One of the first things a startup should build is a library. Business books can help hone or disrupt your way of thinking (sometimes in ways that are subtle, sometimes in thunderclaps), they can help you learn from examples and case studies, and they keep you up with the latest jargon at pitch meetings and cocktail parties. Of course, new books come out all the time, and everyone has their personal favorites, but these essential titles should help you fill your startup library.
The Foundation Builder
Whether or not you plan to startup lean, which is taking a product to market in early stages and learning from user feedback, Lean Analytics by Alistair Croll and Ben Yoskovitz can help you focus on what’s working. Early stage companies that want to understand metrics start with this book.
The Sales Strategy
Oren Klaff is a former investment banker who admits that he is “not a natural” when it comes to raising money, and yet he manages to raise about $2 million a week. Pitch Anything proves that you don’t have to be a natural if you cultivate a method. His is called STRONG, and it has sure helped push books. Heard people talking about their crocodile brain? They are probably talking about Pitch Anything.
The Funding Fundamentals
Mastering the VC Game by Jeffrey Bussgang offers an inside look at the venture capital process, coming from a serial entrepreneur who is now part of the VC game himself. It’s an easy-to-read overview that’s perfect for founders or principals at first-time startups preparing to pitch a business, or anyone who is interested in how VCs think.
With the subtitle Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer or Venture Capitalist, Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson offers an education in the terms of the deal that levels the playing field for entrepreneurs. It’s written by VCs and full of useful details—like a guided tour through a term sheet—that will at least help you level the understanding of future deals.
The Science of Thinking
It’s rare to find a page-turner that’s all about how human beings think. In Thinking Fast and Slow , Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman pulls it off with fascinating experiments leading to true insight into consumer behavior. You’ll be stunned by your own illogical thinking, then start better understanding your customers and investors.
The Art of Talking
Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath is The Tipping Point for marketers. First published in 2007, it’s not a modern classic, but it has a huge fan following among people who know how to tell a memorable story.
The Inspirational Tale
Things a Little Bird Told Me is the latest “it” book to come out of Silicon Valley. Biz Stone, a Twitter co-founder and serial entrepreneur, shares his life story with a side of creative inspiration. Those who prefer a darker take on the Twitter tale may prefer Hatching Twitter. Stone’s book is less of a true confession, more like chicken soup for the entrepreneurial soul.
The Proven Classics
Think and Grow Rich was written in 1937 by Napoleon Hill, a cohort of Andrew Carnegie. It’s the original The Secret for successful people. It’s not quite a “get rich quick” book but a “think rich quick” book. Although there is an updated version published in 2004, the original is based on a study of early 20th century millionaires, and the advice still holds true today.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu is useful retro… and we’re talking really retro. The book was written as a Chinese military manual more than 2,500 years ago, yet somehow when you read it you realize it’s all about you and your coworkers, or your latest funding round, or, sigh, your home life. It caught on in the corporate world in the 1980s, and has been essential reading ever since. The book should be called “How to Win,” and if you haven’t read it, you had better hope for the same from your opponent.
The Lifestyle Manual
Fans of “The Real Housewives of New York” are currently engrossed in this subject matter: model Kristen Taekman and her entrepreneur husband Josh (founder of EBOOST) keep having the same fights about missed dates and conference calls. Is Josh a bad husband, a genius entrepreneur, or both? (Or neither?) Either way, someone should give them a copy of Startup Life by Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor.
Written by a VC (Feld, co-author of Venture Deals on this list) and his wife, it’s all about how the families of entrepreneurs need to work their negotiating power. As the book notes: “Being in a relationship with an entrepreneur is hard, possibly harder than being an entrepreneur.”
For more education in business theory and concepts, check out the 10-week GA Business Fundamentals and Tactics course.