11 Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read

On Amazon.com there are…

…over 2,000,000 books on “Business”

…over 750,000 books on “Technology”

…over 500,000 books on “Design”

…over 81,000 books on “Leadership”

…over 7,500 books on “Startups”

…and most of them suck. 

So even if you want to commit to reading books to make yourself a better entrepreneur, what are you to do?

Over the last 3 years, I’ve read over 60 books on a variety of subjects to try to better my own entrepreneur knowledge base (see the sidebar on the right for the full list).  Every book came from at least one recommendation from a friend, a tweet from an expert or a blog post explaining why it’s great. Because of this, very few of the books I’ve read would fit in the “waste of time” category most of those 3 million or so books on Amazon fit into. A lot of my friends have asked for what I think are the essential books I’d recommend, so here’s that list.

11 Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Category: Leadership

Why You Should Read This: There is no book more successful people I know have read than this one. 

Being a leader is not easy. No matter how natural a great leader makes it look, it takes a lot of work to learn how to build relationships and inspire others on a regular basis. How to Win Friends and Influence People will teach you what you need to succeed.

Most importantly, the book is specific, it’s actionable and filled with solid example stories to help emphasize the rules. I’ve re-read this book at least 5 times and every time I learn something I could improve.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Category: Inspirational

Why You Should Read This: This book explains all those strange feelings you have that make you want to throw away a cushy life, a nice salary and the life you’re “supposed to follow” and live the uncertainty of the startup life.

It won’t teach you how to incorporate your business or market your product. It will teach you how to make sense the of the journey you’ll go on if you follow your heart.

Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston

Category: Startups

Why You Should Read This: The journey in building a startup is far from glamorous. As many have written before, over night successes are usually years of pain in the making.

Founders at Work captures this essence with stories of entrepreneurs anyone in the web and mobile startup space will recognize. It’s a great primer to understand how dark some of the dark days can get in a startup and how the best persevered.

The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Customer Development by Patrick Vlaskovits & Brant Cooper

Category: Lean Startups

Why You Should Read This: Want to stop guessing and start actually figuring out what your customers/users actually want? Want to not waste your time, money, energy and life on a startup no one cares about? There’s tons of blog posts, books and other content out there on Lean Startups, but nothing distills it down to its core concepts and action items like Patrick & Brant’s book does.

This book will get you 80% of the way there on understanding and taking action on Lean Startup methodology and you can read this book in an afternoon. It’s such an easy and important read, you should have everyone in any role at your startup read it in my opinion.

Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

Category: Culture, Leadership

Why You Should Read This: You can only get people to do things they want to do.  If you force them to do it, they won’t do great work and will quit the first chance they get. Chip and Dan explain how you can inspire your team and get them to accomplish major goals even when things look bleak.

They introduce the concept of the Elephant and the Rider which is an invaluable metaphor for the human pysche in both your employees and your own life.

The Master Switch by Tim Wu

Category: Technology

Why You Should Read This: “Every age thinks it’s the modern age, but this one really is.”  Dating back to the days of Western Union telegrams in the late 1800s, The Master Switch discusses what happens when a new technology emerges and disrupts the status quo. Without fail, it always involves the existing players fighting to hold back the technology until they’re crushed.

You may think that all of this has only happened more recently in the age of computers, but this is a battle that has repeated itself for generations.  In particular, you’ll find that Twitter is surprisingly similar to AT&T when Alexander Graham Belle built his early empire. Instead of APIs and shutting down developers though, AT&T literally cut phone lines and physically attacked rival, small phone companies. This book will help put into perspective what happens during these cycles of disruption.

The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller

Category: Psychology

Why You Should Read This: Not that long ago, our world was driven by a purely tribal culture. Lives were simple and our evolutionary habits were driven towards survival. Today, those same instincts still exist, but they’re in a foreign world where many actually do us a disservice at worst or at least make us less predictable than you’d expect.

You should understand your customer better than they understand themselves. This book will help you understand people in ways you wouldn’t expect. You can’t put a price on the insights it can give you as you position your product and design it effectively.

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman

Category: Design

Why You Should Read This: Many of my design friends have recommended this as the seminal book on design. Upon reading it, I can see why. The book focuses on explaining what great design really means with a lot of great examples with images.

Everyone today is focused on simplicity, but the real word that matters is intuitive. Norman asserts that the functionality of a product should be obvious based on the design of the product. While all of his examples are physical items like stoves and door handles, it’s easy to see how it should impact the layout of your site.  After reading this book, you will never look at doors the same way again.

Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, et al

Category: Leadership

Why You Should Read This: Ever have a discussion devolve into a shouting match? Ever have a debate where you realized you and your opponent were actually in agreement? Do you wish you could get someone to open up to you, but they’re being icey cold? Crucial Conversations does exactly what the title suggests: it teaches you how to handle the tough, important conversations.

As entrepreneurs, we’re confronted with difficult conversations every step of the way from investors to cofounders, partners to employees. Then you go home and have to try to maintain a relationship with a spouse, significant other or roommate. This is a skillset you can’t afford not to have…unless you love stress, tension and resentment towards you.

Tribal Leadership by Dave Logan

Category: Leadership, Culture

Why You Should Read This: Making a great culture at your company is one of the hardest things to do at your startup, especially as it grows. Even harder is finding a decent book that actually helps you build that culture.

Tribal Leadership will help you understand how every person is doing in your company and how to raise their game to become a greater contributor and part of a truly great team.

When I joined KISSmetrics, I strongly encouraged Hiten, our CEO to read it and he loved it so much he got copies for the entire team and had us spend significant time discussing it.  Since then, the whole company has had discussions on the stages we’ve all been in and we can see the impact positive actions have had.

What Every Body is Saying by Joe Navarro

Category: Psychology

Why You Should Read This: There is a language every human speaks that most people not only cannot understand, but they don’t even realize they’re speaking: body language.

Being able to read body language is huge for any entrepreneur as it gives them a leg up on negotiations, reading their employees for warning signs (or positive signs) and better detecting when something is shady.  This book is written by an ex-FBI agent who did this for a living and it does not disappoint.

I cannot put a price on what I learned from this book as I’ve seen it show when a CEO has lost their staff, when coworkers aren’t buying into something I’m sharing and reading when a person is truly interested in me and my ideas.  Don’t spend another day missing both the obvious and subtle signals people are sending you. Most are involuntary, which means they’ll be more truthful than the words coming out of their mouths.

I believe these books will give you a well-rounded view of the skills you need as an entrepreneur and in their category, they’re the best.

What books do you recommend most?

19 thoughts on “11 Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read

  1. if you need coelho to “teach you how to make sense the of the journey you’ll go on if you follow your heart.” then please, never show up to any networking events. other people will just make fun of you, and you will bore everyone.

    p.s.: it’s Coelho, not “Cuelho”, not that it makes any difference.

  2. Thanks for the typo catch. Fixed that.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion and I see that The Alchemist is polarizing. Hopefully you found some of the other 10 books on the list interesting/relevant to you.

    Thanks,
    Jason

  3. For all the European Founders, did you know that now it exists the “European Founders at Work” Book? Perfect with the number 3 of the list

  4. Pingback: 11 libros que todo emprendedor debería leer | El Pato Sánchez!

  5. I’d add Think and Grow Rich (Napoleon Hill), Four Hour Work Week (Tim Ferris), and Blue Ocean Strategy (Renée Mauborgne, W. Chan Kim). Great list though, I’ve been wanting to read the Alchemist.

  6. Thanks for such an extensive list! I’d like to add Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People as another great read.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  8. I think Crucial Conversations is the only book on this list with which I’m familiar. And I think it’s refreshing there’s no Covey on the list. I suppose there’s no such thing as being overrecommended, but I rebel a bit against a book everyone tells me to read. Time to put down the SciFi for a while and read something practical. I’ll start with The Alchemist if it’s the polarizing book – thanks, Jason.

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    • Thanks, Blaine. Body language is an interesting subject for sure.

      The books on the list aren’t meant to be in any order (I think they’re all crucial) but glad to hear we agree on a few :)

  11. I would add “First Break all the Rules” by Buckingham especially for new managers or team leads. It outlines the reasons that teams are successful regardless of industry, economics, etc. and it was eye opening for me.

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