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App business: 10 Must-Read Books for Startup Founders

The startup world is built on the culture of learning. When entrepreneurs understand the importance of self-development and make it part of their company’s ethos, everybody wins. After all, successful businesses aren’t grown in silos. A proven way to learn new things is to read books by experienced founders. But with so many great books out there, where should you start?

We asked the Baremetrics Twitter community for their top recommendations. Here is the list organized in the order they were shared in the comments. Happy reading!

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Table of Contents

App business: 10 Must-Read Books for Startup Founders

1. Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross and Marylou Tyler

If you or your sales team do any outbound prospecting, you should definitely prioritize reading Predictable Revenue. According to Ross and Tyler, a consistent flow of qualified leads is key to achieving year-after-year growth.

They offer a step-by-step guide to hiring the right sales talent, organizing an effective sales team, and executing their Cold Calling 2.0 technique at repeatable scale.

2. The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz is a cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley’s most respected entrepreneurs and investors. In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Horowitz distills years of experience building companies into actionable lessons of leadership.

Unlike many business books that try to sell you on what to do right, Horowitz instead acknowledges that screw-ups are inevitable, and details how he and his teams overcame challenges.

One of our favorite takeaways: “Take care of the people, products, and profit (in that order).”

3. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How To Build the Future by Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel is a cofounder of PayPal and known for his investments in companies including Facebook, SpaceX, Airbnb, LinkedIn, Yelp and Stripe.

Zero to One is Thiel’s guide to thinking about startups in different and often counterintuitive ways. Even if you don’t agree with everything Thiel writes, you’ll appreciate this book as an exercise in rethinking conventional wisdom to imagine products as novel solutions with huge impact.

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4. The Challenger Sale by Brent Anderson and Matthew Dixon

The Challenger Sale is another must-read for sales teams. According to Adamson and Dixon, effective sales reps don’t just build relationships with prospective customers, they challenge them.

This means that instead of leading sales conversations with facts and figures about a product (yawn), Challengers (their term for salespeople) aim to educate customers and tailor their messaging to the customer’s unique needs.

Rather than being apologetic about trying to sell, Challengers are assertive and take control of the conversation.

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

Although it was published over 20 years ago, the core tenets of Good to Great remain relevant and useful today.

Based on five years of research comparing companies that became highly successful (think Kroger and Wells Fargo) with others that did not, Good to Great argues that greatness is not merely circumstantial, but rather the result of curiosity and discipline to work towards goals.

6. Getting Real by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

If you work in tech, you likely know Fried and Hansson as the cofounders of Basecamp and industry thought leaders. Not to mention, Hansson is the creator of Ruby on Rails, the web application framework that companies like Airbnb and Crunchbase have used to build their sites.

Getting Real is Fried and Hannson’s (and by extension, Basecamp’s) playbook of all things web development. It covers design, programming, marketing, and business practices in thorough, but practical detail. Whether you’re technical or not, anyone working on web-based applications will learn something from this book.

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7. Built to Sell: Creating a Business That Can Thrive Without You by John Warrillow

According to Warrillow, the number one mistake entrepreneurs make is building companies that rely way too much on them. In other words, it’s bad news if the entrepreneur becomes synonymous with the company. This is a problem because when it comes time to sell the company buyers aren’t confident that it can succeed without the founder.

In Built to Sell, Warrillow says entrepreneurs should pursue three criteria- teachable, valuable, repeatable- across company functions to build a sustainable and sellable business.

8. Make Your Mark: The Creative’s Guide to Building a Business by Jocelyn K. Glei

Whereas most business books are geared towards managers, Make Your Mark is written for the creative who wants to turn their skills into profitable businesses.

Glei introduces the book with helpful tips around finding a purpose then details how to build a company that is lean, focused, and customer-centric. The book includes insights from 20 entrepreneurs and designers who helped build companies like Warby Parker, Facebook, and Bonobos.

9. What is Strategy by Michael E. Porter

Michael E. Porter is the author of nineteen books, a multiple founder and co-founder, and esteemed Harvard Business School professor.

What is Strategy in particular has remained popular among academics and non-academics alike for its position on strategy: operational effectiveness, while important to a company’s growth, is not sufficient because its techniques are easy to imitate.

Strategy, he teaches, doing things differently from your competitors to deliver greater value at a lower cost.

Note: This article is available only to Harvard Business Review subscribers.

10. Zero to Sold by Arvid Kahl

Arvid Kahl is a software engineer turned entrepreneur and writer. Zero to Sold details his decade-long journey of bootstrapping, building, and selling Feedback Panda, an edtech SaaS business, in 2019.

People love Zero to Sold for a lot of reasons– one being that it’s relatable. While stories about unicorn companies are certainly exciting, learning from the experience of someone whose circumstances mirror yours is arguably more helpful when it comes to strategy and tactical decision-making.

Conclusion

Getting into a habit of reading can have great outcomes for founders and leaders alike. Whether you’re seeking expertise on a specific topic, inspiration to keep going, or just a window into the mind of an entrepreneur you admire, books are an easy way to do so.

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