8 Must-Have Books For Any Startup Founder & Entrepreneur’s Bookshelf

Having just returned from a beach vacation, I came back refreshed and rejuvenated, but I was not coming back as inspired as previous vacations. The books I read were fun, thoughtful, and definitely not as heavy as previous vacations, but as a big non-fiction guy, I’d rather read and learn something, then be taken away to a fantasy world consisting of character building.

I work with startup founders, entrepreneurs, and business owners every day that are at varying stages of their career, or have varying levels of experience. As such, I tend to go back to the same suite of books that set the foundation of my learnings, so I thought I’d share them here ahead of the holidays. For some, you won’t have time to read, for others, it is the time you finally do get to reset and relax a bit before kicking off 2017. Regardless, here is a must-read list of books for startup founders and business owners. I’ve put it in an order of progression that I feel makes the most sense for a growing entrepreneur and welcome your comments about other must read books, because I know this is only the start of an entrepreneur or startup founder’s bookshelf (they also make perfect gifts for the entrepreneur in your life):

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a small percentage of the purchase. The book choices are my own and the links help me support the upkeep and hosting on my website.


1) “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” by Steve Blank

You’ve heard of Eric Ries and the “Lean Startup?” Steve Blank was the first to the plate and if you look back to the late ’90’s, I think most founders had this as their startup book. I definitely recommend the physical book over the Kindle edition as there are a lot of graphs and illustrations you will find valuable. Pick it up from Amazon here.

2) “The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich” by Tim Ferriss

I will admit it, it took me awhile and a lot of suggestions to read it before I finally did read it about a year ago. Yes, I was late to the party, but now looking back, this is a book I would have read as I had just been starting my first company. While “The Four Steps to the Epiphany” helps you identify a business idea, and market in greater detail, Tim Ferriss’s book reiterates some of those key ideas, then dives into the tools to really go after testing and building your idea into a business. He takes a hands on approach and shares the services and tools that will help you get it done. Buy the book here.  I have yet to read it yet, as it JUST was released, but I’m looking forward to his newest “Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers,” which is getting high accolades.

3) “Founders At Work: Stories Of Startups’ Early Days” by Jessica Livingston

Even Apple had their difficulties, many now coming to light after the passing of Steve Jobs, however, this book includes interviews with founders regarding the big wins and big losses that shaped the companies they became. In many cases, it was the biggest letdown that shaped their big wins. It includes stories from Steve Wozniak of Apple, Caterina Fake of Flickr, Max Levchin of Paypal, Stephen Kaufer of TripAdvisor, Blake Ross of Firefox, Paul Graham’s Viaweb story, Craig Newmark of Craigslist, and Sabeer Bhatia of Hotmail, among many others. Easy to digest in a Founder’s daily work commute, this will give you hope in your darkest days as a business owner, and remind you to keep a level head when the big wins come your way. Get the Kindle or physical book here.

4) “Management” and “Management Cases” by Peter Drucker

I consider this book my “MBA in a Book” book. If you have an MBA, you’re probably rolling your eyes, but the lessons and case studies in these two books are considered by business professors around the world to be the epitome of management theory. If you read these, which are far from a quick read, and really quite dense, you will walk away with a deep understanding of managing a business effectively, then will also start to understand why many of the business books you may have read or will read in the future are based on watering down and simplifying the concepts in these books. Definitely must reads. The links above will take you to where you can purchase the books. If you’re in love with Drucker after these, then I recommend “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” as the next read. Definitely read the other two first though.

5) “Service Included: Four-Star Secrets of an Eavesdropping Waiter” by Phoebe Damrosch

Quality customer experiences will shape your company, regardless of how great your product is. Within the world of business, it is too easy to read books about customer service and how to wow your customers. I do think that Peter Shankman has a great book on Customer Service I also recommend, but if I were putting a college class together, I would take it out of the standard tech and business world for this read about Thomas Keller’s Per Se restaurant and how the level of service at this world class restaurant is what helps command top dollar for not only the food, but the entire restaurant experience in New York. Having been, I would agree that Per Se has only been matched by one other restaurant experience and that was Eleven Madison Park. Both an entertaining read and a look into high touch service and attention to detail, this book will give you a lesson in creating a winning customer experience. Pick it up here.

6) “Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization” by Olivier Blanchard

The last book was more fun, but that was to break up the text book density of the Drucker books and this book. The common thing I hear from pre-launch founders, or even founders that have launched, is “we’re going to spread it on social media.” UGH… Social media isn’t as easy as getting an intern to post on your Facebook wall a few days a week, or Snapchat away over the weekend. There are deep strategies and planning that need to be implemented to craft your brand, your story and your message. While it can be inexpensive to market on social media from a monetary standpoint, if you want to do it correctly, you need to invest the time and effort to understand the nuances of this powerful tool. A must read and one that you need to invest your time and attention into as a business owner. I recommend buying the physical book here.

7) “Finance for Managers” by Harvard Business Essentials

I didn’t get my MBA, I took the minimal math, accounting and economics courses in college, but this book guided me through the world of income statements, balance sheets, and a variety of fundamental finance lessons that I needed to run a business. It is essentially finance for non-finance folks. Get the physical copy and keep it on your bookshelf as a reference guide.

8) “Venture Deals” by Brad Feld, Jason Mendelson, and Dick Costolo

This is a must-read before you start the fundraising process. If you think your business is ready to go from zero to Unicorn, then you need to read this. Read other investor’s blogs, and read other content, but this should be your starting point guide to the fundamentals of getting your company ready to raise money either for your angel round, or above. Their 3rd version is just about to be released in print, and I would get that version to keep handy on your desk as well. Get it, read it, and refer back to it, the three authors are quite candid about the fundraising process from an investor perspective.


Of course, this list will have other’s that arise, including Peter Thiel’s “Zero to One” or “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, but I think these 8 act as a toolbox to business owners and startup founders.

Have others you recommend? Leave your suggestions in the comments. 



Leave a Reply