Read these books before you start a company.

Do I have any book recommendations for when you’re planning to start a company? Why, I’m glad you asked!

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I’ve done a series of lectures about startup life for various universities, startup accelerators, and others. At one point, I had a finishing slide about ‘books worth reading’, but after a while, I realized that that slide was getting completely out of hand and that I ought to move it to a blog post instead.

Why bother with books?

Before we launch into the list itself, though, I’d like to preempt a question: Why bother with books in the first place? I would probably counter that with another question — If you cannot commit to reading a few hundred pages about what you’re about to embark on, perhaps building your own business isn’t for you.

The key reason to read anything about startups and how to run them is that there are three ways of running a business:

  1. Don’t make mistakes.
  2. Learn from your own mistakes
  3. Learn from someone else’s mistakes.

If you can pull of #1, that’s great, well done, crack on. You don’t need this blog post, or anyone else’s help. If you can do #2, that’s fabulous, too — but you’ll probably lose a lot of time and money in the process. In short: #3 is cheaper and faster than #2, and a great place to start, is by reading up…

Go on, cause some deforestation, or get this thing downloaded on a Kindle or such.

What books should I read?

  1. The Lean Start-Up by Eric Reiss is probably going to be your bible. Read it first, then read it again last.
  2. Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works by Ash Maurya is a great follow-up from the Lean Start-up, once your business is up and running. It helps transition from the early-start ideas, and ensure that you stay lean as the company develops further.
  3. Despite a similar name to the previous book, Getting to Plan B by John Mullins & Randy Komisar is quite a different book; don’t ignore one because you’ve read the other. Getting to Plan B is a great exploration into business metrics; How can you tell whether you’re doing well, and how can you ensure you continue to improve and innovate?
  4. How to Make friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is one of those books that are not necessarily start-up specific, but it’s definitely a must-read. It is chocker-block with advice that couldn’t be more relevant to a start-up founder, even though it was written a rather long time ago.
  5. Rework by Jason Fried (of 37 signals / Basecamp fame) is a great short book talking about different ways of launching a software company, whilst staying as lean as possible.
  6. The Thank-You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuk is a great primer on how to ‘think different’ in the way you interact with, and listen to, your customers.
  7. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh is a fabulous introduction to ‘customer focused customer service’, which — believe it or not — is remarkably rare. Hsieh is the boss at Zappo’s (which is worth a closer lookat in any case, if you’re not aware of it), and they built a whole business on doing customer service ridiculously well.
  8. If you are at some point looking to raise funding, then Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist by Brad Feld & Jason Mendelson is a fantastic resource. I found it to be a little bit US-centric, and since this is outside of my field of expertise, I don’t know how well it maps over to the UK financial landscape, but it’s certainly a good read either way.
  9. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is one of the rare breeds marketing books that is remarkably readable, whilst also exploring an enormous topic; in this case, what makes something go ‘viral’. A very pleasant read indeed.
  10. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman is a classic in the design space — and for good reason. It makes an eloquent argument for how nothing is ever the user’s fault — if you can’t figure out how to open a door (is it push or pull?) how to use your kitchen burners (which one turns on the rear right burner?), that’s not your fault — it’s a design flaw. The thought patterns discussed in the book are crucial for product designers.
  11. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffry Moore covers a very interesting topic; how do you go from selling to a very interested group of close followers and fans, to taking your product main-stream, without ‘selling out’? An extremely insightful book, but it’s probably safe to leave this one until your business is up and running properly.
  12. Permission Marketing by Seth Godin explores the concept of making your potential consumers interested in what you have to say, before you say it — it may be harder to implement in practice than it sounds, but it’s a great ideal to strive for.
  13. Poorly made in China by Paul Midler is a good read if you’re thinking of doing any manufacturing. It’s bloody scary, but it does help you place you in the right frame of mind to make some careful decisions.
  14. Everything is Negotiable by Gavin Kennedy was one of those books that completely changed how I saw life — beyond just business. The title does cover the key part of the book, but understanding how to negotiate, what you are negotiating for, and why to negotiate are crucial life skils.

The Big Caveat

Finally, I think I should mention that nothing anybody tells you (including yours truly) is gospel.

Each of the above books is great, no doubt about that, but I also think that each and every one of the books above makes some pretty sizeable assumptions, that may well prove to be wrong in general, or for your business in specific. On the flipside, the more knowledge you have, the more informed your own decisions can be, and that’s not a bad thing.

What else?

If you enjoyed this post, I’d also recommend taking a look at my post The Startup Toolkit, which discusses the software tools that may come in useful when you are working on setting up your company.

Oh, and give us a follow on Twitter. I do occasionally share useful stuff, I promise.

Haje is a founder coach, working with a small, select number of startup founders to build exciting, robust organizations that can stand the test of time. Find out more at You can also find Haje on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Written by

CEO of Konf, pitch coach for startups, enthusiastic dabbler in photography.

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