The best startups (or even large tech companies) I’ve been in or seen are led by people who have the “Silicon Valley mindset.” This is basically a way to think about problems (customer problems and pain points), products (solutions to those pains), people (who to have on your team), PMF fit (product, market, founder/org fit), and execution plans (how to flexibly get stuff done yesterday, pivot to something new, or massively scale, using as few resources as possible). I believe this can be learned and taught and that there are faster, more efficient ways to do it than people realize. If you just read the short list of materials here, you will know as much as the top 5% of founders in Silicon Valley. The other materials will also help and inspire you.
No reading is as good as working at a tech startup, or starting your own (building your first product, getting your first sales, etc). Get your hands dirty early: fail early and fail often. Reading to avoid mistakes is most valuable when you are building.
At its core, a tech startup is 2-3 engineers and 1-2 business and salespeople. There is also the modern development of the 1 person Saas company, which Saas and AI tools will help make more common.
The Short List of Startup Resources
1. YC Startup School – watch as many of the prior year videos as you can and learn from founders – literally the best place to learn. Here are their top companies (Google them to learn more), and their startup library. If you only have one source, this is it.
2. Paul Graham, Various Essays. The single best essay on startups and one of the best things ever written about business and wealth: “How to Make Wealth”. Graham is the Yoda of has written a few other excellent essays on startups:
- “Startups in 13 Sentences”
- “What Startups are Really Like”
- “Why to Not Not Start a Startup”
- “How to Fund a Startup”
- “The 18 Mistakes that Kill Startups”
3. Eric Reis, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. Doing startups means setting up a series of controlled experiments where failure is normal. Read Reis along with Olsen’s “The Lean Product Playbook: How to Innovate with Minimum Viable Products and Rapid Customer Feedback.” and Tony Fadell’s “Build.”
4. Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. The best book on dealing with people, selling, and managing. Carnegie is a must-read.
5. John Wooden, Wooden on Leadership. The best book I’ve ever read on leading teams. It pairs really well with Schmidt’s book “Trillion Dollar Coach” about Bill Campbell, who advised many of the top SV companies.
6. Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs. Not a good example to learn startups from (Steve was better at running a big company), but inspiring in many ways. Worth reading alongside is the “Becoming Steve Jobs” book that goes into the details of how Jobs made products, and all his mistakes. Vance’s “Elon Musk” is worth it too.
7. Steve Blank, The Startup Owner’s Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company. Four Steps to the Epiphany. Two great books: one is an overview, and the other offers a great process/way to talk to customers and develop a product that they want iteratively – geared toward tech.
8. Clayton Christenson, The Innovators Dilemma. High-tech startups are about disruption. Learn from the best thinker on the subject.
9. Techstars, Do More Faster. More detailed basics for tech startups, from the venture incubator TechStars in CO/NY – most important tips are on how to create a good initial team and how to iterate quickly from bad ideas to products that sell soon – I think a committed team of people who trust and complement each other matters more than an initial idea for most startups.
10. Podcasts like “How I Built This” and “Masters of Scale”, along with practical websites like the “First Round Review.”
The Long List of Startups Resources
Startup and Business Philosophy & Execution
Andreessen, Why Software is Eating the World and It’s Time to Build.
Hsieh, Delivering Happiness
Horowitz, The Hard Thing About Hard Things
Thiel, Zero to One
Fred Kofman, Conscious Business
Jay Goltz, The Street-Smart Entrepreneur: 133 Tough Lessons I Learned the Hard Way
Chip Conley, Peak: How Great Companies Get their Mojo from Maslow
Noam Wasserman, The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup
Eli Broad, The Art of Being Unreasonable
Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Doerr, Measure What Matters
Yang, Smart People Should Build Things
Osterwalder, Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers
Peters, The Little Big Things
Heath, Made to Stick. See also: Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work
The Millionaire Next Door. Good advice on how to be thrifty and how normal businesspeople get successful (they buy trucks to move products instead of Porsches).
Cusumano, The Business of Platforms
Knapp, Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days
Fitzpatrick, The Mom Test: How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you.
Norman, The Design of Everyday Things
Becksvoort, Shaker Legacy
Bryson, At Home: A Short History of Private Life
Peter Sims, Little Bets
Marsh, UX for Beginners: A Crash Course in 100 Short Lessons
Simon, The Tech Stack of a One-Man SaaS (also see: Tools and Services I Use to Run My SaaS, The Architecture Behind A One-Person Tech Startup)
Cusumano, The Business of Software: What Every Manager, Programmer, and Entrepreneur Must Know to Thrive and Survive in Good Times and Bad
Koren, Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers
Hellmann, 50 Designers You Should Know
Klemp, Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams
Jackson, The Essence of Software
Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations
Sales, Marketing, Negotiating, & Pricing
Pink, To Sell is Human
Clayton Christenson, Crossing the Chasm
Alvarez, Lean Customer Development: Building Products Your Customers Will Buy
Kazanjy, Founding Sales: The Early Stage Go-to-Market
Gil, The High Growth Handbook
Weinberg, Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth
Kooij, The SaaS Sales Method
Bosworth, Solution Selling: Creating Buyers in Difficult Selling Markets
Rackham, SPIN Selling
Davidow, Marketing High Technology
Web Analytics 2.0: The Art of Online Accountability and Science of Customer.
Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant.
Fisher and Ury, Getting to Yes
Shell, Bargaining for Advantage
Reichfeld, The Loyalty Effect
Anderson, Free: The Future of a Radical Price is
The Complete Guide To Freemium Business Models. Uzi Shmilovici, Sept. 2011
Ghuman, Price To Scale: Practical Pricing For Your High Growth SaaS Startup
Team Building & Managing
Grove, High Output Management
Zhuo, The Making of a Manager
Mantle, Managing the Unmanageable (Software Engineers)
Cagan, Empowered: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Products
DeMarco, Peopleware 2.0
Brooks, Mythical Man-Month, The: Essays on Software Engineering
Depree, Leadership is an Art
Smart and Street, Who: The A Method for Hiring
Baker, Managing Right for the First Time
Rodgers, No-Excuses Management: Proven Systems for Starting Fast, Growing Quickly, and Surviving Hard Times
Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham. Street Smarts: An All-Purpose Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs. Stuff you should know from real-world, non-tech entrepreneurs.
Rumelt, Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The difference and why it matters
Logan and King, Tribal Leadership
Managing Innovation and Entrepreneurship [MIT OpenCourseWare]
Venture Capital and Funding
Bussgang, Mastering the VC Game: A Venture Capital Insider Reveals How to Get from Start-up to IPO on Your Terms
Mullins, The Customer-Funded Business: Start, Finance, or Grow Your Company with Your Customers’ Cash
Preston, Angel Financing for Entrepreneurs: Early-Stage Funding for Long-Term Success
Draper, The Startup Game: Inside the Partnership between Venture Capitalists and Entrepreneurs
Perkins, Valley Boy: The Education of Tom Perkins
Reiss, Bootstrapping 101: Tips to Build Your business with Limited Cash and Free Outside Help
Bagley, Entrepreneur’s Guide to Business Law
Basic info/guide to all the legal issues – you’ll never need anything else.
Startup Memoirs and Histories
Rao and Scaruffi, A History of Silicon Valley, 2nd edition
Malone, Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World’s Greatest Company
Wallace, Hard Drive: Bill Gates
Isaacson, Steve Jobs
Schlender, Becoming Steve Jobs
Benioff, Behind the Cloud. How Marc Benioff, a serial entrepreneur, built Salesforce, with great tips on doing a tech startup.
Livingston, Founders At Work
Levy, In the Plex (Google)
Vance, Elon Musk
Higgins, Power Play (Tesla)
Stone, The Everything Store. Amazon Unbound
Stone, The Upstarts
Canny, How we built a $1m ARR SaaS startup
Julian Guthrie, Alpha Girls
Miller, Chip War
Davenport, The Space Barons: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos
Chen, Influence Empire (Tencent)
Russo, The Infinite Machine (Ethereum)
Armstrong, The Untold Story of Stripe
How Coinbase Grew Into The King Midas Of Crypto – CB Insights
Orfalea, Copy This
Clark, Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built
Slootman, Amp it up (Snowflake)
Shah, How Atlassian Built a $10 Billion Growth Engine
Soni, The Founders: The Story of Paypal
Isaacson, The Innovators
The wild life of billionaire Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey
Kirkland, “The Golden Gut” (Fortune article on Sheldon Adelson). How Sheldon Adelson, a serial entrepreneur, built multiple businesses and sold them, getting bigger every time and taking smart risks and experimenting.
Walton, Made in America
How Sam Walton built Walmart from one store to the largest US company by sales
Koch, Science of Success
Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing
Patagonia founder Chouinard on how to create a sustainable business.
Michael Bloomberg, Bloomberg on Bloomberg
Jones, Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World
Sloan, My Years at GM
Watts, The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century
Howard Schultz, Pour Your Heart Into It
Fred DeLuca, Start Small, Finish Big. Basics for all new business creation, from the Subway founder DeLuca – lots of great bootstrapping tips – how to get from small to very large.
Symonds, Softwar: An Intimate Portrait of Larry Ellison and Oracle
Dahlvig, The IKEA Edge
Freiberg, Nuts! Southwest Airlines’ Crazy Recipe for Business
Stathis, The Startup Company Bible
Polygon, The Four Lives of Epic Games
Websites focusing on entrepreneurial issues include:
- Hacker News
- YC Startup School
- First Round Review
- How I Built This podcast
- Masters of Scale podcast
- The Information
- MIT/Hadzima Entrepreneur Resources
- Writing a Business Plan, by Sequoia Capital
- Product Creation / Management books
- Paul Graham’s Essays
- Lean Startups
- Tim Ferris
- Kauffman foundation’s guide for entrepreneurs
- Venture capital investment activity
- http://www.bplans.com (Sample business plans)
- http://www.startupbiz.com (Business plans & forms)