As a startup founder or an aspiring founder, reading should become part of the job description. More times than not, startup founders, upon initial founding, are not qualified to hold the executive level positions that they hold. This is perfectly normal, and part of starting up, as most startups lack the cash flow to hire a CEO and/or other executive level positions by trade. Luckily, there are plenty of people who have gone through the struggle of starting up, or have faced adversities elsewhere and triumphed. Even better, they’ve written about their experiences and subsequent education to make your life and transition much easier. As a founder, it is your responsibility to realize you are most likely not qualified to run a company, therefore, it becomes your duty, more than anyone else’s, to devote time to constantly improve your skills and evolve as a founder with the intentions of becoming a well rounded leader, with the vision necessary to take your company to levels no one else could.
From my own experiences as a startup founder, here is a list of the top 9 books (because top 10 lists are so over) every founder should read, along with a bonus 2 at the end that I believe will be added to the list once I’ve had the opportunity to read them.
1. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
Live in the moment with Horowitz as he recounts what he refers to as The Startup Struggle. You will learn how to make things work when the cards are stacked against you and all hope seems to be lost. Horowtiz recalls everything from becoming a Silicon Valley darling, to losing it all, to going through possibly one of the worst IPOs in history, to cashing out with a larger than expected valuation.
2. War of Art by Steven Pressfield
War of Art will strike a chord with every creative and it’s impact on the way you view life after reading it will be quite profound. From fighting constant Resistance to Turning Pro, Pressfield provides a perspective that quite possibly no one ever has. Application of this title will help you fight through some of your biggest demons that keep you from success.
3. Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising by Ryan Holiday
Unless you are a well versed and vastly experienced growthhacker, this book will provide a tremendous foundation for the current paradigm shift that is occurring in marketing. The role of CMOs and marketing professionals are quickly changing and being disrupted by startups with little to no resources and this book is the perfect primer to prepare for the shift.
4. Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk
If you are a fan of social media, you know Gary Vee. As a founder, whether you are a social media fan or not, the impact it can play in the growth of your company cannot be denied. However, to make the most out of it, you must understand the different platforms, creating content that is native to them, and how to effectively engage your consumers, and no one understands the differences in the platforms better than Gary Vee.
5. What’s the Future of Business? by Brian Solis
Your customer is evolving and Solis knows this better than anyone. Consumers are highly connected, they constantly receive a multitude of stimuli, and have become more savvy than ever before. As a founder, if you cannot properly engage your consumers and get them to positively share your message, you are dead in the water. The consumer is everything and #WTF is your outline for understanding the connected consumer.
6. Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products by Nir Eyal
We love innovation, however, one thing we hate more than we love innovation is changing our habits. Do you have a novel product or a product that makes your consumers’ lives easier? If so, changing consumer habits is a massive obstacle, but not an impossibility. In Hooked, Eyal discusses the Hook Model and teaches you how to change consumer behaviors by slowly creating habits.
7. Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
Berger dives deep into the psychology of trends, viral content, and the real reasons why we share. We all know that cute kitten videos are a sure fire way to create viral content right? Not the case. For every cute kitten video that goes viral, there are 10 that do not. Berger discusses why one video inspires others to share while others do not. If you want to create a brand that others advocate and share your message, Contagious is an essential read to understanding the psychology of virality.
8. Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Ries’ Lean Startup turns the art of starting up into a science. His methodologies are tried and true by the most successful entrepreneurs in the world. He teaches you how to take a concept, build a minimum viable product, and turn it into a sustainable business through measured and validated learning.
9. The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday
Holiday rounds out the list with his second appearance. However, Obstacle is a far cry from his aforementioned title. In this title, Holiday uses anecdotes of superior leaders of the past to drive home the point that adversity is a gift. A gift of perspective. Any harm done to you, obstacles that come your way, or adversity you may face only make you stronger and get you much closer to the answers and results you desire.
Next on the list…
Focus: The Hidden Drivers of Excellence by Daniel Goleman
Zero to One by Peter Thiel