Being an entrepreneur is a continuous journey of learning, applying, and iterating. Whether it’s trying to raise capital or finding the perfect coworking space, entrepreneurs have a lot on their plate – at all times. Plenty of entrepreneurs have been down the same path and, luckily for us, have jotted down their learnings and unique perspective on what makes an entrepreneur successful.
Whether it’s inspiration or advice on how to be a better entrepreneur, we’ve compiled the ten best books worth reading. Check them out below:
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1. Spin Selling
By Neil Rackham
For anyone looking to learn how to improve an organization’s sales strategy when it comes to high-value accounts.
Spin Selling by Neil Rackham is a classic business book focused on sales. It’s all about practice makes perfect, and Neil after going through over 35,000 sales calls in his career decided to share his most key learnings in this book.
The book dives into helping entrepreneurs develop a differentiated sales methodology that’s appropriate for their business known as the SPIN (Situation, Problem, Implication, Need-payoff) strategy.
It elaborates on the right questions to ask when it comes to selling, and how this helps determine the right sales approach to take – all depending on the value of what is being sold.
With deep expertise in sales, Rackham has advised organizations such as IBM and Honeywell when it comes to their sales approach and delivered dramatic increases in sales volume. All of which are explored in this book. This one’s a must-read for anyone looking into high volume sales strategies that require a differentiated approach vs. the one applied with small value consumer sales used by most businesses.
“Successful people ask a lot more questions during sales calls than do their less successful colleagues. We found that these less successful people tend to do most of the talking.”
― Neil Rackham, Major Account Sales Strategy
2. The Hard Thing About Hard Things
By Ben Horowitz
For anyone thinking of starting a business or currently running one. This book is packed with key real-life learnings on how to successfully build, manage, sell, and invest in businesses.
Serial entrepreneur and co-founder of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz (which has an amazing blog), Ben lays out critical advice on building and running a startup in this book. Taking a unique angle, he skips the business school advice and dives into real-world practical learnings – all the while using his favorite rap song lyrics to reinforce his insights.
Throughout the book, Ben Horowitz addresses commonly held beliefs from seasoned business builders – that there is no perfect approach to launching a business, but being prepared for the screw-ups and quickly learning from them is key.
In this book, Ben shares the many mistakes that were made while leading large billion-dollar corporations and how his team acted to turn things around. He shares the difficult decisions he’s had to make, and all the while reveals his learnings using his trademark dry humor and no bullsh*t approach.
This book is on every successful entrepreneur’s shelf as it perfectly highlights the highs and lows of startup life, the resilience one builds, and the rewards at the finish line.
“’Life is struggle.’ I believe that within that quote lies the most important lesson in entrepreneurship: Embrace the struggle.”
― Ben Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers
3. Daring Greatly
By Brene Brown
For anyone who fears the critics and the risk. Daring Greatly is a manifesto about stepping out into the unknown and trying something new, different, or hard.
In this book, Brene Brown explores courage and vulnerability. She shows us that vulnerability is not weakness, but a key to innovation and leadership. It is by embracing our fears that we become more courageous to explore the unknown.
Brene expertly identifies the feeling all entrepreneurs experience because of critics. She helps us understand how to deal with those that sit on the sidelines and are full opinions. There is no better book to understand the feelings of fear, uncertainty, and risk that come along with building something new.
“Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
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4. The High Growth Handbook
By Elad Gil and Kevin Stilwell
For anyone looking for advice in turning their thriving startup and navigating it’s high-growth towards becoming a unicorn.
Tech executive and investor Elad Gil has worked with many startups that have now grown into large global organizations. With experience driving growth at Airbnb, Twitter, and the likes, Elad breaks down common growth strategies that have played out across these companies and shares a repeatable playbook.
Focusing on providing advice for startups that have achieved product-market fit, Elad covers key topics required to successfully manage growth such as recruiting a stellar team, handling aboard, and setting up your business for a successful merger, acquisition, or IPO.
Not only does Elad provide direct advice and insights, but he also shares interviews with successful entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley such as Reid Hoffman and Marc Andreessen to share their perspective on how to handle the high-growth startup phase.
An insightful and highly recommended book focused on navigating the complexities of turning a startup into a thriving global brand. This one’s a must-read for anyone seeking strategies to blitz scale their business.
“All startup advice is only useful in context, and I am a firm believer that the only good generic startup advice is that there is no good generic startup advice. So take what is written here with a grain of salt—it is very much one person’s experiences.”
― Elad Gil, High Growth Handbook
5. Zero to One
By Peter Thiel
For anyone looking to understand how to develop ideas that can change the world, and how to take those ideas from conception to real businesses.
Peter Thiel is considered a legend in the entrepreneurial tech space so it’s no surprise this book makes the cut on many startup founders’ bookshelves.
In Zero to One, Thiel focuses on the tech industry and provides practical advice on tackling big challenges, and navigating the tricky road of turning an idea into a company.
Although the book is from a tech veteran, Thiel talks about how innovation can be done in other industries, and how innovation isn’t building on other ideas but doing something entirely new that can have a huge impact on the world. Crafting new industries instead of starting businesses in existing ones.
Beyond sharing insights on what he deems as useful entrepreneurial ventures to take on. Thiel also reflects on American progress so far in innovation, and the questions leaders in the space asked to come up with the ideas that have changed the way we go about our lives.
A fantastic book that opens up your perspective on what it means to be an entrepreneur and how to chase billion-dollar ideas that can make a lasting impact on the world.
“You’ve invented something new but you haven’t invented an effective way to sell it, you have a bad business—no matter how good the product.”
― Peter Thiel, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future
6. The Messy Middle
By Scott Belsky
For anyone who is somewhere between the beginning and the end of any project or startup. This is a masterpiece on what is required to work through the uncertainty of entrepreneurship.
The Messy Middle is a book that reads more like a manual. It’s a book that you’ll likely reference over and over again, turning to a specific chapter on a unique topic. It’s written in very short pieces of content which makes it very easy for entrepreneurs to engage. The Messy Middle covers optimizing your team, self-awareness, competitive advantages, embracing the long game, and other crucial topics for startup leaders.
There is a lot of discussion about how to start something new and the success that comes at the end. There isn’t nearly as much content about all the messy work that happens in the middle of building a startup. Entrepreneurship is volatile, risky, uncertain, and unpredictable. New ideas are a rollercoaster and this book is a manual on how to deal with all that comes with the ride.
“If we have a good quarter, it is because of the work we did three, four, five years ago, not the work we did this quarter.”
“You can get the important stuff right and still lose by not enduring long enough.”
― Scott Belsky, The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Venture
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By Jason Fried and David Hansson
For anyone looking to start a business but is overwhelmed by the tasks involved. Rework dispels the notion that launching ideas require careful planning and lots of capital, and instead shows you how to launch ideas in a lean way.
Rework is all about changing perspective and removing a lot of the biases in how ‘work’ should be done. Rework explains the new world we live in, where anyone can start a business over a weekend given the inexpensive tools at our disposable. It looks at the commonly held beliefs such as developing a business plan and researching the competition before beginning a business, and advocates to do the exact opposite.
That is, to act first, be lean, and analyze later.
Jason shares a whole new framework and system for achieving your entrepreneurial dreams. With a strong emphasis on learning by doing, he helps guide one through the thinking to start a business on the side while working their day job. To achieve traction with very little upfront capital, and use that momentum to scale side hustles into fully-fledged businesses.
With simple language and a clear playbook, this book is full of actionable steps that can help one take their ideas to execution.
“Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is home because she figured out a faster way”
― Jason Fried, Rework
8. Die Empty
By Todd Henry
For those on the fence about whether or not to pursue their dreams and passions. This is a book about doing your most important work every day, because we only have so many days available. The world needs your creative work and fresh ideas.
Die Empty is a book by author and speaker Todd Henry. He is also the voice behind the popular creative podcast The Accidental Creative. This book is all about the importance of launching your best work right now. It urges creatives and innovators to resist the lull of comfort and familiarity to launch their ideas and build new things.
This isn’t simply a book about following your passion. This is a book about identifying the unique value you bring to the world and then going all in on that opportunity. This book encourages you to be fiercely curious, step out of your comfort zone, wisely define goals.
There is no better author to help encourage you to step out and take the risk you know you must take. This world needs your best work today. You don’t know how many tomorrows there will be, so stop waiting for tomorrow.
“Passion” has its roots in the Latin word pati, which means “to suffer or endure.” Therefore, at the root of passion is suffering. This is a far cry from the way we casually toss around the word in our day-to-day conversations. Instead of asking “What would bring me enjoyment?” which is how many people think about following their passion, we should instead ask “What work am I willing to suffer for today?”
― Todd Henry, Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day
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9. The Lean Startup
By Eric Ries
For entrepreneurs looking to take ideas to launch rapidly, this book walks you through lean principles that can help you build companies that can adjust and adapt to achieve product-market fit, and beyond.
The Lean Startup is usually the first book recommended by any startup founder to those looking to join the entrepreneurial world. In this book, Eric shares how one can apply ‘lean’ principles in rapidly testing and validating business ideas.
Eric shares techniques that allow companies to be flexible and pivot quickly to achieve product-market fit. With a focus on the notion of ‘adapting and adjusting’, this book teaches companies regardless of size how they can adjust to changing consumer and market needs, and as a result, adapt and thrive.
Using lessons from ‘lean manufacturing’, the book emphasizes a scientific approach. It encourages rapid experimentation, to ignore vanity metrics and measure what matters, as well as various other counter-intuitive strategies.
This book is great at illustrating how to build dynamic companies that can adjust to market movements before it’s too late.
“Success is not delivering a feature; success is learning how to solve the customer’s problem.”
― Eric Ries, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
10. Measure What Matters
By John Doerr
For leaders and entrepreneurs looking to learn how to define clear organizational goals, and measure progress in real-time. Measure What Matters lays out the playbook on how to implement OKRs in an organization, and shares various case studies on the benefits it delivers.
Measure What Matters is a best-selling book about OKRs, objectives and key results. Company OKRs are metrics that have gone on to help countless brands such as Google define and focus on their goals.
John brought this technique of applying scientific measurement to management strategies to Google in the 1970s and has since shared how this can be developed for any organization through this book.
Using multiple case studies, the book walks one through how to define such goals, implement ways to track progress and translate the goals into clear actions that can be executed on by pre-set timelines.
The book shares the various benefits this achieves from boosting employee morale, improving retention, and has chapters narrated by Bill Gates and Bono on how OKRs have helped them in leading high performing teams.
“Leaders must get across the why as well as the what. Their people need more than milestones for motivation. They are thirsting for meaning, to understand how their goals relate to the mission.”
― John Doerr, Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs
These books are exactly what every entrepreneur needs in their library. They provide critical information and advice. Each one of these books mentioned will benefit you and your company. There are so many entrepreneurs that have come before you and don’t want you to make the same mistakes that they did, so take advantage of the knowledge they give and avoid unnecessary errors. If you’re a business in Omaha, Nebraska, be sure to check out our coworking spaces. Working alongside other entrepreneurs is another exceptional way to learn and grow.
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Disclaimer: This article is intended to help business owners make more informed decisions in regards to the topic; however, please contact an attorney for legal advice and an accountant for tax advice. Populus makes no representation as a legal advisor or tax advisor.