I’m often asked about what books influence my life as an entrepreneur. For all of my students, I cannot stop recommending books. I strongly believe you have to devour as much information as possible. So here’s a list of twelve books that entrepreneurs should read and re-read. Why twelve and not ten? Either is an arbitrary number, so why cut two books off the list.
Here is it, in no particular order.
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products has become my latest obsession after finding it in on an Amazon.com search. Eyal lays out a powerful, 4-step model of turning customers in habitual evangelists. Hooked is a quick read that melts the worlds of psychology, business, ethics, and human behavior into a fun, anecdote filled manual for building transformative products.
Thiel’s Zero to One is a recent sweetheart of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and beyond. Never one to shy away from his true feelings, Zero to One is not a prototypical startup manual. Thiel touches on everything from venture capital and innovation to political theory and education reform. As much as I found myself agreeing with some points, I also found myself thinking how easy it is for Thiel to make some of his points from the mountain top. Still, very much worth the read, if for no other reason than to gain insight into the thinkings of one of the most notable people in Silicon Valley.
On the opposite side of the spectrum from Zero to One is Chris Guillebeau’s The $100 Startup: Reinvent the Way You Make a Living, Do What You Love, and Create a New Future. Guillebeau’s collection of stories makes for a powerful lesson in creating value for customers without losing your soul and life along the way. The biggest take away from The $100 Startup should be the undeniable power of people to accomplish what they want while being who they want to be.
Jon Spoelstra’s book is my marketing bible. Whenever I review a marketing and outreach strategy, whether one of my own, a competitor’s, or a colleague’s, I look for Spoelstra’s signature “rubber chicken” methodology. Marketing Outrageously is an interactive, fun read filled with stories of Spoelstra’s days in professional sports. It paints with broad, but powerful strokes and pushes followers of outrageous marketing to continue to “push the envelope.”
Part two of my marketing doctrine comes from the genius of Seth Godin. I’ve read and re-read Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable for inspiration and rejuvenation. If nothing else, readers will come to understand the importance of powerful storytelling from Godin. There’s nothing complicated and no business theory in Purple Cow; it is a perfect example of practicing like how you preach: Purple Cow is transformation because it is remarkable.
NUTS!: Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business and Personal Success started my deep dive into company history books and autobiographies. The story of Southwest Airlines is a phenomenal case for anyone in any organization to study. The importance of culture, customer respect, and teamwork is illuminated by the early struggle and triumphs of Southwest Airlines. Freiberg recounts what it took to start the airline and its important milestones from being a solely Texas carrier to a nation wide airline in the United States.
There’s no getting around it, it’s just fun to read about and imagine life as Richard Branson. In his autobiography, Branson shares how he lost his virginity, figuratively and literally. Branson has nothing to hide at this point and it’s evident there’s not much that scares the eccentric billionaire. Each story that Branson shares, though, has important lessons about life, family, ethics, struggle, loss, and advancement.
From humble beginnings to being the head of one of the richest families in the United States, Sam Walton’s story is enough to motivate anyone to get off the couch and get to work. While the WalMart story can evoke strong feelings from people, both positive and negative, there’s no denying the power of the world’s largest retailer.
Unlike every other book on this list, The Art of Profitability is written in a fictional, narrative style. The story follows a young gun at a conglomerate who meets with the wise Mr. Zhiao. While the narrative at times seems a bit contrived and forced, the message is clear: profit is the goal of business. Perhaps just as valuable as the teaching points in the book is the list of external resources and passages that the sensei character requires the protagonist to prepare.
There was no way that I wasn’t going to include a sales book on this list. To Sell is Human is a great introspective piece into the human side of selling something– yourself, a product or service, or an idea. Pink dives into the sales process as it should be done, with value at its core. Like it or not, we are all selling something all the time.
It’s one thing to proclaim your allegiance to lean startup methodology, it’s another to actually read and understand Eric Reis’s The Lean Startup. Read the book! The Lean Startup changed the way many entrepreneurs approach problems; still others use its methodology to justify their failings. While the book can be dense in parts, it’s incredibly important to read until comprehension.
I have reread and annotated my copy of Business Model Generation so thoroughly that it’s worthless to other people because they can no longer see the original text. Transforming the way you should approach business modeling and planning, Business Model Generation is an absolute must read for any entrepreneur, product manager, and storyteller.
You can’t have a list of books for entrepreneurs without including a title by Guy Kawasaki. Art of the Start and his updated Art of the Start 2.0 simplify startups into their most basic elements: creating great products, providing superior service, and turning customers into evangelists, a position which Kawasaki is now a professional.