The Startup Reading List: Must Read Books For Every Startup

Books are still vital. Ask the CEOs of the successful companies and you will find that they are well read.
Ask the top people everywhere and they read to expose themselves to new ideas.

Personally – I started reading hard stuff a few years ago. I read “better” stuff after getting exposed to Ryan Holiday’s list. The results are transformative: I’m better, kinder, etc.

It was what made the difference between me being a poor performing real estate salesperson and running Simplifilm – a top performing lean company that has 3 profitable products and thousands of users. Everyone that’s here reads, and we discuss books on a very regular basis.

We put this list together with three goals:

  1. To learn and understand the terrain way faster than you could otherwise.
  2. To become better at selling & closing
  3. To become better personally.

There are other books that we could recommend , but this book list is solid and matters a lot.

Overall business books (to know the current, 2013 terrain)

We trade in the tech space, and there is a conversation that we’re joining late.  To be able to understand the culture, we look at the influential books. These books present a portrait of the way that the Valley is, and the way that tech culture works. Learning the language and how people think is vital to being able to trade in the space, take part in the conversations and lead.

Get these books to: learn what successful companies are currently doing.

  • The Lean Entrepreneur – Patrick Vlaskovits & Brant Cooper | Link |  This is a great primer on building businesses. The way that startup founders think of themselves, and the way that companies are built – from the marketing side to the engineering side.
  • Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good – Sarah Lacy  | LinkThe lessons are hidden.  Between the lines, it’ it’s THE example of how the Valley press thinks. Read it as an observer, don’t take it at face value, but rather try and learn what Sarah is about.
  • Trust Me, I’m Lying  – Ryan Holiday | Link | Trailer | This book is a descriptor of the way media works, and what you can do about it. This will teach us how to bump our startup, how to understand the conversations that are happening and how to wield outsized influence. I’ve used some of the techniques (even to bump this post and get you here), and they work.
  • The Lean Startup – Eric Reis  | Link |  Product/Market fit, there are a ton of ideas here that are in play in and out of the Valley. There are a lot of acolytes and disciples of this material, and it’s how we are building Flowtility and its soon to be announced successor.
  • Inside Apple – Adam Lashinsky  | LinkThis is the book to read – not the Isaacson thing biography.  This book talks about how things work in Apple, and how Apple thought as of a couple of years ago.
  • In the Plex –  Stephen Levy | LinkIt’s important to know how Google thinks – or at least how it thought right before the ascension of Larry Page. This book nails it and it’s just interesting to observe how they operate.
  • Startup Life – Brad Feld & Amy Batchelor | Link | Trailer |  The whole series is good, but this is raw and real.  When you go into the startup world, you become a little obsessed and myopic. This is how to not have it eat your family and your life. We were influenced by this book very much.  Brad also maintains a reading list here.
  • Optional: The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen | Link |  A lot of the useful stuff is covered in The Lean Entrepreneur in more useful summary form, but understanding the basics of this is important.

Personal Books (To become better thinkers)

  • My Bondage and My Freedom –  Frederick Douglass | Link |   This book is my all time personal favorite book, I poached it from Ryan’s list, and it made the whole world easier for me. I didn’t have to obsess about anything because I have it very good.
  • Meditations – Marcus Aurelius  | Link |  If we would all read this book, humanity as a whole would be freer, kinder and able to have many more options in life.   It was a book that moved me so much I copied it by hand into a notebook. The ideas contained here and the level of thought and concern for others is truly and profoundly admirable.

Self Improvement Books For Startups

GTD, Seven Habits are typical. Stuff you can more or less find everywhere. That stuff is more or less worth reading, but it presumes you’re plugged into a system that’s working and that’s predictable.  The world is changed. Things are way harder now than they were 15-20 years ago.

These books address reality, not a perfectly working industrial age economy.

The schmaltzy “try harder, be happy, things will be better,” stuff  is over.  A positive attitude is a precondition for success but it is far from sufficient. These books talk about what you can and should do in today’s era.

  • The Dip – Seth Godin  | Link | This book changed my life.  I read it in 2007 or so, about when it came out, and I made the decision to leave the real estate/mortgage business immediately.  I made a plan and I wound up here.  I devoured the rest of Seth’s books, and got to know him a little bit.  One of the biggest honors of my life was to work with him on a trailer for Seth’s book The Icarus Deception.  That was an excellent book, but I picked this one because it’s sentimental to me, and it’s short, punchy & accessible.
  • So Good, They Can’t Ignore You – Cal Newport  LinkThis book was truthfully remarkable.  Hard practice, work, getting skilled is the answer. Cal talks about being a craftsman vs. being ‘passionate’ and how you can do something profoundly great by getting good & building career capital.
  • I Will Teach You To Be Rich – Ramit Sethi | Link | This isn’t a book about personal finance. This is a book about mastering psychology. Becoming smarter, better bigger. Doing things that work instead of the normal “save more, did you know you’re pissing away money at Starbucks.”  When I read this book, I automated my finances.  With my personal cognitive surplus,  I built Simplifilm.
  • The First 20 Hours: How to Learn Anything… Fast!  – Josh Kaufmann | Link | This is about skill acquisition and it’s about how to observe, break down and get past the frustration barrier for learning a new skill.  Very important. This isn’t about becoming “the best” this is about getting a skill at a level of competence you choose in advance .
  • Mastery – Robert Green  |Trailer | Another very very critical book. How to find mentors, how to get better and continuously improve.
  • Choose yourself – James Altucher |Link | Trailer |  This book is really not what it says, it’s really a description of the present and future economy. Many many people are screwed. But many other people are becoming wealthy.  This is about how to be in the second category.

SALES BOOKS For Startups

I started this list to try and create some things for our new hires.

Salespeople have to skate a thin line between delusion and reality. “A salesman’s got to dream, boy.” The cannon is generally not particularly good- it’s mostly navel gazing by formerly successful salespeople.

Books like “The Challenger Sale,” and even “SPIN SELLING” (its spiritual predecessor) try and reverse engineer this sort of thing and make things better for salespeople.  There are few books that will help.

  • The Challenger Sale | Link | Trailer |  This is a clinical tour de force, and an amazing book. It says that Challengers – not hard workers, not relationship builders – is what makes selling happen.
  • Youtility – Jay Baer | Link | TrailerThis is all about being useful. NOT about being shiny.  Not everyone is shiny, but everyone can be useful.
  • How I Raised Myself from Failure To Success in Selling – Frank Bettger | Link |  The only “Zig Ziglar/Dale Carnegie” style book on my list. This one is solid and good and talks about a mindset that we have to have in order to prosper.
  • Selling to VITO –  Anthony Parinello | LinkIt’s a very specific book and it’s somewhat dated, but it’s got a different take than the current rules. You have to find ways to cut in line and not ‘go up the food chain’.
  • Book Yourself Solid – Michael Port | Link |  This is a great mindset for practitioners that want to become salespeople.  It has ideas about saying no, about designing a life a little bit better.  We use some of the principles as salespeople.
  • Small Message Big Impact – Terry Sjodin  | Link|  This is about how to prepare, how to pitch, and its surprisingly learned.  The book uses old stuff – monroe’s motivated sequence. It’s a primer on showing respect for people you have yet to meet by practicing a pitch that is geared to THEM.
  • Your Network is Your Net Worth – Porter Gale | Link | Trailer| Look, it’s important that we network, but we have to give something first. This book describes that.
  • The Gold Book of Yes! Attitude – Jeffrey Gitomer | Link |  I owe a ton to  Gitomer. He’s the reason I read obsessively, and reading obsessively has given me a better brain. The better brain has made me richer.  Being richer has made Simplifilm.  Etc.  This is his best book – and it straddles the line between “practical” and “positive”.

Look: buy books. Read them. Learn from them.  Become more because of them. Get out of your own head and get off your twitter feed – that stuff will always find you.

What won’t find you are the ideas from great people – past and present – about how to live, think, work, and learn.