Let’s go through 10 of the very best startup books for founders to read. Each of the books included in this list covers a unique perspective on building a better startup. They can help you gather important feedback, iterate and improve your idea, and turn it into a sustainable business.
So, let’s jump directly into the list.
Best Startup Books
Beginning with book number one, “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. This is a must-read book for anybody building a startup because it really focuses on the importance of identifying and clarifying the underlying assumptions of your startup really early in the process. And two that it focuses on primarily are the value assumption and the growth assumption.
So with the value assumption, there’s going to be some underlying belief that customers will value and appreciate what it is that you’re aiming to create. And number two, there’s going to be some assumption about how you plan to attract customers to the business in a profitable way.
And so this book really focuses on getting clear about what those assumptions are and finding inexpensive ways to test and validate them really early on before you spend a lot of time, energy, or money building out the business processes around that core idea.
Next on the list is “Sprint” by Jake Knapp. This book covers Google ventures unique five-day process for answering critical questions really early on in the product development process. And in many ways, it picks up where “The Lean Startup” left off because that book really focuses on why you want to conduct things like an MVP or a prototype to make sure that you’re validating your idea really early on.
But this book provides a lot of frameworks, tactics, tools, and systems for how to go about doing that more effectively. So even though “The Lean Startup” does cover some of that, I would say this book is a very strong compliment because it goes into much, much more detail about exactly how to build a prototype for whatever your idea is and gather important feedback to make sure that you’re moving in the right direction.
So if you need to solve a big problem, if you need to break out of a rut, if you need to make quick progress on a very difficult challenge, then I recommend that you use the five-day sprint week format to solve those kinds of challenges.
Let’s continue on to “The Mom Test” by Rob Fitzpatrick. One of the fastest ways to improve your idea really early on even before you build something like a prototype or a minimum viable product is to talk with early potential customers to simply express to them what it is that you’re trying to solve and to get their feedback even before you really start to lock down what it is that you plan to build.
Now, one of the big issues that we face when we share our idea with early potential customers is that often what we’re really trying to do is get early validation for our idea. And all too often we can make the mistake of trying to sell the idea instead of gathering truly useful information and feedback at this very early stage.
And so the result of all that is that we often end up gathering false support or false encouragement because people are simply trying to be polite. So we share what it is that we’re working on, we explain it, we put our ego on the line, they pick up on the fact that we’re really hoping to get some encouragement, and so they offer up some kind of encouragement again to be socially acceptable or simply to be polite.
And so this book is all about how to properly talk with potential customers to get useful and honest information that you can use to iterate and improve your idea even before you build something like a prototype. It’s all about how to communicate with people to get the maximum value out of the conversation in terms of honest information that you can actually use instead of just seeking out early validation. So an absolute must-read really early on in the startup journey.
Let’s continue on to “Crossing The Chasm” by Geoffrey A. Moore. This book is about how to successfully market and sell disruptive products. And the reason why this is so important for startups is that a big part of this book is about explaining the different kinds of customers that you’re gonna come into contact with throughout the startup and even full-on business journey.
So it explains the different kinds of people you’re going to meet along the way and the different things that they value at various stages of your business. So I’ll give you two quick examples and there are others, but I’ll give you two quick examples. There are early adopters, the kinds of people that absolutely love to try new things, and in fact, often go out of their way to try new things, new solutions, new interesting ways to solve a problem.
And then there are pragmatist mainstream customers, and these customers do not like to try new things. In fact, they much prefer tried and true proven solutions. And what’s very important to understand is that early adopters, while they’re typically the first kind of customer or one of the first that you’re going to encounter with a startup, they represent a relatively small portion of the overall market.
And if you can make your way, or you can cross the chasm over to pragmatist mainstream customers, this is a much larger group that can ultimately allow your business to become much more successful. And so it’s very important to understand the different kinds of customers that you’ll come into contact with and what it is they value, and how you can eventually move from, again, these early adopters to this much larger audience of mainstream customers so you can increase your revenues and increase your profits over time.
Let’s continue on to “Start At The End” by Matt Wallaert. This book is about building products that can change customer behavior. And as the title suggests, it’s all about starting at the end and getting very clear about how you want customers to use or engage with your product or your service. How you want it to change the world or change their behavior.
And then you work backward from that to design the product or service in such a way that that outcome is significantly more likely. And the book is into great detail about exactly how to do this. How to design a product so that certain outcomes are much more likely.
And if you can do this correctly if you apply these ideas in the right way, you can increase product usage, adoption, and engagement, and this in turn, of course, can end up causing more positive reviews, increased word of mouth referral, and even repeat purchases in the future because customers are getting significantly more value out of whatever it is that you’ve created.
Let’s continue on to “Marketing Made Simple” by Donald Miller. At the end of the day, a lot of startup success ultimately comes down to effective marketing. You need a consistent and reliable way to convert prospects into paying customers.
And this book is all about how to build an effective sales funnel so that you can communicate with potential customers about exactly what it is that you offer, how it can benefit them, how it can create value for them, and why they may or may not be interested in what it is that you have to offer. So this book goes into a lot of detail around the fundamental things that you need to execute to build out a simple yet effective sales funnel.
Some of the topics include how to build a sales website, how to create lead generators, and how to use email sequences both to nurture prospects and to close sales. So if you’re looking for a simple way to build out your basic marketing or sales funnel, this is an absolute must-read.
Let’s continue on to “Traction” by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares. The number one reason why new startups often fail is that they aren’t able to attract enough customers. So this book is all about how to go about attracting more customers to your startup. And it covers 19 different traction channels or marketing channels that you can use to attract customers.
And even more valuable than that, in my opinion, is it goes through a simple framework for how to identify which of the marketing channels are the best fit for your particular startup. So the bullseye framework covered in the book helps you brainstorm ideas, select promising channels, test those channels, and ultimately choose the best channel for you to start on, and then eventually you can revisit the process to identify additional opportunities moving forward.
So this book very much works hand in hand with the last one, with “Marketing Made Simple” that book’s all about how to build out your sales funnel, and a book like this can help you attract prospects and customers into that sales funnel.
Let’s continue on to “Contagious” by Jonah Berger. One of the most important factors, once you begin to gain a little bit of traction with your startup, is word-of-mouth referral.
If you can ever so slightly increase the rate at which people who are familiar with your product or service end up sharing or recommending what it is that you do with other people, that can have a profound impact on your long-term success because the more people are willing to share and recommend what it is that you do, you can save a lot when it comes to marketing and even the marketing that you do engage with in terms of paid advertising or anything like that, all of this is made much more effective because it also leads to additional word of mouth referral.
So this book is all about the six principles of contagiousness. Six different things that you can incorporate into your product or into your business in the way that you communicate about your product to make it more likely that people will engage in word of mouth referral and help spread what it is that you do.
And the book provides many, many examples of how businesses have successfully integrated each of these six ideas into different kinds of products, or services, or ideas to make them that much more contagious.
Let’s continue on to “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Reneée Mauborgne. This is a very popular book about how to avoid the bloody red ocean of competition. As a startup, you wanna do everything you can to avoid direct head-to-head competition with a well-established business.
Now, that runs contrary to popular belief because a lot of people think that startups are all about disruption, but ideally, you wanna craft a strategy that allows you to differentiate yourself from established businesses. Eventually, you might face off with them in some way, but initially, you really wanna have a unique value proposition that is not in direct head-to-head competition with another business.
So this book is all about tools, frameworks, tactics, and strategies around creating a blue ocean of uncontested market space. How to avoid direct competition by creating a differentiated strategy. So at the end of the day, it’s about creating unique value for a unique audience, and making the competition largely irrelevant to your long-term success.
Let’s continue on to the last book on the list, “Zero To One” by Peter Thiel. This book is all about how to build a valuable business. And it kicks off with a contrarian question, what important truth do very few people agree with you on? And the idea behind this question and a lot of the other ideas in this book is to help you get very clear about your own unique beliefs about the world, or your industry, or how you see the future as being different than the present.
Because it’s this kind of unique thinking that allows you to create a business, or a product, or a solution that is different than what other people out there in the marketplace are providing. And so you can get very clear on how you can create unique value in the marketplace. And Peter Thiel makes the argument that a startup’s most important strength is new thinking and that its small size is what makes this possible.
I love Peter’s definition of a startup. He says, “A startup is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future.” He goes on to explain that a startup is very uniquely positioned to create meaningful change, because as an individual thinker, or entrepreneur, or founder, very difficult to create a meaningful impact in the world.
And as a large, well-established business it’s very difficult to have fresh and interesting thinking that breaks with the status quo. So a startup is very uniquely positioned to take interesting ideas and have a very real impact on the world. I found this book very inspiring, I found it very thought-provoking.