The Core Books

These eleven books are so important that they should be required reading for all aspiring serious entrepreneurs and investors. 

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

This is the first book any aspiring entrepreneur or innovator must read. You must then reread it periodically throughout your entrepreneurship journey, as the book will have a different resonance at each stage of your company, especially in times of stress. The Lean Startup created a tectonic shift in how Silicon Valley views the science of building startups. Like many transformative books, it has created venomous backlash, mostly from those who have failed to read it and thrash their own caricatures of what they think the Lean Startup methodology means. In the Essentials courses, I even devote lessons to debunking many such misunderstandings. 

See also: 1.102: Creating Lean and 1.104: Agile, Pivots, and Lean

Hacking Growth by Sean Ellis and Morgan Brown

Sean Ellis wrote the book (literally) on growth hacking. This is a must read book, along with The Lean Startup and a book on Design Thinking (see below). How can you build billion dollar brands with little budget, using emails, blogs, platforms, and targeted messages? How can you use data analysis, rapid-fire market testing, scrappy viral strategies, and low budget digital hacks to create a self-sustaining nuclear reaction of growth? What measurements matter most to master these tools of “dark magic?” Engineer virality. Leave nothing to chance. The tools may not apply to every company, but always think tenaciously about growth.

Shortcut Your Startup by the Reum Brothers

Successful entrepreneurs should follow fundamentals in building their businesses, but all to many confuse HBO’s Silicon Valley with reality. Shortcut Your Startup is your antidote. One of the reasons why this gem stands out is that it focuses on examples of innovation and entrepreneurship in non-technical fields and non-Silicon Valley-style startups, proving that high growth enterprises span the world of business. Learn how to spot your unfair advantage, how to “hang around the rim,” how to listen to customers, how to build a team, how to scale responsibly with leverage, and how to focus on data and financial fundamentals. Just good common sense and fundamentals here.

See also: 1.101: Secrets of Innovative Companies

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Chris Voss spent years negotiating international hostage situations for the FBI. If the terrorists have two hostages, you do not just split the difference, let them kill one, and call it a day. You need to win because lives depend on success. Traditional negotiation books systematically fail to understand how real-life negotiation works, especially when one side games the system (rationally) by being shockingly unreasonable. This is the book I give the CEOs before they negotiate anything important, especially if the other party is known to be difficult. Bonus: the techniques to tame global terrorists also do a remarkable job negotiating bedtimes with children.

Brotopia by Emily Chang

Systematic sexism and misogyny exist in the world of business and technology, and proliferate when toxic masculinity, money, and power intersect. Almost every female entrepreneur has a story about a hostile college or work environment or about being sexually propositioned or degraded by an investor. Brotopia is important for every entrepreneur and investor who wants to build a culture of inclusion. Indeed, the premise of Demystifying Silicon Valley is that the tools of innovative entrepreneurship are crucial for achieving substantive economic equality and creating opportunity. Anyone who takes progress seriously must help destroy the corrosion of the bro culture. 

The Startup Way by Eric Ries

Yes, Eric Ries appears again. The Startup Way tells of lessons learned applying Lean Startup principles in behemoth, traditional corporate environments, like GE. Can one really apply Lean software-inspired methodology to multi-million dollar turbines? (Yes!) I actually like this book better than The Lean Startup and see them as The Godfather Part I and Part II, one long movie broken up as sequels. Your Lean education is incomplete without this book. Fun fact: Eric reads the audiobooks so wonderfully, download both for your next long drive.

See also: 1.102: Creating Lean and 1.104: Agile, Pivots, and Lean

80/20 Sales and Marketing by Perry Marshall

I have given this book to so many CEOs. I even once sent a box with dozen copies to a company in Indonesia to help them reframe their marketing and sales strategy. The book is part about the power law that encompasses all of nature and science — where 20% constitute 80% of the value of everything (pseudoscience) — part application of power the law to sales and marketing (absolute genius). Want to work half as hard, make more, and have customers chase you? Learn how to prime sales, focus on the highest value customers, test sales strategies, see what is hidden in plain sight, and “rack the shotgun.” 

The Sales Acceleration Formula by Mark Roberge

Mark Roberge has written two extraordinary, but so far underappreciated, instant classics on sales and scaling. His first is The Sales Acceleration Formula. The second is his ebook The Science of Scaling (download here). I only hope he publishes the latter in print form soon. His works provide scientific, data-driven approaches to uncovering answers to crucial questions about sales and scaling. Reverse engineering each inflection point, one can determine optimal systems, measurements, incentives, and strategies to accelerate sales and growth. Mark is a Managing Partner at Stage 2 Capital and was named one of the top digital marketers in the world by Forbes.

See also: October 2020 Expert Webinar: The Science of Scaling with Mark Roberge. 

The Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen

Entrepreneurs often get lost in the woods on the way back from the excitement of The Lean Startup. Applying Lean Startup lessons in reality, especially for newer entrepreneurs, often feel rudderless and even hopeless. How do you actually map out MVP iterations? What features matter most? What data matters? How can you test optimally? Dan Olsen comes to the rescue, providing practical measurement tools and standards to assess each step in the Lean Startup process. Dan is sometimes accused to being too formulaic, but I think he strikes just the right balance between science and art. I cannot recommend Lean as theory without this book as the “how to” guide.

See also: 1.102: Creating Lean and 1.104: Agile, Pivots, and Lean

Secrets of Sand Hill Road by Scott Kupor

I am constantly asked for recommendations on books about fundraising. I read most of the books and find most of them flawed and filled, in many cases, with errors so fundamental that I cannot in good conscience recommend them without an errata guide. Although I have minor quibbles with some of the nuanced legal aspects of Secrets of Sand Hill Road, it is brilliant at balancing the perspectives of entrepreneurs and investors as well as highlighting how the best VCs actually view and structure deals. It is an order of magnitude better than the next closest books on venture fundraising and belongs on your shelf. Scott is a defining VC of our generation and put his heart into this book.

See also: 4.101: Fundamentals of Startup Investing and every other course in Part Two: Financing a Startup

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Most business books spin fanciful, self-serving narratives about the inevitability of success, with the entrepreneur as hero, slaying demons along the pre-ordained path of glory. Ben instead tells of reality: the near death experiences in every startup, managing when cash is near zero, confronting business challenges that arise at the worst possible time, and firing friends. His discussion of the “Wartime CEO” alone is worth the price of the book and I encourage all startup CEOs always to be in wartime mode. 

See also: 1.101: Secrets of Innovative Companies

Other Books

Each of these books adds something important to the subject of entrepreneurship and are all worth look at.

Aligning the Dots by Philippe Bouissou

Philippe Bouissou is our April 2021 Expert Webinar guest and an expert on sustainable growth. At Apple, he started and managed the online Apple Store and grew its revenue from zero to $350 million under Steve Jobs. He later was General Partner with two venture capital firms, so he understands the perspectives of operators and investors. Aligning the Dots answers the question of how business leaders can grow their enterprises faster and outpace their competition. It describes his universal, data-driven methodology, A4 Precision Alignment™. A business can only achieve maximum revenue when its business and its target market are perfectly aligned. 

See also: April 2021 Expert Webinar: Aligning the Dots with Philippe Bouissou

Lean Analytics by by Alistair Croll and Benjamin Yoskovitz 

I personally prefer the combination the two books by Mark Roberge and Dan Olsen’s Lean Product Playbook, but Lean Analytics is a very good book and has a number of case studies. It also does an excellent job at discussing when to pivot and focusing on the one metric that matters most at your stage. If you want the next book to read on startup analytics, this is it. 

See also: 1.103: Design and Data

Hooked by Nir Eyal

Many companies use the science of addictive behavior to create strong habits among their users. Addiction to social networks is well understood in the popular imagination, but less well understood is how those habits are engineered into product design with a specific understanding of human behavior. Habits are not always bad and can lead to many positive life changes. If your product depends upon repeated use, you should be familiar with Nir Eyal’s work.

See also: 1.101: Secrets of Innovative Companies

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

Bad Blood does not involve a lot of deep insight into building startups, but is a riveting tale of mass investor malpractice and grotesque securities fraud. How could allegedly smart investors dump $700 million into a company based upon false or non-existence science? How did a 19-year-old college dropout both create a paper $10 billion company and continue the fraud as long as she did? It is a true story that reads like a novel. May the prison terms be forthcoming soon. 

See also: 4.107: Diligence and Disclosures

Start With Why by Simon Sinek

I am hesitant to list this book, as it is arguably a self-contained TED Talk (here) stretched into a book. I do include it, though, because the book adds new value and because it drives home a crucial question: why does your organization exist? The best organizations have answers which inspire customers, employees, investors, and others to believe in a vision, thus creating strong brands, cultures, growth, and loyalty. I ask all startup entrepreneurs I meet with why their organizations exist. Almost none get the answer right. Do not make that mistake.

See also: 1.101: Secrets of Innovative Companies

Measure What Matters by John Doerr

I prefer Mark Roberge’s works as the best sources on an immediate strategy for implementing actionable metrics for most startups, but Measure What Matters is an exceptional book as well, and much less technical in its details. Indeed, for someone without operational background in a startup, it may be the better entry book. John Doerr is rightly deemed a legend in venture investing and this book shares some hard earned lessons you will not find elsewhere. 

See also: 1.103: Design and Data

Change by Design by Tim Brown
Creative Confidence by Tom Kelley and David Kelley
The Design Thinking Toolbox by by Michael Lewrick, Patrick Link, Larry Leifer 
The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design by

I have a hard time picking just one book on Design Thinking, so here are my four, each chosen for a different reason. Tim Brown, the current CEO of IDEO, discusses in Change by Design cogently how Design Thinking must work hand in hand with business and financial considerations, helping to address a number of long-standing issues of anti-business bias in the Design Thinking community and in anti-Design thinking bias among executives and VCs. Creative Confidence tells how to rekindle the creativity and audacity we all once had to unleash our potential. David Kelley’s TED Talk (here) is exceptional, so please pause and watch it now. The Design Thinking Toolbox is a practical how-to guide to dozens of tools you can use now, turning the ethereal into the practical, but I recommend that you become familiar with the methodology first. Finally, the Field Guide is’s own work  about applying Design Thinking to social innovation. All four are exceptional and, frankly, should be read together. 

See also: 1.103: Design and Data

Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman and Chris Yeh

I have a love-hate relationship with this book. It is important to understand that some companies should, in limited winner-take-all situations, pour the gasoline on the growth fire, to the exclusion of quality, customer service, and business fundamentals. Monopolies will be won or lost at such crucial moments, as investors throw tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars into the fray. However, for most companies, following the advice in Blitzscaling is a recipe for bankruptcy and destroying otherwise sound companies. Blitzscaling is on the lips of so many young (typically male) entrepreneurs, so one should know about it. Just understand it is an edge case, but many insights might are useful generally.

See also: 1.101: Secrets of Innovative Companies

The Code by Margaret O’Mara

I am often asked for a good history of Silicon Valley. Some readers will be surprised to learn about how much government, and especially military, spending contributed to the rise of the Valley. Some of the backstories behind the famous funds and companies will even raise eyebrows. For me, The Code misses some key themes and important stories, but it is the best of those books telling the story of how the global hub of technology innovation happened where it did.

Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky

I list this book because it was recommended by Gene Hoffman in our February 2021 Expert Webinar and many Members have requested the link. Alinsky was a 1960s era radical who developed rules for how radicals, organizers, and have nots could disrupt systems. Gene discusses a number of the rules he adopted when learning to disrupt powerful industries, from the music and record industry to global cryptocurrency. You can read a summary of Alinsky’s rules here. Look closely and you will see that the rules have also been coopted by conservative social movements as well. Disruption is about busting entrenched systems. Here is an extremely unlikely roadmap.

See also: February 2021 Expert Webinar: Secrets of a Serial Entrepreneur with Gene Hoffman 

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