Walk into a bookstore or browse Amazon and you’ll find hundreds—if not thousands—of books out there that offer up good stories and advice that might help you build a better business. But, hey, we know there’s only so much time in the day. If you had to choose just a handful of high-impact books to help you think about business differently, which ones should you read? Below, you’ll find eight book recommendations from some of the top startup founders and investors. If you want to become a more effective thinker, better leader, stellar innovator, and smarter founder, you’ll find something below that will shape you—and your company—for the better.
This is a relatively short read, but you’ll want to come back to it over and over again. In The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking, you’ll find practical and inspiring ways to help you become a more effective thinker. The premise of this book is simple: Focus on a handful of the best strategies to drastically improve your thinking as quickly as possible. The book offers real-life stories, thoroughly explained methods, and concrete action items. All of them will help you gain a deeper understanding of just about any issue; learn how to ask better questions; embrace failure as a step toward success; and embrace the belief that we are all capable of change. There’s no doubt this book will change the way you look at the world, yourself, and the challenges and opportunities you face every single day.
This collection of interviews with founders of successful technology companies will give you an inside look at how they grew in the earliest days. What was life like before they were famous? How did they come up with (and stick to) those initial big ideas? How did they convince investors to support them early on? And how did they handle failures along the way?
Jessica Livingston, co-founder of Y Combinator, shares her conversations with founders like Steve Wozniak (Apple), Caterina Fake (Flickr), Mitch Kapor (Lotus), and Max Levchin (PayPal)—just to name a few. This is as close as it gets to being there on the ground level yourself. If you want to understand how to build a successful startup, Founders at Work is the ultimate collective blueprint.
And there may even be a V2 coming 😉
How do great companies stay great? Author and renowned Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, suggests that even when a company does everything right (e.g. listen to their customers, watch the marketplace, invest in R&D, etc.), it can still lose its market leadership. It’s a common challenge for mature companies to balance giving pre-existing customers what they want, while also beginning to move their resources into technologies and services that will drive markets forward in the future.
Christensen walks readers through detailed examples of how this happened to former leaders in the retail, pharmaceutical, and automobile industries—amongst others. After reading The Innovator’s Dilemma, you’ll have a more acute sense of when it is right not to listen to your customers, when to invest in the development of initially lower-performing products, and when to pursue smaller markets instead of seemingly larger, more lucrative ones (but not necessarily the ones that will keep your company a market leader in the future). This is an important read, even if you’re at the very early stages of growing a startup.
There are trendy non-fiction business books—and then there are the classics that stand the test of time. High Output Management, by Former Chairman & CEO of Intel Andy Grove, is the latter. In this book, he talks about his management process, which is centered around accomplishments and outputs—not activities.
Grove covers a number of different topics, including: how to spot bottlenecks in your operations, how to hire and coach a stellar team, how to monitor management success, and how to help your team make the most effective use of their time. You won’t find any trendy advice in this book; just the meat and bones of great management from one of the best. Whether you manage an entire company or no one (yet), this is an invaluable book that will help you improve the way you spend your time and drive output at your company.
This is a fascinating read that tackles a subject most of us come face-to-face with daily—even if we’re not always conscious of it. The topic: How does uncertainty and luck impact our lives, and on a macro level, the markets?
The author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, takes his readers on an exploratory journey of randomness—and why so often, humans are prone to mistaking luck for skill. Using little known (aka kind of complex and obscure if you’re not a math nerd) mathematical concepts, Taleb ultimately challenges the reader to think differently about statistics, success, failure, causation vs. correlation, and skill vs. luck. You’ll walk away from this book thinking differently about the role that probability and chance play in your life and business every day. An illuminating read.
This book should be required reading for anyone who has conversations with other people (in other words, everyone should read this book). The co-authors, who teach at Harvard Law School and at the Harvard Negotiation Project, lay out a step-by-step approach to having hard conversations with more success and less stress. This book is considered one of the best ever written on the topic of conflict resolution and negotiation. Whether you want to better navigate disagreements with colleagues and clients, or friends and family, Difficult Conversations is a great read.
You’ll learn how to make sense of the underlying structure of difficult conversations; stay balanced even if you’re being accused; listen for the meaning of what isn’t being said; and move conversations forward from emotions-based to problem solving. We like the sound of all of those things.
This book by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson is a must-read for entrepreneurs who are thinking about raising venture capital to fund a business. You’ll get a thorough overview of the VC term sheet, with a balanced perspective on particular terms. You’ll also get a glimpse into how VC firms really operate, how to negotiate your way through deals, and how to prepare for common challenges throughout the various stages of startup financing.
If you’re brand new to the world of startups, or you’re a seasoned entrepreneur, Venture Deals will deepen your understanding of VC deal structure and strategies with an admirable transparency that is rare in typical conversations about startup financing. This is a refreshing book, jam-packed with valuable information for anyone who has or is thinking about taking VC money.