Startup Books Entrepreneurs Can Learn Quickly and Cheaply—from Books

 In Startup Resources

Startup Books can be a boon for business founders. They can be inspirational and/or huge time savers. Chances are high that you are deeply into your product that is going to save the world and make you a fortune. So often a founder is something of a loner, and can be helped by an outside view of the world. Equally there are many ‘how to’ books and they can save you reinventing the wheel. You may not find exactly what you are looking for here, but at least the books listed will help you to decide exactly what is needed. There are about 50 books listed here, but of course a huge number more exist and the rate of publication is not slowing.

Pic: Man sitting reading in bookstore facing feet-high stacks of books

Entrepreneurs Can Learn Quickly and Cheaply—from Startup Books and Inspiring Books Relevant to EntrepreneurshipNew Venture Creation is an activity that has more experts than most fields of activity. This is because, for every seemingly sure-fire piece of advice, the opposite may well prove to be true. There are no axioms. There is much wisdom and often successful founders share it through the books they write. Invest in startup books!

Other inspirational writers and teachers or researchers can give your enterprise extra impetus.

The inspiration, advice and practical help you can find in books comes at a very affordable price. They often short-cut your path to learning. These books are a very personal selection, and all, have deep meaning and relevance to anyone of any age who is determined to startup with purpose.

The location of the bookstore in the picture? It’s in San José, the capital of Costa Rica. When I passed by, I noticed many of the books were in English and I could not resist taking a photograph of the bookseller and his used bookstore.

Better World Books

The bookseller for these startup books is Better World Books (BWB)—an inspirational company itself. It was born in 2003, when a group of recent college graduates sold their used textbooks online. Their success eventually led to the creation of a revolutionary new business model where used books are collected primarily from libraries, booksellers, colleges, and universities in six countries and then are either resold online, donated or recycled.Buy Books. Do Good. Support Literacy Worldwide

BWB is a purpose-driven company and one of the 82 Founder B Corporations, like Venture Founders was. Apart from anything else, for every book it sells, it donates one as well. They sell both new and used books, at very competitive prices and delivered free in the US. Dustin Holland, the President and CEO of Better World Books is a Board Member of Books for Africa, one of the NGOs supported by Venture Founders.

To date, BWB has donated almost 27 million books worldwide, has raised close to $29 million for libraries and literacy, and has saved more than 326 million books from landfills.

Recommended Startup Books

The startup books below are all titles that I have found valuable as a business founder and entrepreneurship teacher. I intend to make additions or deletions as I come across new books, or I feel that a title’s relevance has dwindled. The books appear under very broad categories to help you search. It’s not just a list of titles. I give you a brief intro and my own views where I think they may help. Just so you know, I get a small commission from BWB for every book you buy through Venture Founders.

Here are the subject areas of the startup books:

Change the World for the Better

Found a New Venture

Startup with Purpose

People and Teams

Strategy & Planning

Manage Money

Marketing and Sales

Customer Relations

Product Innovation

Founders’ Stories

How to order the book you want: Click on the title of the book you want to buy and it will take you straight to the title at Better World Books. If you are looking for a book I have not listed, click on the nearest Better World Books banner, when you reach the site just type the ISBN number of any book you are looking for in the BWB search box.

Change the World for the Better

Books in this section are useful for any aspiring entrepreneur intending to build a purpose-driven startup. Doing good and doing well is harder than simply selling a new kind of mousetrap, or opening a restaurant simply because you like cooking, even though two ventures are hard enough. The mission to change the world for the better will not only take skill, but will also take passion and compassion!

Grow the Pie: How Great Companies Deliver Both Purpose and Profit—by Alex Edmans (ISBN 1108494854)

This is a book for every intending entrepreneur who looks for a way to both make the world a better place and make a profit; and to help build an economy for the people and the planet. Yet Alex aims his words mostly at the big corporate world and public policy makers. We, who start from scratch, have the opportunity to do things differently from the get-go—and a burgeoning number of us are doing just that from a deep moral conviction that both Government and Business have failed the majority.

Alex is Professor of Finance at London Business School and has much experience on both sides of the Atlantic, having done his PhD in Financial Economics at MIT Sloan. Before his undergraduate degree at Oxford, he had attended my Dad’s old School, St Paul’s in London. Not surprisingly his book is deeply rooted in research, both his own and that of many other academic researchers.

Grow the Pie is a very significant book just because of that. At the same time, it comes from Alex’s deep commitment to responsible business, as evidenced by his role as a steering committee member of The Purposeful Company, a consortium that is designing policy changes to encourage companies to pursue long-run purpose rather than short-run profit.

Fulfillment: Winning and Losing in One-Click Americaby Alec MacGillis (ISBN 0374159270)

Here’s depressing book! It’s about disparity, unfairness and socio-economic inequality. But wait, before you move on to something else more inspiring, know that this is an excellent description of the failure of the fittest to survive, trickle down finance and laisser-faire economics.

Through individual personal stories, MacGillis shows us in graphic ways just why we have to change our approach to doing business. Not only is it immoral, it is unfair, and leads us downhill towards either anarchy or totalitarianism.

Ostensibly the book’s central thread is about Amazon’s philosophy and practice and how the web has cast a shadow over how things work in present day America.

However on the other hand, it ably demonstrates important messages about how entrepreneurs and policy makers can lead the way to get out of the mess we have collectively and freely created. No one person is responsible, even though the author implicitly points a finger directly at Jeff Bezos.

Fulfillment shows just why the “1%” should be taxed at pro rata rates similar to ordinary mortals. This is especially true, when you know that nearly 10% of Americans have incomes below $15,000 a year while more than 8% have incomes above $200,000 a year (Statista). It can hardly come as surprise therefore that according to the US Census, 34 million Americans live below the poverty line.

Once you have read the book, you will want to change your approach to management in business and government. Entrepreneurs will create new ventures more humanely than ever in the past.

The Lonely Century: How to Restore Human Connection in a World That’s Pulling Apart—by Noreena Hertz (ISBN 0593135830)

Why on earth should this 2021 book be read by an entrepreneur? It should be read by entrepreneurs and many others in business, because Noreena reminds us that even before a global pandemic introduced us to terms like social distancing, loneliness was well on its way to becoming the defining condition of the 21st century.

We use the word community a lot, but we hardly ever stop to consider that the word refers to people with common interests. It’s my opinion that a community can be for reasons like:

  • Interest: share the same interest/passion;
  • Action: trying to bring about change;
  • Place: together by geographic location;
  • Practice: same profession or activity;
  • Circumstance: together through externalities;
  • Communication: need to share information;
  • Experience: similar employer, upbringing;
  • Virtual: distance interaction;
  • Impact: behavior—cause or consequence;
  • Transaction: buyers and sellers.

The issue is that we can argue endlessly whether we belong to a community or not, and because we can be members of several communities at the same time. Sometimes we can think we belong to a certain community, but feel excluded.

The self-seeking form of capitalism of the last 40 years, the author emphasizes, has marginalized and isolated very large numbers of people who live and work in the community we call the United States. The pushing of the ‘trickle-down’ economy and huge disparities of wealth have tended to cause the dissipation of care and compassion in our community. We should concern ourselves with well-being, not wealth.

She also underlines the obvious alienation and loneliness that results from the pervasiveness of information technology in our lives, as well as downstream negative effects of the phenomena, like the one that online has on Main Street. As Noreena notes, all is not bleak, but the pretension that business should be concerned for all stakeholders, rather than just the shareholders, expressed by the Business Roundtable, is regrettably not very evident in reality yet.

The author tells us about Umuganda in Rwanda, a still isolating community (post genocide). The Rwandan word translates as, “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome” and was introduced by the government as part of the healing process. She says, “The antidote to the Lonely Century can only ever be us being here for each other, regardless of who the other is. If we are to come together in a world that’s pulling apart, nothing less is called for.”

The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix Itby Robert Reich (ISBN 0593082001)

This title of this book makes it sound like a polemic. It is a polemic, but with answers. Our capitalist system is in a mess and we fight over details, rather than looking more carefully into fixing the whole system. Robert Reich shows how we can make things better for everyone.

When I was growing up we heard the word oligarchs1 a lot. It was always associated with powerful men on the other side of the Iron Curtain Then it came into use once the Curtain came down . Now we don’t have to do that, because they are right here in the United States, dominating the way we run things. There is an urgency to fix the system, but as entrepreneurs we can do our bit, and rather effectively.

Berkeley professor and former Secretary of State, Reich is considered a progressive. There are people on the right who dub him either socialist (as a term of derision) or a communist (which indicates they don’t understand). However, those labels are unhelpful in appreciating the threat to democracy from the few who make up the American oligarchy.

This risk is high and particularly threatens small and medium-sized businesses. Major corporate leaders are largely in cahoots with the law making system, ensuring that they are enabled to both enrich themselves (at the expense of others) and ‘falsely’ inflating the values of quoted share prices, that are supposed to reflect the value of their enterprises.

The book implicitly compares values (basic and fundamental beliefs that guide or motivate attitudes or actions) and value (the monetary, material, or assessed worth of an asset, good, or service). It’s a book about ethics. Professor Reich demonstrates why we need to change the system os that workers and communities have a larger voice in corporate decision making for collective benefit2.

In 2019, the Business Roundtable Redefined the Purpose of a Corporation to Promote ‘An Economy That Serves All Americans’, as a Principle of Corporate Governance. The Principle stresses that “Each of our stakeholders is essential. We commit to deliver value to all of them, for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”

Robert Reich shows just how that statement of stakeholder capitalism is simply not present in our economy of today. Had these business leaders really wanted to see a change in the practice of corporate governance, they would have gone on to say how their disingenuous statement would be acknowledged and realized through registration as a Public Benefit Corporation (available in 35 States and DC), since it requires a legal change to a company’s Articles of Association.

The importance of this book for startups is that they should consider registering as a Benefit Corporation from their inception, since that will require the entrepreneurs to consider carefully the intent of the new venture’s business. Reading this short book, will give them the inspiration to take that route. Reich’s book should inform the thinking and decision making of every entrepreneur, to avoid greed and delusion about how the new venture is going to flourish in a fair community.

This book was published in March 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, giving it special poignancy. Robert Reich says, “No other developed nation has nearly the degree of inequality found in the United States, even though all have ben exposed to the same forces of globalization and technological change.”

1One of a small group of powerful people who control a country or an industry; the term derives from the Ancient Greek oligarkhia meaning “the rule of the few”.

2The German system of supervisory boards was introduced in 1951, reflecting the popular determination that these powerful industries should be brought under greater democratic control and should not be able to be misused, as they had been during the Nazi period.

Better Business: How the B Corp Movement Is Remaking Capitalism—by Christopher Marquis (ISBN 9780300247152)

Entrepreneurs and company board members who have any sensitivity towards other people in the world we share, should read Better Business: How the B Corp Movement is Remaking Capitalism, by Christopher Marquis. Our interdependence is obvious in daily life. We can no longer expect others to correct or pay for our selfish and shortsighted corporate behavior inside or outside the business.

Chris writes eloquently about the BCorp Movement and stakeholder democracy—the most important business issue of NOW. He shows why it is important for business to move away from shareholder primacy in business, both in our employment practices and commercial behavior. He makes clear why we need legislative and structural change.

Marquis demonstrates how it is not about introducing social good into business the way that palliative corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR has largely been used by large companies to look good. He shows how remaking capitalism is about a fundamental shift in business priorities from so-called fiduciary responsibility to one that reflects internal and external behavior that demonstrates compassion.

The author is not only a business school professor, but is also an excellent writer who tells a vital story though many examples of businesses learning how stakeholder capitalism is both critical to the bottom line and the survival of business itself. His interviews with business people are succinctly described and make the book easy to read and deeply convincing.

He gives us real insight into how the B Lab founders have relentlessly built the B Corporation process through patient persuasion and careful negotiation with lawmakers to introduce the Benefit Corporation institutionally. Venture Founders LLC was a founder BCorp back in 2007. Back then, I had no idea that the BCorp Movement would develop internationally on the scale that it has. I should not have been surprised, given that the original concept was not only designed to be “best in the world, but best for the world”. In essence, Chris lays out how business must change for democracy itself to survive.

Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fireby Rebecca Henderson (ISBN 9781541730151)

Rebecca is not alone in showing concern for three great problems of our time: environmental degradation, economic and social inequality, and institutional collapse, but she is one who describes many urgent and practical ways for business to take action.

The book is a delightful and encouraging panorama that inspires and enables businesses of all sizes to take steps to change society for the better in ways that government could, but doesn’t. She cites many examples of companies that have already developed and implemented policies that give us hope that our grandchildren (in my case my great-grandson) will inhabit a more sustainable and fairer world that reflects our interdependence.

In my world of entrepreneurship, I know that Reimagining Capitalism is a vital read for anyone contemplating a startup, not least for the performance advantages of an all-stakeholder focused business, but the contribution it makes to the survival of our species. Back in 1982, my first startup in the UK was based on the principles Rebecca describes. I was skeptical that my partner’s suggestion of giving away 10% of pretax profits (we became profitable in year 3) would be a good idea. But the resulting benefits repaid us ten times over.

Rebecca describes why we have to revolutionize the purpose of the firm and quotes the retired Unilever CEO, Paul Polman, who said, “Some people think that greed is good. But over and over it is proven that ultimately generosity is better.” She gives the example of Aetna whose $16 minimum wage plus benefits introduced over five years ago shocked those who believed in shareholder primacy. Her beautifully written and gripping nearly 12-page case study demonstrates the huge corporate benefits that flowed from the CEO’s revolutionary policies.

Do not think that stakeholder capitalism is either flaky or a breeze. It requires outstanding vision, articulation and measurement. But the book’s sub-title says it all, suggesting that the need to reimagine capitalism is because the world is on fire. Inaction spells doom. That is why I implore startups to define their purpose and measure outcomes—both for their benefit and ours. A first step is to read Rebecca’s book now.

(Note: Harvard Professor, Rebecca is a Brit by birth (as am I) and she teaches the Reimagining Capitalism course at HBS.)

Impact: Reshaping Capitalism to Drive Real Changeby Sir Ronald Cohen (ISBN 9781529108057)

Impact capitalism is what this inspiring book is about. “All over the world, capitalism and democracy are being forcefully challenged. It is becoming increasingly clear that current levels of inequality are unsustainable and people around the world, in both developed and emerging countries, are rebelling against the unfair distribution of social, economic and environmental outcomes,” says the author, when talking about the ‘invisible heart of impact capitalism’.

The notion of impact capitalism derives from the term ‘impact investing‘. “Impacting investing aims to generate specific beneficial social or environmental effects in addition to financial gains. Impact investments may take the form of numerous asset classes and may result in many specific outcomes. The point of impact investing is to use money and investment capital for positive social results (Investopedia)”.

Educated at Oxford and Harvard. Sir Ronald Cohen founded Apax Partners in 1971, when he was 26 and it’s now a huge global private equity firm. Apax has always had a commitment to the impact of their investments as well as growth/profits. They look to the UN Sustainable Development Goals to assess how they can contribute. Sir Ronald has spent many years working in the field of Social Impact Bonds (Pay for Success in the US) in the UK, US and across the world, that ensure that the impact of such investments is quantified. He is devoted to the practice of looking at impact investments through the lens of risk—return—impact, rather than just doling out money to social development and hoping for the best.The author is dedicated to solving bigger problems in the world faster—through business, NGOs, and Government itself, often in partnership.

Startups and their drivers will benefit by learning the lessons of what he strives to share. I’m sure that had I practiced the idea of working impact and outcomes as much as my focus simply on purpose and intent back in the 80s, my own startup would have achieved dramatically better results. The message of Impact has to be heard and implemented if capitalism and democracy as a whole are to survive and deliver on their aspirations. This is an important book for purpose-driven entrepreneurs. The Impact book opened my eyes to the vast sums being committed to impact investment across the globe. But most of all as a dedicated stakeholder capitalist entrepreneur, the book reinforces the need for and role of impact entrepreneurship—and the fact that , as Sir Ronald says, “We can harness these two horses, doing good and doing well.”

Sir Ronald’s writing style is very dry and the physical book is badly made, combining to make it a bit of a tough read.

Small is Beautiful: a Study of Economics as If People Matteredby E F Schumacher (ISBN 9780060916305)

This is a book and set of ideas that I first read, in 1974, the year after it was published (and I had met the author). It has traveled with me on my entrepreneurial journey over 50 years and more. Right up front, even back then, he says, “Modern man does not experience himself as a part of nature but as an outside force destined to dominate and conquer it.” We persist in beating it to a pulp almost 50 years later. The last few words of the book about the “traditional wisdom of mankind” encapsulates his argument in favor of small enterprise and ‘right livelihood’. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others.”

Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Fewby Robert Reich (ISBN 9780385350570)

In 2015, the author finishes the book by suggesting that we have the power to alter the rules of the market to meet our needs, rather than continuing to allow a system in which almost all of the gains go to the few at the top. We need to work together through understanding what’s happening and organizing the market so that the gains are fairly distributed to all. Just think of the billions of dollars multinationals distribute to shareholders after corporate tax cuts and then ask for government handouts after a market crash, while employees benefitted not a jot. Like other titles in this list of startup books, founders can learn a lot about what not to do, from the behavior of CEOs of the big companies.

Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperityby Joseph Stiglitz (ISBN 9780393353129)

Nobel prizewinner Stiglitz cites research that demonstrates that equality and economic performance are complementary, rather than opposing forces and suggests that we can choose to fix the rules structuring our system. He also makes the point about the economic partners, government, business and labor. Innovative entrepreneurs need to play their part to ensure that in future we share prosperity, and prevent it only flowing to the 1%.

Buddhist Economics: An Enlightened Approach to the Dismal Science—by Clair Brown (ISBN 9781541724068)

First, do not be put off, if you are neither Buddhist nor meditator, this book is really important for all three of the economic partners: government, business and labor. A Berkeley professor of economics and a Buddhist, Clair writes very directly from her own experience as well as her professional experience. She acknowledges that the term Buddhist Economics was coined by Fritz Schumacher (see Small is Beautiful above), but in my view, she makes the subject both real and applicable. Brown contends that Buddhist Economics can “provide guidance for restructuring both our individual lives and the economy to provide a better world. She advocates an approach to organizing the economy so that a meaningful life reflects our caring for one another and a global sharing of the world’s resources in a sustainable system.

The Leveling: What’s Next After Globalizationby Michael O’Sullivan (ISBN 9781541724068)

This an inspirational book for founders who want to anticipate how the business environment is going to change. Several of the titles in this list of books for startups will greatly help founders to anticipate issues that in future may risk their own venture’s existence. This one will give you context for how for the US and its place in the world undergoes radical change—the ebbing of influence, profound questions over its economic model, societal decay, and the turmoil of public life. He suggests world is becoming multipolar, as the arrogance of leaders impels the process of leveling.

Real Impact: the Economics of Social Changeby Morgan Simon (ISBN 9781568589800)

A leading investment professional explains the world of impact investing–investing in businesses and projects with a social and financial return—and shows what it takes to make sustainable, transformative change. Morgan Simon is co-founder of the Candide Group, that directs capital away from an extractive global economy towards investments dedicated to social justice and sustainability.

startup books

Found a New Venture

The Entrepreneurial Mind: Winning Strategies for Starting, Renewing and Harvesting New and Existing Venturesby Jeffry Timmons (ISBN 9780931790850)

I first met Jeffry in 1981 when he was a mentor on a series of venture capital workshops run by Venture Founders Corp, the Boston vc company of which he was one of the founders. I named my own business Venture Founders, many years later and long after they ceased trading—in his homage. He answers the question, “What are the attributes, attitudes, philosophies and strategies of successful entrepreneurs.” Among all these startup books, this is one on the least known and most inspiring.

New Venture Creation: Entrepreneurship for the 21st Centuryby the same Jeffry Timmons (ISBN 9780073285917)

This more of a manual, comparing it with the enlightening a swift read of the book I suggest above. BUT, it should be a must-have on any founder’s bookshelf. It runs to nearly 800 pages in large format, so you won’t refer to it daily, but having it there to search is a powerful and time-saving answer to many ‘how do I’ questions across all business functions, as well as the philosophy behind the actions. My copy is falling apart!

The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-by-Step Guide for Building a Great Companyby Steve Blank and Bob Dorf (ISBN 9780984999309)

The most significant difference between this book and New Venture Creation is that all the 500 or so pages the Manual are devoted to customer development—soup to nuts. As the authors advise, this is not a book to read cover to cover. Get familiar with the way it’s organized, so that you can consult the right sections of it as you get the venture off the ground and go through the early stages of development. I wish I had had the book in 1982 for my first startup.

The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businessesby Eric Reis (ISBN 9780670921607)

This book has spawned a whole new world for entrepreneurs (and many other books that use the thinking and apply it to particular situations). The Lean Startup’s central idea is to bootstrap the startup financially. The central idea is about learning from failing fast and often. In other words, not ‘betting the farm’. Too often I have met entrepreneurs who want to get from idea to perfect prototype before they start up. These people are those who probably never actual get to Day One of a new venture. As a basis for Lean Startup, Eric defines a startup as a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

The Soul of an Entrepreneur: Work and Life Beyond the Startup Mythby David Sax (ISBN 9781541736009)

“Starting your own business isn’t about becoming an instant billionaire. It’s about choosing the work and life you want for yourself every day,” that’s what David Sax’s book is all about. He tells it how it is for us ordinary mortal, not the fables of Silicon Valley. It’s about the fabric of our society.

This book is reassuring to all those who say to themselves, ‘Oh, I couldn’t really put my ideas into practice!’ But, oh yes, you can! Have been there, done that I can assure you can. Like David Sax, I want to sell you on the idea than you can start a new venture and if you are not convinced, then you must read this book.

The business press loves to write about the glamorous, sexy, icons of the financial world, but for most of us that’s fantasy. However, don’t be daunted. We can really make a difference in the world, one customer at a time, even if nobody ever writes a word about us. This is not Hollywood, Wall Street, it’s main street, home town.What’s exciting about today is that entrepreneuship has been democratized.

We can indeed start businesses on our kitchen table, our sewing machine, our laptop. The motivation to become an entrepreneur is not universal. There are endless reasons to take the leap, My own experience was the most mundane. I had tried and failed before, but i had just reached the point where I had to do it. I did not want to, nor did I need to put my three kid family or my mortgage at risk. That did not mean I was headed on a foolhardy mission.

David Sax is a Canadian entrepreneur (of a kind). He is a freelance writer motivated to explore why and how the world works the way it does. As he says, “In order to be an entrepreneur, a person needs to fully own their work and have complete independence over its direction.” That’s what’s so exciting.. He quotes Wendy Guillies, who runs the Marion Ewing Kauffman Foundation that promotes entrepreneurship. She says, “I’m glad entrepreneurship is cool, but I think it needs to be something everyday people can see themselves at.”

I found Sax’s book very exciting and reassuring at the same time. I am done with my entrepreneurial career at the practical level, but I can exhibit entrepreneurial traits at the age of 82. How about: passion, optimism, discipline, proactivity, learning, competitive, humble and kind… You know you can do it, right here, now!

David’s book will boost your morale.

startup books

Startup with Purpose

You may find encouraging support and ideas in the following books. As you reflect on the fundamental purpose of your enterprise, you are likely to find both stimulus and inspiration.

Intentional Integrity: How Smart Companies Can Lead an Ethical Revolutionby Robert Chesnut (ISBN 9781250272478)

Integrity is illusive. Yours may differ from mine. So it is with startups or big companies. If we don’t define what integrity means to your business, everybody in it may have a different idea of what it represents.

Definition is only the start. We need to make sure we are all on the same page, so our definition needs to be codified and worked through every part of the business, written down, discussed, shared and reviewed. Participative training sessions will be involved.

In addition, we’ll need to establish ways to monitor our behavior against the definitions and report on performance. Robert Chesnut, the author of Intentional Integrity, is a lawyer and the chief ethics officer of airbnb. He has plenty of stories to tell, both from his own experience and that of others. He goes into many illustrative examples based on real cases.

He describes what are Code Moments and has 40 pages of discussion on them. They mostly refer to larger companies. However the entrepreneur would do well to be aware of the kinds of ‘moments’ that can happen very quickly, while attention is focused on surviving and growing the startup.

In my 1982 startup it took us about four years to codify what we stood for: “People and Profits; We Are Our First Customers; Benefits Not Badmouth; Market Driven With Values; Everyone Carries Boxes; Everyone Sells; Fun Matters Too; Responsible in the Community; Success to Empower Others; Profits and People.” It was hard work to maintain and we did have a few lapses.Robert’s book would have been invaluable to us had we had it back then.

As Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, has commented “His book contains smart, practical advice for anyone looking to do good and do well.”

Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Actionby Simon Sinek startup books(9781591846444)

This is a book that everyone who has entrepreneurial ambitions would do to read, before they get too deep into the planning and execution of their venture. Simon describes how the power of Why completely changed his view of the world and restored his passion to a degree multiple times greater than at any other time in his life.

He describes what he calls the Golden Circle, which inverts the order of how most startups, and businesses in general, are designed and promoted. Rather than starting with what the startup is (features) and telling how it works (benefits), he would recommend you start with why (purpose) the venture exists. he points out that business people focus on the what first, using their neocortex (rational) brain, not their limbic (emotional) brain. Think about it…

Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Comingby Paul Hawken (ISBN 9780143113652)

Paul is both entrepreneur and environmentalist. He has influenced many people, in both spheres. Almost a third of the book is a list of activist organizations purposefully concerned with building a globe that is systemically fair, compassionate and sustainable. Paul was an entrepreneur first having founded Erewhon, the first natural foods distributor in the US, then Smith & Hawken a garden products catalogue and distributor company.

Growing a Businessby Paul Hawken

Though you might think a book written in 1988 has no relevance to today’s startups, you’d be wrong. His first entrepreneurial venture, well before that, was a natural foods business he started in Boston in 1968. So don’t think that natural foods retailing is a new phenomenon. Whole Foods (then called Safer Way) was founded in Austin, Texas ten years later.

The book flows from his startup experience in more than one venture. It is very personal and does not resemble a ‘how to’ manual, but rather is an inspirational read. I would judge that Paul was the first entrepreneur of the twentieth century to marry profit with purpose. Now the purpose-driven business has come a long way, but the strong vision and honesty of this book will charge the resolve of new venture creators and lead them to avoid falling into the growing abyss that herds of shareholder capitalists are tumbling into.

Read this book to give power to your elbow. Apart from anything else, he tells you why too much money is a more dangerous problem to have, than having not enough. “People intuitively understand that a good business enhances the lives of those who work within it, and enriches the lives of all those who touched by it”, Paul made this statement over thirty years ago. Mmm!

The Necessary Revolution: How Individuals and Organizations Are Working Together to Create a Sustainable Worldby Peter Senge, Bryan Smith, Nina Kruschwitz, Joe Laur and Sara Schley (ISBN 9780385519045)

Peter and coauthors describe how today’s most innovative leaders recognize that we must implement revolutionary—not just incremental—changes in the way that we live and work. Dare to be great and don’t restrict yourself by so-called conventional business wisdom. It’s largely hooey!

The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World by John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan (ISBN 9781422104064)

The book is about the creation of real value and real wealth. They say that, “by bringing natural, social, human, intellectual, and cultural forms of capitalism into the equation, social entrepreneurs aim to deliver real wealth to billions of people around the world who have so far been excluded from the benefits of the market economy.” Whether you are building a formal social enterprise or not, John’s concepts are entirely relevant to a purpose driven venture of any kind.

The Art of the Start 2.0: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anythingby Guy Kawasaki (ISBN 9781591847847)

Guy is amazing. He knows that entrepreneurs do it to make the world a better place; and to do something they love. He insists that founders have to make meaning, but takes you through very practical steps of conception, activation, proliferation–and the art of being a mensch: someone who is ethical, graceful, and admirable! Guy’s irreverent and enthusiastic writing gives your morale a boost as you struggle with turning your idea into reality.

Company of One: Why Staying Small Is the Next Big Thing for Business—by Paul Jarvis (ISBN 9780358213253)

This book is written by someone who quit the corporate world to set up on his own not as a freelance, but by starting a company that he deliberately want to stay small—a company of one—to have a richer and more fulfilling life. He managed to stay small on purpose. By staying small, one can have freedom to pursue more meaningful pleasures in life, and avoid the headaches that result from dealing with employees, long meetings, or worrying about expansion. Company of One introduces this unique business strategy and explains how to make it work for you, including how to generate cash flow on an ongoing basis.

Local Dollars, Local Sense: How to Shift Your Money from Wall Street to Main Street and Achieve Real Prosperityby Michael Schuman (ISBN 9781603583435)

Michael is director of research for Cutting Edge Capital and an economist/lawyer, but more important he has been and advocate for and leader of community-based economic development efforts across the country. He wrote The Small-Mart Revolution about how small local companies are competing with the giants. This book is about believing in yourself and not to be beguiled by America’s investment system, which is broken—even more now, than when the book was published, eight years ago. On the positive side, there have been many initiatives, including those spurred on by him, that facilitate a revival of local communities.

startup books

People and Teams

The Starfish and the Spider: the Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizationsby Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom (ISBN 9781591841838)

If you cut off the spider’s head, it dies, but if you cut off a starfish’s leg, it grows a new one. It may even grow into a new starfish altogether. Traditional top—down organizations resemble the spider, and the more agile ones resemble a starfish. The starfish are more networked and better able to sustain themselves. If knowledge and power is distributed and responsibility is dispersed, you’ll avoid team members saying they can’t do something because “it’s above their pay grade.”

Strategy and Planning

Good Strategy Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Mattersby Richard Rumelt (ISBN 9781781256176).

Strategy is a very fluid and complex subject. Rumelt’s three components really help you understand the strategy process: diagnosis that defines or explains the nature of the challenge; guiding policy for dealing with the challenge; coherent actions that are designed to carry out the guiding policy. He calls bad strategy ‘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. My MBA students benefited hugely from the book.

Business Model Generationby Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (ISBN 9780470876411)

The authors 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 before and after startup. You would benefit by looking at my post on the Business Model Canvas, the core of the book before you buy it.

Value Proposition Designby Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Patricia Papadakos (ISBN 9781118968055)

Next to Business Model Generation, 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 startup’s purpose and its offer to 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—by Jeffry Timmons, Andrew Zacharakis and Stephen Spinelli (ISBN 9780071412872)

If you want more fundamental help, then the only book to buy is this one. 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 book.

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant
by W Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne (ISBN 9781591396192)

Still as relevant as ever, the advice in this book may seem to be a tough way to go, but the rewards are exciting. The business I started last century seemed crazy to customers when we first went on the road, but care and attention, took us into nice blue oceans, leaving behind the shark infested red ones. I am not saying we had no competition. We did, but we knew who and where they were.

Strategy of the Dolphin: Scoring a Win in a Chaotic Worldby Dudley Lynch and Paul L Cordis (ISBN 9780449905296)

The book originally appeared in 1988, but has a blood curdling reality still. They say, “Where we find thoughts, feelings, actions, and intuitions that bring together people and resources elegantly, we find circumstances and situations that are attractive to dolphins.” This book is about why and how we can change our awareness of complexity, as well as the skills and sensitivity we need to work with it. The authors talk about being ‘on purpose’ and ‘pushing the envelope’. You don’t have to be a shark to be a success in business.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future—by Peter Thiel (9780753555194)

Peter Thiel says, “This book stems from a course about startups that I taught at Stanford in 2012. Zero to One is about how to build companies that cre­ate new things. It draws on everything I’ve learned directly as a co-founder of PayPal and Palantir and then an investor in hundreds of startups, including Facebook and SpaceX. But while I have noticed many patterns, and I relate them here, this book offers no formula for success. The paradox of teaching entrepreneurship is that such a formula necessarily cannot exist; because every innovation is new and unique, no authority can prescribe in concrete terms how to be innova­tive. Indeed, the single most powerful pattern I have noticed is that successful people find value in unexpected places, and they do this by thinking about business from first principles instead of formulas.

startup books

Manage Money

Keeping the Books: Basic Recordkeeping and Accounting for Small Businessby Linda Pinson (ISBN 9780944205570)

Now in its 27th year, this is one of the most successful and effective guides to preparing and analyzing financial statements, setting up bookkeeping systems, and planning for taxes. Featuring chapters on income and expenses, cash accounting vs. accrual accounting, numerous small business resources, and a rundown of facts about independent contracting, it has been updated to reflect the latest forms and worksheets. The guide has helped hundreds of thousands of new entrepreneurs (including me) to understand and apply small business record-keeping practices that have contributed significantly to increased profits here in the US.

Never Bet the Farm: How Entrepreneurs Take Risks, Make Decisions-And How You Can, Tooby Anthony Iaquinto and Stephen Spinelli

This book may sound boring, but I can tell you it’s not. It’s almost an essential read to prevent the frequent reason for startup failure—running out of cash. The authors’ motto is ‘never spend a dollar, when a dime will do. That does not mean being a cheapskate, but may save you being forcably evicted from the farm. The authors (despite being business school teachers!) do not go on endlessly or spout theory, they are storytellers, who use examples. This makes the book an easy and compelling read.

Stephen was co-founder of Jiffy Lube apart from anything else. He was appointed President of Babson College in Boston in 2019. He has taught there for the last 15 years and was Director of the Arthur M Blank Center for Entrepreneurship. Babson is the gold standard for entrepreneurial thinking and it’s statement of purpose is to, “Empower learners everywhere to create lasting value for themselves, their communities and the world.”

Clean Money Revolution: Reinventing Power, Purpose and Capitalismby Joel Soloman, Chairman of Renewal Funds (9780865718395)

He has invested in over 100 early-growth stage companies in North America, delivering above-market returns while catalyzing positive social and environmental change. He interviews a selection of investor, nonprofit and business leaders about their experience in the field. He describes clean money as, “money aligned with a purpose beyond self-interest. Money for the Commons. Money that makes the world better.” My reason for recommending the book is that reading it will give you a sense of what mission-driven venture capitalists look for in relation to entrepreneurs in whom they might invest. Have a look too, at my incomplete Directory of Mission Driven Capital. There are nearly 100 sources of such finance sources.

Marketing and Sales

You’re Invited: The Art and Science of Cultivating Influenceby Jon Levy (ISBN 9780063030978)

This is not meant to be a marketing book, but it certainly is a book for marketers—an important one. Even more important, for entrepreneurs, Jon Levy’s book will lead them to understand ‘influence’ and how it helps to set the whole tone and behavior of the business from the start. It will help fundamentally the way the new venture goes about business altogether.

The book describes successful ways to build trust with others, both inside and outside the business and it shows how connecting with others works, both well and badly. Above all the book demonstrates the significance of community and the interdependence between all stakeholders in any endeavor.

Jon does not describe the media of influence per se, but rather the ways that we behave, either positively or negatively and the how those behaviors help or hinder the business to share value and thrive.

You’re Invited! If you accept, it will help you to make a positive contribution to the culture of the place you work in and the implications that it has for all those involved or impacted by it.

The Impact of Invitation

Recently, I experienced the impact of invitation. I had purchased two relatively expensive fittings for my new truck. I decided to install them myself, but after installing the first product, I was frustrated in fitting the second. Before the purchase, I had a very satisfactory telephone call with the sales department, so didn’t hesitate to call the customer support department, now I needed help. However, the person who answered could not assist, but had me wait while he connected me to a tech rep. He failed to find the right person, so explained that he’d write ‘a ticket’ and that I would get a callback the following day.

I became insistent that a ticket would not work since I was leaving on a trip early the following morning. After some delay, he told me someone would call within the next ten minutes. I had my doubts, but a ‘tech’ did just that. This person very quickly explained what the printed instructions had failed to do, inviting me to call back if I had further problems and gave me the appropriate extension number. I did! When I called, he solved the new issue in under 30 seconds, as well as adding some further advice.

Read this book, and your ability to invite will change you life and that of many others.

Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing—Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growthby W Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne (ISBN 9780316396790)

Yes, the same authors as Blue Ocean Strategy (above), but with much more experience of the Strategy’s application in practice. The authors show you how to move beyond competing, inspire your people’s confidence, and seize new growth, guiding you step-by-step through how to take your organization from a red ocean crowded with competition to a blue ocean of uncontested market space.

Scaling Lean: Mastering the Key Metrics for Startup Growthby Ash Maurya (ISBN 9781101980521)

You may or may not be dedicated to growth as you struggle to get your startup off the ground, but on Day Two, you will need to begin to think about survival. Naturally you’ll be giving a huge amount of your attention to marketing and sales. Maybe you won’t be worrying about measurement in your flurry of promotional activity, but on Day Three, you probably should be!

Ash Maurya is the creator of the Lean Canvas, variant of Business Model Canvas and an active mentor in the Lean Startup movement. His fast-paced book gives you many ideas about how you can see if your ‘big idea’ will survive. My personal experience tells me that you may not follow this highly illustrated guide step by step, but it will give many invaluable ways to track how things are going and to prevent you repeatedly committing the same errors, simply because you don’t understand what’s really happening in your baby business. It is not just a matter of revenue, you know!

You will learn from many of the examples he describes—from companies familiar to you, like Airbnb or Tesla. Traction will be what you’re after however grand your ambition are; without momentum you will not survive.

startup books

Customer Relations

The Thank You Economyby Gary Vaynerchuk (ISBN 9780061914188)

The Thank You Economy is about something big. It isn’t some abstract concept or wacky business strategy—it’s real, and every one of us is doing business in it every day, whether we choose to recognize it or not. What interests me is that for so many years companies have been told to construct their ‘vision and values’, ‘mission statements’ and the like and then when you interact with the company, it’s clearly b……t. They do not belong to the people who work there, nor do outsiders experience them. If you buy this book from Better World Books, check out their purpose and values!

Product Innovation

Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Productsby Nir Eyal (ISBN 9781591847786)

The author conceived the Hook Model as a way to remind product developers to get products into the minds of of potential users. The Trigger is commonly the ‘call to action’, or something about the product that calls us to take a look. The Action comes next when we click on a link as we’re drawn to something by the ease of doing it as well as the psychological motivation. The Variable Reward comes from the brain surge in expectation of reward, that suppresses judgement and reason. The Investment phase increases our chances of passing through the Hook phase again. The payoff of this short book is the last chapter that helps us to know where to look for ‘habit-forming opportunities’.

startup books

Founders’ Stories

The Startup Wife—by Tahmina Anam (ISBN 9781982156183)

Tahmina, the author of this novel, is a real startup wife, so this fictional story comes from a place of knowing what it’s like. Her husband, Roland Lamb started Roli, a London music tech startup in 2009, now in administration. She was on the Board, so her insights come not just from being married to an entrepreneur, but by being a part of the business herself.

Ironically, Roli went into administration around the time that Tahmina’s novel was published in the Fall of 2021. Though well capitalized, Roli’s burn rate felled the company, with growth being less than projected. Roland and Tahmina remounted their horse and founded Luminary, a new company that has taken over all the IP, staff, products, brands and assets of the failed Roli. Luminary’s mission is to help everyone to experience the joy of music learning and creation.

Luminary, also based in London, raised £1.5 million (Sterling) on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform as well as attracting angel (Keith Morris), corporate (Sony Music) and venture capital (Hoxton Ventures).

The novel is a fast-paced narrative that pulls you this way and that. It may offer the intending entrepreneur some sage warnings as well as exciting encouragement. I recommend the book to anyone who envisions going down the startup road.

If you are going to start a new venture with your spouse, be warned that it will be a 24/7 journey with muddled boundaries between personal and business relationships. Your colleagues will see you warts and all, though I was surprised that at one point on my own journey, when I expressed concern to the team about them having to experience tension and disagreements between the spouse founders, I found that ‘coming clean’ opened the way for huge support.

Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently, and Succeedingby Seth startup booksGoldman and Barry Nalebuff (ISBN 9780770437497)

They were the co-founders of Honest Tea. Indeed Seth (Chief TEO) is still with the company, despite the fact that it now belongs to Coke. When this title was published in 2013 the story was astonishing enough, but the startup has moved on, but maintains its founding purpose, as you can see by visiting the company website ( Seth is always ready to respond and I think it’s time for a new book to see just how he relentlessly pursues his deep felt values and translates them into reality through actions of his team. Oh, by the way, the book is graphic (as in graphic novel).

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Childrenby John Wood (ISBN 9780061121074)

John Wood was with Microsoft in its startup years. He changed his trajectory when he left to start Room to Read with “the efficiency of General Electric and the compassion of Mother Teresa.” This book is his story. Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in low-income communities by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. John says of his nonprofit, “it has a Private Sector Brain, Nonprofit Heart.”

Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman—Including 10 More Years of Business Unusualby Yves Chouinard (ISBN 9780143109679)

Let My People Go Surfing is the story of a man who brought doing good and having grand adventures into the heart of his business life—a book that will deeply affect entrepreneurs (and outdoor enthusiasts). His French father was a blacksmith, but as young adult he learned how to forge rock climbing pitons as a ‘bricoleur’, working on things that come to hand and making something new. Eventually his first business came in 1965. Read the full story, it’s very inspiring. It grew through several stages to become the Patagonia of today, with revenues of more than $1 billion. Always dedicated to sustainability, Patagonia calls itself the Activist Company. And it is. I believe you’ll want to spend some time on the Patagonia website, for the lessons you can learn. He’ll share the first forty years of Patagonia with you in another book published in 2012, The Responsible Company (ISBN 9780980122787).

You might even want to get Patagonia gear emblazoned with your logo!

The Soul of a Business: Managing for Profit and the Common Goodby Tom Chapell (ISBN 9780553374155)

Tom’s book was published over 25 years ago, but don’t let that put you off. You may know one of his products, Tom’s of Maine toothpaste. Tom and his wife Kate founded the company in 1974 and eventually sold the company to Colgate in 2006, but they set up again in retail with Ramblers Way in 2009. He shows you how to re-shape a business to manage for the common good. A few years ago I met Tom and Kate in Maine and one of his remarks has stayed with me and is highly relevant today. He was commenting on how entrepreneurs are changing the world, and he wryly said to me, “the entrepreneur is today’s Senator of America.” Even before my company did, Tom’s of Maine was giving away 10% of pre-tax profits and still does, even as a subsidiary of a major corporation. Likewise, it is a B Corp, like other purpose driven companies that have been acquired by multinationals, like Tom and Jerry’s. As of 2018, Danone of France has 9 certified B Corps, for more on this visit Lift Economy, whose mission is to create, model, and share an inclusive and locally self-reliant economy that works for the benefit of all life. Ramblers Way also gives 10% of profits to the community, as indeed did my main company, back in the 80s.

Start Something That Matters—by Blake Mycoskie (9780812981445)

Blake is the Founder of Toms Shoes in 2006 and is known for one-for-one business model. Toms Shoes gives a pair to a kid with no shoes, for every purchase of one of their products, hence ‘buy-one-give-one’. By buying a book via Venture Founders, you’ll be playing the same game—Better World Books gives a book away for every one ordered. So does Madi Apparel founded by Haley Santell—in their case it’s women’s underwear. Founder Hayley learned underwear is the most under-donated clothing item & formed MADI in 2012 after learning a family member was once a victim of domestic violence. Underwear tops the most urgent needs list at most domestic violence shelters and sexual assault clinics. The ‘buy-one-give-one’ model is not for the faint-hearted entrepreneur, so read plenty more about it before launching in your own disaster.

Ice Cream Social: The Struggle for the Soul of Ben & Jerry’sby Brad Edmondson

This book was published in 2014, a long while after the purchase of Ben & Jerry’s by Unilever and thus gives a perspective on the development of the company’s economic and social missions after takeover by a multinational. He indicates that Paul Polman the Unilever CEO who retired in 2018 was indeed influenced by Ben & Jerry’s heritage. Paul says, “As CEO of Unilever, my personal mission was to galvanize our company to be an effective force for good. Unilever has an ambitious vision around decoupling growth from environmental footprint and at the same time increasing positive social impact through the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan”.

Polman founded Imagine in 2019, to work with CEOs who are building their companies into beacons of sustainable business and leveraging their collective power to drive change on tipping points in their industry—from greenhouse gas emissions to labor standards to biodiversity. Polman is a big fan of the UN Sustainability Development Goals  and describes them as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

And then of course, there’s Ben & Jerry’s Double Dip: How to Run a Values-Led Business, and Make Money, Too—by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. Neither of the authors need an introduction. This book is their own story, published in 1998. To get the inside scoop it’s really important to read and understand the process by which the two established and developed both the brand and the social mission for which they became known and much respected. Ben & Jerry’s has always been committed to an ambitious three-part mission: making the world’s best ice cream, supporting progressive causes, and sharing the company’s success with all stakeholders: employees, suppliers, distributors, customers, cows, everybody.

startup books

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