30 Successful Entrepreneurs Reveal the Books That Changed Their Lives
These founders tell us about the books that influenced their way of thinking about life and work.
This article was originally published on June 13, 2018.
Good ideas don't exist in a vacuum. Getting a chance to learn about other people's lives and points of view, whether from a novel or autobiography, can help people, including entrepreneurs, change their perspective and also lead to unexpected opportunities. Books can inspire someone to launch a startup, pivot to a new business model or even alter a life approach.
Check out the books that, according to 30 entrepreneurs, could change the way you think about the world.
On giving back
Name: Gavin Armstrong
Company: Lucky Iron Fish
Book: Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business Book by John Mackey and Rajendra Sisodia. It raises interesting questions about how the private sector should be spending their money and how they should be earning their money. It all depends on the age and stage of your company and what commitment and obligation you should have to giving back.
Because we started from day one with the objective to have a social impact embedded throughout our supply chain, we were able to weave that into all of our actions and our entire process. And as we grow, that culture and value grows with us.
Read more about Armstrong: This CEO Has Helped Thousands and He's Just Getting Started
On overcoming obstacles
Name: Ryan Holmes
Book: The Long Walk: The True Story Of A Trek To Freedom is one of the most amazing, heroic stories of this or any other time. It tells the story of author Slavomir Rawicz, a Polish soldier who is imprisoned by the Soviets after World War II. To gain his freedom, Rawicz goes on a remarkable journey through the frozen Siberian tundra, the Gobi desert, the Himalayan Mountains and to India. The Long Walk is about everyday human struggle, overcoming obstacles and achieving the impossible. That's why I keep 10 copies on my desk to give away at any moment.
Read more about Holmes: How Following His Heart Led This Entrepreneur to Start a Multi-Billion Dollar Company
On work-life balance
Name: Julia Hartz
Book: Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time by Brigid Schulte. It outlines the current issues around self-worth and approach to time but also gender roles and pursuit of work-life balance. I was so moved by the book -- which is chock-full of supporting data points and useful reflections -- that we had the author join the company to talk about her book via Google Hangouts.
Read more about Hartz: The Day This Eventbrite Co-Founder Learned When to Speak Up
On unexpected beauty
Name: Jeff Chapin
Book: The Tower and the Bridge. A professor of mine in college wrote it, David P. Billington. When I started college, I was headed down the path of becoming a chemist. I'd always wanted to wear a lab coat and work in a lab. But when I read this book in my first year of college for a class about structural art -- essentially, the beauty found in architecture and engineering -- it was so captivating I switched majors and pursued a civil engineering degree focused on structures. To this day, it's still a reference for me in my work, even though I've switched from structures to products and work on a much smaller physical scale.
On positive thinking
Name: Jessica Dilullo Herrin
Company: Stella & Dot
Book: Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine. It's one of the knowledge sources that affirmed for me that a positive mind is a powerful thing -- not just for yourself but also for your team and the people around you. A positive mind isn't something where you figure out how to have it and you're set for good. It's like personal hygiene; you've got to keep it up every day.
On perspective and perception
Name: Melissa Ben-Ishay
Company: Baked by Melissa
Book: I recently read Keith Richards' biography, followed by Mick Jagger's. I found them interesting because it's like I read the same story from different perspectives. It was great to see how two people experienced the same exact thing and still have different perspectives -- and they're both right. It was an eye-opening thing for me. In life, there are things you know and things you don't know, and for everything else, there are the doors of perception.
On managing a team
Name: Dave Rusenko
Book: My recent favorite book is The Rickover Effect by Theodore Rockwell about the nuclear bomb. He's a very controversial personality. He was ahead of his time as far as management goes, and he had some really interesting thoughts on how to run an effective organization. It's more than a story. He provides compelling anecdotes and thoughts on how to get the best out of people.
Read more about Rusenko: Weebly's Founder Explains the Richard Branson Moment That Changed How He Ran His Company
On living your best life
Name: Josh Reeves
Book: The Monk and The Riddle by Randy Komisar, a professor of mine at Stanford. The book is about the purpose of life through his own experience. He brings up the idea of an extended life plan -- the concept that somehow people think we're going to do something now that might not be good but will enable us to do what we want in the future. But that mindset replicated over time means you never get to living the life you want. The main message is the journey itself matters. It's the best way to build the best future.
Read more about Reeves: The CEO of Billion-Dollar Startup Gusto Believes Passion Should Come Before Revenue
On human nature
Name: Jack Groetzinger
Book: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini, which talks about the way human beings are influenced in sort of non-logical or non-rational ways. It seems a little Machiavellian. It's the way you use sell tactics to get people to comply with you, but I think that it can also be used for good -- in the case of SeatGeek, figuring out how we can harness social psychology, human psychology, to allow people to do more stuff, have more fun and go to more events.
Read more about Groetzinger: The Simple Trick This CEO Uses to Prevent Burnout
On human flaws
Name: Aaron Hirschhorn
Book: I love books that help you understand or change your perspective on life, on humanity, on what it means to be a person, on what it means to be an animal. There are two books that I love. Life of Pi, where the main character grows up in a zoo and talks about what it means to be an animal in the wild and an animal in the zoo, and then he sort of experiences it on a journey. I just love the perspective on humanity there.
The other one is The Art of Racing in the Rain, which is a book written from the perspective of a dog. And it's just so pure and beautiful about how this dog views his owner. You get that the owner is a flawed human, but the dog doesn't see any of that.
Read more about Hirschhorn: This CEO Says the Key to Being a Good Boss Is Getting Out of the Way
On the power of introversion
Name: Angie Hicks
Company: Angie's List
Book: Quiet by Susan Cain. I'm an introvert, and I just really related to it. I think a lot of times introverts -- myself included -- sometimes view it as kind of an impediment. I used to not consider myself an entrepreneur. Even though I started a company, I didn't picture myself like that. I wasn't a big idea person; I'm not really charismatic. You kind of have to learn how to be successful in your own skin. And for me, it was leading by example and making sure that I balance my day in such a way [that works for me]. It was one of those books that affirmed ... how I live my life and reminded me that there are a lot of people [who] go through this. It's about making sure that you get what you need.
Read more about Hicks: This Introvert Founder Swears by This Management Tip
Name: Whitney Wolfe
Book: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. What it made me realize was no matter who you are in life, where you come from or where you live, everyone is fighting their own battle, and everyone's battle is equally [as] important as the next. To each person, those are their problems and they are more important than everyone else's. It changes the way you think about humanity and about the way society operates and [the way people] treat each other.
Read more about Wolfe: The Founder of Bumble Reveals How the 'Question of Nine' Can Help You Stay Focused
On guiding principles of innovation
Name: Shan-Lyn Ma
Book: Merchant Princes by Leon Harris. It's about the families that built the great department stores. It's interesting to me because I've been thinking a lot about how the traditional department stores are struggling to survive. My thinking was that they hadn't innovated in a while and that's why they were struggling. But what the book showed me was that they have endured so many retail trends over so many decades, and what's amazing is that they survived for as long as they have. It reinforced for me that retail and ecommerce always come back to the same principles: selection, convenience and price.
Read more about Ma: This Founder Has a 5-Minute Secret Weapon That Helps Her Focus Every Day
On doing good while doing good business
Name: John Zimmer
Book: Two books by Paul Hawken ... Ecology of Commerce and Natural Capitalism. I was interested in the environment and doing good, and I was also really interested in business. I struggled growing up thinking about how you can combine those two pieces. I think I considered them separate. I thought you either do good or you do business. Those books showed me that there are opportunities to do both, and that business can be used to create a positive solution in the world.
Read more about Zimmer: Lyft Co-Founder John Zimmer: 'You Should Never Veer Off the Path of Your Own Values'
On building a cultural foundation
Name: Amber Venz
Book: It's not actually a book, but Netflix's Culture deck. In the last year we've doubled our team, and [it] will grow again this year. So culture and people have been a huge focus of ours. I found the deck timely, and it answered all of the questions I've had about the foundations we had built -- everything from our value system to how we reward people.
Read more about Venz: This Founder Shares the Mindset That Helps Her Stay On Track
Name: Jen Rubio
Book: Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. It is a collection of Rilke's correspondence to a young, aspiring artist and offers candid thoughts on what it means to be a creative. It's a little overwrought but full of sage advice. Every time I've read it, new pieces of advice jump out at me depending on what's going on in my life and career.
Read more about Rubio: Use This Founder's Top Tip To Make Your Meetings Work For You
On going beyond your comfort zone
Name: Carrie Dorr
Company: Pure Barre
Book: The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. It talks about how we all have internal limits and how operating in what they call your "zone of genius" helps you go beyond those limits. I believe we all have a calling, and that books supports that theory.
Read more about Dorr: This Founder Shares How to Tailor Your Schedule to Fit Your Brain
On leading with your strengths
Name: Randi Zuckerberg
Company: Zuckerberg Media
Book: Me, Myself and Us by Dr. Brian Little. I struggled for a long time because I'm really an introvert, but I have to act extrovertedly as I'm giving speeches or meeting with entrepreneurs. I felt very alone in the world, and then Dr. Little came out with this book about being pseudo-extrovert -- it was all about introverts that have to pretend to be extroverts for their business lives. It totally changed my life and opened up a whole world of thinking for me. The book said if you go out there and have to act extroverted, don't forget you're an introvert at the core, which means you're going to need to build in downtime to your schedule -- otherwise you're going to burn out. We don't run on the same kind of social energy that extroverts do. So I know that if I have a day where I am on camera or giving a talk, I'll actually build "do not schedule" blocks of time into my calendar. That's not something I would have done before his book, but it's something that's really effective in my business and personal life.
Read more about Zuckerberg: Why Everyone Can Use Randi Zuckerberg's Number One Focus Tip
On problem solving
Name: Tim Chen
Book: It isn't a book, but the Farnam Street blog. The premise I love about it is that there's an underlying belief that there are mental models that dictate how the world works. I believe that all creativity and problem solving is a remix of other mental models. When I learn new ones that give an explanation about how some related but tangential industry or field works, I often find [myself] going back to an unrelated problem and [thinking] about how to apply those concepts.
Read more about Chen: Nerdwallet's Founder Shares the Worst Advice He Ever Got
On developing a values system
Name: Katrina Lake
Company: Stitch Fix
Book: It's Not about the Coffee: Leadership Principles from a Life at Starbucks by Howard Behar. I read it before I started Stitch Fix. It had a big impact on me and how I approached company culture. In Howard's book, he talks about how the company culture of Starbucks is one where he felt like he could be the same person at home and be the same person at work and that the values were consistent in both worlds. That really resonated with me. I really wanted to create a workplace where people feel like they can be themselves and ... their best selves.
On product design
Name: Luis von Ahn
Book: The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. Before I read that book, I didn't pay a lot of attention to design. That book makes it clear [that] when you don't understand something it is because it is poorly designed, not because you aren't smart. Since then, I'm obsessed with how products are designed.
Read more about von Ahn: Why This Founder Says the Worst Advice He Ever Got Was to Listen to His Users
Name: Katie Rodan
Company: Rodan + Fields
Book: The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. He coined the term "disruptive innovation" more than 20 years ago and wrote about how the "little guy" can shake up an entire industry. We encourage entrepreneurs to not only look for opportunities to disrupt, but once your business is established, think a step ahead to prepare for the next disruptive innovation that could threaten your company.
Read more about Rodan: The 2 Simple Ideas That Helped Rodan + Fields Build a Billion-Dollar Business
On going your own way
Name: Kara Goldin
Book: The Originals by Adam Grant. It confirmed what I knew and then some: People aren't one-size-fits-all, entrepreneurs in particular. For example, just because someone doesn't quit their day job to launch an idea doesn't mean that they aren't serious and the idea won't be successful.
On the importance of incorporating emotion into your work
Name: Bruce Poon Tip
Company: G Adventures
Book: The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama. It was an inspirational book to me because it was a turning point in my understanding that business isn't black and white. I was brought up being taught that business is unemotional, but the book taught me that business can be compassionate and social. That's a common thing to talk about now, but this was in the late '90s.
Read more about Poon Tip: I Was About to Shut Down My Business but I Changed My Mind. Here's Why.
On debunking harmful myths
Name: Jennifer Hyman
Company: Rent the Runway
Book: Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong -- and What You Really Need to Know by Emily Oster. This book was a godsend during my pregnancy because it provided data-based justification for why it was okay for me to continue to eat sushi and drink wine and consume caffeine -- three things that I love and didn't want to give up for nine months. The author goes through every pregnancy myth one by one and uses her skills as an economist to debunk them. It's amazing how much misinformation there is about pregnancy and how many myths are still ingrained into our culture.
Read more about Hyman: Rent the Runway's Jennifer Hyman Shares Her Worst Advice Ever: 'Shut Up and Act Sweet'
On letting go of perfectionism
Name: Nirav Tolia
Book: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. It's one of the foundations of how we started Nextdoor. My co-founders and I had been working on another company (Fanbase), and it wasn't going that well. One of the reasons is because we were always focused on trying to create the most perfect product and then releasing that to our members, when in reality there is no perfect product. The perfect product is one that gets better over time, that takes advantage of iterations. The advantage of software is you can put it out there as quickly as possible, get feedback and then make it better almost immediately. That was a mistake we had made at Fanbase. We tried to make it perfect. We spent 1.5 years working on it before releasing the first version of the service to our members. And at that point, we'd gotten a lot of things wrong. The Lean Startup is about a systematic mechanism to quickly build, test, iterate and improve things -- so that the cost of getting something right goes down immensely because you're not putting so much out there and you're not taking so much time. You're trying as quickly as possible to respond to real user needs. And it was it was a real breakthrough for us; it was a different way of thinking.
Name: Christene Barberich
Book: Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott. She touched on the importance of employing forgiveness and grace, especially during times of resistance, which is obviously very relevant right now with what's happening in the world. It was kind of a revelatory point to make, especially with all of us being in this sort of major period of anger and rage. I think it was helpful to think about that and try to integrate it into my feelings about what's happening in the news.
Read more about Barberich: Why Your Done List is Just as Important as Your To-Do List
On letting go of resentments
Name: Barbara Corcoran
Company: Forefront Venture Partners
Book: Not a book but a quote from Nelson Mandela. He said, "Having resentment is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy dies." I thought: If he's not resentful, why would I be resentful? I ... dropped my resentment toward the person I was angry with.
Read more about Corcoran: Shark Tank's Barbara Corcoran Explains Why You Must Make Time in Your Schedule For Fun
On overcoming obstacles and finding discipline
Name: Tristan Walker
Company: Walker & Company
Book: There are four books I've read recently that have really kind of changed my outlook. Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan is about a family of faith that goes through all these different obstacles and makes it through to the end to meet their savior of sorts. Ben Franklin's autobiography is wonderful. It really showed me that virtue and learnedness can be practiced as long as you have the discipline to do it. When I think about The Autobiography of Malcolm X, the thing that's really interesting is a lot of folks paint this very negative picture of the man. But I think he had some really forward-looking, prophetic ideas on race in the country. The Bible; it's a guide for me.
On seeing the future
Name: Payal Kadakia
Book: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. Jobs was a visionary leader who managed to create the future. I think that any entrepreneur can learn from Jobs's magical ability to combine business brilliance with creative genius.
Read more about Kadakia: This Successful Entrepreneur Explains Why You Can't Succeed Unless You Invest in Yourself