Teach yourself how to build a startup with these tried and true books for entrepreneurs.
It takes guts to start a business. But you need more than that. You’ll need to employ the methods of iteration and experimentation if you want to find customers, build a product – and succeed.
What’s the best way to learn the entrepreneurial tools of the trade? Here are the best books for entrepreneurs who need to dive in – or brush up – on how to build a successful startup.
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The Lean Startup
You have an idea. But how does it turn into a real business? The Lean Startup is the place to start. When it was first released in 2011, it made waves in the startup community. Today, the book has a reputation as something of a bible, inspiring countless startups and – more importantly – helping them succeed.
Through his book, Eric Reis pioneered Lean frameworks such as ‘Minimum Viable Product’ into the mainstream and established the tools and frameworks for testing ideas to find a product that customers will love. With The Lean Startup, you can find what works, fast.
Key takeaways: Create a Minimum Viable Product to measure customer feedback, then iterate to discover product-market fit.
Business Model Generation
Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur
Business Model Generation followed soon after The Lean Startup, introducing a tool called the Business Model Canvas. The Canvas has now become a standard template for both startups and corporates looking for a way to model their business ideas.
It’s simple, scrappy – and flies in the face of traditional business tools such as case studies, analysis and plans. Business Model Generation is the field guide to making your Canvas, providing readers with practical examples of how to discover a successful model.
Key takeaways: Speed is key. Get the ideas for your business down and begin testing and iterating them.
The Startup Owner’s Manual
The Startup Owner’s Manual is a large and comprehensive guide to building a startup. Authored by Steve Blank, a serial entrepreneur who developed the Customer Development method, the book is cited as the forerunner to The Lean Startup.
The Startup Owner’s Manual is packed with tools and methods that Blank realised were most useful to startups and young companies. It’s the equivalent of a textbook for entrepreneurs, handy to have as a resource, ready-to-go.
Key takeaways: The best startups discover a situation where customers have tried to build a situation themselves.
Upstarts is the story of two of the most famous tech companies and how they grew from scrappy upstarts to international technology behemoths. Brad Stone’s detailed insider account of Airbnb and Uber reveals how the company’s met with fierce resistance along the way.
While not an ‘actionable’ book for entrepreneurial advice, the real stories of how these two companies floundered and spluttered before finding their feet is required reading for anyone in the current startup space.
Key takeaways: Great business ideas only seem obvious in retrospect. At the start, they seem crazy.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
There’s only one guarantee when starting your business: you’ll be working with people. Lots of people. You’ll need to convince talent, employees and investors to share your vision. And you’ll need to sell your product to your early adaptors, too.
Being familiar with the tools of persuasion is key, and Influence is the classic book in understanding the psychology of persuasion. It’s been essential reading for copywriters and salespeople for decades – and it’s essential reading for entrepreneurs, too.
BONUS book: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
The Innovator’s Dilemma
The Innovators Dilemma is the most-known work of Harvard professor and businessman Clayton Christensen. Christensen demonstrates how successful, outstanding companies can do everything right – and yet still lose their market leadership.
How? Christenson introduces the (now widely-known) theory of disruptive innovation, where small, unexpected players enter a market and take incumbents by surprise. The Innovators Dilemma has informed countless business thinkers since its publication in 1997 and is the seminal piece in theories of innovation.
Key takeaways: Incumbents are less interested in innovation because next-generation products are not built for their current customers.
Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days
Jake Knapp and Braden Kowitz
As the tools of innovation have matured, the use of ‘sprints’ has broadened to include a range of customer and business problems. Sprint is a best-selling book by a team at Google Ventures who developed a five-day framework during their time working with startups.
Sprint offers entrepreneurs the tools of rapid prototyping to validate business ideas and products. The framework borrows ideas from Lean, Agile and design thinking to offer a practical guide for starting up on a shoestring.
Key takeaways: A customer-centric prototype is the cheapest way to validate a business idea.
Thinking in Systems
Thinking in Systems is the go-to primer for systems theory – a conceptual model for understanding and thinking about complexity. While not a book specific to running a startup, entrepreneurs and founders will find it highly useful.
After all, building a business with no map and no guide requires an understanding about the bigger picture. Complexity and uncertainty are the domain of entrepreneurship, and Thinking in Systems will help readers avoid helplessness when faced with big challenges.
Key takeaways: Systems that work well have three characteristics: resilience, self-organisation and hierarchy.
Getting Real: The Smarter, Faster, Easier Way to Build a Successful Web Application
Basecamp is project management software that has stood the test of time. But it first started as a product built internally inside an agency called 37 Signals. Jason Fried, the founder and CEO, brought Basecamp to became a global, profitable and successful product.
He did it by rejecting the conventional wisdom at the time. Released in 2006, his first book Getting Real codified was radically fresh thinking on how to build a successful software company – years before Eric Reis released The Lean Startup. Best of all? These days Getting Real is free to download.
Key takeaways: Don’t inhibit the company culture that’s needed to achieve success.
Financial Intelligence for Entrepreneurs: What You Really Need to Know About the Numbers
Founders and entrepreneurs need to wear a lot of hats. And that includes the ‘numbers’ hat. But you don’t need a degree in finance or economics. Financial Intelligence for Entrepreneurs is practical, tailored advice to for entrepreneurs looking to get up to speed.
The authors offer a deep understanding of the basics of financial management and measurement. There are also hands-on activities to practice if you need to brush up. From balance sheets to ratios, you’ll soon be able to assess the health of your venture – and communicate it, too.
Key takeaways: Learn the language of financials to talk confidently with employees, partners and investors.
Read the books. Start building your business.
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