As a startup founder, numerous challenges line your way to success. These challenges range from the seemingly simple, like picking the right team, to the complex ones like whether to accept an acquisition offer or not.
You need the right counsel to guide you on your business journey. That counsel might be available through business books.
How Books Help Founders Level Up
Books are an essential tool for every founder. Beyond the insights they provide, they primarily allow you to gain knowledge from other founders’ experiences.
In their wisdom, successful founders have provided guidelines for you to follow in their books. By learning from their stories, you can avoid some of the nasty pitfalls that they couldn’t and fast track your own success.
The Top 25 Best Business Books for Every Startup Founder
“The Art of the Start 2.0” by Guy Kawasaki
“The Art of the Start 2.0” is a business classic from Guy Kawasaki, an author and marketing specialist. Kawasaki has industry experience from several companies and was an original marketing guru for Apple during its early days.
Published in 2015, the book covers some of the most significant steps involved in building and launching a successful venture. It takes you through developing ideas, getting feedback, and leading a team with the right vision.
As expected, Kawasaki also shares tips on marketing, socializing, and building synergistic partnerships along the way.
The book got significant praise on Amazon, with many pointing out its ease of reading and the many insights that it provided. Its brevity and practical lessons were also lauded by many, making it an ideal read for any business leader.
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
As a business owner, growing your influence and emotional intelligence is a significant leadership skill that you will need to possess. You need to learn how to build relationships, convince people to join your team, and talk customers into trying your product.
This book is a timeless classic that helps you build the most fundamental friendship component—trust. It was written by Dale Carnegie, an American writer and lecturer who was one of the pioneers of the self-improvement drive.
In this book, Carnegie provides significant insights on how to understand people and handle them. The book teaches how to make people like you, win them over to your point of view on hot-button topics, and how to change people without causing resentment.
Many have praised Carnegie for his practical approach to building relationships, claiming that the book helps with business and personal life. However, it also got some criticism for seeming too controlling. As some reviewers explained, the book seems to focus on manipulating people, as opposed to allowing them to like and agree with you of their own free will.
“The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries
“The Lean Startup” is one of this generation’s most prominent business and entrepreneurship books. It was published in September 2011 by Eric Ries, an author and entrepreneur who has spent years in the startup scene.
In “The Lean Startup,” Ries charts a path forward for entrepreneurs looking to build their dreams, taking you through some of the most significant causes of failure for startups and providing tips and methods to avoid them. Today, the book has been adapted into a business management method and has entirely changed how companies are built. It teaches how companies can be more capital-efficient and leverage their staff’s creativity, especially in their early days. For any company looking to survive that tumultuous startup phase, this book is a guiding light.
Despite its widespread appeal, reviews have been mixed. Those who love it claim that the book has been transformative in how they approach building their business. They also appreciate how Ries was able to use experiences across different industries to illustrate his point.
However, those who didn’t like it were quick to point out that Ries only introduces what a “lean” startup is. Many want something more in-depth.
“Good to Great” by Jim Collins
Jim Collins is a top-notch researcher and consultant. Over decades of work, he has focused primarily on business growth and long-term sustainability. Collins wanted to define what could help a company achieve long-term, lasting success, and he put his secrets in “Good to Great.”
In “Good to Great,” Collins examines the simple question of how a company can start in a good place and build over time to be better and reach success. However, instead of focusing on companies that start well, he looks into how a company that starts on the wrong foot can correct its course and become better.
“Good to Great” was published in October 2001. It covers analyses of real-world companies and their journeys from mediocrity to greatness.
Reviews for the book have been stellar, with many pointing out that it helped them shift their culture and operation.
However, some have also pointed out that time has not been so great to the book. Many of the companies Collins highlighted have either gone out of business or have been flagged for cheating. Still, this isn’t to say that some fundamental laws the book postulates are wrong.
“The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz
Anyone in VC on Sandhill Road in west Silicon Valley will recognize Ben Horowitz. The businessman and investor is one of the co-founders of Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z), a venture capital firm with over $10 billion in profits. In writing “The Hard Thing About Hard Things,” Horowitz looked to encourage startup creators on a mission to change the world.
“The Hard Thing About Hard Things” is different from many leadership and entrepreneurship books out there. As Horowitz explains, many find it easy to talk about starting a company, but only a few talk about the challenges ahead. The investor takes insights about managing, analyzing, choosing, and supervising companies, and he puts them into this simple book.
Published in March 2014, “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” is a must-have for aspiring and existing entrepreneurs. Many have lauded it for being practical and easy to read, improving its staying value for readers over time.
At the same time, critics have also pointed out that the book is geared towards tech companies and innovation.
“Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
“Thinking Fast and Slow” is a book by Daniel Kahneman, a world-renowned psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. Published in March 2013, the book looks to provide an exposition into peoples’ thinking patterns.
In the book, Kahneman distinguishes between two primary thinking systems in the human mind. The first is fast and potentially impulsive, while the second is more logical and deliberate. By teaching how to master the two systems, Kahneman looks to improve your decision making as a businessperson.
Engaging you throughout the book, Kahneman outlines the instances where intuitions can be trusted, as well as how you can enjoy the benefits of logical, deliberate thinking. Over time, you can find ways to merge the benefits of both thinking systems to your advantage.
Reviewers have pointed out that “Thinking Fast and Slow” is revolutionary for its analysis of the human mind. Considering how critical it is for business people to sometimes make decisions on a dime, it is vital to understand how to optimize the mind. However, critics have also decried the book’s seemingly repetitive nature.
“Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
“Rework” is a self-help book by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of the web-based software development company 37signals. In the book, Fried and Heinemeier attempt to deconstruct everything that conventional business books have taught.
For a long time, Fried has lived and worked with the motto, “it’s simple until you make it complicated.” With this new book, he attempts to bring that same philosophy to running a successful business. This book shows some of the harms involved in building a business plan, the demerits of investors, and much more. The result is an insightful read that helps you build the leanest, most efficient company you can have.
The book has become a bestseller since being published in March 2010. However, reviews have been split. Many who loved it pointed out that the book is innovative and insightful, with expositions that can bring a paradigm shift to entrepreneurship.
Conversely, some have called the book impractical and criticized it for being too radical for the 21st-century business climate.
“Purple Cow” by Seth Godin
Seth Godin is a business executive who made a fortune in the dot com boom. Since then, he has been active in the business and investment scenes, although he has also taken his business experience and done a great deal of writing.
In “Purple Cow,” Godin gets to some hard, painful truths about companies. The book, published in July 2007, outlines a significant path towards long-term sustainability. In a climate where businesses fold up after just a few years, Godin encourages you to put a spark of the unbelievable in your venture to help it pass the test of time.
Reviews for “Purple Cow” have been mixed. Many love the message of being different and remarkable in whatever you’re doing. However, critics have decried the book’s lack of an actionable message. With no plan of action or way forward, the book could leave you wanting a little more.
“The 4-Hour Workweek” by Tim Ferriss
Tim Ferriss is a blogger, author, and businessman who gained notoriety for inventing the four-hour workweek concept. This concept has caught on rather nicely in a world where remote work and non-conventional working schedules appear to be the norm.
In this book, Ferriss outlines methods to escape the rat race and the conventional wisdom of working your entire life in anticipation of retirement. As Ferriss explains, it is possible to enjoy the life you planned for yourself in retirement right away. “The 4-Hour Workweek” teaches you to optimize your work life, essentially making more money in less time.
“The 4-Hour Workweek” was published in 2009. Reviews have been mostly positive, with many lauding the book for its innovative approach to work and career handling. On the other hand, some have also claimed that the book provides some impractical advice that could hamper career progress and discourage hard work.
“The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen
Clayton Christensen was a renowned business consultant who achieved fame for developing the principle of disruptive innovation. The concept went on to become one of the most influential business ideas in the early 21st century.
In “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” Christensen explains how a company can fail despite doing everything right. The book, published in June 2001, highlights the dangers of feeling comfortable with your company’s success and how that feeling can lead you to reject significant innovations that can move you forward.
“The Innovator’s Dilemma” draws real-life examples for readers—one of its primary strengths. The book has also been lauded for its practical approach to business management. However, some critics claim that the book has become outdated, with the current business climate leaving it behind.
“Scaling Up Excellence” by Robert Sutton
“Scaling Up Excellence” is a book by Robert I. Sutton, a business management professor at the School of Engineering at Stanford University. Published in February 2014, the book provides a clear path towards business expansion and scaling up.
At some point, every business begins to grow and spread its wings. However, many companies also tend to mishandle this critical step, focusing more on scaling wider without considering efficiency. Sutton tackles some of the most significant trade-offs that your company will need to make in the scaling process, delivering a clear path towards expansion that will preserve your firm’s stance in the industry.
Reviewers have praised “Scaling Up Excellence” for its insightful way of introducing the scaling dilemma. The book explained the true meaning of scaling and how companies can get it right.
“Blue Ocean Strategy” by Renee Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim
“Blue Ocean Strategy” is one of the most insightful business management books of the 21st century. The book was written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne—Professors of Strategy at INSEAD, one of the world’s top business schools.
Published in February 2005, “Blue Ocean Strategy” challenges businesses to challenge the conventions of their industries. Through research, the authors encourage business owners to create untapped markets that are ripe for growth—so-called “blue oceans.”
The book highlights today’s crowded business nuances, explaining how companies can make themselves distinct by tapping new markets.
Reviews for “Blue Ocean Strategy” have been largely positive. Many readers have praised the book for its insights and transformative content, although some critics have also hit on what they believe is repetitive content.
“Zero to One” by Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel is a legendary Silicon Valley investor and entrepreneur. The billionaire is known for being a co-founder of Palantir Technologies and PayPal, and he was also the first outside investors for Facebook. With strong success in building and investing in startups, he wrote “Zero to One” to guide budding entrepreneurs.
Published in September 2014, “Zero to One” encourages entrepreneurs to innovate and find ways to build new things. Thiel challenges the notion that innovation can only be found in the technology space, explaining that progress can come in any industry. Thiel also asks that investors leave crowded industries to build something unique and distinct. That way, you move from zero to one and chart a course for yourself.
Some have lauded “Zero to One” for being an incredible book for individuals looking to build new ventures and explore new spaces, while critics claim that its premises are exaggerated.
“Never Split the Difference” by Tahl Raz
Tahl Raz is an award-winning journalist and author. He is also known for his series of books on business development, with different titles focused on specific business operations. In “Never Split the Difference,” Raz tackles the topic of negotiation.
Published in May 2016, “Never Split the Difference” was written in collaboration with Chris Voss—a former international hostage negotiator with the FBI. The book draws Voss’ expertise in dealing with hardened criminals in rough negotiation processes. Voss and Raz explain some of the concepts that helped them grow as negotiators in some of the most high-stakes situations.
The authors explain that life is a series of negotiations. Whether it’s getting a loan, working out a salary, buying a house, some negotiations define life. “Never Split the Difference” explains how you can get the best out of these situations.
Reviewers have pointed out that the book is a timely instructional manual that helps you achieve success in today’s negotiation-filled work. However, critics have noted that the book is also filled with sales pitches and war stories from Voss’ FBI days.
“Pitch Anything” by Oren Klaff
“Pitch Anything” is a book from Oren Klaff, a leading expert on capital raises, negotiations, and sales. The book was published in February 2011, and it has gone on to sell over a million copies.
In “Pitch Anything,” Klaff leans on his marketing experience and raising capital to provide an in-depth read for business owners. The book explains how a single pitch can transform your business or career. However, the perfect pitch will need a lot of work to be created. Klaff highlights the brain’s method of making decisions and responding to deals. “Pitch Anything” highlights the characteristics of a “STRONG” pitch:
- Setting the Frame
- Telling the Story
- Revealing the Intrigue
- Offering the Prize
- Nailing the Hookpoint
- Getting a Decision
As Klaff explains, mastery of these steps will put you in control of the entire negotiation process.
“Pitch Anything” is available on Kindle.
“Business Model Generation” by Alexander Osterwalder
Every company, regardless of the field, requires the right business model to prosper. Your business model shows just about everything about your company, from your revenue expectations to your channel for gaining customers. However, drawing up the right business model will also take a great deal of work—particularly in an ever-changing industry.
Published in July 2010, “Business Model Generation” is a book by Alexander Osterwalder, a Swiss business theorist and consultant. The book takes you through designing a business model that lasts the test of time.
“Business Model Generation” also takes you through the process of adapting your business to changing economic climates. It takes business concepts from experts and applies them to business model patterns, allowing you to extrapolate working policies and apply them to your company.
Lovers of this book have pointed out that it is an excellent introduction to building sustainability in your venture, especially with changing climates. Some, however, believe that it is too technical for the average reader to understand.
“The Startup Owner’s Manual” by Steve Blank
Steve Blank is a somewhat legendary name in today’s business circles. The California-based entrepreneur is credited with having built the customer development method that led to the growth of today’s lean startup movement.
Blank pours his knowledge and vast experience into “The Startup Owner’s Manual,” lending them to help startup owners achieve success quickly. The book, published in March 2012, provides a methodological guide to Blank’s customer development process.
The book includes graphs, charts, and checklists that help you build and grow a company. It provides insights like bringing an idea to life, avoiding company pitfalls, and more.
One of the most notable facts that reviewers have pointed out is that the book works for established businesses just as much as it does for startups. So, if you believe that your company could do with a little restructuring, this might be a valuable book for you too.
However, some critics have also pointed out that “The Startup Owner’s Manual” is too technical. Its reliance on infographics might not sit well with many.
“Traction” by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares
Every venture looks to grow to a level where they can confidently and conveniently acquire new customers. This is the point of traction, and it signifies a possible takeoff point for a company. “Traction” guides you on your mission to achieve this point.
Published in October 2015, “Traction” is a book co-authored by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. Weinberg is the creator of DuckDuckGo, an internet privacy company worth billions of dollars. Mares is the Director of Revenue at Exceptional, an eight-figure internet software company. Both men have extensive experience with launching products and reaching critical mass, and they lend their knowledge to entrepreneurs in this piece.
“Traction” is the ultimate growth hack that any company requires. It draws on the experiences of companies like Kayak, Reddit, Wikipedia, and HubSpot and teaches how to get your product into the hands of customers. Through traditional and digital media and advertising, “Traction” ensures that you can get from where you are to where you would like to be.
“Traction” has been lauded for its quick and easy-to-understand case studies. The book also got praise for being conversant with the current business climate. However, some critics pointed out that it wasn’t in-depth enough. “Traction” didn’t seem to do it for many who required a more hands-on teaching experience.
“Explosive Growth” by Cliff Lerner
Cliff Lerner is an entrepreneur with deep roots in the media industry. He is known primarily as the founder of Snap Interactive, a company that created one of the first Facebook-native applications. Snap Interactive grew to become a success, growing to over 100 million users. However, the road to such numbers was not easy.
In “Explosive Growth,” Lerner uses his entrepreneurial experience to teach other business owners the ropes. The book was published in September 2017, and it provides a methodological approach to helping businesses achieve the one thing they desire—growth.
Lerner takes you through the entire product growth process, from developing an idea, identifying the growth potential, and marketing it to the public.
The book has so far gotten rave reviews, with many praising it for its timeliness in today’s business world. Most of the applications and tips in the book remain relevant to this day. However, some critics have pointed out that the book is more geared towards app developers and tech companies.
“Range” by David Epstein
David Epstein is a two-time New York Times Bestseller. He has been reporting for ProPublica for years, covering a wide range of topics. In “Range,” Epstein pulls in research to conclude that specialization in a field might not necessarily make you a leader.
Published in May 2019, “Range” takes powerful lessons from some top leaders in different fields, including sports, business, journalism, music, and more. The book highlights the benefits of “generalism,” where a professional juggles different interests and fields. With greater creativity and expertise, these generalists can harness incredible speed when they eventually focus on one area of interest.
“Range” has received positive reviews from many who believe it to be a vindication of their approach to success. On the other hand, some have faulted some of the book’s facts, claiming that they might not present the full picture of real-life situations.
21. “Storybrand” by Donald Miller
“Storybrand” is a book by Donald “Don” Miller, an American author and businessman. Miller is the CEO of StoryBrand, a marketing firm with clients across the world. The company has been operating for years now, making Miller quite the marketing guru.
In “Storybrand,” Miller takes you into one of the most critical marketing operations you could have—building a brand that tells a story. The book is a manual that helps you understand the best and most effective way to connect with customers by telling stories about your business.
The book is especially timely, with companies relying on marketing more than anything else to make sales and grow their clientele. You need the right counsel, and Miller is here to give you that.
Many have praised “Storybrand” for its universal approach to marketing. The book is apt for any business, whether it’s a startup or an established venture. At the same time, some have also criticized the book’s content for being mostly theoretical and not focusing on some industries in its examples.
22. “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini
Robert Cialdini is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University. The author and marketing expert has also had teaching stints at Stanford University and the University of California Santa Cruz.
Pouring his experience into writing, Cialdini published “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” in December 2006. In this book, Cialdini explains the psychology behind peoples’ decisions and how you can use this to grow your influence in their lives.
The book outlines some of the characteristics of influence and how each person can apply them into persuading others more effectively. For business people looking to convince customers, this book is a must.
Some of its acclaims have been related to the book’s relevance in today’s world as well, especially with its focus on business applications. However, critics have pointed out that the book appears focused on manipulating and having authority over others.
23. “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell
Just about everyone in the journalism world knows who Malcolm Gladwell is. The Canadian journalist is one of the most famous reporters of the 21st century, having written for The New Yorker since the late ‘90s.
Gladwell is also a bestselling author and writer, and “The Tipping Point” is perhaps his most famous body of work. In it, the author describes that moment when you have a revolutionary idea that could potentially launch you into stardom.
In “The Tipping Point,” Gladwell dissects conceiving an idea, sharing it with others, and working your way to that point where you’re ready to potentially change the world. Published in November 2002, the book remains a top hit in the marketing sphere.
Many have praised Gladwell’s non-scientific approach, making the book more of an inspirational piece than an educational one. However, the lack of that scientific approach has also been cited by critics for its inadequate support and factual strength.
24. “Crushing It” by Gary Vaynerchuk
Gary Vaynerchuk is a businessman and entrepreneur known primarily as the founder of Empathy Wines and Resy, a restaurant reservation software company. With a net worth in the millions, this businessman is undoubtedly revered in the tech and business spaces.
Vaynerchuk shares some of his business experience in “Crushing It,” a book he published in January 2018. In it, the businessman explains some vital business principles that still work today, as well as those which he believes have been rendered obsolete over time.
“Crushing It” features testimonials from business people who have managed to grow their wealth by expanding their influence—primarily through social media. The book also provides expositions into several top social media platforms and how you can use them to grow your business.
The book has gotten rave reviews across the board, with many pointing out its timely nature in an age that is defined by social media presence.
25. “Hooked” by Nir Eyal
Habits are one of the primary building blocks of life. People build habits and patterns all their lives based on their needs, and companies have been looking to capitalize on that.
“Hooked” provides an exciting approach to developing habit-forming products. Published in November 2014, the book was written by Nir Eyal, a businessman and author. In “Hooked,” Eyal guides you through building a product that people can’t seem to put down.
Eyal teaches you the Hook Model—a four-step process common with many habit-forming products and what makes them so successful. The businessman also explains some factors that make people engage with certain products out of mere habit and how you can capitalize on this human character as well.
“Hooked” has been praised for its incredible attention to detail and practical approach to successful product development. However, the book’s chief criticism appears to be Eyal’s focus on technology and apps instead of products in other industries.
Any books that I missed? Let me know.
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