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.
Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It…and Why the Rest Don’t (Rockefeller Habits 2.0) (Verne Harnish)
Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0) is the first major revision of this business classic by the founder of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). Scaling up provides practical tools and techniques for building an successful, scalable business. This book is written so that everyone on the team can align in contributing to the growth of a firm. Scaling Up focuses on the four major decision areas every company must get right: People, Strategy, Execution, and Cash. Many of my portfolio companies use this book to help them execute more effectively, and I recommend it to all entrepreneurs.
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.
The Startup Checklist (David S. Rose)
The author, the founder of GUST and the New York Angels, notes that over two thirds of startups are built on creaky foundations, and over two thirds of startup costs go directly toward cleaning up legal and practical problems caused by an incomplete or improper start. This book helps you sidestep the messy and expensive clean up process by giving you the specific actions you need to take right from the very beginning, such as understanding the critical intricacies of legally incorporating and running a startup, learning which experts you need, and what exactly you need from them, making more intelligent decisions independent of your advisors, and avoiding common challenges that threaten to derail great young companies.
The Checklist Manifesto (Atul Gawande)
This book looks at the use of checklists in the business world and the medical profession, with the author examining how checklists can be used to enable greater efficiency, consistency and safety across a range of applications. It’s relevant for entrepreneurs and investors alike to ensure key steps are not missed and risks are not left unmitigated!
The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Clay Christensen)
The author explains why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. Regardless of the industry, a successful company with established products can be disrupted unless its managers know how and when to abandon traditional business strategies. Offering both successes and failures from leading companies as a guide, The Innovator’s Dilemma gives you a set of rules for capitalizing on the phenomenon of disruptive innovation.
The Subtle Art of not Giving A F— (Mark Manson)
Entrepreneurship can be very, very hard and there are often no easy or simple solutions to the diverse and challenging problems faced by entrepreneurs. The author makes the argument, backed both by academic research and much as is espoused in Stoic philosophy, advising us to face problems by getting to know our limitations and fully accept and embrace them. This is something all successful entrepreneurs need to be able to do – face realities head on and find solutions even in tough times.
Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell (Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg and Alan Eagle)
Bill Campbell played an instrumental role in the growth of several prominent companies, such as Google, Apple, and Intuit, fostering deep relationships with Silicon Valley visionaries, including Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Eric Schmidt. Based on interviews with over eighty people who knew Bill Campbell, Trillion Dollar Coach explains the coach’s principles and illustrates them with stories from the people and companies with which he worked. The result is a blueprint for forward-thinking business leaders and managers that will help them create higher performing and faster moving cultures, teams, and companies.
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.
The Model Thinker (Scott E. Page)
In the modern world it’s easy to be overwhelmed with data. Raw numbers alone aren’t enough; we need to know how to make those numbers convey the information within. In The Model Thinker, the author, a social scientist, outlines mathematical, statistical, and computational models, from linear regression to random walks and more, showing the reader how to apply multiple models to organize the data, leading to wiser choices, more accurate predictions, and more robust designs.
Prediction Machines (Ajay Agrawal, Joshua Gans, Avi Goldfarb)
In Prediction Machines, three eminent economists recast the rise of AI as a drop in the cost of prediction. When AI is framed as cheap prediction, its extraordinary potential becomes clear: Prediction is at the heart of making decisions under uncertainty. Our businesses and personal lives are riddled with such decisions. Prediction tools increase productivity–operating machines, handling documents, communicating with customers. Uncertainty constrains strategy. Better prediction creates opportunities for new business structures and strategies to compete. The impact of AI will be profound, but the economic framework for understanding it is surprisingly simple.
Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs (John Doerr)
From the book jacket: “In the fall of 1999, Kleiner Perkins Partner John Doerr met with the founders of a start-up he’d just given nearly $12 million, the biggest investment of his career. Larry Page and Sergey Brin had amazing technology, entrepreneurial energy, and sky-high ambitions, but no real business plan. For Google to change the world, or even survive, Page and Brin had to learn how to make tough choices on priorities while keeping their team on track. They had to know when to pull the plug on losing propositions, to fail fast. They needed timely, relevant data to track their progress–to measure what mattered. Doerr introduced them to a proven approach to operating excellence–Objectives and Key Results. The rest is history.”
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.
Startup Nation (Dan Senor and Saul Singer)
This book on entrepreneurial culture and national success factors describes the startup and scale-up nature of the economy of Israel. It examines how Israel, a 60-year-old nation with a population of ~7 million, was able to reach such economic growth that “at the start of 2009, some 63 Israeli companies were listed on the NASDAQ, more than those of any other foreign country.”
Scalable Innovation: A Guide for Inventors, Entrepreneurs, and IP Professionals (Eugene Shteyn and Max Shtein)
Scalable Innovation introduces a model for the innovation process, helping innovators to understand the nature and timing of opportunities and risks on the path to success. The authors apply systems thinking to discover real-life challenges, and provide tools for turning these challenges into opportunities for practical, scalable innovation, including obtaining patent protection for the ideas.
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.
The Art of Negotiation (Michael Wheeler)
The Art of Negotiation shows how master negotiators thrive in the face of chaos and uncertainty using improvisation and approaching negotiation as a process of exploration that demands ongoing learning, adapting, and influencing. Their agility enables them to reach agreement when others would be stalemated.
Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It (Chris Voss)
The author became the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Never Split the Difference takes you inside the world of high-stakes negotiations, revealing the skills that helped the author and his colleagues succeed where it mattered most: saving lives. In this practical guide, he shares nine effective principles – often counterintuitive tactics and strategies – that can be used to become more persuasive both professionally and personally.
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.
Crossing the Chasm (Geoffrey A. Moore)
This classic book on marketing and sales for disruptive, discontinuous innovations describes the chasm that exists between the early adopters of the product (technology enthusiasts, visionaries) and the early majority (pragmatists, non-early adopters). Moore describes how visionaries and pragmatists can have very different expectations, and attempts to explore those differences and suggest techniques to successfully cross the “chasm,” including choosing a target market, understanding the whole product concept, positioning the product, building a marketing strategy, choosing the most appropriate distribution channel and setting appropriate pricing.
Confessions of the Pricing Man (Hermann Simon)
The best book on pricing strategy I’ve ever read. Price is described here as “the place where value and money meet”; the author makes the argument that price is one of the most powerful and pervasive economic force in our day-to-day lives and yet one of the least understood or effectively implemented by entrepreneurs. This book provides a recipe for setting and testing successful pricing strategies for entrepreneurs at all stages.
Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life (Rory Sutherland)
The vice chair of advertising giant Ogilvy, the author explores the art and science of human decision-making, how brands are built to conjure and communicate nigh-irresistible products and ideas to persuade consumers. A must-read book on branding, marketing and promotion for entrepreneurs!
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.
The Entrepreneurial Bible to Venture Capital (Andrew Romans)
40 leading venture capitalists come together to teach entrepreneurs how to succeed with their startup: The Entrepreneurial Bible to Venture Capital provides useful advice about how to raise angel and venture capital funding, how to build value in a startup, and how to exit a company with maximum value for both founders and investors. It guides entrepreneurs through the key steps in an entrepreneurial venture, from the legalities of raising initial capital to knowing when to change tactics.
Angel: How to Invest in Technology Startups (Jason Calcanis)
For new angel investors, figuring out to learn how to conduct useful due diligence, find sufficient good opportunities for their investment funnels, and reduce risk while maximizing opportunity can be challenging. Calacanis takes potential angels step-by-step through angel investing in startups, revealing how leading investors evaluate new ventures, calculating the risks and rewards, and explains how the best startups leverage relationships with angel investors for the best results.
The Manual of Ideas: The Proven Framework for Finding the Best Value Investments (John Mihaljevic)
While it focuses on public market investments more than angel investments, this book is still useful and relevant to early stage angels. It introduces a proprietary value investing framework for finding, researching, analyzing, and implementing the best value opportunities, walking the reader through a rigorous approach to finding, researching, analyzing, and implementing worthy investments.
Venture Capital Deal Terms (Harm de Vries, Menno van Loon and Sjoerd Mol)
The book shows how deal terms work out in practice and explains the economics behind the deal terms. And, it does so both from the point of view of the entrepreneur as well as that of the investor. A Series A term sheet is used as the basis for the discussion of the different clauses used in venture capital transactions. Each subsequent chapter discusses a certain type of clause in the term sheet (e.g. milestone investments, liquidation preference, anti-dilution protection, and drag along). These chapters also include a standard and, if applicable, alternative versions of the relevant clauses. The book includes many examples, as well as negotiation tips for both entrepreneurs and investors.
The Most Important Thing Illuminated: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor (Howard Marks and Paul Johnson)
Another book that focuses on public markets, but is still relevant to early stage value investors, the authors expound on such concepts as “second-level thinking,” the price/value relationship, patient opportunism, and defensive investing. Successful investing requires thoughtful attention to many separate aspects, and this book covers many of them in great detail. “This is that rarity, a useful book.”–Warren Buffett
The Deals of Warren Buffett: Volume 1, The First $100m (Glen Arnold)
Speaking of Warren Buffett – one of the most acclaimed and successful value investors out there – this book breaks down Buffett’s analysis and thinking behind his first four decades of investment deals and shows how his cumulative returns compounded his wealth over time. The book includes insightful learning points at the end of each chapter, which reveal how investors can learn from the craft of Warren Buffett to improve their own investing. Investments featured in this first volume include: GEICO, American Express, Disney, Berkshire Hathaway, See’s Candies, and The Washington Post.
Little Book of Value Investing (Christopher H. Browne)
Another book focused on public markets, but a simple and concise primer to the concepts used by successful value investors. A quick and useful read for investors at all stages interested in value investing.
VC: An American History (Tom Nicholas)
A fascinating history of the world of venture capital, from its seemingly unlikely start in nineteenth-century whaling to the modern world of Silicon Valley VCs.
Secrets of Sand Hill Road (Scott Kupor)
Whether you’re trying to get a new company off the ground or scale an existing business to the next level, you need to understand how VCs think. In Secrets of Sand Hill Road, the author explains how VCs decide where and how much to invest, and how entrepreneurs can get the best possible deal and make the most of their relationships with VCs. Useful reading for both angels and entrepreneurs!
Best of luck to all of you in your entrepreneurial endeavors going forward!
Dr. Ray Muzyka