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Best Entrepreneurship Books

Posted on Wednesday, May 20th 2009

[This post, with a shorter list, was published earlier. An updated version is being published today.]

As a self-taught entrepreneur, I have done my own digging into entrepreneurship literature. When I started writing my book series, Entrepreneur Journeys, I did a lot of thinking on what is it that I am looking for in an entrepreneurship book. This list is a synthesis of that research. I first published it in February of this year, and have added eleven new must-reads to the original ten. Take a look and join the discussion with your own recommendations.

1. High Tech Start Up, Revised and Updated: The Complete Handbook for Creating Successful New High Tech Companies by John L. Nesheim

I read this book very early on. It explains a lot of the intricacies of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, including how equity is shared among founders, how VC firms operate, etc. For a beginning entrepreneur, this is very useful to get up to speed on the basics.

2. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore

This is the classic on how entrepreneurial ventures go to market. It focuses on good examples and explains core concepts of strategic and product marketing like segmentation, whole products, and of course, the famous “chasm.” I recommend this to all aspiring entrepreneurs, and am often surprised to see that they have not read the book yet. It’s a must-read.

3. Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days (Recipes: a Problem-Solution App) by Jessica Livingston

This is a format I had looked for before I chose to write my own series: how did they do it? Jessica’s book traces the journeys of several entrepreneurs. Good first-hand feel.

4. Entrepreneur Journeys (Volume 1) by Sramana Mitra

This is my book series, and the point of it is to give the readers a first-hand experience of sitting down with successful entrepreneurs and listening to how they did it. Because of my background as a strategy consultant, all the discussions contain heavy strategy elements. The book is readable because of its narrative, story-telling format, unlike most business books, which was my objective. I also tried to leave the entrepreneurs’ voices accessible, unencumbered by my voice.

5. Atlas Shrugged (Centennial Edition) by Ayn Rand

The best philosophy book that celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit. The character of Hank Rearden is what most entrepreneurs relate with generally. For a woman, Dagny Taggart is an inspiring role model. My favorite character in the book, however, is Francisco D’Anconia, the Argentinean copper mogul. There is something playful about Francisco that I always found charming. The rest of the characters take themselves way too seriously.

6. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies by Jim Collins

Do you want to build a company to last beyond your own personal career? This book traces how ‘Built To Last’ companies differ from the rest. Personally, I have just as much respect for entrepreneurs who have built to flip, or built to enjoy. Nonetheless, it is very interesting to see what sustains beyond the founders.

7. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by Jim Collins

Similar theme. Explores good companies versus great companies. Again, take it with a pinch of salt, just because we’re living in times that are making certain conditions (IPO, for example) very tricky. Pixar, to me, is a GREAT company, but it has not survived as an independent entity. Today, it rests inside Disney.

8. Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

More philosophy. Helps you address the “Why do we do this?” question. This is a fable that describes the quest of a seagull who is fed up by the daily squabbles over food in its flock, and is instead trying to learn to fly. The story does a very nice job of relating how people who think differently struggle to fit in, until they are able to escape the need to fit in. Entrepreneurs and innovators, by definition, do not fit in well within any set framework. But there is a certain level of doubt that comes with being young, and not being able to fit in. This book may set you free to be happy to not fit in.

9. Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi by Howard Gardner

I like this book a lot because of its exploration of the psychology of creativity and innovation. I also like that it, once again, takes a somewhat biography/case study format, which, by and large, is my preferred way of learning business and entrepreneurship as well as creativity and innovation. Gardner is a developmental psychologist and the proponent of the now-famous “multiple intelligence” theory.

10. Banker to the Poor: The Autobiography of Muhammad Yunus, Founder of Grameen Bank by Muhammad Yunus

By far one of the most inspiring entrepreneurs of our time, Dr. Yunus discusses microfinance and his own entrepreneurial journey in Bangladesh.

11. Bootstrapping, Weapon of Mass Reconstruction by Sramana Mitra

The second volume of Entrepreneur Journeys collects the stories of a varied group of entrepreneurs who are united in their belief in the power of bootstrapping. As big corporations receive millions of dollars in government aid and VC funding slows, there are entrepreneurs who continue on the bootstrapping path, which has proven many times over to be a path to job and wealth creation.

12. The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki

Kawasaki, who changed the way Apple approached marketing and now has a startup, is not concerned with what you’re starting — a new company, a new product line, a church, a school — it doesn’t matter. What is important is that you can act on your ideas to create something that’s meaningful.

13. Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne

Kim and Mauborgne see today’s industries as bloody “red oceans,” overcrowded with competitors fighting over a shrinking profit pool. In urging companies to leave these red oceans behind and sail for “blue oceans,” or untapped market space, by embracing innovation-based strategies, the authors turn on its head the long-held belief that competition-based strategies are the best approach.

14. The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar

Komisar does away with case studies and frameworks in this narrative of two fictional entrepreneurs, whose journey is illuminated by Komisar’s own as a “virtual CEO” of more than half a dozen companies.

15. The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine, sheds few tears over what he says is the death of “common culture,” where people watched the same TV shows and listened to the same songs on the radio. Web commerce has meant more choice — a digital music store can stock many, many more titles than the local record shop — and resulted in the development of niche markets.

16. Blueprint to a Billion by David Thomson

Thomson analyzes America’s highest-growth companies, those 387 companies that have made an IPO since 1980 and grown to $1 billion in revenue, to provide a quantitative assessment of success patterns. His findings are presented in the form a seven linked “essentials” that entrepreneurs should put into practice.

17. Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure by Jerry Kaplan

This account of life in the trenches as a tech startup is both a gripping story — Kaplan, founder of GO Corporation, which made pen-based computers, challenged the likes of IBM and Microsoft to bring his idea to market — and a valuable detailed account of the daily workings of a young company.

18. The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam

Anyone with a pen and paper can use visual thinking, argues Roam, and it is this kind of thinking that often enables people to see new solutions to problems. Equally important, visual thinking helps us explain ideas to other in a way that is powerful and immediate.

19. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell reminds us that no one makes it alone — in case studies of people ranging from Mozart to Canadian junior hockey champions, he analyzes the confluence of culture, circumstance, timing, birth, and luck contribute to a person’s success.

20. Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

What makes something memorable? The authors, one a business school professor and the other a teacher and textbook publisher, use everything from urban legends to advertisements to get the heart of “stickiness” — the art of making ideas unforgettable.

21. Tribes by Seth Godin

A tribe, says Godin, is a group of people connected to each other, to a leader and to an idea. Leaders bring about change by recognizing this and mobilizing tribes. Godin’s assertation that change isn’t asking permission but rather asking forgiveness after the fact is bold, but sometimes it may be what’s needed.

22. Positioning: How To Test, Validate, And Bring Your Idea To Market by Sramana Mitra

In this book, I offer a close look at the process of sculpting your idea into a sharply defined “go to market” strategy. This is developed when entrepreneurs are clear about their position; such clarity, critical to the success of a business, is gained by asking the right questions. Like the first two volumes in the EJ series, Positioning uses a case study format.

23. Innovation, Need Of The Hour by Sramana Mitra

This fourth volume in the EJ series is about transformation innovation in market-leading businesses, something that I believe is more crucial than ever in the wake of the financial crisis. I lead specific discussions on bootstrapping and shoestring innovation, which remain the most successful ways to circumvent early-stage funding challenges in order to maintain freedom and control.

24. Vision India 2020 by Sramana Mitra

A call to Indian entrepreneurs everywhere, Vision India 2020 challenges and inspires readers to build the future now. In this “futuristic retrospective,” I show how over the next decade, start-up companies in India could be turned into billion-dollar enterprises. Vision India 2020, which encompasses a range of sectors from technology to infrastructure, healthcare to education, environmental issues to entertainment, illustrates how even the most sizeable problems can be solved by exercising bold, ambitious measures.

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I was happy to see that I have read atleast 2 out of the 10, viz, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Atlas Shrugged. While I always considered Atlas Shrugged as my Bible, I never looked at either of the books from an entrepreneurial perspective. I will have one more go at them both.

I would also like to suggest “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish” from an Indian Entrepreneurs perspective.

Raseel Saturday, February 7, 2009 at 1:10 PM PT

I personally feel that technology books depend a lot on when they are written. Something like Bill Gates’ “Business @ the speed of thought” might not be as relevant today as it was 10 years ago. A couple of books on this list (the first 2) are from the pre dot-com days. What’s your take on this Sramana? Would they be as useful to aspiring entrepreneurs today?

Bhavish Saturday, February 7, 2009 at 1:54 PM PT

Well, in both of those two books, there are good frameworks. Those are timeless.

Bill Gates’ book also has much of the same characteristics, although I haven’t read it.

I think what is always interesting for me to see is how people make decisions given a set of circumstances, and a certain market condition.

This is why, I tend to gravitate toward case studies and biographical work, rather than dry business advice. The latter is very difficult to set in context and internalize at a visceral level. The former is easier to digest and empathize with.

Sramana Mitra Saturday, February 7, 2009 at 2:00 PM PT

I think best from the Silicon Valley is yet to come. Will wait eagerly and will pay any amount if Paul Graham of YC decides to write a book someday.

From the Indian context, I think some of the books by Gurucharan Das are unbeatable.

Spandan Saturday, February 7, 2009 at 9:45 PM PT

Stories of entrepreneurial journeys are fun to read and may help you decided if you want to embark on your own, but each journey, even with the same entrepreneurs is so different that the value these books as a guide on your own journey is of limited value.

I would still encourage people to read these, they are fun.

Two books that may help you think about your startup are

1. Innovators Solution – makes you think about survival in an ecosystem where you are a small fish with no channel.

2. Starfish and the Spider – gives you a framework recognizing and exploit the limitations of centralized organizations.

A 3rd book that is helpful in talking about your startup (to hires, customers, vcs etc)

3. Words that work: Its not what you say, its what people hear : It gives you a sense of how important (and how hard) it is to communicate your ideas in terms that people understand them

Sunil Bhargava Monday, February 9, 2009 at 1:39 AM PT

Sunil,

I think there are many readers who disagree with your opening comment. Most business schools teach with Case Studies, and there is a very good reason for that: lessons are better learned when they’re put in context.

I like frameworks, they’re exceptionally difficult to come up with, and there are remarkably few good framework books. ‘Crossing the Chasm’ is one of them.

Sramana

Sramana Mitra Monday, February 9, 2009 at 10:39 AM PT

I am sure your readers have a point. I enjoy these type of books and I do not want to downplay the value of documenting or reading stories of entrepreneurial journeys and the lessons learned along the way.

And while I agree case studies add valuable context I am not convinced that just reading them is a valuable activity by itself. The real juice is in the discussion that ensues when you discuss a case study and if I am not mistaken they are written with that in mind.

When it comes to the framework books crossing the chasm, good to great, built to last, search of excellence…
They are all good reading and inspiring, but you have to get to the chasm before your cross it and you have to build company before you can make it last and so on.

It is important for entrepreneurs to pick a problem where the playing field is tilted in their favor and then for them to successfully define the rules of that (often narrow) game. In the first year or two that is the biggest challenge for the team and unique to just them.

The books I had suggested are framework books but are not dry. They are rife with history and example. I do think they will help an entrepreneur think through some of the issues that a startup will face as they take a drunken walk to discover their true business.

Sunil Bhargava Monday, February 9, 2009 at 2:04 PM PT

Sunil,

Have you read Entrepreneur Journeys (Volume One)?

It is a very savvy mix of strategy / story-telling.

If you haven’t, I would like to hear your thoughts AFTER you have.

Sramana

Sramana Mitra Monday, February 9, 2009 at 2:08 PM PT

Hi, interesting list of books.
I can add Made in America by Sam Walton and Iacocca by Lee Iacocca

Priyanka Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 1:37 AM PT

What a great list of books – I have summarized some of them on my podcast/blog, and others I’ve only just heard of now.

If you had to pick just one of those, which would it be?

steve cunningham Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 2:41 PM PT

At the moment, Bootstrapping, Weapon of Mass Reconstruction, because of where we are in this economic crisis.

Sramana Mitra Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 2:46 PM PT

Good list.

I am in agreement with what Sunil says above.

Sramana,
To counter your point about case-studies & B-schools.
B-schools are probably not the best places for entrepreneurs to start. Most really successful entrepreneurs (of this era) did not go to B-schools.

In spirit what Sunil & I are trying to say is also captured well by the last point on this post by the founder of a failed startup : “Knowing isn’t enough.”
http://venturebeat.com/2009/04/29/10-lessons-from-a-failed-startup/

Mekin Thursday, May 21, 2009 at 11:16 PM PT

This is really a great post. Based on the list, I have started reading ‘Founders at Work’ and hope to move to others soon.

Jus a suggestion – There is no VC / PE related books in the list. Books like ‘Done Deals’ by Udayan chopra and so on could also be included.

Lalit Friday, May 22, 2009 at 1:54 AM PT

[…] Must Read list for business – http://sramanamitra.com/2009/05/20/best-entrepreneurship-books/ My Posting […]

Links.. « Lalit’s Blog Friday, May 22, 2009 at 1:51 PM PT

Excellent List !

However people who are reading all these books are likely to have less time to do a startup. Doing it ( and enjoying the doing ) is far more important than knowing it.

More too often there is more emphasis on analytical thinking than intutive thinking. If you read these books and analyze them; you’ll find that the chances of success statistically very remote;We need to redefine the figure of merit of success; For me it is the number of crazy things I do in life, Going by that a lot of these failed startups are actually successful !

Parag Naik Monday, May 25, 2009 at 11:47 PM PT

Great saying Parag. I liked your practical view.

Ranga Wednesday, July 6, 2011 at 8:38 AM PT

Sramana,

Thanks for the books, This year I read Atlas Shrugged, Good to great and Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I really loved it and I would recommend my friends too.

Charu

charubhashini Friday, May 29, 2009 at 2:34 AM PT

Great List ! Reading helps you get insight about how some people outside your domain solved their problems and perhaps give you a Eureka moment !

Aravind Eye Hospital of Madurai, a well documented case is a great example. Apparently, Dr Venkataswamy, the founder was inspired by McDonalds mass burger model for his mass cataract surgery.

However, any self respecting entrepreneur will tell you that ‘in theory, there is no difference between theory and practice but in practice, there is !”

CK Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 11:13 PM PT

I’d also like to add ‘Rules for Revolutionaries” by Guy Kawasaki

CK Sunday, May 31, 2009 at 11:16 PM PT

Before you quit your job by robert kiyosaki.

Gitanshu Thursday, September 3, 2009 at 1:23 PM PT

I read 4 of the above list. I would like to add a few..

1. The art of Innovation
2. The mind of the Strategist
3. Leadership wisdom from the Monk who sold his Ferrari

Sorry to point, but i have few more listed on my site..
http://penseur.in/?page_id=244

Hari Monday, January 25, 2010 at 1:11 AM PT

This question is especially for both Sunil and Sramana. This is without prejudice to the esteemed contributors here whose responses will also be appreciated.
I am from Nigeria and books like these (that are readily applicable to African business environments) are a rarity.
Though i am presently reading Guy Kawasaki’s “The Art of the Start” i observed (whether wrongly or rightly) that most of the recent books coming out of the West tend to focus more on tech companies and internet companies. Whereas here in Africa, despite the advancement in technologies and the dot com phenomenon, the bulk of entrepreneurial activities are still centred on brick and mortal businesses. I therefore ask; what books can you recommend for aspiring entrepreneurs in Africa that addresses brick and mortal businesses more. Even though written from the Western perspective some of the principles therein will no doubt be of universal applications. This i believe will be of greater help for us who are still playing in the periphries of the tech and internet revolutions and its entrepreneurial spinoffs.

Segun from Nigeria Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 6:11 AM PT

Segun, you see mostly technology discussions here because this is a technology business and entrepreneurship blog. For non-tech entrepreneurship topics, I believe there are other blogs and books which may have better answers to your questions. Entrepreneur magazine and its website, Entrepreneur.com has a lot of non tech entrepreneurship related discussions, and I would imagine book recommendations.

Sramana Mitra Tuesday, January 26, 2010 at 12:23 PM PT