Look, we love blog posts as much as the next person. (Maybe even a little bit more.) There’s a lot of knowledge startup founders can find on the internet. But when it comes to real deep dives, you can’t beat a good startup book.
“Imagine your personal network was filled with titans of industry — from marketing mavens to business moguls,” Benjamin Evans, startup founder and lead designer on Airbnb’s Anti-Discrimination team tells Startups.co. “How much easier would it be to level up in business and life if you had the best insights available to you whenever you needed them? Well, I believe that’s the value of books. In my ideal world I’d have a network filled with my role models — from Seth Godin through to Richard Branson — on hand to help me overcome the challenges in my professional life. But those people are obviously are incredibly busy. I’ve come to see books as a way to get on-demand access to the insights I need from people who have achieved what I want to achieve.”
However, there are many, many startup books out there. How can you know which ones are the best and are actually worth your time and which ones should never leave the Amazon warehouse? One great way is to ask your friends which books have helped them on their own journeys as startup founders. Which startup books do they keep turning back to? Which ones helped them break through a wall they were facing or taught them a skill they didn’t even realize they needed?
But for those of you who don’t have any friends (Just kidding! We know you’re super popular!) or you’re looking for something outside of your own network, we asked our friends about what startup books they love. (And we have a lot of friends — the Startups.co community includes more than 1 million registered startup founders and their teams.)
Here are 19 of their absolutely must-have startup books.
“Will It Fly? When you’re starting, the first thing to figure out is if your initial idea is viable and as you’re growing you have to keep testing your new ideas. I talk to a lot of strangers about In the Mood and get amazing feedback – from what they say and sometimes what they don’t say!”
-Trisha Stone, Founder, In The Mood
“Venture Deals offers a unique balanced perspective on deal terms and intricacies from both the investor’s and entrepreneur’s perspectives. It’s the first book I recommend when entrepreneurs are embarking on their first fundraise so they can negotiate term sheets with knowledge and insight.”
-Elizabeth Galbut Perelman, Managing Partner, SoGal Ventures
“As a bootstrapping co-founder, I’m always wearing multiple hats and it can feel easy to be overwhelmed. The Checklist Manifesto helped me look at the basic steps for all the things I had to regularly do and organize in a thoughtful and manageable way. Additionally, it allowed me to seamlessly delegate to others without the same anxiety I previously had. Lastly, it’s just a fascinating read!”
-Rachel Trobman, CEO/Co-Founder, Ouchie
“An Awesome Book! is another important book, not a traditional startup book but an inspirational one, I read to my kids. It reminds us not to dream of the ‘practical’ but to have magical dreams like we did when we were kids, dreams that can change the way things are, that make us feel like we don’t know up from down, dreams so big they roar!”
-Trisha Stone, Founder, In The Mood
“I love the book Radical Candor. It helped me realize the importance of being honest and sharing feedback to my teammates, and the best way to do it effectively. It made me understand the positive impact radical candor can have on my team. It’s stuck with me and I am now much better at verbalizing praise and criticism.”
-Nisha Garigarn, founder at Croissant, Getcroissant.com
“How to Transform Your Ideas Into Software Products is very practical for ideation and prototyping, and it’s the first place I turned when starting my consultancy even though my ‘product’ is presently a service more than a piece of software. I’ve seen significant revenue growth within weeks at past startups after implementing her deceptively simple advice, and find it especially great for getting new projects off the ground. The focus is on product, not code.”
-Jessica Graves, Founder & Data Scientist, Sefleuria
“Setting the Table by Danny Meyer has had a tremendous influence on me and my entrepreneurial journey. The book focuses on how experiences should make users/clients/customers feel, and I firmly believe it is the cornerstone for any successful business. The best products have intangible qualities that go beyond utility; they’re able to excite you. This is what Meyer has done so well with his restaurants and what I think every successful company must do to win.”
-Anne Hong Gottschall, CEO/Cofounder of Revelr
“Ben Horowitz’s The Hard Thing About Hard Things provides the transparency and empathy all entrepreneurs require to navigate our inevitable missteps.”
-Virginia, Founder, Sailo
“I worked at Google for years and became a sprint master. I ran sprints for teams there and at Airbnb for product design teams. I also used this to pivot the design of my sex education app, Romp. We rethought the entire design with a group of designers, engineers, and enthusiastic users.
Got some amazing ideas and the group produced a concept that was the centerpiece of the new design! The Sprint Book helped me rally the collective strengths of the group at a time when I didn’t have a fully staffed design team.”
-Hannah Hughes, Founder, Romp
“I originally got Business Model Generation for a class in college, and pulled it off my bookshelf when starting tabú. It helped me organize my thoughts and think strategically about the different aspects of our company, and how we could build a business that provides lasting, meaningful value.”
-Mia Davis, CEO & Founder, tabú
I like The Startup Owner’s Manual because it is grounded with practical, tactical advice and emphasized sustainability from the beginning. It includes some (obvious) concepts like talking to your customers and the Business Model Canvas, so it’s nice that it’s like a ‘one stop shop’ manual vs. focusing on one method only (e.g. Lean Startup).”
-Maria Yuan, Founder and CEO of IssueVoter
“The Lean Startup is an incredible book because it recounts the experience of Eric Ries. He highlights his mistakes in an effort to help you avoid making the same mistakes. He discusses the importance of understanding your target audience, creating an MVP, focusing on actionable metrics, and knowing when to adapt and iterate without wasting too much time. All of his advice is extremely valuable, and helpful in order to avoid common founder mistakes.”
-Lauren Foundos, Founder & CEO, FORTË
“It might not necessarily be a startup book per se, but Start With Why by Simon Sinek was a wonderful read at the start of my business. He explains that really how starting with your ‘why’ and keeping it at your core is incredibly important when building a successful business with customer loyalty. Amazing read that I still go back to all the time.”
-Kirsten La Greca, Founder, ROSA GOLD
“The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which taught me that it’s the challenging path that we’re meant to follow and how to combat self-doubt. There is no better book to help you defeat Impostor Syndrome.”
-Kiki Schirr, CEO/co-founder, WeKiki
“Where I am today is entirely thanks to the people who are part of my life, who support me, who lift me up and make what we do with the Monarq Incubator possible. Kelly Hoey has written a manual called Build Your Dream Network on how everyone can surround herself with the right kind of people and every founder needs to read it.”
-Irene Ryabaya Co-Founder Monarq Incubator
“As a CEO I learned a lot through what Jim Collins demonstrated in Good to Great to be the key qualities of CEOs that make a company successful. I particularly like how he highlighted that good CEOs focus on the team, not themselves, and have a long term vision for the company beyond their own tenure.”
-Yorick Ser, CEO of CampusGroups
“Not a book, but a manifesto. It’s important to gain actionable market feedback at every step of iteration. Pretotype It offers guidance and examples of how to get the inputs you need before investing in an idea or next stage of product development.”
-Amanda Patterson, CEO, The Call List
Review of Start Me Up!: “A clear, no fluff, handbook covering a variety of issues budding as well as seasoned entrepreneurs face. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on fears and doubts, becoming an expert in your niche and raising money. This is a book I will refer to often. Highly recommend!”
–Tony Rogers Jr, Author of Visionary:Making a difference in a world that needs YOU
-Kelly Ann Collins, CEO of Vult Lab
In Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Field Guide to the Startup World, Rand Fishkin, the founder and former CEO of Moz, reveals how traditional Silicon Valley “wisdom” leads far too many startups astray, with the transparency and humor that his hundreds of thousands of blog readers have come to love.
Building a library of the best startup books is an excellent way to tap into the knowledge and research of success stories who have gone before you. Think of it as your own startup school — one that costs a heck of a lot less than college these days.
Emma McGowan is a full time blogger and digital nomad has been writing about startups, living with startup people, and basically breathing startups for the past five years. Emma is a regular contributor to Bustle, Startups.co, KillerStartups, and MiKandi. Her byline can also be found on Mashable, The Daily Dot's The Kernel, Mic, The Bold Italic, as well as a number of startup blogs.
Follow her on Twitter @MissEmmaMcG.