This is an archived version of the original website. Read our disclaimer.

The Startup Owl’s Bookstore

Best Books for Entrepreneurs

bizbooksHere is The Owl’s Selection of best books for entrepreneurs.

You may think you don’t have time for reading. But remember the authors have spent huge energy to get the essentials on to paper. A small amount of money spent on a book could save you not only time, but a huge amount of hassle.

These are all books I have read and keep by my side in the office so that I can refer to them, too. You won’t need to buy them all, but check out the titles that you think could help you get to market faster or save you time when you need to rethink or pivot.

Print Books


You can always try to find a bookstore that has a copy of the book you select, but it is so much easier to buy it online. All the printed book titles are linked direct to the Northshire Bookstore, in Vermont. I hear you ask “Why?”. Firstly because my friend, Chris Morrow, owns the store. Secondly, because I want to support independent bookstores generally. Northshire, with branches in Manchester, VT and Saratoga Springs, NY, happens to be particularly good. Plus any orders you place with them, through Startup Owl, come with FREE DELIVERY by USPS. Click on the titles and you’ll go straight there to order.

Unlike other online bookstores, you get personal service! Delivery is good and effective. If the book is in stock, it comes direct from the store and if not, direct from the largest physical and digital content distributor in the world, Ingram.


eBook buttonThis symbol indicates that a title in the list below is an eBook. The eBook retailers I link to in each case are simply the easiest for you. Most of the printed books listed here are now available as eBooks, too. If you want to consider buying one of the titles, click the link and then go for the eBook version.

New Venture Creation Course Books

mba logoThis symbol at the end of a book review in the list below means that I have set it for either my New Venture Creation, or Sustainable Strategy courses on the Marlboro College MBA in Managing for Sustainability. Several of them have been successfully used over the last six years that I have been teaching graduate courses.

Startup Book Categories

Some of the sections below describe business functions that you will recognize. Other sections may startle you, but don’t be daunted. Take a look:

Business Strategy and Planning



Lean Startup

Startup Finance

Startup Marketing


Books About Startups: Business Revolutionaries


These first two books So, You Want to Start a Business? and The Art of the Start, should save you a lot of trouble and heartache, even if you never buy another book on startup. The first should mitigate your risk and the second should inspire you to change the world!

So, You Want to Start a Business?: 8 Steps to Take Before Making the Leap
by Ed Hess and Charles Goetz, two business school professors with bags of entrepreneurial experience. Maybe this is the book you should start with–to save yourself a lot of misery later. Ed and Charles identify the 8 “killer mistakes” that cause most business failures-and give you the knowledge, tools, and hands-on advice to avoid them, so you can build a business that “thrives,” Unlike other books on entrepreneurship, this book focuses on the crucial operational issues associated with consistent profitability. I like telling the entrepreneurs I work with to mitigate risk as well as identify opportunity. This book gives you some ‘nuts and bolts’ on how to do just that.

The Art of the Start 2.0: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything. Without a doubt, I rate Guy Kawasaki’s  as THE book not to miss for anyone who thinks they might want to start a business. Guy pulls no punches. read his book and you will not only save the price of buying it, but a whole load of wasted time. It does not matter whether you have in mind a high tech venture or even a home business, the principles he defines are the same.

The Art of the Start would help someone starting a social enterprise, or a not-for-profit, as much as a classic for-profit business. You should have the book on your bookshelf and pull it off from time to time to save yourself falling into traps. I do. Given the enthusiasm of the language, you will find this book both inspirational and logo

tss cover

eBook buttonTelling StartUp Stories: Keep the End in Mind by William Keyser. Yes this is self-promotion, but this is an ebook written with you in mind and you may find it’s the best $5.00 you have ever spent. If your pitches to investors, customers, partners or any other groups in your path, are not captivating, compelling and convincing, you will struggle. I know from experience.

This book about storytelling will help give your business pitches a boost. If you have been thwarted by your best efforts to get your business off the ground, with presentations that fall flat, business plans that are ignored, sales visits without orders, then this ebook is for you.

The book is about why and how to use storytelling in the entrepreneurial context, and the the tools and techniques that the entrepreneur will want to use to get better results.

Cover for FB

Elegant Entrepreneur: The Female Founders Guide To Starting & Growing Your First Company by Danielle Tate. The book is a very good helper for anyone starting a business, especially women. This is because Danielle has been there, founding the successful name changing site. She shares not only many very useful ideas, tools and links to other resources, but she talks about how it feels to start a business.

What I really like, as a male reviewer, is that Danielle has the courage to tell it like it is. I felt many of the feelings she describes, when I first set up in business. What got articulated in my case was all about customers, the product, numbers, markets, money. That did not mean that the feelings were missing, but I suppressed them—to the detriment of the business.

Danielle does a wonderful job of combining the hard and soft stuff that goes along with founding a business. She does not leave entrepreneurs at the starting gate, she also helps them with what to do after Day One. As she says, “The ‘big idea’ that launched your journey into entrepreneurship is paramount, and it should be one of your main areas of focus. But companies and entrepreneurs that kick back after the ‘big idea’ get left in the dust of innovation and competition.”

So, her Elegant Insight 7 provides great advice on how to ‘Have a Good Idea Daily’. On five succinct pages, she shows you just how to do just that, since constant good ideas are necessary to the health of your business.

This is a book that I recommend to all male founders. If they can hear the message, they will change the (business) world. Once women with a great idea but hesitate to make it a business have read the book, they will no longer hesitate to translate that great idea into a new business.

I Killed a Rabid Fox with a Croquet Mallet: Making Your Business Stories Compelling and Memorable by Nicolas Boillot. Marketing as if people mattered. Nicolas shares many of my opinions, so little surprise that I enjoyed the book, it reinforced my prejudice! My book on the same topic in a different context has a dull title, Telling Startup Stories, but his arresting title of his book caught the eyes of several people when I was reading the book in a public place. The more books and help on storytelling as a business process there are out there, the better.

It makes little difference to your storytelling if you are an introvert or extravert, except in the way that you tell it. The principles remain the same. His top ten rules of the road are an excellent way to guide the outspoken and the timid. The nub of his story for me is both his honesty and his call for honesty among other storytellers. When I first started in business I was always bumping up against maxims about how to behave at work. Even my own Dad could not believe I would go to work in London without a bowler hat and rolled umbrella.

There are some companies whose products I buy and love and love the companies, too. There are others, whose products I love for the moment, but whose stories stink. I will tend to stay with the former and ditch the latter when something better comes up. As Nicolas says, “people relate to people.”

Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck: What It Takes to Be an Entrepreneur and Build a Great Business. These four components in various mixes are vital to startup success. The three authors all know what they are talking about, having ‘been there, done that’. Chances are high that startups will be undertaken by people not only with a mix of these components, but with one or more of them being more dominant than the others. The secret is to play to strengths, but without neglecting the weaker aspects or being unconscious about the negative aspects of the strong ones.

Luck is not something taught on entrepreneurship courses, but maybe it should be. Not luck itself, but the ways in which entrepreneurs can favor their chances of it. The authors stress the way that luck can be favored. Through humility, intellectual curiosity and optimism. It figures, doesn’t it? They also suggest that a lucky network can be developed through vulnerability, authenticity, generosity and openness.

This is not a self-help book, though. It presents an orderly way to develop a self-awareness of heart, smarts, guts and luck so that the entrepreneur can better take advantage of each without the downsides of say being over-confident, only using book smarts, being foolhardy or overplaying the odds.

Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big. Bo Burlingham’s book is one you should definitely read. Bo is a very sharp commentator and an excellent writer and you will enjoy reading the book. It will be no chore and you will be enlightened and inspired by the stories of the ventures he talks about. he is an editor-at-large with Inc. magazine and encounters many entrepreneurs and he has excellent perception.

The businesses in the book are indeed thirteen small giants that are “growing, often in unconventional ways, but several have chosen not to grow at all, and a few have made conscious decisions to scale back their operations.”

Never Bet the Farm: How Entrepreneurs Take Risks, Make Decisions and How You Can, Too, by Anthony Iaquinto and Stephen Spinelli. The sentiment is absolutely mine: I never bet the farm, my granny, my house or anything else when I built my venture. I heard too many stories about people putting their family at risk, believing that it was the only way to get credit. Not so (as you can see on the Startup Owl Bootstrap Finance page). If you calculate the downside risk and prepare for the worst, it will seldom happen. What I did do was to risk the firm, but not hearth and home. With five kids, I would never have slept. many entrepreneurs miss the planning step about calculating risk and mitigating the chance of the risks occurring.

Worthless, Impossible and Stupid: How Contrarian Entrepreneurs Create and Capture Extraordinary Value by Daniel Isenberg. What the subtitle leaves out is the author’s significant point that the value has to be perceived in the first place. That is what cuts out entrepreneurs from managers. They see what others don’t. Daniel taught at Harvard Business School, one the biggest entrepreneurship cradles in the world. He also has been around the block as an entrepreneur himself. You cannot teach this stuff unless you have also been there, done that, and suffered the pain and indignity of setback and failure. The author excels at telling not only his own stories, but recounting those of students and friends around the world. He talks of people probably unknown to you, not the stereotype entrepreneur as hero, like Branson, Brin, & co.

In Worthless, he talks what he considers to be the three myths of the entrepreneur and who he is. I resonate with them: they have to be innovators (I was not), they have to be experts (I was not) and they must be young (I was 43 when I started my first business). Also he points out that there’s no best time to start except now. I started in 1982 a very low ebb in the British logo

Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup by Bill Aulet, who teaches entrepreneurship at MIT. You might think this was a handbook for any startup, but that’s not what it is. Bill Aulet’s book, though would be great to have at your elbow as you get the startup show on the road. It is a step-by-step approach to the creation and marketing of successful products. Like more and more management books, it is amusingly illustrated and it is thick with case material, giving examples of each step in the process.

The book is aimed at people who are creating highly innovative products and aim to enter a ‘blue ocean’ market space, where they can dominate. The book is excellent at helping the entrepreneur determine very specific TAM (total addressable market) and then to make sure that the value proposition fits the market, before going on to identify customers in a precise way and to be sure that the cost of customer aquisition is fully controlled, as well as defining the minimum viable business product. The way the book is structured lets you key into just the right stage for where you are right now.

Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow by Chip Conley, the founder of the boutique hotel chain Joie de Vivre Hospitality. What’s specially interesting about this book is the fact that the chain suffered hugely less than the big boys misery after 9/11. Chip describes the new way of doing business that was a bit revolutionary then, even though it may be business-as-usual these days. He believed he believed “creating joy of life” for customers and employees was a noble goal.

Even though his chain has now been sold, you are likely to find the flavor still there. Airbnb, the B&B site, hired Chip Conley at the end of 2013, as head of global hospitality as the company focuses on improving standards for travelers. Conley is focusing on nine standards for all Airbnb hosts, such as cleanliness, time responding to travelers on the site, and accuracy of listings. “I’m a big believer in the best thing to do to manage the expectations of guests is to create standards. That’s things that guests can count on–like soap.”

Startup Leadership: How Savvy Entrepreneurs Turn Their Ideas Into Successful Enterprises by Derek Lidow. Derek Lidow’s book is excellent for its clarity about the entrepreneurial journey. The title, Startup Leadership, is a bit misleading, because the contents are more about post-startup. Indeed, he uses the term Entrepreneurial Leadership more generally, often initialized as EL. What is really significant about the book is the clarity of Derek’s four stages of enterprise maturity. He makes very clear that from startup, that the enterprise leader needs very different competences at each stage. Stage 1: Customer Validation; Stage 2: Operational Validation; Stage 3: Financial Validation; Stage 4: Self-Sustainability.

While I might not agree with all the traits necessary to an EL that Derek lists, he is very clear about the need for a personal leadership strategy. I value that part of the book particularly, because my journey was one of a struggle with the evolving leadership needs as my own business grew and morphed unconsciously from one stage to the next. Had an awareness that the book offers been available to me ahead of each stage, I’m sure I would have made far fewer mistakes. Unlike many books where appendices are really appendages, Derek’s 8 appendices provide really valuable tools.

The Intelligent Entrepreneur: How Three Harvard Business School Graduates Learned the 10 Rules of Successful Entrepreneurship by Bill Murphy. Murphy coordinates with the HBS, which believes that entrepreneurship can be taught and learned, and tells the stories of three 1998 MBAs who started their own businesses, which became successful in 10 years. With interviews of Harvard professors and alumni, he showcases these three entrepreneurs because they journeyed relentlessly from launching their businesses, through mistakes and failure, then recovery and achieving success, learning important lessons along the way.

World Changers: 25 Entrepreneurs Who Changed Business as We Knew It by Jon A Byrne. Imagine having the chance to listen to a John Mackey (Whole Foods), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), Muhammad Yunnus (Grameen Bank), or a Fred Smith (FedEx) on the most important things they’ve learned from their experiences. Or having the benefit of the self-reflection of Howard Schultz of Starbucks, who had to come back to the company he originally built to reinvent it and himself? I have only skimmed this title and the one before, but entrepreneur stories make useful learning.

Great From The Start: How Conscious Corporations Attract Success by John Montgomery. An inquisitive entrepreneur seeks the insight of mentors, her board and most importantly, her customers. She creates vehicles of assessment and feedback. She leads confidently, continually promoting the vision and direction of the company whilst remaining flexible, operating with a great deal of fluidity. It is this disposition which inspires creativity, innovation, and ultimately, a product that sells.

A curious entrepreneur remains inquisitive because she knows the insights of her eco-system are crucial to building a successful business. She questions her leadership: her weaknesses and gaps, her ability to function in total, human intelligence and whether or not she can learn to love the parts of the start-up process she abhors. She strives to grow her leadership dependent upon the needs of the whole.

A successful entrepreneur, as defined by Montgomery, drives culture by asking her team to consider similar questions. Though she is the primary salesman, she relies on her team to evangelize.  She knows her company’s stories bring her brand to life and that her employees are the voice of the company. She must require that they have enough joy for the start-up to sustain them for the long journey ahead.  When they don’t, it is her job to escort the misfits out of the tribe. The book is predicated on the basis of raising finance with the aim of an ultimate sale of the company, don’t let that put you off.

(Thanks for this review to Julie Fahnestock, one of my MBA students and founder of B Storytelling LLC).

mobile boardroom

The Mobile Boardroom: Top Tips for Business Success by Nik Askaroff & Julian Clay (two UK based consultants) is a compact, no-frills guide that covers the main commercial areas of business. You can read the book in one, or maybe two, sittings and get a full picture of the things you need to cover in setting up and running a business. The book is one of the most down-to-earth and un-flashy guides I have come across. The simple model of how to create a business concept is a very good starting point for anyone without a masters degree in business–that’s most people who have a great business idea, but don’t know where to begin translating that idea into a real live business.

This is another book predicated on the basis of raising finance with the aim of an ultimate sale of the company, don’t let that put you off. The horse sense of what the authors say will repay your own investment in buying the book–many times over (under $25 for the paperback and under $10 for the ebook). Actually it will save many times that outlay, by ensuring that you don’t leave out one or more vital ingredients of success as you struggle with your priorities.

When I started my first business in 1982, I learned lots of these things by trial and error. That’s fine for testing products or services with customers, but it’s a costly learning process for things like financial management. The authors offer really sound advice on what numbers to collect and how to make sense of what they mean. They make the point that successful entrepreneurs are financially literate, but they do not need to be and probably will not be–accountants.

shouting quietly

eBook button

The Art of Shouting Quietly: a guide to self-promotion for introverts and other quiet souls, by Pete Mosley. Pete is a creative business mentor and great illustrator himself. This book contains clear, thoughtful advice—based on experience; practical exercises & things to put into practice; strategies for raising your profile – with quiet determination; simple ‘hacks’ to deal with scary situations. It’s for all those who think they cannot stand up and make presentations, or at least, not with any confidence. It’s my experience that that introverts often make the best presentations, since they are not full of bombast and are sensitive to the needs of the audience.

In my MBA teaching, my students make presentations in class and to outside clients a lot. Of course, I coach them all, but I find the lessons are better received by the introverts. One simple error that so many presenters make is to look at their slides rather than the audience. When you both explain why that’s a bad idea and give them a simple technique, like looking at one specific person in front of them, they instantly ‘get it’, and often better the extraverts.

“In this beautifully illustrated book Pete uses his tough-love approach to get the quieter, more introvert creatives amongst us out of their comfort zone. But let’s be honest; for all of us there are times when we need that little confidence booster,” says Patricia Van den Akker. Pete himself says, “I’ve always been a shy person. To get to the point of talking to large live audiences, writing for a national magazine, and blogging and writing online for nationally and internationally significant organisations took a huge effort – not only in overcoming self-limiting beliefs, but also in overcoming the well-meaning critical questioning of others – parents, siblings, peers and colleagues.”

introvert guide

eBook buttonThe Introvert’s Guide to Entrepreneurship: How to Become a Successful Entrepreneur as an Introvert, by Nate Nicholson. This short book offers some very helpful pointers for entrepreneurs who consider themselves introverts, or those who actually know that they are, having taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Popular culture might suggest that extraverts make better entrepreneurs. But that’s like saying the best entrepreneurs are six feet tall, or are the youngest sibling of a family.

I am one of those you might call an ambivert. In MBTI terms I am borderline Introvert and Extravert. This was not always the case at the early stages of my 50+ years in business I was certainly an INFP (Introverted/Intuitive/Feeling/Perceiving) type. I started my working career in advertising and PR, later moving into management consulting, before staring my own business in my early forties. What happened was that, living in the extraverted world, my MBTI scores moved from I towards E. This in in part a consequence of working intensely with very senior management groups. Naturally, if I led a weekend retreat with the Board of a big corporation, my evenings were generally spent in my room, not in the bar. I had to recharge my batteries, before the high use of energy the following day.

This is the kind of behavior that Nate suggests. He suggests that Introverts collaborate best one-to-one or in small groups. He suggests that as a founder you may be best to seek a more extraverted co-founder, who can do all the schmoozing. One preference pair, Judging/Percepting will be significant. Judging types may tend towards an action orientation and be helpful to the entrepreneur, as I would see it, since dithering may be unhelpful and everything about getting a minimum viable product (MVP) out there in front of customers is critical. On the other hand, Perceiving types are pretty useful to an early-stage business, since they better adapted to hearing new information (like, the MVP is not working) or considering options. Therein lies the danger of over simplifying the “I’m and Introvert, therefore…” kind of statement.

The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking by Edward Burger. This is an excellent book, but not just for students, and I wish I had discovered it when I started teaching entrepreneurship on an MBA program seven years ago. I would probably assigned it as required reading. My students might have thought more deeply about what it takes to be a business or nonprofit founder; been happier to have failed more frequently and learned the consequent lessons; to have been better, like Socrates, at asking why, why, why both before and after starting an organization; to have critically examined where they were coming from, as well as where they were headed; and to be in a constant state of transforming themselves. These are, i,n essence Edward Burger’s 5 Elements.

Dr Burger would make an excellent mentor for founders in addition to being a university president.he describes himself as a business consultant and his clients will be fortunate to have his guidance, even though he is not a businessman, but an academic.

His book will certainly help students of all kinds to be better learners, but by putting tools in their hands, it will hopefully have them demanding more effective teaching from their professors. I’m a long-time entrepreneur, and I always appreciated being put on the spot by colleagues and customers when they had been more effective in thinking about the issues. For me, his book has been another step on my long learning passage.

Startup Finance

Crowdfunding: The Next Big Thing by Gary Spirer. Money-raising expert Gary Spirer reveals the secrets of raising capital in the digital age. He outlines the ins and outs of the five major capital-raising strategies, including how the current Kickstarter type crowdfunding differs from crowdfunding equity. The new world of crowdfunding equity can be hard to navigate due to numerous regulations, and the challenge of keeping crowds engaged.
How to Read a Financial Report: Wringing Vital Signs Out of the Numbers by John Tracy. Lurking somewhere amidst all the figures in a financial report is vitally important information about where a company has been and where it is headed. But without a guide to isolate and interpret those numbers, the dizzying array of columns and rows doesn’t add up to a hill of beans.

Bootstrapping Your Business: Start and Grow a Successful Company with Almost No Money by Greg Gianforte, the nation’s top Bootstrapper, shows you the advantages of Bootstrapping vs. traditionally financed start-ups. You’ll also learn how the unconventional Bootstrapping mindset-inventive, pioneering, and skeptical of conventional wisdom-applies to you and your business. With Bootstrapping Your Business at your side, you’ll gain the advantage you need to outperform the competition-and succeed in today’s take-no-prisoners marketplace. For more, see Startup Owl’s page on bootstrap finance.

Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperity by Michael Schuman. This is a really important book by someone who knows his stuff, because he does his stuff. Michael is a man who is totally committed to the’ local’ movement in every sense. Local to him implies relationship and intimacy, in the manner of Fritz Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful mode. At the same time, the book shows the reader all sorts of practical ways in which finance can be cut down to size.
He talks about community capital and among several jobs, he works at Cutting Edge Capital, who have identified five strategies that allow you to raise money from both wealthy and non-wealthy investors in compliance with securities law: Direct Public Offerings (DPOs) Private offerings Special strategies for cooperatives Fan-based funding (donations, pre-sales, memberships, etc.) Grants and public-private partnerships. The book appeals strongly to investors, but entrepreneurs will do well to read it before rushing headlong into traditional forms of capital raising. I suggest you also look at the Startup Owl pages on Community Supported Business and Local Funding.


Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming Our Consumer Culture by John Ehrenfeld is both a manual and an inspiration to those who are committed to the concept of sustainability in business, but find it difficult to describe exactly what they mean. It was a joy to have him as a colleague and he inspired all the MBA students whom he taught.

John challenges conventional understandings of solving environmental problems and offers a radically new set of strategies to attain sustainability. By focusing on the ‘being’ mode of human existence rather than on the unsustainable ‘having’ mode we cling to now, he asserts, a sustainable world is within our reach. As well as recommending his book, I heartily encourage you to visit his blog, where he dispenses wisdom with  wry humor and humility.

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions by Guy Kawasaki can almost be read at one sitting. This is Guy’s latest book and his second in my list–because he is able to write so well and crisply about what it takes in the Web age to enchant people both in person and through the Internet. He makes you feel that you can extend yourself into every nook of your potential relationship set. He is enchanting himself and can help you to emulate his success.

The book exemplifies the title and his own authenticity. Here are no clever gimmicks and while it make take you a while to get to the level of sophistication that he achieves in his Venture Capital business (Garage Technology Ventures) or (to help you answer the question, “What’s happening?” in “all the topics” that interest you), he gives you the tools to do so.

Clay Water Brick: Finding Inspiration from Entrepreneurs Who Do the Most with the Least by Jessica Jackley. Jessica’s book is a real inspiration for anyone wanting to start a benefit enterprise, for she both shows her passion and persistence and reveals her own fallibility. The other great aspect of this book, largely about her path to co-founding Kiva, is how she demonstrates her ability to learn, probably one of the most important characteristics of a successful entrepreneur, which she continues to be, beyond Kiva, at the Collaborative Fund, a leading source of seed capital for creative entrepreneurs changing the world.

Lean Startup

The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf. Steve Blank is a Silicon Valley serial-entrepreneur and academician who is based in Pescadero, CA. Blank is recognized for developing the Customer Development methodology, which launched the Lean Startup movement. Bob Dorf, another serial entrepreneur, runs their consulting firm K&S Ranch from Stamford, CT The book’s great cry is, “Get Out of the Building!” and is not designed to be read like a novel. They describe a startup as not being, “a smaller version of a large company. A Startup is a temporary organization in search of a scalable, repeatable, profitable business model. At the outset, the startup business model is a canvas covered with ideas and guesses, but it has no customers and minimal customer knowledge.” Given there is no business if there are no customers, this book is an ideal manual for both customer discovery and customer validation. Given that an entrepreneur finds it easy to not get out of the building, but to sit ever refining her gift to the world, this 552 page tome is a weighty reminder to generate revenue by persistently refining the sales roadmap.

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses by Eric Reis, who defines a startup as an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. It is interesting that the Lean Startup language has entered entrepreneurial vernacular and many people use the term, even without knowing its origin. What the book has done by popularizing terms like ‘pivot’ is to legitimise experimentation and letting entrepreneurs get away from the idea that everything has to be perfect, when there’s no way of knowing what that will be until users come back and hit you over the head with their feedback.
The build-meanure-learn model makes such sense, as soon as you start thinking about it. While Eric makes the point that in the ‘good old days’ a sharp plan based on solid market research and fitted carefully into strategy, would generally work. Nowadays that is less true, especially inn the tech field. But it does not mean that you need to have a clear strategy and a robust plan, it does mean that failure is often the first step to success.

The Lean Entrepreneur: How Visionaries Create Products, Innovate with New Ventures, and Disrupt Markets by Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits. This highly illustrated book helps product innovators translate dreams into reality by charting a clear path to customers and refining their vision to create real value for users. It is also packed with easy to read short case stories that translate concepts into usable experience. I love the notion that “real visionaries have funnel vision.” Knowing and understanding your about marketing and sales funnels requires learning how they work through continuous experimentation, pivoting until you ‘get’ the customer in every channel you use.

Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works by Ash Maurya. This is an excellent book for entrepreneurs even if they do not implement lean entrepreneurship. It is full of practical stuff that will help your speed to start and the diminish the risk of failure. Just as As says, “Most startups fail, not because they fail to build the product they want to build, but they fail to find a market for their product before running out of resources.”

What I like about the book is that it pulls no punches and encourages entrepreneurs to experiment with their product, taking it to customers early to get vital feedback and early commitment. He developed the Lean Canvas variant of the Business Model Canvas to support his ideas, especilaly for tech startups, with a focus on problem definition and solution development. His methodology is very logical and will provide entrepreneurs with a roadmap for customer development.

Startup Marketing

Marketing That Matters: 10 Practices to Profit Your Business and Change the World by Chip Conley and Eric Friedenwald-Fishman. Chip is the founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality that runs boutique hotels and is inspiring in the way that he chooses to run his business as if people really mattered. Eric is the creative director and President of the Metropolitan Group. His company is a B Corporation–that crafts strategic and creative services that empower social purpose organizations to build a just and sustainable world. The book will inspire a great marketing plan for any startup.

tss cover

eBook buttonTelling StartUp Stories: Keep the End in Mind by William Keyser is an ebook written with you in mind and you may find it’s the best $5.00 you have ever spent.

This book about storytelling will help give your business pitches a boost. If you have been thwarted by your best efforts to get your business off the ground, with presentations that fall flat, business plans that are ignored, sales visits without orders, then this ebook is for you.

The book is about why and how to use storytelling in the entrepreneurial context, and the the tools and techniques that the entrepreneur will want to use to get better results.

QR Codes Kill Kittens: How to Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business Into the Ground by Scott Stratten. I felt in my gut that the little book would help me when I saw the oxymoronic cover. It did, and I have never scanned a QR code in my life, nor do I intend to. Often we can be attracted by negatives, and we come up with them in brainstorming sessions more easily than positive ideas. So the subtitle of Scott’s book, “How to Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business into the Ground” makes the cover doubly inviting. This book dramatizes what marketers must not do.

A picture book, to boot. Management messages are so frequently full of jargon, glib phraseology, and too many words. Scott’s pictures tell the simple story about us all being people with a need to make sense of the world and have meaning in our relationships, not only to one another, but with the products and services we are invited to buy and use. The humanity of the book is what makes it so strong a management text. Buy the book and read it frequently, if the message is not evident at the end of the first 25-minute reading. It won’t take many times for the penny to drop.

The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users by Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzpatrick. What entrepreneur can live without social media? The answer is none. If you are in business, wise up and read this book. Guy (now with Peg) is a very fluent writer and this crisp short book is fully up to his standard.

If you were to do all that Guy and Peg suggest, you might be swamped. Nonetheless, some of my social media habits have already changed after reading the book. I have also noted several topics I need to go back to and tools/apps I should consider. For instance, when they talk about Slideshare, which I use quite a lot, I was reminded of the importance using slides with minimal text, something I accomplish by using to make mine. And I follow Guy’s demand only to use 10 slides. For Slideshare, he also stresses the importance of a compelling title page and including a call-to-action–the latter is something I have to improve!

One neat reference tool that comes with the book is the appendix listing apps and services. I was surprised, though that they did not include (one of Guy’s activities), a simple graphic design tool that has similarities with haikudeck. Here’s one piece of advice whether you buy the book or not: go the book’s website; you’ll learn a lot right there and then.

Another is, once you have read the book, go to the Social Networking Websites Review to compare all the features of the top ten. If like me, you’re an entrepreneur, then focus, focus, focus on those sites which are directly relevant to you and don’t have high levels of ‘waste’. These will include linkedin, maybe efactor, and not forgetting facebook, google+ and twitter, or sites relevant to your sector. Don’t forget the equity crowdfunding sites, which are a form of social networking: gust, angelist, onevest, fundable, crowdfunder, equitynet and startupvalley. Though not for equity, you should not rule out kickstarter and indiegogo.

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal will give you some very interesting ideas, if not methods for doing just what the title says. He has a four-step ‘Hook Model’ to make sure your customers keep coming back without you having to spend huge sums of advertising or other media efforts. My own experience tells me that any relationship–personal or business–takes work. Think about the companies or products you love and would not be without. Chances are high that you feel you have a relationship with them.
Product design, right through to after sales service and customer supportive to make their own contribution to building and mainatining the relationship. Beyond that he invites the reader to reflect upon their own habits and how they came to be. I watched an amazing demonstration of habit that did not even involve the brain. My wife went to get cash from an ATM and after several attempts at entering her PIN number, she realized that she’d forgotten it. So she closed her eyes and let her fingers ‘remember’ it. Bingo! They got it right first time. Nir helps you get your products and company working to develop such habits, but the goods have to be good.

Business Strategy and Planning

Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters by Richard Rumelt is a book my strategy students dote upon. Why? Because this wise professor draws on his rich teaching and consulting experience to boil down a very fluid and complex subject to three components that really help you understand the strategy process: a diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge; a guiding policy for dealing with the challenge; a set of coherent actions that are designed to carry out the guiding policy.
He is a hard task master and makes clear just how bad so much strategy really is. He calls it ‘fluff’, or the “superficial restatement of the obvious combined with a generous sprinkling of buzzwords.” Entrepreneurs can easily be seduced into fluff, especially when they follow a ‘template’ kind of way of developing a business plan. Rumelt is not specifically writing for entrepreneurs, but I advise all who want to start a business to read his words before they get too far down the track.

Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, who claim it is a book for visionaries, game changers, and challengers who want to design tomorrow’s enterprises. My own view is that you should not look at it until you are pretty sure about what you want your new business to do. Why? Because you would be tempted to use the visual tools it includes–they are such fun to play with–that you might start off down the wrong track. But once your idea is more than a scribble or dream, buy this book and use it like a fiend with your team or others who can lend a hand.

I would rate the book as a must have on any entrepreneur’s bookshelf, probably both pre and post logo

Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want by Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Patricia Papadakos. Next to Business Model Design, I would add the sequel–this book. So many people will use the jargon-sounding term, ‘value proposition’, and not really understand the deep meaning of the term. Coming up with a value proposition that matches the offer will the needs of the customer, is absolutely not a simple task, but this book and its Value Proposition Canvas makes the process a huge amount easier. Making use of the Canvas by first designing it, then testing it in real life, before evolving it to a point where it can really make a difference is a task that you will really only come to understand once you have read and applied this book.

Business Plans That Work: A Guide for Small Business. If you want more fundamental help, then the only book to buy is this one, by Jeffry Timmons, Andrew Zacharakis and Stephen Spinelli. The (late) Jeffry Timmons said, “We are in the midst of a silent revolution–a triumph of the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of humankind throughout the world.” Using practical examples, the authors take you through a really thought-provoking process that will result in a very effective plan.

There is a lot of hot air talked about business plans, but not in this logo

What I Didn’t Learn in Business School: How Strategy Works in the Real World by Jay Barney and Trish Gorman Clifford is a book I use on the MBA strategy course I teach. It is written in the form of a business novel and it works really well.

Although the fictional setting is a major corporate, the learning points apply really well to a startup venture situation as well. I would recommend this books to entrepreneurs because there is great learning about conflicting priorities and personality clashes. A huge stressor in startups comes on those two subjects and the plain fact is that nobody has the ‘right’ answer. There are those who imagine that all entrepreneurs are charismatic or megalomaniacs. Some may be, but most are not, but that does not stop the conflicts. Anyway, you will enjoy reading this book, simply as a logo

Books About Startups: Business Revolutionaries

When I suggest any of these books to my students, I refer to them as Books by Business Revolutionaries, since so many of them are about or by people aiming to change the world.

Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently–and Succeeding by Seth Goldman and Barry Nalehoff, the co-founders of Honest Tea. This an excellent ‘how we did it’ book, but with a big difference: they tell it how it was and is, with very few punches pulled.

It is also a wonderful book because is takes the form of a graphic novel–much of it is in pictures, so it makes it very intimate and entertaining. It’s the kind of book you’ll probably read in one sitting (actually I read it in two!). I am very likely to give it as a set book for my MBA Entrepreneurship course in logo

Javatrekker: Dispatches from the World of Fair Trade Coffee by Dean Cycon. You don’t need to be labeled a social entrepreneur to be one. After all the origins of the word corporation is in the sense of a body of people. A social activity, albeit with economic ends. Dean Cycon is a social entrepreneur, but nonetheless an entrepreneur – someone who ‘undertakes’ something to achieve an end. This book is very special in that the author’s journeys round the coffee producing parts of the world take you deeply into what fair trade means. He exemplifies what it means for someone to live their values and he is playing his part in changing the world.

As a young man I always swore that I would never go into business. That changed quite soon after getting engaged to be married and carrying on being a sec on-hand book buyer in London. A reliable income had me into business, but very soon I concluded that a business was simply a social organization with specific aims. Now, what’s interesting is that most new enterprises have implicit or explicit social ends. Whether they label themselves as a social enterprise, a benefit corporation or one of several new corporate forms,

The book is an important milestone in writing about entrepreneurs, in Dean’s case autobiographically. His life and business are inspirational and I know that many of my MBA entrepreneurship and strategy students have been inspired by Dean’s Beans. Of course now there are many others who tell stories about coffee growing like Julia Alvarez in A Cafecito Story, but Dean’s storytelling is particularly powerful as he introduces us to coffee farmers all over the world.

Calling himself a Javatrekker, he positions himself as a pioneer which indeed he has been and though I have not asked him personally, I would suspect that even he is amazed how changed our understanding of the origins of our cup of Jo is these days – over just a few short years. Some of the detailed concerns he had many years ago are now widely shared. Starbuck now says, “We take a holistic approach using responsible purchasing practices, farmer loans and forest conservation programs.” For any aspiring startup, especially in the food business, this book remains inspiring.

Brewing Up a Business: Adventures in Beer from the Founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery by Sam Calagione. Starting with nothing more than a home brewing kit, Sam Calagione turned his entrepreneurial dream into a foamy reality in the form of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, one of America’s best and fastest growing craft breweries.

In this newly updated Second Edition, Calagione offers a deeper real-world look at entrepreneurship and what it takes to operate and grow a successful business. In several new chapters, he discusses Dogfish’s most innovative marketing ideas, including how social media has become an integral part of the business model and how other small businesses can use it to catch up with bigger competitors.

Though I always try to drink local brews, I have to say that Dogfish Head beer often finds its way into my house. I wonder how much of the reason for this is having read Sam’s story and loving it. He’s a great storyteller, as well as brewer and that endears me to him, as well as actually liking his beer. From their beginnings in a small brewpub, Dogfish is now up to nearly 20 styles of beer that are sold in more than 25 states, and a half-dozen kinds of hand-crafted spirits.

Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman by Yves Chouinard. The Patagonia story–the company is a B Corp and re-reincorporated under the new California Benefit Corporation legislation. This is the story of a real revolutionary who ensures that his beliefs are translated into business action. This is very much a self-sustaining startup of enduring value.

Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business by Danny Mayer. The author is CEO of Union Square Hospitality that owns some of the best known restaurants in NYC. He says, “Business, like life, is all about how you make people feel.” Danny agreed in January 2012 to sell part of his company to Related, the NY real estate developer, providing way to take brands like Shake Shack and barbecue chain Blue Smoke into stadiums, parks, and other properties around the world.

Start Something That Matters by Blake Mycoskie. The author founded the social enterprise, Toms Shoes, inspired by a trip to Argentina where he saw extreme poverty and health conditions, as well as children walking without shoes. That’s when he recognized the traditional Argentine alpargata shoe as a simple, yet revolutionary solution.

A Fistful of Rice: My Unexpected Quest to End Poverty Through Profitability by Vikram Akula. This is the story of SKS Microfinance in India. SKS aims to make microfinance financially self-sustainable, using the group lending model where poor women guarantee each other’s loans. As with many microfinance institutions, the focus on women entrepreneurs is based on the idea that they, rather than men, can have the greatest impact of the reduction of poverty.

Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World by Gary Hirshberg. The Founder of Stonyfield Farm announced in January 2012 that he will step down from his CEO role after 30 years and become Chairman of the company he sold to Danone, to maintain oversight of Stonyfield’s European companies, Stonyfield Cafés and the company’s Profits-for-the-Planet program.

PLEASE NOTE: There is tons of useful stuff on Startup Owl, a site that’s been going for a dozen years. So keep browsing, but know that the founder, Will, now devotes most of his time and energy to his new website that you should definitely visit:

Leave a Comment