Founders And VCs Reveal 25 Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read

The most successful VCs and company founders are constantly learning.
That’s why we’ve rounded up the favourite, career-shaping books of well-known entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

The business leaders who picked them call these books revelatory, inspirational, and intelligent.

From Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead” to Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm,” these books contain valuable lessons about how to think and problem solve. They are useful for experienced business owners, as well as aspiring entrepreneurs still learning the ropes.

'The Effective Executive' by Peter Drucker

This is one of the three books that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had his senior managers read over the summer, at a series of all-day book clubs. Drucker helped popularise now commonplace ideas about management -- for example, that managers and employees should work toward a common set of goals. 'The Effective Executive' explores the time-management and decision-making habits that best equip an executive to be productive and valuable in an organisation.

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

'The Innovator's Dilemma' by Clayton Christensen

Jeff Bezos also had his executives read 'The Innovator's Dilemma,' one of the all-time most influential business books and a top pick of several other founders and VCs, whose reviews are below.

Steve Blank, a former serial entrepreneur who now teaches at U.C. Berkeley and other schools, says of the book: 'Why do large companies seem and act like dinosaurs? Christensen finally was able to diagnose why and propose solutions. Entrepreneurs should read these books as 'how to books' to beat large companies in their own markets.'

Chris Dixon, an investor at Andreessen Horowitz and a former co-founder and CEO of Hunch, notes: ''The Innovator's Dilemma' popularised the (often misused) phrase 'disruptive technology,' but there's a lot more than that one big idea. Great insights into the 'dynamics' (changes over time) of markets.'

'The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement' by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox

The third and final title Jeff Bezos asked his executives to read is a novel, not a traditional business book. The best-seller tells the tale of a manager who must turn around a failing manufacturing plant.

'The Fountainhead' by Ayn Rand

Charlie O'Donnell, a partner at Brooklyn Bridge Venturess, explains: 'I don't know any book that sums up the entrepreneurial passion and spirit better than 'The Fountainhead' by Ayn Rand: 'The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me.''

'How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character' by Paul Tough

This was one of eight books Bill Gates shared on his 2013 summer reading list. Here's what he wrote about it on his blog:

'Tough argues that non-cognitive qualities like perseverance and optimism are what make kids successful. He looks in particular at the research on improving college graduation rates for low-income and minority students, which is an issue our foundation does a lot of work on, so I'm curious to see what he has to say.'

'The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger' by Marc Levinson

This title also appeared on Bill Gate's 2013 summer reading list.

He wrote on his blog: 'I've read a fair amount already about how advances in engines for jets and ships made globalization possible. And Melinda and I recently took our kids on a trip to see the Panama Canal, because we're so curious about how it works and we wanted to see it in action. I'm hoping this book, which is about how shipping containers are another key advance that underwrites globalization, will add another dimension to the story for me.'

'Out of the Crisis' by W. Edwards Deming

Roger Ehrenberg, the founder and managing partner of IA Ventures, calls this book and the material it covers 'critical for the start-up founder.'

'Big or small,' he says, 'this book focuses the entrepreneur/manager on respecting employees, focusing on process, and insisting on the collection and analysis of data.'

'Extreme Programming Explained' by Kent Beck

Babak Nivi, a founder of AngelList and Venture Hacks, says this book is 'revelatory.' He says, 'Develop your product like this book tells you to, unless you know better (e.g. you have experience building operating systems, space shuttles, Googles). Buy the first edition.'

'The Four Steps to the Epiphany' by Steven Gary Blank

Babak Nivi says of this book: 'The closest thing to a manual for building a startup. Marc Andreessen calls it 'a roadmap for how to get to Product/Market Fit.''

'Reality Check' by Guy Kawasaki

Penelope Trunk, co-founder of Brazen Careerist, says she loves to flip through the chapters of this book: 'Each one is like a blog post, so you learn something on every page. And each chapter reminds me to be a little bit better at something I'm doing already.'

'Peak' by Chip Conley

Fred Destin, a partner on the technology team at Atlas Venture, describes this book as 'Maslow's hierarchy of needs adapted to the business world.'

It's 'not that well written (sorry Chip),' he adds, 'but sound advice on achieving 'sustainable outperformance' and leveraging crises for the better.'

'The Happiness Hypothesis' by Jonathan Haidt

Fred Destin says of this work: 'Not a business book, but if you assume self-awareness and knowing what you are really good at are key to success in business (and life in general), this is the best attempt I have read at deriving 'meaning' from the joyous mess of life.'

'Against The Odds' by James Dyson

Jason Fried, co-founder of 37signals, calls this book 'one of the best books about design, business, invention, and entrepreneurship I've ever read.'

'It's really inspirational. His persistence is otherworldly,' Fried adds. 'You won't believe what he went through to get this product to market.'

'How To Get Rich' by Felix Dennis

Greg Galant, co-founder and CEO of Sawhorse Media, says of this one: 'The self-made billionaire founder of Maxim Magazine and The Week titles this book as though it's a snake oil self-help book. It's really a great entrepreneurial memoir with British wit at its finest.'

'Transparency: How Leaders Create a Culture of Candor' by Warren Bennis, Daniel Goleman, and James O'Toole

Nilofer Merchant, an author, corporate director, and speaker in Silicon Valley, Calif., says this book 'emphasises how leaders create a culture of candor that can allow them to grow beyond the first idea.'

'The future is invented not in the easy conversations but in the hard ones,' she explains. 'We've got to know how to have and manage those conversations that lend light and transparency to WHY we are doing what we are doing. This book emphasises how leaders create a culture of candor that can allow them to grow beyond the first idea.'

'The Future Arrived Yesterday' by Michael S. Malone

Nilofer Merchant says of this book: 'The next type of company is going to have to grow in a very different way than companies in even in the last 10 years. Mike Malone who wrote about virtual corporations 25 years ago has now written about 'the protean corporation,' which is a way to say organisations will organise to be more fluid, nimble, and shape shifters. He's onto the new model and entrepreneurs should know about it so they are not surprised by the growth stages needed. '

'Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard' by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Sean Ellis, CEO of Qualaroo, notes of this text: '(The book's) key message is to double down on things that are working.'

'The Entrepreneur's Guide to Business Law' by Constance Bagley and Craig Dauchy

Chris Dixon says of the book: '(This one might be a) bit painful if you aren't into legal details (I'm not), but perhaps the most useful business book you can ever read.'

'Crossing the Chasm' by Geoffrey A. Moore

Chris Dixon calls this book 'a bit too enterprise' focused for his taste, but adds that it's still 'an extremely intelligent and useful book. You've probably heard about the central thesis (lots of startups get stuck in the 'chasm,' in between early adopter and mainstream customers) but there are tons of other interesting anecdotes and ideas in the book. I've reread this one a couple of times.'

'Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War' by Robert Coram

Steve Blank says of this work: 'Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act -- the cornerstone of Customer Development and the Lean Startup was first invented by a fighter pilot. Read his story.'

'Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion' by Robert B. Cialdini

David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails and a partner at 37signals, says of this book: 'Influence teaches you how to sell and deal with customers by treating them as humans. Great stuff.'

'Maverick!: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace' by Ricardo Semler

David Heinemeier Hansson says of this one: 'Maverick tells the story about how you can make radical change (even at) a very old-world company of 8,000 people producing industrial pumps.'

'Lucky or Smart? Secrets to an Entrepreneurial Life' by Bo Peabody

Mark Peter Davis, a managing partner at Interplay Ventures, venture partner at High Peaks Venture Partners, and co-founder and board member at Kohort, describes this book as 'insight into some of the unique trials entrepreneurs face.'

'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' by Robert Pirsig

Brad Feld, co-founder of Foundry Group, says: 'Anyone who is creating anything should read this book, slowly, and savour it.'

'Blink' by Malcolm Gladwell

Paul Jozefak, a managing director at Liquid Labs GmbH and former managing partner at Neuhaus Partners, calls this book 'some great advice on how decisions are made.'

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