Startups 101: A Reading List for Founders

Dec 2022

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

Top Ten

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:

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

Bahcall, Loonshots

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

Product Creation

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

Morrison, Muji

Jackson, The Essence of Software

Rogers, Diffusion of Innovations

Fundamentals of Design (MIT)

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

Hoffman, Blitzscaling

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

YC Guide on Seed Fundraising

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

Levy, Facebook

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

Web Resources

Websites focusing on entrepreneurial issues include:

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