32 Entrepreneurs Share the Books They Always Recommend
Entrepreneurs tell us the books they always tell others to read.
A savvy entrepreneur understands that the ability to empathize with a variety of perspectives is invaluable when growing a business. One of the simplest and most effective way to do this is to read widely, across genres and from authors whose point of view is different than your own. Whether it is a novel or history book on your nightstand or an in-depth scientific study, these successful founders have some unexpected titles that they always recommend to everyone.
On having a positive attitude in the face of adversity
Name: Merrill Stubbs
Book: Roald Dahl's Danny the Champion of the World. I love children's books in general, and a lot of kid's books are really good reading for adults. This one in particular is not only a great story and narrative, but it's a great study of a relationship between father and his son.
Plus, the entrepreneurial, can-do attitude of Danny and his father has always been inspiring to me. While they are meticulous planners, ultimately it's the partnership and camaraderie between them that is more important than their scheme working out exactly as planned. I try to keep this in mind when things don't go the way we've anticipated.
Read more about Stubbs: The Life-Changing Book That Helps This Entrepreneur Think Big
On combating negative thinking
Name: Jessica Dilullo Herrin
Company: Stella & Dot
Book: Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine. In this book, he pulls together decades of research to show people how to shift their negative thinking into empowering ways of thinking, acting and feeling. After I read it, I was convinced that Shirzad was the real deal, and his approach and techniques really worked.
The gist of positive psychology is this: The more you train your brain to be positive, the happier you feel. For me, this has translated into taking time to quiet my brain every day to recharge and refocus.
Read more more about Dilullo Herrin: How Finding a Single Egg in Nicaragua Inspired the Founder of This $300 Million Company
On how emotions affect our work
Name: Oren Frank
Book: I recommend a book called Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. He's the first and only psychologist that won the Nobel prize for economics. The notion that people, emotions and relationships determine so much of the decisions we make and these are deeply rooted mechanisms is something that is becoming more understood and accepted. It's basically the fundamentals of business, because who do you do business with? You do business with people. This particular book gives you amazing insight as to how to better understand and work with people
Read more about Frank: This CEO's Favorite Productivity Tips Are Surprisingly Simple
On a learning from a diversity of opinions
Name: Gavin Armstrong
Company: Lucky Iron Fish
Book: Conscious Capitalism by John Mackey and Rajendra Sisodia. If you're an entrepreneur, I think that you can’t only have one point of view. That book lets you explore the concept within different frameworks and how it would work for you. It uses relevant, current issues and examples. Even if you don’t agree with the opinions, you are given enough information to make your own decision.
Read more about Armstrong: This CEO Has Helped Thousands -- and He's Just Getting Started
On the scope of technology
Name: Jeff Chapin
Book: Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. It is a story of the U.S. effort to build the atomic bomb. It’s a beautifully written book about the science and technology behind it. I don’t think many people think of a non-fiction book as page turner, but it sucked me in.
There's incredible science described in a very understandable way, tension around the morality of building an atomic bomb, egos and personality conflicts, along with the fact that many of the scientists were Jews expunged from Nazi Europe creating the ultimate weapon to destroy Nazism. It's a good read. A lot of people haven't had great experiences with non-fiction, so I think it surprises them.
On the golden rule
Name: Dave Rusenko
Book: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It’s a nice reminder and blueprint on how to be a good person. It’s effectively saying that if you could pay more attention to other people’s needs, it will benefit you.
Read more about Rusenko: Weebly's Founder Explains the Richard Branson Moment That Changed How He Ran His Company
On taking ownership of your journey
Name: Melissa Ben-Ishay
Company: Baked by Melissa
Book: I always recommend The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I try to read it once a year. I think everyone takes different lesson from reading that book. For me, it reminded me about the journey and that my path is my path, and I need to own it and enjoy it. It’s really all about the way you choose to perceive the events that are happening in your life.
Read more about Ben-Ishay: How Getting Fired Turned Into Sweet Success for This Entrepreneur
On the importance of sleep
Name: Aaron Hirschhorn
Book: I have been recommending -- and maybe because I have had some problems sleeping as the stress of the business is sort of catching up to me -- is a book called No More Sleepless Nights by Peter Hauri. It puts insomnia into perspective. It's a really practical guide to having a better attitude around sleep. I have been recommending that a lot to people, because it turns out a huge percentage of people I know suffer from insomnia and a huge percentage of the country, too. Very practical, not a business book, but it just affects your life in a huge way
Read more about Hirschhorn: This CEO Says the Key to Being a Good Boss Is Getting Out of the Way
On questioning your own perception
Name: Jack Groetzinger
Book: I began to think differently about chance after reading Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets. That booked changed how I make decisions and interpret events post hoc.
Read more about Groetzinger: The Simple Trick This CEO Uses to Prevent Burnout
On taking risks
Name: Matt Ehrlichman
Book: Jim Collins’ book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't. I think that for a fellow CEO or entrepreneur, it’s a great way to think. There are others as well. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries is great to help newer entrepreneurs think about how to build a company
Read more about Ehrlichman: How This Founder Uses His Competitiveness to Succeed in Business
On reaching for the stars
Name: Ryan Holmes
Book: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Canadian astronaut and International Space Station commander Chris Hadfield. He’s a friend and one of the most courageous and inspirational people I know. In the book, he shares some incredible stories from his life as an astronaut but also shows us how to make the impossible a reality whatever pursuit we’re in. I recommend this to anyone who dreams big and who strives to stay true to themselves
Read more about Holmes: How Following His Heart Led This Entrepreneur to Start a Multi-Billion Dollar Company
On personal health and how it affects our daily lives
Name: Daniella Yacobovsky
Book: I would recommend The China Study by Thomas Campbell and T. Colin Campbell. It is a really exceptional study on the impacts of nutrition on our outlook on life and how we approach basically everything. That has changed my approach to nutrition and my expectations that the things you eat do have a huge impact on everything, from your energy levels to your outlook.
Read more about Yacobovsky: This Co-Founder of BaubleBar's Secret for Inspiration? Always 'Keep Your Eyes Peeled.'
On finding inspiration in your own backyard
Name: Katrina Lake
Company: Stitch Fix
Book: Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden. I love cooking. It’s what clears my mind, since it's pretty hard to multitask when you're chopping vegetables. In San Francisco we are lucky to have access to so much great produce. This is a book that's all about the vegetables that are in season. It's a fun book to experiment with, but it also has a very seasonal approach to cooking and is pretty simple. I'm so obsessed with it right now, and I've been recommending that a lot.
Read more about Lake: Stitch Fix Founder Explains Why the Worst Piece of Advice She Ever Got Was to Raise A Lot of Money
On challenging the status quo
Name: Kara Goldin
Book: The Originals by Adam Grant. It is one of my favorite books, because it’s all about challenging the norm and not being afraid to think outside the box and do things differently.
When I started Hint I thought I needed to bring in people with industry experience but quickly realized that experience didn’t equate to success in a company that’s disrupting the industry.
This book has incredible stories of people who make surprising decisions that turn out to be the right decision, and it has great lessons on how to pull the best out of yourself.
On transcending obstacles
Name: Bea Fischel-Bock
Book: The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. I’ve read it a few times and find more insights with each read. I first read it when I was starting my business and my take aways were so different from my latest read with a company much further along.
It’s timeless and applicable to entrepreneurs at every stage. Every level of entrepreneurship is hard. You get past one hurdle and then you have another one to climb. The book says that’s the point. It will continue to get harder, because the problems get bigger and more serious. But there is this crazy drive we have. We just keep going. It’s so normal to feel how we feel.
Read more about Fischel-Bock: This Founder Shares Why In Order To Learn Fast, You Need to Fail Fast
On developing valuable relationships
Name: Angie Hicks
Company: Angie’s List
Book: Quick and Nimble by Adam Bryant. I do office hours here at Angie's List, and I picked it up out of his book. I was looking for a way that I could continue to connect with employees.
I put aside time every week, and I have 15-minute sessions. Anyone in the company can sign up for it to talk about anything they want to. It's super fun; I get as much out of it as they do.
Read more about Hicks: This Introvert Founder Swears by This Management Tip
On how to scale successfully
Name: Shan-Lyn Ma
Book: My favorite book is called Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan. It really helps you understand how to take something from an idea to then test it and verify it as something that customers will want to use. And then how do you actually bring it to scale and work with a team to continue to develop that product and move it forward.
Read more about Ma: This Founder Has a 5-Minute Secret Weapon That Helps Her Focus Every Day
On bringing people together
Name: John Zimmer
Book: Tribe by Sebastian Junger. It speaks to this value we have of bringing people together and the power of real community. As you look back to how people organize themselves historically, it was in smaller groups and the book walks through why that is important and powerful.
Read more about Zimmer: Lyft Co-Founder John Zimmer: 'You Should Never Veer Off the Path of Your Own Values'
On communicating with clarity
Name: Amber Venz
Book: Start With Why by Simon Sinek. His whole philosophy is about why you do something, not what you do. We started the company to solve my own problem. And that story is something that resonates with our our influencer clients, because I was in the same boat as them -- and I still am. It made me think about our communication with our clients and making sure even with new ones, they understand why we do what we do and the values that we have.
Read more about Venz: This Founder Shares the Mindset That Helps Her Stay On Track
On finding healthy fuel for your body
Name: Carrie Dorr
Company: Pure Barre
Book: The Grain Brain by David Perlmutter and Eat Dirt by Josh Axe. They both talk about how food is medicine. I think we all had common knowledge about how what we eat affects our body, and these books talk about how what we eat affects our brains and what is correlated to disease and other issues that you wouldn't think to tie to food.
Read more about Dorr: This Founder Shares How to Tailor Your Schedule to Fit Your Brain
On working together as a team
Name: Julia Hartz
Book: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. It's an inspiring story about a Washington-based college crew team which beat the perennial favorites, Italy and Germany, in the 1936 Olympics to win the gold medal. The takeaway from that story for me is that the U.S, team, the underdog in every way, was able to rise above the rest by focusing on themselves and their teamwork, rather than their competition.\
Read more about Hartz: The Day This Eventbrite Co-Founder Learned When to Speak Up
On thinking differently
Name: Tim Chen
Book: It isn't a book, but the Farnam Street blog. The premise that 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 going back to an unrelated problem and think about how to apply those concepts.
Read more about Chen: Nerdwallet's Founder Shares the Worst Advice He Ever Got
On the keys to successful negotiating
Name: Heidi Zak
Book: One of the things that is super important in business is how to negotiate well. For me, it's something that I've had to learn along the way. One of the books I read at MIT is Getting to Yes by Bruce Patton, Roger Fisher and William Ury.
Negotiating is a hard skill, but one that is necessary for almost every job function - and this book is a quick read about the basics. The key learning for me is that you must figure out what you can offer to the other side, and to do that, you must get to know them to understand their most important needs. It's not just transactional, it's personal.Read more about Zak: What This Founder Learned at a Farmstand Helped Her Bra Startup
On not settling for less
Name: Bruce Poon Tip
Company: G Adventures
Book: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and Good to Great by Jim Collins are two great ones. Good to Great is a good study about not settling and striving for greatness. The Tipping Point is important in terms of understanding how to be a customer-first organization.
Read more about Poon Tip: I Was About to Shut Down My Business but I Changed My Mind. Here's Why.
On overcoming challenges
Name: Vicki Fulop
Book: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. It inspired, motivated and even supported me. And for anybody that doesn't know, it's the story of Nike and what he called his crazy idea and passion to what it is today. I think he is just a very intimate, funny, vulnerable and self-deprecating storyteller. He's very relatable when he writes about his nerves before a big meeting or any manufacturing kerfuffles.
And it is also inspiring, because you see him overcome all these challenges and have fun times along the way. [But you also] see the risks that he took to build the company into what it is today.
Read more about Fulop: Use This Founder's Simple Email Strategy to Keep Burnout at Bay
On building durable values
Name: Nirav Tolia
Book: Conscious Business by Fred Kofman. It's an interesting book, because it's focused on how to be a great leader and how to lead organizations to great accomplishments. But the reason it's unique, is it's really about this idea of building value through values. It's the idea of sort of balancing empathy and compassion with achievement and high standards.
I think traditionally we may have felt that pushing people and accomplishing great things always comes at a cost. What's so interesting about this book is it redefines that kind of philosophy. It almost recasts it as a false dichotomy. It's not either we can create a values-based culture or we can create a high-performance culture. It takes that whole idea and shifts it to the way to create a high-performance culture by defining, embracing and living our values.
On forming relationships
Name: Christene Barberich
Book: Better Than Sane: Tales from a Dangling Girl by Alison C. Rose. She drew some important points that were new to me about how single women move through the world and interact with coupled people. I found the way that she built those into her essays -- about what it felt like for her to be single at different stages of her life -- and how she felt like married people reacted to her or involved her in their lives. I found it incredibly insightful and sensitive to the experiences of women that are single by choice.
Read more about Barberich: Why Your Done List is Just as Important as Your To-Do List
On human achievement
Name: Marco Zappacosta
Book: I'm often talking to folks who are either inside of startups or thinking about it, and a book I recommend often is Apollo by Charles Murray. It's a history of the Apollo program and what is so staggering about that achievement is how fast it happened, how few people thought it was possible to happen in that time frame and just what a seed of human ingenuity it was. It's a gripping tale of human accomplishment and it's inspiring -- a reminder of what is possible.
Read more about Zappacosta: The Productivity Secrets of an Entrepreneur Whose First Business Idea Turned Into Multimillion-Dollar Company
On finding what centers you
Name: Tristan Walker
Company: Walker & Company
Book: Painting as a Pastime. It's written by Winston Churchill, and he talks about how he taught himself to paint during World War II. He guided his country and the world through World War II but used painting as a way to get away from the chaos. The way he describes how he picked it up and how he came to love it was really inspiring for me. It's something I've given to employees and friends as a call to learn something you wouldn't have learned otherwise.
On creating 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’ 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
Name: Zach Sims
Book: Andy Grove's book High Output Management. I think it's a tactical, hands-on guide for what you need to do to be an excellent manager and work in a growing business. One of the most interesting things to me is Andy Grove was one of the early founders of Intel. He wrote the book in the mid-1980s, and basically everything he proposes from a management perspective still rings true today.
Read more about Sims: The Surprising Reason Why This Young Tech Entrepreneur Swears By Pen and Paper
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
Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com. She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.