4 Must Read Books to Make You a Better Entrepreneur

4 Must Read Books to Make You a Better Entrepreneur

10th June 2014

Having made the entrepreneurial leap and started my own business this year, I’ve found that many people have asked me a number of questions about my decision to do so. Largely these were questions like: “where did you get the inspiration?”, “what did it take to make the leap?” and “what were some of the unexpected things you came across that I hadn’t planned for?”.

In all honesty, it’s very hard to encapsulate the desire to create something of your own in a simple blog post. Entrepreneurialism is a difficult thing to teach and, from experience, many of the most recognised entrepreneurs possess a drive and desire far beyond that of your normal everyday guy or girl. One thing I’ve observed is that, in order to develop the right mindset to learn and become more entrepreneurial, one must be inspired. In my opinion, while I believe it difficult to instil the mindset of entrepreneurialism in everyone, after all some people are quite happy in their jobs and/or being ‘an employee’ for their working lives, there’s no problem in that. For those that do yield an entrepreneurial flare, and may become their generations Jobs’ or Zuckerberg’, inspiration and a no-nonsense approach is absolutely key in their development.

This effect cascades as these individuals move from those being inspired to those inspiring others. Inspiring individuals is one effective way of communicating the potential benefits of pursuing life as an entrepreneur, understanding others journeys, the highs and lows and things to be aware of and what can go wrong. There is no one-size-fits all solution for creating your own company. Too many variables are at play. That said, there are certain lessons that you can take from others who have made the journey themselves. In this post I wish to share 4 books that have been particularly influential to me in reading before making the leap, for each of these books I’ll share what was the most important lesson I learned from them and hopefully get others to read them for themselves.

The Lean Startup – Eric Ries

Llean Startup Book Cover

Incredibly well referenced in many entrepreneurial circles is Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup. In this book Eric refers to much of his own experience when developing his company, taking readers through the methodology he developed while doing so. Much of Ries’s methodology borrows from ‘kaizen’ the philosophy of continuous improvement of Japanese origin.

“Kaizen. This is the belief that things are never perfect and can always be better. It is the acceptance the dramatic changes are unlikely to yield the best returns; relentless, incremental progress should be objective.”

The major things that The Lean Startup proclaims are:

  • MVP (Minimum Viable Product) – This is the notion that an idea can be justly validated using as basic an approach as possible. An idea doesn’t have to be the all singing and dancing version from the off, instead developing an MVP – a low investment prototype can enable entrepreneurs to validate their ideas with their perceived audience, critically this is done prior to investing heavily.
  • Build Measure Learn – The Lean StartUp preaches that this purposefully stripped down process should be used at every key stage in your product/company’s development, taking an active approach to building, measuring important KPIs and learning (then adapting based on the lessons learned) should be carried out over and over in order to constantly stop and assess the importance of each stage in the cycle.

The Lean Startup Methodology Diagram

  • Continuous and Validated Learning – Largely similar to the previous point, but I wished to separate this for greatest impact. As the Build Measure Learn process takes place, The Lean Startup observes that this process should, seemingly, becoming more fluid allowing you to build, measure and learn faster than before, identifying and taking important learnings with you to the next stage.

Continuous Innovation The Lean Startup

“Departments too often spend their energy learning how to use data to get what they want rather than as genuine feedback to guide their future actions.”

While some may shy away from reading The Lean Startup due to its out and out popularity, I would contest quite the opposite and cite some of the companies that pursued it’s methodology as examples of the power of Ries’s teachings, take:

  • IMVU – Eric Ries’s own co-founded project which he cites frequently throughout the book
  • Aardvark – A social search engine, acquired by Google for a cool $50 million
  • Wish.co.uk – A personal favourite homegrown experience day business
  • Dropbox – Valued at $10 billion after it’s latest funding round

…as some of the many success stories that grew up following the teachings of this book.

Key Learning: Agility: The Power of the Pivot

A fundamental lesson that I personally took from The Lean Startup was the termed that Ries coined when writing the book, that is the ‘pivot’. Ries defines the pivot as:

Pivot = A change in STRATEGY without a change in VISION.

You can see Eric speaking more about what the pivot is, here:

How to Get Rich – Felix Dennis

How To Get Rich Felix Dennis Cover

As the name hopefully suggests, this book is written in a far more tongue in cheek manner than the others. Felix Dennis’How To Get Rich is the literary equivalent of sitting with Mr. Dennis himself and regaling his many years of experience, what his successes were and how he came about them and also what his greatest failures were and what you can do to avoid them. Dennis, of Dennis Publishing, has packed this book full of useful lessons and to a large part just common sense advice from which I learned a lot, anything from: The importance of equity, a straightforward take on tax (and why you should just pay it rather than run the risk) and also the somewhat bizarre, uncontrollable albeit necessity of luck in business. Also, there are some genuine laugh out loud moments, making it somewhat more light-hearted than some of the others.

Key Learning: Luck is an unknown variable.

While there will always be ways to prepare yourself, simply taking the step to do something is the biggest obstacle you’re required to overcome.

The Startup Owner’s Manual – Steve Blank & Bob Dorf

Startup Owners Manual Cover

Somewhat different still to the other recommendations here, The Startup Owners Manual, authored by entrepreneurial icons Steve Blank and Bob Dorf also famous for the Four Steps to Epiphany provides something much more akin to a school textbook in the approach to setting out on the journey to become an entrepreneur. The Startup Owners Manual is, just that, providing numerous checklists and processes (example shown below) that you should carry out when approaching your own entrepreneurial venture, else risk failure.

Startup Owners Manual Process

“A start-up is a temporary organisation in search of a scalable, repeatable, profitable business model.”

One particular focus of the book is customer discovery and customer development, it presents these as simple experiments that you should approach purposefully in a series of short, simple, objective pass/fail tests. Using these you enable yourself to easily gauge the possibility that you’re onto a good idea, or not. As stated before, these ‘tests’ are made available through a number of checklists that your can either fill out in the book or photocopy to distribute as you see fit. It is this aspect that I liken this style of book to a school textbook, as far as I have come across so far, this is one of the most thorough and practical takes on developing your own startup.

Key Learning:

Of the many things that I took away from this book (it is nearly 600 pages long!), in particular I resonated best with these two:

4 Vital Start Up Metrics:

  • Cash burn rate
  • Number of months worth of cash left
  • Short-term hiring plans (and the long-term impact of these)
  • Amount of time until company reaches cash-flow break-even

The Customer Development Manifesto

Start it Up: Why Running Your Own Business if Easier Than you Think – Luke Johnson

Start It Up Luke Johnson Cover

“You do not need an earth-shattering invention to achieve success.”

Further away from an instructional manual and more like a good friend encouraging you on, Luke Johnson’s Start It Up communicates, in simple terms, what the important aspects of starting on your own are. Along with this it delivers a well rounded rallying call to all those buddy entrepreneurs who may have the pleasure of reading it. To me, this was a fundamental book in my entrepreneurial literary journey. In parts it can be somewhat dreamy and philosophical, but in my opinion that is what makes this tome so memorable, I could quote it all day long. Practising what it preaches, Start It Up provides an optimistic outlook on the positivity and spirit of entrepreneurs, by reading it I challenge those considering the choice of starting something to not want to do so more.

“…avoid the obvious markets, products and services. Aim for the obscure, the boring, the poorly researched, the niche, the undesirable, or the ugly opportunities. These are the places the crowds miss.”

As with many books in this field, some of which mentioned above, Johnson also explores the trials and tribulations that the entrepreneur is likely to encounter such as: communication with angel investors, the necessity of talent and also the essential ability of entrepreneurs to recognise they will not be specialists in everything, often a few talents that you do really well have the ability to carry you to the top

“Happiness is about independence and freedom, and vital engagement with one’s craft in a productive way.”

Key Learning: Look in the least obvious places.

Of all the intricacies that can overcomplicate the decision to create your own thing, the most important thing is actually taking the leap. Often the most boring things can be the least researched and most exciting entrepreneurial prospects

Go Fourth and Learn

Although a drop in the ocean to those books aimed at budding entrepreneurs, having read many others, it is these four that I constantly refer individuals to when on the subject of great reads for those looking to set up their own business. Above all they offer four somewhat different angles on just what it is like to be your own boss each in turn takes a different approach developing a rounded educational base for to fuel your inspiration. Whether you’re seeking

  • A somewhat scientific and process-driven approach to achieving success in your new venture (The Startup Owners Manual)
  • A mantra that all fledgling businesses should adapt to (The Lean Startup)
  • An insight into the experience of someone who has been there and done it (How To Get Rich)
  • Or simply the reason to do it in the first place (Start It Up)

…I’d strongly recommend taking the time to read these 4 books in order to equip yourself best to approaching life as an entrepreneur. I’m always on the lookout for other recommendations of particularly inspiring books to add to my literary collection, so please leave others that I may have overlooked in the comments below…


Written By
Ned Poulter is CEO & Founder of Pole Star Digital, a Digital Marketing Consultancy he runs alongside a number of entrepreneurial ventures. He spends his time developing and overseeing digital strategy for a number of well reputed international clients, developing creative approaches to achieving organic search results, increasing inbound traffic,...
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