My Top 12 Business Books for Entrepreneurs
Updated: Aug 29, 2019
I didn't get into reading business books until my early thirties. That was about the time that I realized that I didn't know shit about shit and would be well-served to get smarter... fast!
If a book takes 300 pages to say something that could be said in 20, I normally stop reading after about a few chapters. Each of these books kept me captivated from cover-to-cover.
As an entrepreneur who enjoys building businesses from scratch, Zero to One is one of my favorite books. Peter Thiel covers the seven ingredients to a promising venture - engineering, timing, monopoly, people, distribution, durability and "secrets" in his book. Zero to One is a must-read for entrepreneurs and executives at early stage companies.
The OKR system (objectives and key results) is the structure that I use when building a business. I learned about OKR's through Measure What Matters. As you will read, OKRs are used by many successful businesses and organizations as a way to focus and push towards excellence. When building a business, executives are faced with a multitude of decisions on a daily basis. OKRs provide a foundation upon which you can determine the best course of action based on thorough analysis that has already been done. OKRs prevent knee-jerk reactions, while also ensuring a high level of accountability and collaboration.
"What features should we build next?"
"Oh wait, will anyone care about what we have built in the first place?"
Ever found yourself asking those questions? The Lean Startup is a must-read for entrepreneurs who are building a product because it helps you establish a fast feedback-loop that will lead to data-driven decisions. I'm not talking about the decisions that you and your engineers talk yourselves into - I'm talking about decisions that are guided by real customer feedback, which is what matters most... unless you're the next Steve Jobs and you can see the future (so you don't care what people say they want/need). Even if you are the next Steve Jobs, you can probably benefit from reading this book.
I really like Gary V. I had an opportunity to meet him in person recently and he is just as authentic in person as he is on social media.
One of the many things that I really like about Gary is that he tells it exactly how it is. No bull shit. Straight truth.
In Crushing It, Gary talks about how entrepreneurs and businesses can use social media to connect with audiences in ways that are far more powerful than conventional marketing channels.
Gary doesn't pull any punches in explaining how small businesses can and should attack now, while larger, monolithic enterprises are still trying to capture attention and connect with audiences in archaic ways.
As Gary says, it's all about being either over-valued or under-valued. Right now, digital is under-valued and under-priced.
Blitzscaling taught me the importance of prioritizing speed over quality in certain situations. Building early stage companies is a big lift and often times entrepreneurs are faced with the dilemma of moving fast vs. getting things exactly right. Although entrepreneurs do their best to avoid it, building a company creates a lot of messiness. That's actually healthy for an early stage business because it helps you learn and adapt quickly. I strongly recommend Biltzscaling to entrepreneurs in the rapid growth stage of building their company. Blitzscaling was referred to me by John Burger.
E Myth does a great job of explaining why it is so important to build systems and processes to help a business scale. So many "entrepreneurs" really only end up spending money to buy themselves a low paying job that makes them miserable. I love the example of the guy who buys a sub shop, then works 80-hour weeks because he makes the sandwiches, cashes people out at the register, handles the marketing and keeps the books. "I don't have the money to pay other people to do those things - I can barely pay myself!" I recommend this book to anyone pursuing their first entrepreneurial venture. E Myth was referred to me by Shawn Cunix.
I'm a huge Elon Musk fan. How can any entrepreneur not be? Elon has taken on huge industries (automobile, space travel, etc.)... and won! He aspires to colonize another planet and is building products that help the human race - electric cars, solar panels, rockets and more! The book, Elon Musk, details his journey from childhood, building PayPal and beyond.
The best way for me to summarize The Tipping Point is with a famous quote by Jacob Riis:
"Look at a stone cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred-and-first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not the last blow that did it, but all that had gone before."
Powerful is an excellent book for anyone interested in building a world-class business team. Patty McCord describes her experiences building the team at Netflix. Her perspective on radical honesty and motivating people through challenging work isn't necessarily unique, but she seems to have had an uncanny ability to find the right balance. I plan to revisit this book as I scale up my current venture, LockDown.
Shoe Dog describes the remarkable grit and determination behind the creation of Nike. Knight's roller coaster ride to building one of the greatest brands of all-time was nothing short of remarkable. If you think you are facing challenges building your business, read this book and it will give you a different perspective on struggle, mistakes and sacrifice.
Titan provides a detailed account of how John D. Rockefeller built the oil industry. I found it fascinating how Rockefeller was able to acquire so many companies through creative deals that would cost him very little upfront cash. He was part business builder, part deal maker. Titan outlines how Rockefeller was always 10 moves ahead of everyone. His strategies still hold true today.
Play Bigger is a great marketing book. I enjoyed learning about the concepts of company, product and category design within the authors' framework. Specifically, the notion of defining a new category, developing it, then becoming the "category king" was particularly compelling. Play Bigger challenges marketers to think bigger and encourages innovative thought.
Side note - I'm a terrible reader. I haven't been diagnosed with a specific reading disorder, but I have never been able to slow my mind down enough to read books. I have to really concentrate when I read, which slows me down to a snail's pace. Instead, I listen to books via Audible. I wish this would have been possible when I was growing up!