7 Must-Read Books From Entrepreneurs in the Trenches
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Aside from incredible success, what do Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? They read more than most.
Founders often claim they don’t have time to read, but they do -- they just spend that time doing other things, such as tapping on smartphones, texting and instant messaging. According to recent research by Flurry Analytics, U.S consumers spend an average of five hours a day on their mobile devices. If that time was spent reading instead, they could knock out several books in a single month.
Entrepreneurs notoriously work long hours in the trenches. That grind makes it difficult to step back and think about your business holistically. By reading books authored by other founders, you can gain insights you might never have considered otherwise. The right books can help you develop new strategies and grow, both as a person and as a leader.
Must-read titles for every entrepreneur
While it’s easy to get caught up on the startup treadmill, focused on scaling revenue and securing market share, I firmly believe that leading with purpose leads to higher revenue.
Roy Spence's It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For only reinforced that belief for me. Spence shares stories of successful, purpose-driven cultures to show why chasing purpose over revenue is key to winning. His advice is applicable to both daily life and long-term strategy.
Of course, every founder faces different challenges, and no single book tells the whole story of running a company well. To get a fuller picture, I reached out to seven colleagues for their book recommendations.
Check out these titles to learn how these successful entrepreneurs made it happen.
1. Brendan Kane: Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
Kane is a growth hacker and tech entrepreneur. He thrives on helping brands systemically find and engage new audiences who reward relevant content, products and services with their attention and spending. He said this about Berger's Contagious:
“Everything about his writings helped me further understand how to crack virality around video content on Facebook, from messaging to analytics and beyond. I was able to leverage this knowledge for my business to help fuel over 150 million views on Facebook for Katie Couric and Yahoo! News and still use what I learned to this day.”
2. Ed Buckley, III, PhD: Creating Magic by Lee Cockerell
Buckley is CEO and co-founder of Peerfit, a digital platform for insurance carriers, brokers and employers to offer local fitness classes to clients and employees. He recommends that founders and their teams read Creating Magic for these reasons:
“‘Creating Magic’ is all about being a great leader who serves his or her people, and it's filled with pragmatic management lessons. When you start out growing a new, gritty company, you sometimes forget how to turn off the 'attack' mode when you are in a sales mindset to then switch over to leading by listening. Cockerell details his personal failures -- from the times he would forget to empower his team to the great things he accomplished when he trusted his team. He does a fantastic job of giving hard lessons learned and what changed when he used these lessons at Disney. A must-read for any growing company.”
3. Scott Peeples: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
4. Kirill Evdakov: The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company by David A. Price
Evdakov is the co-founder and CEO of Fasten, a fast-growing ride-sharing app. According to him, this book is “a magnificent illustration of the fact that persistence is key.”
The Pixar Touch details Ed Catmull’s tenacity in developing the technology necessary to make 3D animation come to life. He faced the challenge of not only building everything from scratch to make 3D movies, but also of convincing others of its merits at a time when they were still using floppy disks.
Evdakov says this book showed him that as an entrepreneur, the size of obstacles in front of you doesn't matter. For him that obstacle happens to be Uber, but he believes that the bigger your dream, the bigger the obstacles will be. He has put Catmull's persistence to work, and Fasten now has 60 percent market share in Austin.
5. Jerry Hum: The PayPal Wars by Eric M. Jackson
Hum is the co-founder and CEO of Touch of Modern, the curated online shopping destination for men to discover unexpected products, fashion brands and accessories to elevate their lifestyles. He had this to say about The PayPal Wars:
“A lot of entrepreneurial books are romanticized and designed to be motivational, but I felt PayPal Wars painted a more realistic picture of what it's like to be an entrepreneur. It gave me new motivation to keep innovating with Touch of Modern.”
6. Brian Saab: The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki
Saab is co-founder and CEO of Unearth Technologies, the first software platform that lets construction companies automatically document projects by place, as well as a serial entrepreneur and product strategist. He has 20 years of leadership experience in both startups and publicly traded companies. Two of those companies achieved impressive buyouts: buuteeq to Booking.com in 2014, and Red Safi to Objectiva Software Solutions in 2015.
Saab loves The Art of the Start for a few reasons:
“It's the definitive text on how to create a high-value, fast-growing startup, including rapidly validating your concept for product market fit. I've used ‘Art of the Start’ to guide every business I've ever been a part of. It's a must-read book, especially if you want to create an industry-disrupting tech company. I use it as a sanity check to determine whether or not I have a good plan, or if I've gotten over my ski tips. Ultimately, it helps keep me honest.”
7. Elana Karp: Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
As the head chef and culinary co-founder of Plated, Karp is an expert on company culture and employee morale. Entrepreneurs have to consider multiple factors in every decision, and Karp believes Delivering Happiness helps her prioritize what’s most important. As she put it:
“If you focus on your employees and invest in building a positive, supportive culture early on, everything else will fall into place.”
Taking on all of these books sounds like a major investment, but with good time management, even the busiest entrepreneurs can read most of them in a month or two. Each one offers immediately applicable insights, so find a comfy chair, grab a drink and start reading.