “the entrepreneurial myth”. It follows the story of a technician who gets a bout of entrepreneurial fever – the baker who wants to start their own bakery – and gets themselves trapped into a job, because they only want to bake bread rather than build systems.
Being an entrepreneur is more than knowing how to bake the bread. Being an entrepreneur is about leading a team of employees who will make thousands of loaves of bread for customers, and make a profit from doing so.
“Whenever I meet a successful CEO, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre CEOs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations. The great CEOs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say, ‘I didn’t quit.’”
Ben Horowitz (namesake of the famed Silicon Valley VC firm “Andreessen Horowitz”) gives a refreshingly honest take about the less-talked about parts of building a business.
Not how to make a plan, but what to do when that plan collapses.
Not how to set a goal, but how to fire people when you miss that goal.
Not how to hire great people, but what to do when they start acting entitled.
“Without enough money, we cannot fully realize our authentic selves. Money amplifies who we are. There isn’t a single ounce of doubt in my mind that there is something big you are intended to do on this planet. You wear the cape of what I believe is the greatest of all superheroes: the Entrepreneur. But your superhero powers can only yield as much power as your energy source provides. Money. You need money, superhero.”
A helpful reminder that business sustainability is built on profit, not top-line revenue. Easy to forget when many startups expect to burn cash in pursuit of nebulous “growth” – even the best startup books give that impression, sometimes.
To achieve a better business, Michalowicz recommends flipping around the traditional formula of Sales – Expenses = Profit, to instead: Sales – Profit = Expenses. Through this mindset shift, startups have a better shot of being around for the long-term
“…selling your business isn’t a transaction that can be captured on a spreadsheet or by numbers like “three times earnings.” The questions involved are much more personal. What does money mean to you? What is your identity as an entrepreneur? What do you want to do with your life?”
This book is short enough to be read in a single sitting.
Expect highly-engaging perspectives from a real entrepreneur who went through the intense process of selling his business, and what he learned from the experience. If your goal, as a startup, is to eventually achieve the much-lauded “exit”, it would pay to get a glimpse of what that actually might look like, from someone who has done it.
“…you’ll often hear VCs say that they like founders who have strong opinions but ones that are weakly held, that is, the ability to incorporate compelling market data and allow it to evolve your product thinking. Have conviction and a well-vetted process, but allow yourself to “pivot” (to invoke one of the great euphemisms in venture capital speak) based on real-world feedback.”
Silicon Valley venture capital is the dream of many would-be startup founders, and this book matches what is said in the subtitle: “Venture Capital And How To Get It”. If getting the funding needed to build the next big thing is your aim, this is one of the best startup books to turn to.
“Don’t be afraid to say no to projects. Prove that you’re serious about specialization by turning down work that falls outside your area of expertise. The more people you say no to, the more referrals you’ll get to people who need your product or service.”
Beginnings lay the foundations for everything that follows. Built To Sell is the top business book for envisioning the end from the very start. If entrepreneurship is all about building systems, then Built To Sell gives the blueprint on how to build those systems in a way such that the founder does not need to be involved – making that enterprise much more appealing to a potential buyer.
“Frequency led to awareness, awareness to familiarity, and familiarity to trust. And trust, almost without exception, leads to profit.”
This book is all about how to build familiarity with an audience through repeated exposure. It’s not about bombarding people with unwanted messages – instead, it’s about getting co-creation working for you by slowly and deliberately breeding familiarity with you and your message.
“I can’t tell you how many of my clients start out trying to be all things to all people. They say, “Oh, you need that? Yes, we do that,” and, “You want those? No problem.” Over time, though, they, their customers, and their employees become frustrated, and the business becomes less profitable. This helter-skelter method may have gotten you to where you are today and helped you survive the early drought, but to break through the ceiling, you have to create some focus.”
Everyone says a business needs to get “traction” – but how are founders meant to get that elusive elixer in the first place? Wickman argues for narrowing focus, so your startup can get very, very good at a certain thing.
Clayton M. Christensen
“Watching how customers actually use a product provides much more reliable information than can be gleaned from a verbal interview or a focus group.”
A fascinating book which points to the advantage that startups have over large incumbent enterprises – that they find it difficult to innovate, given the innovation is usually lower margin and not even wanted by most of their existing (mainstream) customer base.
Large organizations should read this too, as a warning about how to avoid this familiar pattern from sweeping them away like so many before them.
Reid Hoffman & Chris Yeh
“Start-ups are a wonderful thing, but they cannot by themselves increase tech employment. Equally important is what comes after that mythical moment of creation in the garage, as technology goes from prototype to mass production. This is the phase where companies scale up. They work out design details, figure out how to make things affordably, build factories, and hire people by the thousands. Scaling is hard work but necessary to make innovation matter.”
Some amazing names on the front cover of this one – Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, and Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft. The authors define “Blitzscaling” as prioritizing speed over efficiency – letting small fires burn. This, they argue, is the better strategy in the face of the kind of uncertainty in which massive companies in blue-ocean markets are typically built.
Of the best startup books, this one is particularly applicable to the super-high-growth kind.
“The ultimate gift, in our digital age, is a CEO who has the storytelling talent to capture the imagination of the markets while surrounding themselves with people who can show incremental progress against that vision each day.”
A fascinating look into the four technology bohemoths of our time: Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple – and what makes them tick. Their culture can impart many lessons on startup founders, even if their ambitions are a bit more modest.
“A few fanatical customer advocates are worth more than hundreds or even thousands of casual signups. Fanatical users will supply word-of-mouth growth, while providing the necessary feedback to iterate on the product. Do you have at least twenty fanatical users or a plan to get them?”
One of the most notable things about this book is that it is not entirely the typical “success story”, from people who tend to write books like this. Instead, the subtitle frankly admits that although Lerner helped grow to 100 million users, he also lost $78 million in the process. As Otto Von Bismarck once wrote, “Only a fool learns from his own mistakes – a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.”
Kevin D. Johnson
“Ideas are easy. It’s the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats.”
Probably one of the best startup books out there on mindset (if not *the* best). Actions repeated daily become habits, and habits become the type of startup you will ultimately have. As the subtitle says – learn from elite entrepreneurs so you can replicate their mindset for yourself.
David S. Rose
“While I have heard many clever ideas for products and services over the years, in my experience, the number one differentiator between an aspirant and a real founder is that the former is in love with his product, but the latter is in love with her business model.”
Startups are hotbeds of uncertainty, but this book by experienced VC David S. Rose is as close as it’s possible to get to a step-by-step system for those looking to build large ventures of rapid growth and scale.
“The best entrepreneurs are not the best visionaries. The greatest entrepreneurs are incredible salespeople. They know how to tell an amazing story that will convince talent and investors to join in on the journey.”
Of the best startup books, this one focuses more singularly on the act of fundraising itself – how to pitch investors and secure their backing. Recommended reading before walking into the Dragons Den or Shark Tank.
“Once you launch, you need to get more people paying you. You have to relentlessly pursue your best method of getting customers, and not the stuff you naturally gravitate to.”
Dan Norris has developed something of a reputation for dispelling widely-held business maxims. The big idea he wants to get across in The 7 Day Startup is contained in the subtitle: “You Don’t Learn Until You Launch”. Therefore, the aim should be to get the product or service out into the market as quickly as possible – rather than rely on focus groups or surveys. Plenty of useful resources included for free alongside this one.
“Grow fast, lose money, go public, get rich. That’s the model.”
Amidst all these serious best startup books, there had to be at least one funny one. Disrupted is a hilarious take on the disfunctional side of startups.
Anyone with any sort of startup experience will be laughing themselves silly, as they recognize the “you can’t make this stuff up” stories.
Read this one for a bit of light relief!
“His idea is to get your team together and pretend that your product has failed. That’s right: failed, cratered, imploded, or “went aloha oe,” as we say in Hawaii. You ask the team to come up with all the reasons why the failure occurred. Then each member has to state one reason until every reason is on a list. The next step is to figure out ways to prevent every reason from occurring.”
The Art of the Start embraces lean thinking and rapid iteration – arguing that it’s not the first version of the product that matters, but the final version. Excellent notes on leadership are sprinkled throughout.
Steve Blank & Bob Dorf
“Start by asking yourself, “What insight do I need to move forward?” Then ask, “What’s the simplest test I can run to get it?” Finally, think about, “How do I design an experiment to run this simple test?”
The schematic on the front cover shows this book’s approach – to break down the exact steps startup founders need to take. Of course, reality is always a bit more messy than that, but this book does a splendid job of showing how to navigate through the journey, while avoiding the potential pitfalls.
“Too many choices or irrelevant options can cause hesitation, confusion, or worse—abandonment.”
Going deep into the psychology of why people buy, Hooked explains the barriers that new products need to overcome – which include the ingrained past behaviours which people will tend to revert to, all else equal.
Drawing upon several illuminating case studies, this book teaches how to inspire loyalty with users, so that they buy out of habit.
“Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.”
Startups need to be creative, and we can all agree that Pixar is one of the most creative organizations in the world. So, what can we learn from them?
In this book, Ed Catmull (co-founder, along with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) reveals the ideas and techniques that made Pixar so successful and profitable.
“In every line of copy we write, we’re either serving the customer’s story or descending into confusion; we’re either making music or making noise.”
A top startup book for sales copywriting. It counsels readers to hone their message by speaking directly to the desires of their customers using storytelling to build empathy with customers.
Rajat Bhargaua & Will Herman
“Building a business is a powerful, long-term journey that is about more than how much money you make. It’s an experience that can transform who you are and create a legacy for you and your family. And who knows, you may create something that even changes society. Success is for you to define.”
Containing “major lessons” and “shortcuts”, this is a book of hard-earned, battle-tested advice from a pair of founders who have been in the trenches for years, and want to help their fellow startup founders with what they have learned along the way.
“You are better equipped to start a successful new business than the college students and twenty-something entrepreneurs. Sure, the media loves to play up to the darlings who drop out of college and create a giant company, but those are astoundingly rare.”
The best startup books aren’t just for people in their early 20’s. Far from it. Most successful startups are built by people with a bit more experience, even though the media pays them less attention. This book shows how people in their 30’s, 40’s and even later can catch the entrepreneurial wave and use their life experience as an advantage in the kind of business they build.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”
Not so many of the titles on this list of best startup books are about management – we tend to think of startups as dynamic, while management is dull. But building an impactful startup means showing the leadership necessary to forge a company cultural. Sinek’s book shows you how.
“To-do lists tend to be long; success lists are short. One pulls you in all directions; the other aims you in a specific direction. One is a disorganized directory and the other is an organized directive. If a list isn’t built around success, then that’s not where it takes you. If your to-do list contains everything, then it’s probably taking you everywhere but where you really want to go.”
Rather than get overwhelmed with the million-and-one things on the to-do-list, The One Thing counsels readers to focus relentlessly on what actually matters and double down on it. And, if you don’t know what that “One Thing” is, then your “One Thing” should be to find out!
“Identify the people in your industries who always seem to be out in front, and use all the relationship skills you’ve acquired to connect with them. Take them to lunch. Read their newsletters. In fact, read everything you can… Subscribe to magazines, buy books, and talk to the smartest people you can find. Eventually, all this knowledge will build on itself, and you’ll start making connections others aren’t.”
Though we tend to measure wealth in terms of dollars and cents, Ferrazzi argues that there is another currency, just as valuable if not more so – relationships. Of the best startup books, this is the clear winner in how to become a masterful networker.
“Persuasion is not about how bright or smooth or forceful you are. It’s about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea. So don’t beat them with logic or brute force. Ask them questions that open paths to your goals. It’s not about you.”
Let’s face it – startups and business is not always about generating win-wins. Sometimes it’s about fighting over a pie of limited size. In these cases, negotiation and persuasion is essential. It’s not about being the most aggressive or pushy, but instead about getting what you want. Never Split The Difference shows how to corral and seduce your counterparty into a favorable outcome for you – ideally, without them even realizing what is happening.
“The old way—where product development and marketing were two distinct and separate processes—has been replaced.”
A paradigm-shifting book for marketers, as it shows how startups and growing companies can achieve growth by only focusing on metrics which are directly trackable.
Digital marketers know this already, with their focus on pay-per-click, conversion raters and funnel optimization – but for those from the old-school world of branding and big mass-media campaigns with hard-to-trace ROI, this book will serve as a wake-up call.
Join The Free Equity Crowdfunding Training
Get The Roadmap To Raising 6 - 7 Figures, Without Banks Or VC
✓ How To Crowdfund - Explained With Video & Examples
✓ Learn From Case Studies Of Equity Crowdfunding Success
✓ The Tips & Tricks Others Wished They Knew Before Starting
✓ Smart Crowd-Building Strategies... That Cost Nothing!
✓ Everything Else You Need To Launch Your Own Campaign!