7 Mind-Blowing Books Every Startup Founder Needs To Read

For any entrepreneur, the most powerful tool of all is the mind. The way you think, dream, create, and make decisions has a huge impact on your personal success. Without regular inspiration, it’s easy to fall into a mental rut.

Running a business probably takes up most of your time, but it’s important to make the time to feed your mind, recharge your spirit and fire up your motivation.

A good book can do all of that in the few hours it takes to read from cover to cover. Whether it’s an e-book or a good old-fashioned hardcover, the right words can expand your worldview and enrich you. You can get a fresh angle and the stimulation you need to take your online gig to the next level.

With that in mind, the following seven books deserve a place on your bookshelf.

1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

First released in the mid 1930s, this guide was around long before the floodgates were opened and thousands of personal development titles hit the book stores. It’s full of that very rare commodity: common sense.

Carnegie’s book is aimed at business leaders and marketers, which makes it perfect for the entrepreneur, but really, it’s a book for everyone. Here’s one of many lessons Carnegie gives us on social skills:

I have come to the conclusion that there is only one way under high heaven to get the best of an argument – and that is to avoid it. Avoid it as you would avoid rattlesnakes and earthquakes.

Carnegie shows how business isn’t just about sales numbers. A big part of success comes from how you interact with people. The book includes chapters like “Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of Thinking” and “Be a Leader: How to Change People Without Giving Offense or Arousing Resentment.”

Reading this book won’t automatically change your personality, as some of the more enthusiastic reviews might claim, but it is a classic – and there’s a good reason it is so often quoted. If you haven’t already read it, this book will improve your business skills.

2. Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Thiel’s book climbed to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Why? Because it contains solid advice from a self-made billionaire on how to start a successful startup, and because reading it makes you want to get out there and be exceptional.

Thiel reminds us that the next great entrepreneur won’t rehash an old idea. The next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. Instead, he or she will create something new from Zero (to One). It’s an optimistic book that celebrates the power of thinking for yourself and learning to ask the right questions.

Here’s one thought-provoking excerpt:

The best entrepreneurs know this: every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside. A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret, the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator.

3. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

If you prefer hard facts over opinion, this is the one for you. Besides being a best-selling author, Ries is an online entrepreneur with a lot of hands-on experience. His book is like a bright light in a dark forest for anyone interested in the finer technicalities of entrepreneurial science.

It’s based on established theories, taking lessons from the ‘lean philosophy’ of the production industry and applying it to online startups. The ‘Lean Startup’ approach shows you how to launch with brutal efficiency while leveraging human creativity to its full potential. This quote will give you the gist of the book:

The Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop is at the core of the Lean Startup model.

4. Enchantment by Guy Kawasaki

This book picks up the torch where Dale Carnegie left it. Kawasaki goes beyond the regular paradigms of customer satisfaction. He explains why you need to enchant your customers – in other words, make them fall in love with you and your product.

If you’re struggling to set your company apart from competitors, this book could be just what you need.

Want to change the world? Upset the status quo? This takes more than run-of-the-mill relationships. You need to make people dream the same dream that you do.

5. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Besides some great business advice, this book offers value on a personal level too. It’s a refreshingly honest account of the author’s struggle to master the challenges of starting LoudCloud, and then Opsware. This book is less about showing you how to avoid mistakes – it’s more about what to do when you’ve already made one.

What entrepreneurial self-help books often don’t teach you about are the curve-balls that life can throw your way, and how to handle those on top of everything else that an entrepreneur has to deal with. Horowitz’s story shares some of his darkest hours, and how he overcame those personal challenges.

Marc: “Do you know the best thing about startups?” Ben: “What?” Marc: “You only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.

6. Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace

Creativity is the lifeblood of Pixar, the creators of the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo. This book shares insights from the president of Pixar, and explains the management methodology that put him at the top of the animation game.

The book is more about management strategies than the creative process itself, so it will be more useful to the leader of a team than to the solo entrepreneur. The strategy that worked for Catmull and his team was to create the right environment for excellence. The book shows you how to use a philosophy that protects and encourages creativity, because, to quote Catmull:

Originality is fragile.

7. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss

Timothy Ferriss says that his greatest fear is “a tolerable and comfortable existence doing something unfulfilling.” His book explains how he broke free from the mold – mentally, emotionally and spiritually – and thrived, and shows you how you can do the same while reducing anxiety. If this book doesn’t shake you, you’re probably in a coma.

There are plenty of bold claims in the book, and at first sight it might look like that much loathed get-rich-quick variety of self-development books, but Ferris backs up his claims with some valuable, solid information. He has some great advice on how to manage your time and your routine tasks, and his enthusiasm will shake you up and compel you to pay attention.

The question you should be asking isn’t, “What do I want?” or “What are my goals?” but “What would excite me?”


Perhaps you’re thinking, “Who’s got the time to read a book?” But consider the Pareto Principle: Roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In other words, just a few hours of your time spent on a really good book could have a huge impact on how you run your business.

Choosing the right book is important. It’s an investment of your valuable time, so make sure you invest wisely and read something that will give you exactly what you need, something that can help you become the entrepreneur you really want to be.

Have you read a book that inspired you to become a better entrepreneur? We’d love to hear about it – share it with us in the comments section below!