22 books for startup founders

Being a startup founder and CEO is difficult. CEOs of large corporations are oftentimes groomed over the course of years for the position. There is no playbook for startup founders. Most first-time founders are learning on the fly and are responsible for making just about every decision for their company. As a startup founder, there is no one better to learn from than the person that has been there before. Luckily, there are thousands of founders, investors, and operators that have been there before to share their learnings.

22 Books For Startup Founders Check out Swala’s favorite books for startup founders below (broken down by subject).

Operations operations-books

When it comes to operating a startup, there is no better person to learn from than a founder or operator who has been there before. Check out our favorite books for operating and scaling a startup below:

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Before writing The Lean Startup, Eric co-founder IMVU where they efficiently built a minimum viable product in 6 months. “The Lean Startup approach fosters companies that are both more capital efficient and that leverage human creativity more effectively. Inspired by lessons from lean manufacturing, it relies on “validated learning,” rapid scientific experimentation, as well as a number of counter-intuitive practices that shorten product development cycles, measure actual progress without resorting to vanity metrics, and learn what customers really want. It enables a company to shift directions with agility, altering plans inch by inch, minute by minute.”

The Startup Playbook by Rajat Bhargava & Will Herman

Rajat Bhargave and Will Herman both have careers founding and leading startups. As the authors put it, “The Startup Playbook is full of our advice, guidance, do’s, and don’ts from our years of experience as founders many times. We want to share our hard-earned knowledge with you to make success easier for you to achieve.”

Zero to One by Peter Thiel & Blake Masters

Peter Thiel co-founded PayPal, Palantir, and Founders Fund. It is safe to say that he knows what it takes to innovate and invent. “Zero to One presents at once an optimistic view of the future of progress in America and a new way of thinking about innovation: it starts by learning to ask the questions that lead you to find value in unexpected places.” Check out why Su Sanni, Founder of Dollaride, has found Zero to One to be the book that has helped him most during his time as a founder below:

Measure What Matters by John Doerr

John Doerr has been a venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins since the 1980s. He has invested in companies like Compaq, Amazon, and Google. “In Measure What Matters, Doerr shares a broad range of first-person, behind-the-scenes case studies, with narrators including Bono and Bill Gates, to demonstrate the focus, agility, and explosive growth that OKRs have spurred at so many great organizations.”

Leadership & Management leadership-and-management-books

Startups are in constant competition for 2 resources: capital and talent. A founder or CEOs ability to lead and manage their team is vital to a startup’s ability to attract and retain top talent. Check out our favorite books to help founders improve their leadership skills below:

Startup CEO by Matt Blumberg

Matt Blumberg is the CEO of Bolster (and former CEO of ReturnPath). Being a startup CEO, especially for the first time, is difficult. There is no playbook or training to become a startup CEO like there is for large corporations. In Startup CEO, Matt draws on his own experience to cover what he has learned in everything from hiring to company strategy.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz started his career as a founder but is most famous for his role at Andreessen Horowitz. In The Hard Things About Hard Things, Ben is honest about the difficulties that come with founding and running a successful company. He shares “the insights he’s gained developing, managing, selling, buying, investing in, and supervising technology companies.”

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey has a successful career as a business and self-help author. Stephen studies highly successful people and lays out the 7 habits that help individuals move from dependence to independence. The 7 habits are:
  • Be proactive
  • Begin with the end in mind
  • First things first
  • Think win-win
  • Seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • Synergize
  • Sharpen the Saw; Growth

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

As put by in the infamous book’s reviews, “Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different—and far more satisfying—than he ever imagined. Santiago’s journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams.” Check out why Aishetu Dozie, Founder of Bossy Beauty, has leaned on The Alchemist for both business and life below:

Company Culture company-culture-books

Building a strong culture oftentimes starts with the founders and leaders. The books below offer advice to founders looking to create and maintain a culture that will attract top talent.

The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle

Daniel Coyle is a NY Times Bestselling author. “In The Culture Code, Daniel Coyle goes inside some of the world’s most successful organizations—including Pixar, the San Antonio Spurs, and U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team Six—and reveals what makes them tick.”

Radical Candor by Kim Scott

Kim Scott has spent her career as a CEO coach at some of the most storied startups of today (before that she spent time at Apple, YouTube, and Google). Kim shares her three principles that she believes make up a great boss. “Radical Candor offers a guide to those bewildered or exhausted by management, written for bosses and those who manage bosses. Taken from years of the author’s experience, and distilled clearly giving actionable lessons to the reader; it shows managers how to be successful while retaining their humanity, finding meaning in their job, and creating an environment where people both love their work and their colleagues.”

Do Better Work by Max Yoder

Max Yoder is the CEO and Founder of Lessonly. As we wrote in a separate blog post, “Do Better Work is a rare book that falls in both categories. In it, author Max Yoder weaves the philosophical and the practical together, seamlessly and to great effect. The result is a leadership book that is not only helpful, but delightful and surprising to read—one where step-by-step instructions for, say, sharing work before you’re ready or achieving clarity, fit neatly alongside the lessons we can learn from philosopher J. Krishnamurti or the vulnerability of superheroes.”

Venture Capital & Fundraising venture-capital-books

Raising venture capital is a difficult job for a startup founder. Fundraising is a process that oftentimes mimics a traditional B2B sales process. To learn more about the process and thought process behind a venture fundraise, check out the books below:

Secrets of Sand Hill Road by Scott Kupor

Scott Kuport is the Managing Director of Andresseen Horowitz, the infamous venture fund. In Secrets of Sand Hill Road, Scott breaks down the fundamentals of venture capital to help explain how they make decisions. Founders can use this information to better their odds of raising capital and better their relationships with venture capitalists. (You can read more about Secrets of Sand Hill Road in our post, “Understanding Power Law Curves to Better Your Chances of Raising Venture Capital”)

Venture Deals by Brad Feld

Brad Feld is the Managing Director of Foundry Group (and Co-founder of Techstars). During his career it is safe to say that Brad Feld has seen the intricacies of a venture fundraise. “Venture Deals shows fledgling entrepreneurs the inner-workings of the VC process, from the venture capital term sheet and effective negotiating strategies to the initial seed and the later stages of development.”

Crack the Funding Code by Judy Robinett

Judy Robinett has a career full of leading private and public companies and working with venture firms. “Crack the Funding Code will show readers how to find the money, create pitches that attract investors, and then structure fair, ethical deals that will bring them new sources of outside capital and invaluable professional advice.”

Sales & Marketing sales-and-marketing-books

Being able to market and sell a product is essential to startup success. To help founders sharpen their selling skills, we’ve shared our favorite books below:

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

The infamous TED Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, by Simon Sinek discusses why leaders need to “start with why.” Since the original TED Talk, Simon has expanded on the idea and turned it into a bestselling book. Start with Why “shows that the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world all think, act, and communicate the same way.”

Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross

Aaron was responsible for creating an outbound sales process that helped Salesforce add $100M in recurring revenue in the early 2000s. After his time at Salesforce, Aaron published Predictable Revenue to help leaders build a “sales machine.” As described by Aaron, “This is NOT another book about how to cold call or close deals. This is an entirely new kind of sales bible for CEOs, entrepreneurs and sales VPs to help you build a sales machine. What does it take for your sales team to generate as many highly-qualified new leads as you want, create predictable revenue, and meet your financial goals without your constant focus and attention? ”

Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff

Oren Kleff is the Managing Director of Intersection Capital. Pitch Anything draws on Oren’s experience raising capital and pitching teams during his career. “According to Klaff, creating and presenting a great pitch isn’t an art it’s a simple science. Applying the latest findings in the field of neuroeconomics, while sharing eye opening stories of his method in action, Klaff describes how the brain makes decisions and responds to pitches. With this information, you’ll remain in complete control of every stage of the pitch process.”

Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki is best known for marketing the original Macintosh at Apple in 1984 and coining “evangelism marketing.” “Reality Check is Kawasaki’s all-in-one guide for starting and operating great organizations-ones that stand the test of time and ignore any passing fads in business theory. This indispensable volume collects, updates, and expands the best entries from his popular blog and features his inimitable take on everything from effective e-mailing to sucking up to preventing bozo explosions.”

Ask by Ryan Levesque

Ryan Levesque is the founder and CEO of The Ask Method. Ryan has staked his career on The Ask Method. As the team at Fusion Results puts it, At its simplest level, the ASK Method is asking an audience what their challenges are, or what their desired results are and then segmenting those responses into something Ryan refers to as segment” or “buckets.”

Product Development product-development-books

Being able to build, iterate, and ship product quickly can be a true differentiator for an early-stage startup. Luckily for founders, many operators and product managers have shared their tips and tricks behind product development below:

Hooked by Nir Eyal

Nir Eyal is an expert in all things behavioral engineering. His expertise and schooling brought him to write, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. “Hooked is based on Eyal’s years of research, consulting, and practical experience. He wrote the book he wished had been available to him as a start-up founder—not abstract theory, but a how-to guide for building better products. Hooked is written for product managers, designers, marketers, start-up founders, and anyone who seeks to understand how products influence our behavior.”

Shape Up by Ryan Singer

Ryan Singer is the Head of Strategy at Basecamp. In Shape Up Ryan uncovers the product development process at Basecamp. Ryan shares how the team uses 6 week cycles to ship more work. As Ryan puts it himself, “Shape Up is for product development teams who struggle to ship. If you’ve thought to yourself “Why can’t we ship like we used to?” or “I never have enough time to think about strategy,” then this book can help. You’ll learn language and techniques to define focused projects, address unknowns, and increase collaboration and engagement within your team.”

The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank

Steve Blank has founded 8 companies and has been a staple in Silicon Valley since the 1970s. The Four Steps to the Epiphany breaks down his four-step customer development process (that launched The Lean Startup movement). As Steve puts it, “The book offers the practical and proven four-step Customer Development process for search and offers insight into what makes some startups successful and leaves others selling off their furniture. Rather than blindly execute a plan, The Four Steps helps uncover flaws in product and business plans and correct them before they become costly. Rapid iteration, customer feedback, testing your assumptions are all explained in this book.”

Product Management by Intercom

Intercom is one of the most successful modern day startups. They have become synonymous with a strong product. The Product Management book is their framework to help startups build and ship more products. As they put it, “You’ll learn: How to evaluate your current product and spot areas for improvement. Why “no” is the most important word in a product manager’s vocabulary. How to roll out new features and actually get them used by customers.” The Innovators Dilemma by Clayton Christensen Regarded as one of the most important business books of all time, “Christensen explains why most companies miss out on new waves of innovation. No matter the industry, he says, a successful company with established products will get pushed aside unless managers know how and when to abandon traditional business practices.” Learn why Renjit Philip, Founder of Explain.Care, loves it below:

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