Growing Your Start-up: The Top 20 Books That Founders Could Find Useful

Updated: 05 March 2022

Founding a new business requires dedication. It will take long hours and hard work, which means discipline and more than a little luck to succeed. Any piece of advice you can pick up to grow your expertise is invaluable.

I’ve scrolled through the first 10 pages of Google‘s search results on “books for founders”. Over 30 of the sites contain lists of books that founders could find useful. From these I’ve compiled my own list of the 20 books that appear more on these included web lists than any others.


20. Tim Ferriss – Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers (2016)

“Some people are more successful than others because of the habits they develop, says Tim Ferriss in his new book Tools Of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, And Habits Of Billionaires, Icons, And World-class Performers. The creator of The Tim Ferriss Show, the popular podcast which has been downloaded more than 100 million times, Ferriss has previously authored The 4 -Hour Workweek, The 4-Hour Chef and The 4-Hour Body. In his latest book, he offers productivity tips using nuggets of wisdom from over a hundred high achievers he has interviewed over the years, from celebrities to biochemists to athletes, for his podcast.

At 674 pages, the book is a door-stopper. You could probably read it as an e-book, except that it works like a charm in paper and print. It’s the perfect dip-into volume.”Sonya Dutta Choudhury, livemint.com

Tools Of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, And Habits Of Billionaires, Icons, And World-class Performers appears in 12.50% of the included lists.


19. Stephen R. Covey – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change (2020 – 30th Anniversary Edition)

“In 1989, Stephen Covey changed the world of self-improvement forever when he published his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This book quickly became an international bestseller and a go-to resources for anyone who wanted to improve themselves. From top-tier executives to students, Covey’s book was the book to read.

Over 25 years later, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People remains one of the most referenced books in its genre. It set the tone not only for Covey’s second book but for an entirely new genre of literature. Now, Covey’s work is used not just at work but at home. Whether you want to improve relationships with colleagues, managers or have more fruitful social relationships, Covey bestows serious lessons on his readers. These lessons have more or less withstood the test of time and remain relevant as a solid foundation in interpersonal communication today.”Anastasia Belyh, cleverism.com

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change appears in 12.50% of the included lists.


18. Geoff Smart & Randy Street – Who: A Method for Hiring (2008)

“Two months ago I had never heard of this book. Now it’s influencing everything about my business. It’s one of the most directly applicable business books I’ve ever read, because it strikes at the heart of what will make or break a business – who you hire. If you hire the wrong people, it doesn’t matter what systems, processes, brand, intellectual property, technology, etc. you have, because they’ll ruin it all. If you hire the right people, it also doesn’t matter so much what you have in place, because they’ll figure it out and make it work. Get the people right and your business will have a much better chance at success. Get the people wrong and you’ve got no chance.”Josh Steimle, joshsteimle.com

Who: A Method for Hiring appears in 12.50% of the included lists.


17. Dale Carnegie – How to Win Friends & Influence People (1936)

“I enjoyed Carnegie’s book because it isn’t academic and impractical. Its principles are immediately applicable and I found myself taking steps to strengthen and improve my personal and working relationships before I’d even finished reading. In his own words, “perusing it won’t do you any good unless you apply it,” and the book empowers you to do this by encapsulating the ‘think big, act small, move fast’ approach.

While many of his ideas won’t be novel, the principles he encourages you to employ can be timely reminders to try something different in your ‘same old, mostly effective’ leadership approach. Carnegie admonishes, “you who are reading these lines possess powers of various sorts which you habitually fail to use”, and every leader should be open to more readily deploying their existing powers to be better. You don’t even have to learn anything new, just be more attuned to what already exists.”Samuel Cox, groundedcuriosity.com

How to Win Friends & Influence People appears in 12.50% of the included lists.


16. Aaron Ross & Marylou Tyler – Predictable Revenue: Turn Your Business Into a Sales Machine with the $100 Million Best Practices of Salesforce.com (2011)

“If you lead a team or are part of a team that does any outbound prospecting, Predictable Revenue, by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler, is a must-read book for you. In recent times, one of the most influential books on the topic, Predictable Revenue provides a step by step process to achieve repeatable and scalable lead generation through outbound – without the traditional cold calling.

But, at 200 odd pages, it is not something you can consume over a coffee. We definitely recommend taking the time over a weekend to get into the book and explore all the concepts in finer detail.”klenty.com

Predictable Revenue: Turn Your Business Into a Sales Machine with the $100 Million Best Practices of Salesforce.com appears in 15.63% of the included lists.


15. Simon Sinek – Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (2011)

“This book works on a very simple idea. And Sinek is right on target. If you don’t have a burning desire or “why” established for your business, career, or area of interest, you’ll likely give up, burn out, or not have the passion needed to be your best. He breaks down not only how to rethink what you do each day in a different light, but more importantly why you do it.

The concept is very well linked to the recent comment done on the book Drive by Daniel Pink. Traditional “Carrot and Stick” mentality does not work. What caught my attention is the fact that the author looks in detail of [sic] why customers choose one company (or brand) vs. another. And how much the key reason for this behavior is unknown to most companies.”Sergio Caredda, sergiocaredda.eu

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action appears in 18.75% of the included lists.


14. Noam Wasserman – The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup (2013)

“While browsing through the Kinokuniya bookstore on a Saturday, I came across this book “The Founder’s Dilemmas” by Noam Wasserman, which has the extraordinary nature of combining scholarly research and practical advice on dealing with a couple of sensitive issues from founding team dilemmas to division of equity and other financial rewards among the founding team.

Highly recommended for those who plan to embark or are already living the entrepreneurial lifestyle, it can serve as a guide to very tough situations for founders to evaluate the best possible way out.”Bernard Leong, techinasia.com

The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup appears in 21.88% of the included lists.


13. Michael E. Gerber – The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It (2004)

“It just so happens that I’m almost finished with a really great book, “The E Myth Revisited” by Michael Gerber, self-proclaimed “worlds #1 small business guru”. It’s been a great read and somewhat of an eye opener. If anything, it’s a stern wake-up call for the state of affairs for small business in America, and a punch to the gut for anyone that’s been in the trenches as a small business owner.

Gerber doesn’t hold anything back in his assessment in his diagnosis of the most common problems and adversity faced by the small business owner and their business as a whole. His viewpoints on the three separate faces of all small business owners is so inspiring that I couldn’t help but laugh at how accurate he portrayed my situation.”Travis McAshan, glidedesign.com

The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It appears in 25.00% of the included lists.


12. Steve Blank – The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win (2013)

Steve Blank is a retired serial Entrepreneur who has been there and done it. Unlike many of the self styled business experts who write a book of wisdom, Steve has actually experienced the incredible journey of founding successful startups. It was through this experience that Steve noticed a pattern emerging. During the creation of his eighth startup E.piphany, Steve realised that there was a pattern emerging for success.

The Four Steps to the Epiphany is Steve’s guide to founding a successful startup. In it he introduces the steps you must take as a founder in order to create a product that solves a real customer problem. Steve also highlights where many promising companies went wrong, and how you can take steps to avoid their mistakes.”culttt.com

The Four Steps to the Epiphany: Successful Strategies for Products that Win appears in 25.00% of the included lists.


11. Jim Collins – Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t (2001)

““Good to Great” is one of those books I kept seeing everywhere – in articles, blogs, referenced in interviews and on top business book lists. When I finally picked it up I was surprised to find it was published 15 years ago. After reading it, I understand why it endures: Jim Collins has written a classic on business development. After a meticulously researched study, he and his team answered the question: What common characteristics are shared by companies that made the change from good to great?

Collins, the author of “Built to Last,” is incredibly curious. When the question came up he couldn’t resist beginning a multi-year research project to find the answer. At the end of the first chapter he invites the reader to join him in his “intellectual adventure.” His enthusiasm and curiosity is contagious and helps to make the research-heavy book easy to read.”Sharon Brown, businessmagazinegainesville.com

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t appears in 25.00% of the included lists.


10. Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson – Rework (2010)

Rework has become a handbook for many beginner entrepreneurs. By debunking popular myths about starting a business, it explains how to make an idea profitable in an easier, faster, and more cost-effective way. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the authors of the book, have themselves created several successful products, including the popular project management tool called Basecamp. So all the recommendations they give are relevant and proven in practice.”flexi.ink

Rework appears in 25.00% of the included lists.


09. Geoffrey A. Moore – Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers (1991)

““Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore was first published in 1991 and talks about how to bridge the “chasms” which can occur in the traditional “Technology Adoption Lifecycle”. This traditional model depicts the transition from a market solely for “innovators” and “early adopters” to reaching a mainstream audience.

In his book Geoffrey A. Moore describes two cracks in this traditional bell curve. Firstly, a chasm between “early adopters” and the “early majority”. An approach to market that works for early adopters might not work for more mainstream users of the product, or vice versa. Secondly, Moore talks about a chasm between the early and the late majority, pointing out that each market has its own dynamics.”Marc Abraham, marcabraham.com

Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers appears in 25.00% of the included lists.


08. Ed Catmull & Amy Wallace – Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (2014)

“Creativity Inc. outlines the business decisions made by Pixar and Disney to achieve world domination within the creative industry. As a young man, Ed Catmull had a dream. His dream was to create the first computer-animated movie. He nurtured that dream as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where many computer science pioneers got their start. Then, he forged a partnership with George Lucas. Plus, founded Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter in 1986. The rest is history. Pixar sold for over seven billion dollars and Pixar movies changed the 3D animation sector. This book provides guidance on the creative management techniques adopted by Ed Catmull and Pixar to help elevate his team to the top.

There is a common fear among employees surrounding challenging the ideas of superiors. Despite this, Ed Catmull explains this fearful approach can significantly stunt a business’ growth. If the issue sits within your remit, then you are the perfect person to identify problems that need fixing. Hence, if you are not willing to identify and outline problems, then these problems will remain unfixed.”getstoryshots.com

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration appears in 25.00% of the included lists.


07. Nir Eyal – Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (2013)

“In his book, Nir Eyal points out that advertising is expensive, and the cost of multichannel ad campaigns is out of reach for all but the largest firms. By utilizing the Hooked model, companies can circumvent the costs of advertising through social sharing, enabling them to spend any advertising budget on the acquisition of new customers at launch, as opposed to reminding users to engage with their product.

Plus, a key metric for most companies is customer lifetime value, which frequent customer interactions and habitual engagement are drivers. However, not every product or service could benefit from the Hooked model. For example, customers rarely engage with their life-insurance provider throughout their relationship with a firm, In contrast, they may use a credit card many times a day. To evaluate a product’s potential for being habit forming, consider two factors: frequency and utility. No matter how much utility a product provides, if customers use it infrequently, using it never becomes a habit. However, even if a product offers only minimal benefits, if customers use it frequently, using it can become a habit.”D. Ben Woods, uxmatters.com

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products appears in 28.13% of the included lists.


06. Steve Blank & Bob Dorf – The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company (2012)

“The authors’ goal in writing this manual was to provide a step-by-step process complete with startup checklists that an entrepreneur could use to move their idea from vision up to the point of scaling. The authors have definitely accomplished their goal. To their credit, they admit that entrepreneurship cannot happen through strict adherence to a set of checklists. They explicitly tell you that the process of scaling a small business can be found in other books.

This is an excellent manual for building a successful startup. The step-by-step process outlined in the book is enhanced with just the right amount of explanation to show you not just the ‘what’ but also the ‘why’. If you’re serious about a new startup idea, buy this book to at least benchmark against the highly vetted process of Customer Development that according to the authors has worked well for many entrepreneurs.”Kevin Kauzlaric, kevinkauzlaric.com

The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company appears in 31.25% of the included lists.


05. Jessica Livingston – Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days (2001)

“We’ve all had that discussion with a group of friends where we kicked around ways to solve a problem. How many times have you said, “This is such a great idea, we should really do it!” Or, “This will make a fortune!” Some of these brainstorms can grow into a Google, Apple, or an Uber. Most business concepts will fail within the first year, which is the most critical time of launching a startup. But what really happens in the early phases of these organizations will surprise anyone on the outside. For the most part, the only ones who’ve really been there to tell are the founders.

Jessica Livingston, author of the Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days, gathers a collection of unique interviews from some of these founders of great startup enterprises such as PayPal, TiVo, Yahoo, and TripAdvisor.”Jim Farina, fourminutebooks.com

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days appears in 31.25% of the included lists.


04. Clayton M. Christensen – The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (2016)

“In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Harvard professor, Clayton Christensen, explains why leading companies fail at innovation and end up going bankrupt. The main reason: a preference for efficiency over imagination. Incumbents own their eventual failure to their focused dedication to improving existing operations rather than developing entirely novel offerings, working on fresh value chains, harnessing state-of-the-art technologies and business models. To meet this challenge, Clayton Christensen suggests that incumbents set up an independent subsidiary whose sole purpose is to develop disruptive innovations.

Clayton Christensen offers a profound analysis of dynamics in leading companies. Although he mentions that incumbents can face the disruptive innovation thread by setting up an independent subsidiary, Clayton Christensen does that go into the details as to how to build disruptive innovations.” – Guillaume Villon de Benveniste, theinnovationandstrategyblog.com

The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail appears in 31.25% of the included lists.


03. Peter Thiel & Blake Masters – Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future (2014)

Zero to One is about how to build companies that create NEW things. Peter Thiel calls on entrepreneurs to build valuable businesses around such opportunities – to build a better future for everyone.

This book is for entrepreneurs, founders, or investors that want to build or invest in valuable businesses. While much of the advice is geared towards innovative startups, many of the insights also apply to small businesses that want to carve out a profitable niche. It’s an inspirational read for anyone interested in business strategy.”Rick Kettner, rickkettner.com

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future appears in 53.13% of the included lists.


02. Eric Ries – The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses (2011)

The Lean Startup presents an efficient approach to building, managing, and scaling a startup company. Author Eric Ries has had many successes and failures throughout his startup career. He was able to see what worked, what didn’t work, and why. His mission is “to improve the success rate of new innovative products worldwide.

The Lean Startup method pulls from the principles of lean manufacturing and processes such as the famous Toyota Production System. It’s all about using time, capital, and other resources as effectively as possible. It’s about finding out what’s valuable and what is wasteful.” – Brandon Hill, biznessprofessionals.com

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses appears in 65.63% of the included lists.


01. Ben Horowitz – The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers (2014)

“The problem with most business books is they present a formula for problems that ultimately have no formula. You’re reading something with no practical value and you’re not really learning anything. There is no formula for dealing with complexity that’s always changing. “There’s no recipe for leading a group of people out of trouble,” writes Ben Horowitz in The Hard Thing About Hard Things. The book is one of the best business books I’ve read in a long time.

Most management books focus on how to avoid screwing up – or at least covering your ass if you do. Ben, however, provides insight into what to do after you screw up. and you will screw up.

Just because there is no formula doesn’t mean things are hopeless. Advice and experience can help guide us. But that’s the difference between Ben’s book and most: he shows you what it’s like to make hard decisions, without offering you a three-step formula. Horowitz walks you through his considerations, deliberations, thoughts, regrets, difficulties. Through that journey, we learn. “Circumstances may differ, but the deeper patterns and the lessons keep resonating.”fs.blog

The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers appears in 78.13% of the included lists.


In Conclusion

It’s safe to assume that the advice given in every book will apply to every founder. Reading the reviews for each title may identify which of these titles might assist in educating, inspiring and motivating you. As a founder you’ve chosen a competitive world to be part of. Make use of the tools and the advice you’re given.

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