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21 Books that All Startup Founders Should Read

Written by Patrick Henry

business book reading list

One of the things that I wholeheartedly believe is that anyone who wants to succeed in business should have a reading list.  This list should include novels, fiction, non-fiction, biographies and business books.  I’m also an advocate of books on tape, but feel like they are not a good substitute for reading.

Reading the newspaper, blog stories, magazines, and trade journals is also valuable, but it is not a substitute for reading books.  Reading books expands your mind, increases your vocabulary, expands your ability to really think, and helps you to be creative.

So the next natural question that people as me is, “What books should be on my reading list?”  In the areas of reading novels, I think it is always good to read the classics, but also read what you like.  In the case of biographies, read about people that are the most inspirational to you.

In the case of business books, these 21 books are the ones that have had the most impact on my business career.  I have read maybe 5 times this number of business books, not include business textbooks, but these are my all-time favorites.  Many of these I have read more than once and refer back to them on a monthly basis.  In addition to these books, I think it is also important to understand a minimum amount about finance and accounting.  Any good businessperson will learn how to “read” financial statements, and understand financial modeling.  Here’s my top 21 list:

(1) Competitive Strategy by Michael Porter

Top business books

Michael Porter is the famous Harvard Business School professor that is an expert in business strategy.  He has a number of books, but two are essential reading for anyone in business.  This first book gives a description of how to do industry structure analysis.  This is a foundational part of strategic planning, and it is essential for gaining an understanding of your competitive positioning in your target market.

Available here.

(2) Competitive Advantage by Michael Porter

Top books for startup founders

This is Mr. Porter’s second book where he describes the Value Chain.  The value chain is really how companies make money.  It is a tool that is extremely valuable for large and small companies alike.  I don’t think it is as critical as industry structure analysis, but it is pretty close.

Available here.

(3) Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey

Top books for startup founders

Steven Covey revolutionized the way that millions of people think about goals and managing their time.  Other than Earl Nightingale and Dale Carnegie, I think Steven Covey is the most important author in the area of personal and professional development in the 20th century.  I like that this book is available on tape and has a companion workbook.  Covey passed away a few years ago, but his training organization is still in existence, and his courses are totally worth the investment in time and money.

Available here.

(4) Lead the Field by Earl Nightingale

Top books for business founders

I think this book, along with Earl Nightingale’s The Strangest Secret, are two of the most impactful personal development tools I have ever used.  It is worth getting the Strangest Secret and Lead the Field on tape.  Earl was a tremendous speaker and his ideas come alive in the audio versions.

Available here.

(5) Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Top books for business owners

Way before The Secret, this book outlined many of the key principles about how to set and achieve goals. This book is totally complementary with the ideas that Earl Nightingale describes in Lead the Field.

Available here.

(6) How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Top books for business owners

I have read this book at least four times over the last couple of decades, and it is always fresh and new.  I get reminded of things that I should be doing and things that I should not be doing.  I have also attended the Dale Carnegie sales course early in my career, and it was one of the best investments that I made.

Available here.

(7) The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

Best books for entrepreneurs

Peter Drucker is one of the greatest business minds of the 20th century, and his books are based on tons of research about what works and what doesn’t work in a business setting.  This is probably his most famous book and it is full of great ideas that can help you to be more productive and effective as a business leader.

Available here.

(8) Built to Last by Jim Collins

Best books for startup founders

As Collins states in is description of this book:   “Start with 1,435 good companies.  Examine their performance over 40 years.  Find the 11 companies that became great.  Now here’s how you can do it too.”  This book has some great principles to keep in mind as you’re growing your company.

Available here.

(9) Good to Great by Jim Collins

Best books for startup founders

In Build to Last, the companies that were not great were called “comparison” companies.  Obviously there are a lot more comparison companies than there are great companies, so Collins wrote this second book to show some companies that went from being good to great.  It is another fantastic read and very insightful.

Available here.

(10) The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Must read books for business founders

This is one of the newer books on my list.  I think it has some great principles, many of which have been around for a long time, but Ries does a great job explaining them to young entrepreneurs in a way that they can understand.  The most important concept in this book is the idea of the Minimum Viable Product or MVP.  As Ries states, “A Minimum Viable Product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”  I also like the concept of getting products to market and driving incremental improvements based on validated customer feedback.

Available here.

(11) Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore

Top must read books for businesses

This book gives a description of the Technology Product Life Cycle and a really good definition of what makes-up a market.  This is really the marketing 101 book for anyone that wants to start and grow a company that is driving new innovations into the market.  It also gives a roadmap on how to “cross the chasm” from the early adopter market to the mainstream market.

Available here.

(12) Execution by Larry Bossidy

Top books for entrepreneurs

It is really hard to find a good book about the “blocking and tackling” of running a business, and Execution does a really good job at this.  Larry Bossidy is the former CEO of Allied Signal.  He states, “Many people regard execution as detail work that’s beneath the dignity of a business leader. That’s wrong. To the contrary, it’s a leader’s most important job.”  I have to agree with this wholeheartedly.

Available here.

(13) Marketing Warfare by Al Ries and Jack Trout

Top books for startup founders

This is another essential market book that describes competitive positioning and how it should be done under different sets of circumstances.  The authors use military principles used in warfare to make parallel arguments for business.  It will make you think.

Available here.

(14) The Innovators Dilemma by Clayton Christensen

Top books for startup founders

I think this is one of the most brilliant business books that I have ever read.  It describes how incumbents in an industry have a difficult time developing disruptive innovations and why.   The good news for startups:  it provides an opportunity to penetrate a market if you can develop a disruptive innovation.  I like to think of this as doing things with your startup or emerging growth company that would force your larger, more established competitor to violate their own “corporate DNA” to compete head-to-head with you.

Available here.

(15) Zig Ziglar’s Secrets of Closing the Sale by Zig Zigler

Top books for entrepreneurs

There are many great sales books, but I think this is one of the best.  Many entrepreneurs, especially technical founders, overlook the importance of professional selling, but the most successful startup CEOs are great salespeople.  You are always selling your ideas, not only to your customers, but also to employees, partners, suppliers, your board, and your investors.

Available here.

(16) Conceptual Selling by Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman

Top books for business owners

This book covers the more strategic aspects of selling, especially in a business environment where you need to sell the transformational benefits of a product that are more conceptual in nature.  It also covers many important aspects of the complex selling process in large organizations, where are multiple people that will influence the buying decision.  As the book points-out, many people can say no, but only one person can say yes.

Available here.

(17) Zero to One by Peter Theil and Blake Masters

best books for entrepreneurs

This book outlines the principles that Theil used to build PayPal, and the “PayPal mafia” have used to build seven other companies that have greater than $1 billon valuations.  A very thought provoking read for any entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur.

Available here.

(18) What they Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School by Mark McCormack

Must read books for startup founders

This is one of the most practical and no nonsense books I have ever read.  It is pretty much a list of common sense things that you should do in running any business.  McCormack is a master of explaining “street smart” principles for business, versus “book smart” principles taught at top business schools, like Harvard.

Available here.

(19) Only the Paranoid Survive by Andrew Grove

Top books for business owners

Grove is one of the three founders of Intel Corporation.  An immigrant to the US, he built on of the largest technology companies on the planet.  He recently passed away, but many of his principles for running and growing a business are totally applicable today.

Available here.

(20) Winning by Jack Welch

Top books for entrepreneurs

America’s most famous CEO, Jack Welch, describe the principles that he used to run and grow General Electric over a couple of decades.  Welch worked for GE for over 40 years.  Fortune called Jack Welch “manager of the century”, and Business Week called him “an icon of American business.”  The book is very practical and no nonsense.

Available here.

(21) The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Best books for startups

Ben Horowitz is the co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.  He based this book off of his popular blog.  He removes the glamour from running a startup and actually talks about how difficult it is to run and grow a company.  It has tons of practical insights and is written in a language that is very easy to understand.

Available here.

I hope you found this list insightful.  Would love to get your feedback and hear if there are any other books that have had a significant impact on your business career and thought process.

This is Patrick Henry, CEO of QuestFusion, with The Real Deal…What Matters.

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