When you’re thinking of starting a new venture, it’s always good to read up and immerse yourself in the new thoughts around it. But just which of the more than 10,000 business books published each year should you read?!
I named this list “7 Great Books for Super-Early Startups” because I know about you – you’re already a bit overwhelmed with new information. So I’m not going to say these are “must reads” (although, OK, really, they are…).
Many, many business books deal with mechanics. If your business begins to take hold, understanding mechanics will be important. The books here are not so much about mechanics as about mindset, attitude, and habits. Where they are about mechanics (The Founder’s Dilemmas and The Startup Owner’s Manual), they are mechanics that are most important to you and most overlooked by dry “How to start your own business” guides.
Now here’s the best part – I give away one of these each month! Just ask me a question or make a comment on any post or page in this site, and you’ll be entered into my monthly drawing for a free book – your choice. Each time you ask a question or make a comment, you get a new entry and therefore increase your chances of winning one. It’s that simple.
PS – You’ll find that the links on these books take you to my local bookstore. I get no financial benefit if you choose to buy any of them. But I hope you’ll try to win one first!
Think and Grow Rich – Napoleon Hill
This is my one and only “must read”. The only problem with this incredibly powerful book is the name – it sounds too good to be true, making many people shy away. But don’t! Read it at least 3 times, and make sure that you have truly taken its powerful message in. There is but one thing that you truly control, and that is your thoughts. Use them well, and there will be little that can stop you!
Growing a Business – Paul Hawken
Paul Hawken knows an important secret – inside most people burns a desire to turn their dreams into a business. Growing a Business is about the intersection between heart and practicality that is a passion-based business. Using examples like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Ice Cream, and University National Bank of Palo Alto, California, Hawken shows that the successful business is an expression of an individual person. The most successful business, your idea for a business, will grow from something that is deep within you, something that can’t be stolen by anyone because it is so uniquely yours that anyone else who tried to execute your idea would fail. He dispels the myth of the risk-taking entrepreneur. The purpose of business, he points out, is not to take risks but rather to get something done.
Richard Branson isn’t going to tell you how to start your company in this often outrageous story of his business career (at least some of it – he never seems to stop). Many of Richard Branson’s companies–airlines, retailing, and cola are good examples–were started in the face of entrenched competition. The experts said, “Don’t do it.” But Branson found golden opportunities in markets in which customers have been ripped off or underserved, where confusion reigns, and the competition is complacent.What Branson shows you is how the man who is arguably the world’s most successful entrepreneur did it – while continuing to stand by his principles and be an all around good person.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen Covey
To my mind, this is the only “personal organization” book you ever need to read – but it is so much more than that. Covey’s “7 Habits” shape my days – every day – in how I treat my body, in how I manage my time, and in how I approach other people. This is one of a handful of books that have truly changed my life. Read this one slowly, take your time, and let it sink in. You will need to be at your best to succeed at this – Covey has the secrets and has laid them out so that you can easily understand them.
It’s not really a small business you are trying to start with your commercialization, is it? But unless you manage to get many millions in venture capital right out of the gate (at which point you will probably not be running the business anyway, because the VCs will want to bring in someone with experience…), yours will be a small business for a while. Gerber’s true classic is a quick read that will be invaluable to you, and in fact what he tells you here is how to set things up so that you don’t stay small but have everything in place to succeed when you become large. Like several of the books I recommend, Gerber focuses on the roles of people in your business and on your team. What is your role? How do you delegate without abdicating? By actually writing down all the hats you are wearing, you can begin to understand when to bring in employees and what they should be doing. You will begin, at the beginning, to set things up so that you run the business instead of the other way around.
The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Company– Steve Blank and Bob Dorf
Without fluff, Blank and Dorf lay out the steps to build a super-successful company. Written specifically to very early stage startups, The Startup Owner’s Manual is customer-centric from the get-go, and that, the author’s claim (and they’ve been there, multiple times), is the secret. Learn to pivot while you can. Understand that launching too soon or too expensively can take you down – fast. Read this disruptive book and build a disruptive technology.
How to Win Friends and Influence People– Dale Carnegie
There’s little to say about a book that has sold over 15,000,000 copies and that remains relevant and important nearly 75 years later. Whether you admit it or not, you are an influencer. To succeed in business, you will need to hone this valuable skill, which will also serve you well in life. I recommend this book here because many of you in labs and universities have not honed this critical skill. Stepping out into the world of business will get you labeled “an academic” (which you are and should be proud of, but to them it will be a synonym for “can’t handle business”). So learning how to talk influentially and make people like you is a skill that can and should be learned.
Normally I steer you away from business school books, but Noam Wasserman, who teaches at Harvard, hit many very important nails on the head with this one. The problem with the “Biz School Approach” is that it often begins with writing a business plan. But that isn’t the hard part. The hard part comes when you have to make choices that hurt in the short term but are best for the business in the long term. What Wasserman has done is gone beyond the anecdotal approach (“Here’s what worked for me, so surely it will work for you…”) and looked at what worked in many companies. Questions such as who should your co-founder(s) be (should I have any???), how do we split the equity (ouch!) – all of these are foundational questions that can make or break you later.
Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup – David Cohen and Brad Feld
Warning: People either love or HATE this book! To get the critics out of the way – yes, it’s a bunch of blog posts. Turns out it’s a bunch of really great blog posts packed with nuggets of information that you can use – like what free stuff is out there that you really should be using right now. In stark contrast to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, which absolutely must be read cover to cover, catching every word, you can read Do More Faster in little pieces. Skim the chapter titles and see what calls your name. There is great stuff here. [Caveat: Cohen and Feld’s focus is purely in the software world, and this book is primarily relevant to that world. But it’s very relevant to that particular world.]