There are a lot of great resources out there for entrepreneurs and business leaders, ranging from mentors, to university and college courses and e-learning, to educational videos, and the vast array of business-related information available on the Internet. Books – whether paper or e-books – still remain one of the best values for money as an educational resource. However, the proliferation of business and management books increases the importance of filtering out those books that are truly useful from those that are not.
I admit it: I like to read, and I collect and have read a lot of books. In this blog I’ll provide a list of some of my favorite business/non-fiction books that are relevant to both aspiring and established entrepreneurs. All are worthwhile and most are books I’ve re-read multiple times; they hold up and you get more from all of these books via repeated study. The concepts in these books are enduring and relevant to entrepreneurs and business leaders in all types of organizations, whether they be for-profit, social enterprise, or non-profits.
I’ll try to categorize the books I recommend by their primary subject matter (e.g. leadership, operations, analytics, negotiation, strategy, marketing/sales/PR, raising capital, etc) and briefly summarize each book by some of their many key takeaways.
Good to Great (Jim Collins)
One of my favorite business books, by the co-author of Built to Last. This book talks about the importance of finding your business ‘hedgehog’ economic engine, identifying and focusing on your core competencies, and emphasizes the importance of humility in the most successful, enduring leaders.
Mastering the Rockefeller Habits (Verne Harnish)
An incredibly valuable resource for the leaders in all organizations, written by the founder of the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO), this book summarizes the habits that help drive long-term success in business, focusing on core values, communication, metrics and measurement, and continuous improvement. It also has a lot of value for entrepreneurs seeking to learn more about analytics and operations.
The HP Way (David Packard)
By David Packard of Hewlett-Packard, this short book tells the story of how two partners formed and worked together to lead one of the most successful technology companies of its day.
Warren Buffett Speaks (Janet Lowe with Warren Buffett)
A memorable series of interviews with Warren Buffett, capturing his philosophy around leadership and investment, and his approach to identifying long-term value.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things (Ben Horowitz)
As the author notes, this isn’t intended as ‘just another management book’, but instead it’s a hard and at times painfully intimate view behind the front lines of entrepreneurship. Horowitz talks about the personal challenges he faced running a business, particularly when he ran head-on into significant challenges. Ben Horowitz has great experience as an entrepreneur, having been an early employee at Netscape, the founder and CEO of Loudcloud, and the co-founder (with Marc Andreessen) of venture capital juggernaut A16Z.
Conscious Capitalism (John Mackey and Raj Sisodia)
A good book for social entrepreneurs thinking about how to merge in social goals with the standard financial goals of for-profit enterprise; Whole Foods’ CEO Mackey talks about the importance of ethics in for-profit business.
Obvious Adams (Robert K. Updegraff)
I received this as a gift recently from a wise and successful entrepreneur I greatly respect and it’s definitely worthwhile reading. Obvious Adams is a memorable short story of how persistence and common sense is often a key attribute of successful entrepreneurs. The obvious solution in retrospect, is often non-obvious at the outset…particularly when it clearly involves a bit of hard work to achieve!
Drive (Daniel H. Pink)
A book on leadership and HR, about how to best motivate and engage a team to achieve powerful, aligned outcomes – Pink argues that motivation is largely intrinsic, and that driving us all is ‘the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world’.
Peopleware: Productive People and Teams (Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister)
Peopleware talks about project management at software companies, but it’s relevant more broadly as well, and it particularly focuses on the social side of teamwork – how to enable effective alignment and communication in a team, how to motivate individuals and teams, and other practical concepts for managers at all levels. The examples in the book are easy to understand and implement, and it’s written as a series of short essays.
Startup Boards: Getting the Most out of Your Board of Directors
(Brad Feld and Mahendra Ramsinghani)
How does an entrepreneur form a successful board of directors – what is it supposed to do, who should be on it, how is it structured, what value can it bring, how can it go wrong? This topic is an important one, but it’s not often a focus for entrepreneurs, to their detriment. Worthwhile reading for entrepreneurs and prospective and current board members as they strive to bring value to both startup and later stage company boards.
The Goal (Eliyahu M. Goldratt)
This book introduces the ‘theory of constraints’ in memorable fashion, as a thriller/romance novel set in a factory. Yes, really – and the novel’s actually fairly good, too. A must-read for leaders within any business which depends on production or process improvement for its operations. Do you know what your Herbie is? If not, you need to read this book!
The Startup Owner’s Manual (Steve Blank and Bob Dorf)
This book provides a step by step guide to building a great company, including useful organizational frameworks for aspiring entrepreneurs, suggestions on metrics to track, and developing products customers will buy. I’ve seen it recommended by a number of venture capitalists and incubators.
The Lean Startup (Eric Ries)
The author defines a startup as an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. He then outlines an approach to help entrepreneurs innovate more efficiently and to leverage human creativity more effectively – driving faster cycles of innovation, testing, adaptation, retesting and re-adjustment. Recommended for all startups and entrepreneurs.
Lean Analytics (Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz)
Useful for entrepreneurs at all stages, this book describes how to use analytics on data to grow a business efficiently and quickly. One of the most useful takeaways is the recommendations around different key metrics for different stages of business growth.
Analytics at Work (Thomas H. Davenport, Jeanne G. Harris, Robert Morison)
Building effective analytics is incredibly powerful for any type of business which collects data on its operations or customer engagement – but setting up an effective analytics process and culture can be very challenging and time-consuming, and this book will help.
The Signal and the Noise (Nate Silver)
In an increasingly complex world, it’s harder than ever to predict outcomes accurately. In this book, statistician Nate Silver examines past predictions to determine what successful forecasters have in common, and helps provide guidelines for picking out the signal from the noise. Silver was the only analyst who predicted the outcome correctly by state in the 2012 US presidential election, with at-times fierce opposition to his predictions, which were based on statistical analysis of polls. He provides a rational approach to looking at complex data to determine patterns and help make better predictions and decisions. This book provides useful tools and thinking around analytics and big data.
Co-opetition (Adam M. Branden burger and Barry J. Nalebuff)
Competition, Game Theory and Cooperation – this book talks about how to combine them and enable Porter’s ‘sixth force’, complementors or co-opetition. It will help you see your competition in a new light.
Anti-fragile (Nassim Nicholas Taleb)
By the author of The Black Swan (good book too; I like this book even more than that one), this book uses examples from business, government, economics, healthcare and a range of other topics, focusing on a powerful concept: some things actually benefit from disorder – they’re ‘anti-fragile’. The book makes a compelling argument for avoiding over-intervention, at iatrogenic peril, and on the value of careful assessment of optionality – maintaining upside while limiting downside risk.
Guns, Germs and Steel (Jared Diamond)
I wasn’t sure where to categorize this book, and truthfully it’s not a business book per se – but I’ve always found it relevant to business strategy, in its depiction of how human societies have been shaped globally, and why they developed differently over the past ten thousand years.
The Art of Strategy (Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff)
Game theory provides a method for strategic thinking and analysis, and this book helps bring game theory to life via real-world business examples. Not a quick read, but definitely worthwhile.
Freakonomics (Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner)
Another book I wasn’t quite sure where to categorize, this book helps you see the hidden side of incentives within (and the drivers of) most everything around us, and will likely help you think about your organization and its key stakeholders in a new light.
Zero to One (Peter Thiel)
A powerful series of essays on startup strategy and leadership, this book is clear, succinct and immediately usable. Thiel, a founder of PayPal and the data analytics firm Palantir, is now a venture capitalist and he distills his experience into 200 memorable pages. Each chapter has useful takeaways that will make you think about them for a long time afterwards.
Getting to Yes (Roger Fisher and William Ury)
Along with its sequel/prequel, Getting Past No, this book will help you negotiate more effectively, finding common zones of possible agreement and exploring new ways to reach a common ground in challenging negotiations.
Getting More (Stuart Diamond)
A powerful book on negotiation, conflict resolution and persuasion, this resource provides insights which will help you achieve more of your goals in the business world and life in general.
The 33 Strategies of War (Robert Greene)
Another book I wasn’t sure where to categorize (it also fits well into strategy), this book is an interesting and fun read, which will provide historic military, international, regional and personal examples of how to prevail in ‘wars’ both large and small.
Marketing, PR and Sales
The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell)
One of my favorite books from Gladwell, this book talks about how a series of related concepts can help take an idea or piece of content and help make it go viral: the law of the few, the stickiness factor, and the power of context. Relevant to social media, PR and marketing.
Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (Paco Underhill)
A fascinating analysis of how retail and online stores increase their sales to convert browsers into customers, useful for anyone trying to sell products to consumers.
Resonate (Nancy Duarte)
The author of another good book on presentation, Slide:ology, Duarte explains how to present visual stories that resonate with and engage audiences. Useful for anyone who has to present to audiences of any size to get them aligned, this book will transform how you present and help you become a better speaker.
Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (Al Ries and Jack Trout)
A great book on optimizing communication strategies and creating a winning ‘position’ for products – the principles of branding, marketing and product management explained clearly and concisely.
Tested Advertising Methods (John Caples and Fred E. Hahn, with forward by David Olgilvy)
A classic book on advertising from the pre-internet days, this book talks about fundamental principles that still apply today – how to write an effective headline, how to increase the selling power of copy, how to engage an audience with an ad, and how to reach a mass-market audience.
Chaos Monkeys (Antonio García Martínez)
Weighing in on everything from startups and credit derivatives to Big Brother and data tracking, social media monetization and digital “privacy,” this book is irreverent, entertaining and educational. The first half covers the challenges of entrepreneurship and venture financing (so I could have filed it under either of those categories as well), but the real value was the educational tidbits inserted throughout the last half of the book around how online advertising and social media monetization works. Worthwhile reading for entrepreneurs facing a financing round, an exit, and especially those looking at monetizing online via advertising.
Angel Financing for Entrepreneurs: Early-Stage Funding for Long-Term Success
(Susan L. Preston)
This book is a good resource for both entrepreneurs and angel investors, focusing on the earlier stages of raising capital – the seed and angel rounds. Reading it provides insights on what angel investors look for from entrepreneurs when making their investment decisions, as well as a good overview of the different approaches to and terms of early financing rounds, tips on preparing investor pitches and follow-on communications, and practical recommendations on how to reach angels.
Venture Deals: Be Smarter than your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist
(second edition; Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson)
Raising capital can be a complex process, with many moving parts, lots of negotiations, legalese and different stages. This book helps to clearly explain the different participants, the most common terms in a financing, different negotiating tactics for entrepreneurs, and basically helps demystify the process of raising capital from angels and VCs. A very useful resource for entrepreneurs considering raising capital, as well as investors!
The Intelligent Investor (Benjamin Graham)
A classic on value investing, this book has been revised a couple times to bring it more current. But the principles still apply and are useful for both investors seeking long-term value and entrepreneurs striving to build value. Warren Buffett has said that this is his favorite book on investing, and with good reason.
The Education of a Value Investor (Guy Spier)
I think it’s useful for entrepreneurs to consider the perspective of investors, and this book, along with The Intelligent Investor, provides great perspective on how a value investor like Guy Spier likes to approach investments, and it’s also an interesting view into his transition from novice to master.
What Every Angel Investor Wants You to Know (Brian Cohen and John Kador)
Brian Cohen, the Chairman of the New York Angels, has a lot of experience working with entrepreneurs as an angel investor, and this book is full of practical advice on how entrepreneurs can improve their odds of success in finding “smart money” through early stage capital investment partners.
Best of luck to all of you in your entrepreneurial endeavors going forward!