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.
In this blog I’ve provided a list of some of my favorite business/non-fiction books that are relevant to both aspiring and established entrepreneurs, as well as investors, and intrapreneurs within larger organizations too. 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, investors and business leaders in all types of organizations, whether they be for-profit, social enterprise, or non-profits.
I’ve categorized the books I recommend by their primary subject matter (Leadership, Operations, Analytics, Negotiation, Strategy, Marketing/Sales/PR, Raising Capital) 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.
Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity (Kim Scott)
Learning how to communicate with your team as a new manager or entrepreneurial leaders can be challenging to figure out. Radical Candor can help. From the book’s description: “Radical Candor is a simple idea: to be a good boss, you have to Care Personally at the same time that you Challenge Directly. When you challenge without caring it’s obnoxious aggression; when you care without challenging it’s ruinous empathy. When you do neither it’s manipulative insincerity.”
What You Do is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture (Ben Horowitz)
What You Do Is Who You Are is a journey through culture, from ancient to modern. Along the way, it answers a question fundamental to any organization: Who are we? How do people talk about us when we’re not around? How do we treat our customers? Are we there for people in a pinch? Can we be trusted? Who you are is not the values you list on the wall. It’s not what you say in company-wide meeting. It’s not your marketing campaign. It’s not even what you believe. Who you are is what you do. This book aims to help you do the things you need to become the kind of leader you want to be – and one others want to join and follow.
The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls that can Sink a Startup (Noam Wasserman)
Often downplayed in the excitement of starting up a new business venture is one of the most important decisions entrepreneurs will face: should they go it alone, or bring in cofounders, hires, and investors to help build the business? More than just financial rewards are at stake. Friendships and relationships can suffer. Bad decisions at the inception of a promising venture lay the foundations for its eventual ruin. The Founder’s Dilemmas examines the early decisions by entrepreneurs that can make or break a startup and its team. Wasserman explains how to anticipate, avoid, or recover from disastrous mistakes that can splinter a founding team, strip founders of control, and leave founders without a financial payoff for their hard work and innovative ideas. He highlights the need at each step to strike a careful balance between controlling the startup and attracting the best resources to grow it, and demonstrates why the easy short-term choice is often the most perilous in the long term.
The Cycle of Leadership: How Great Leaders Teach Their Companies to Win (Noel M. Tichy with Nancy Cardwell)
In The Leadership Engine, Noel Tichy showed how great companies strive to create leaders at all levels of the organization, and how those leaders actively develop future generations of leaders. In this new book, he takes the theme further, showing how great companies and their leaders develop their business knowledge into teachable points of view, spend a great portion of their time giving their learnings to others, sharing best practices, and how they in turn learn and receive business ideas and knowledge from the employees they are teaching.
Start With Why (Simon Sinek)
Sinek starts with a fundamental question: Why are some people and organizations more innovative, more influential, and more profitable than others? Why do some command greater loyalty from customers and employees alike? Even among the successful, why are so few able to repeat their success over and over? Start With Why shows that the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world all think, act, and communicate the same way – and it’s the opposite of what everyone else does. Sinek provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired, all starting with why.
Off Balance: Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction (Matthew Kelly)
One of the major issues in our lives today is work-life balance. Everyone wants it; no one seemingly has it. But Matthew Kelly believes that focusing “work- life balance” was a mistake from the start, because we don’t really want balance; rather, we seek satisfaction in all aspects of our lives. Kelly lays out the system he uses with his clients, his team, and himself to find deep, long-term satisfaction both personally and professionally, showing us how to cultivate the energy that will give us enough battery power for everything we need and want to do, and shows us how to establish and honor our biggest priorities, even if we spend a lot more time on some of the lesser ones.
The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More and Change the Way You Lead Forever (Michael Stanier)
Coaching is an essential skill for leaders. But for most busy, overworked managers, coaching employees is done badly, or not at all. They’re just too busy, and it seems too hard to change. But what if managers could coach their people in 10 minutes or less on a daily basis? In Michael Bungay Stanier’s The Coaching Habit, coaching becomes a regular, informal part of your day so managers and their teams can work less hard and have more impact. Drawing on years of experience training more than 10,000 busy managers from around the globe in practical, everyday coaching skills, Bungay Stanier reveals how to unlock your peoples’ potential. He unpacks seven essential coaching questions to demonstrate how – by saying less and asking more – you can develop coaching methods that produce great results.
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.
Straight Talk for Startups (Randy Komisar and Jantoon Reigersman)
Veteran venture capitalist Randy Komisar and finance executive Jantoon Reigersman share no-nonsense, counterintuitive guidelines to help anyone build a successful startup. Over the course of their careers, Randy Komisar and Jantoon Reigersman continue to see startups crash and burn because they forget the timeless lessons of entrepreneurship. But, as Komisar and Reigersman show, you can beat the odds if you quickly learn what insiders know about what it takes to build a healthy foundation for a thriving venture. In Straight Talk for Startups they walk budding entrepreneurs through 100 essential rules – from pitching your idea to selecting investors to managing your board to deciding how and when to achieve liquidity. Culled from their own decades of experience, as well as the experiences of their many successful colleagues and friends, the rules are organized under broad topics, from “Mastering the Fundamentals” and “Selecting the Right Investors,” to “The Ideal Fundraise,” “Building and Managing Effective Boards,” and “Achieving Liquidity.”
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.”
Creative Destruction: Why Companies that are Built to Last Underperform the Market – and How to Successfully Transform Them (Richard Foster and Sarah Kaplan)
Turning conventional wisdom on its head, a Senior Partner and an Innovation Specialist from McKinsey & Company debunk the myth that high-octane, built-to-last companies can continue to excel year after year and reveal the dynamic strategies of discontinuity and creative destruction these corporations must adopt in order to maintain excellence and remain competitive. Corporations operate with management philosophies based on the assumption of continuity; as a result, in the long term, they cannot change or create value at the pace and scale of the markets. Their control processes, the very processes that enable them to survive over the long haul, deaden them to the vital and constant need for change. Proposing a radical new business paradigm, Foster and Kaplan argue that redesigning the corporation to change at the pace and scale of the capital markets rather than merely operate well will require more than simple adjustments. They explain how companies can overcome cultural “lock-in” by transforming rather than incrementally improving their companies. They are doing this by creating new businesses, selling off or closing down businesses or divisions whose growth is slowing down, as well as abandoning outdated, ingrown structures and rules and adopting new decision-making processes, control systems, and mental models. Corporations, they argue, must learn to be as dynamic and responsive as the market itself if they are to sustain superior returns and thrive over the long term.
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 a strategic approach to 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.
How We Decide (Jonah Lehrer)
Our best decisions are a finely tuned blend of both feeling and reason-and the precise mix depends on the situation. When buying a house, for example, it’s best to let our unconscious mull over the many variables. But when we’re picking a stock, intuition often leads us astray. The trick is to determine when to use the different parts of the brain, and to do this, we need to think harder (and smarter) about how we think. Lehrer shows how people are taking advantage of the new science to make better television shows, win more football games, and improve military intelligence. His goal is to answer two questions that are of interest to just about anyone, from CEOs to firefighters: How does the human mind make decisions? And how can we make those decisions better?
The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less (Richard Koch)
The 80/20 principle – also known as the Pareto principle – is the continually-verified observation that in business, economics, and life generally, about 80 percent of all results flow from a mere 20 percent of our efforts. In this thought-provoking and highly informative program, Richard Koch unveils the secrets to how this mysterious but practical principle actually works, how it is affecting your life right now, and how you can start using it to your advantage to make better decisions in business.
Thinking Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman)
Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman’s seminal studies in behavioral psychology, behavioral economics, and happiness studies have influenced numerous other authors, including Steven Pinker and Malcolm Gladwell. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman at last offers his own, first book for the general public. It is a lucid and enlightening summary of his life’s work. It will change the way you think about thinking. Two systems drive the way we think and make choices, Kahneman explains: System One is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System Two is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Examining how both systems function within the mind, Kahneman exposes the extraordinary capabilities as well as the biases of fast thinking and the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and our choices. Kahneman’s singularly influential work has transformed cognitive psychology and launched the new fields of behavioral economics and happiness studies. In this path-breaking book, Kahneman shows how the mind works, and offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and personal lives – and how we can guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble to allow us to make better strategic decisions.
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. There’s an accompanying MasterClass video available on that platform which is also excellent, summarizing the concepts in this book and providing additional examples of negotiations.
Pitch Perfect: How to Say it Right the First Time, Every Time (Bill McGowan and Alisa Bowman)
This book could also go into either the Leadership section or the Marketing section. Learning how to present well to your team, customers, investors and other key stakeholders is a vital skill for any entrepreneur to learn, and it can be improved with practice and with a process like the one outlined in this book. Pitch Perfect teaches you how to overcome common communication pitfalls using McGowan’s simple Principles of Persuasion, which are highly effective and easy to learn, implement, and master.
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 very good book on presentation, Slide:ology (also recommended), Duarte explains how to present visual stories that flow, resonate and engage audiences. Exceptionally useful for anyone who has to present to audiences of any size (customers, investors, employees, other key stakeholders) to get them aligned, this book will transform how you present and help you become a much better and more engaging 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)
One of the two best books on pricing strategy I’ve ever read (the other is Monetizing Innovation, below). 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!
Monetizing Innovation (Madhavan Ramanujam and Georg Tacke)
This is a book that I recommend increasingly frequently to teams looking for advice on optimizing their product designs and also needing help in projecting revenues and setting prices. Companies obsess over being creative and innovative and spend significant time and expense in designing and building products, yet struggle to monetize them: 72% of innovations fail to meet their financial targets—or fail entirely. A direct challenge to the status quo “spray and pray” style of innovation, Monetizing Innovation presents a practical approach that can be adopted by any organization, in any industry: flip the paradigm, by designing the product around the price.
The Anatomy of Buzz (Emanuel Rosen)
In The Anatomy of Buzz, former marketing VP Emanuel Rosen pinpoints the products and services that benefit the most from buzz – a universe that embraces everything from high-tech equipment to books, various consumer and entertainment products to legal and other support services – and offers specific strategies for creating and sustaining effective word-of-mouth campaigns. He also discusses proven techniques for stimulating customer-to-customer selling, including how companies can spread the word to new territories by taking advantage of customer hubs and networks on the Internet and elsewhere.
Sell More Faster (Amos Schwartzfarb)
Sell More Faster shares proven systems, methods, and lessons from Managing Director of Techstars Austin and sales expert Amos Schwartzfarb. Sell More Faster summarizes valuable strategies to identify product market direction and product market fit, to build a diverse sales team, includes models and best practices for sales funnels, pricing, compensation, and scaling, and outlines a roadmap to create a repeatable and measurable path to find product-market fit.
The Mom Test (Rob Fitzpatrick)
There’s an old adage that you shouldn’t ask your mom whether your business is a good idea, because she loves you – and will lie to you to protect your feelings. Unfortunately, if you don’t ask the right questions, almost everyone you ask this question will lie, at least a little, even if only to make you go away faster. Customer discovery is not intuitive, but it’s critical for businesses at all stages, particularly in the early phase of figuring out a new product’s features, business model or pricing. Talking to customers is one of the foundational skills of customer development and marketing, but unfortunately it’s easy to screw up and hard to do right. This book illustrates how customer conversations can go sideways – or outright mislead you – and how you can develop skills to make them more useful.
Angel Financing for Entrepreneurs (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
(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