The Books Founders Should Read (and why)
Over the years, I’ve been frequently asked what books I’d recommend about startups, and despite both MediaTech’s close association with authors and written media, and the fact that I’ve offered a perspective or two about books, I realized I’d never written out my recommendations.
I decided to finally offer a take, because of late, I’m seeing the same book recommendations (popular startup books all) with insufficient context or explanation to appreciate why someone is recommending * those* books. And while a list is nice, the reason behind the that collection of books coming together, has merit, unless it is just a list of books.
- Start with Why
- Innovation and Entrepreneurship
- Zero to One
- Venture Deals
- Rocket Fuel
Why those and that order? Not more “startup-y” books?
Too many startup books are tactics, advice, and anecdotes, helping people feel like they have a good direction to go, or affirming that what they’re thinking, or hoping, is right. Of course, all business books are advice and anecdotes, please don’t infer from my judgement as such, that some books are only that, nor that that’s bad; what I want to make sure everyone appreciates is how advice and confirmation bias easily mislead and can certainly be wrong — the fact that something is published isn’t certainty. History is littered with proof that tactical advice can mislead, and is likely wrong; after all, if most startups still fail, despite the books, obviously the book can’t be written that gets it right.
Start with Why — Simon Sinek
Most founders fail to ever capably understand and explain WHY. They might be able to explain why in the sense that there is a problem or why something should be done about it, but they get fixated on customer validation, revenue as traction, and startup buzzwords like MVP, without ever understanding WHY partners, investors, and competitors, might care.
Without why, you’re screwed. Every single time. Founders give up because their idea or their plan fails… if you have a Mission and you validate a vision rather than a solution, the “why,” you can’t really fail unless you quit (you just keep trying until you figure out what works). Always, in how you plan, how you prioritize, how you talk to others, and in what you invest in building, start with why.
No, this isn’t a “startup book” nor written for founders; if you want to appreciate why most founders fail, it’s because they don’t start with why in everything they do — tactics, funding, and team will not save you from being wrong about why.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship — Peter Drucker
Next, appreciate that almost nothing is new under the sun.
Drucker’s book, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, from 50 years ago, best illuminates the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, and helps people appreciate how/why businesses ultimately succeed as they have always.
No new tricks or ideas make a difference, human history has centuries of trialing the best way to start something new; learn from that, it works the way it works for reasons time tested.
Zero to One — Peter Thiel with Blake Masters
With a solid basis from a market driven point of view, let’s prioritize the critical impact of innovation. If you don’t get started with the right priorities, basics, and some demand, you’ll be mired in distractions, bad advice, and wasted efforts.
Thiel begins with a controversial point of view that we live in an age of stagnation rather than innovation; that, even if you can give me the examples of shiny mobile devices, electric cars, and decentralized computing, we’re not innovating like we have in the past. The internet boomed with computers, and there is no reason that is limited to Silicon Valley. I think now, more than when written, we’re seeing Thiel’s point come true as the world catches up and catches on to the innovation possible.
Progress can be achieved in any industry or area of business. It comes from the most important skill that every leader must master: learning to think for yourself.
Doing what someone else already knows how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1.
Now, off to the right start? Take a moment and think with the end in mind (they teach this to elementary school kids now, and in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). Start with the End in Mind. How?
Venture Deals — Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson
Make sure you know how *that* outcome looks like and what it takes. We explore this now in our list, not so that you DO raise money nor even because you MUST raise money… but because you should know what it takes so you can make decisions appropriate to accomplishing it OR make an informed decision that you don’t want to.
If don’t design for funding, you make it insanely difficult to raise — if you want it, learn how it works. If you don’t think you want it, or are unsure, make sure you really know the implications of neglecting it in your vision.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success — Carol Dweck
The bottom line in my point there, is that people make a BAD decision of not wanting VC because it’s bad or they don’t want to give up control of their company. Some b.s. like that.
Those are poorly informed, emotional decisions. IF you really want your mission to have hope of being accomplished, it comes down to Mindset, Carol Dweck’s psychology of success (passion and purpose, not preferences just one of the ways I put that). You do what it takes to accomplish the goal, not merely get started trying.
People with a fixed mindset-those who believe that abilities are fixed-are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset -those who believe that abilities can be developed.
Traction — Gino Wickman
Start and End in mind, right mindset and priorities in place… now, get traction.
Traction is NOT customers. Traction is audience, demand, competitive advantage, team, attention, etc. There are so many forms of traction that show that you CAN, people agree, and that it will work. Don’t get mired in thinking customers prove anything, because they usually only prove that you can sell something, and they certainly don’t prove that a competitor won’t take you out.
Wickman explores six key components of business and offers a model and framework for your company that gives the team more focus, enabling growth, and helping keep job satisfaction high.
Rocket Fuel — Gino Wickman & Mark C Winters
Finally, Rocket Fuel. And yes, that means Wickman is on my list twice. Success in a venture NEVER happens as a team of one. It practically never happens with one founder. This is why 2, at least, are clearly correlated with what works more often than otherwise.
Why this now, at the end, and not before? Because knowing what’s involved in traction, fund raising, innovation, and entrepreneurship, and knowing yourself, your mission, purpose, and why, is a pre-requisite to finding the people with whom you can give your venture rocket fuel. You’re looking for that partner who completements you in sharing a vision and intention to get it done.
Let me ask you, what’s missing from the list? Drop a suggestion below for everyone, promote your book, or pop onto our network and answer the question directly, here, what are the books you recommend startup founders read?
Originally published at https://mediatech.ventures on January 18, 2022.