Startup Summer Reading: Top 10 Business Books for Entrepreneurs

Jonathan Crowe by

Forget the latest bestselling thriller, building your business offers all the twists, turns, and cliff-hangers you can handle. Here are 10 must-read books for entrepreneurs to dive into this summer, instead.

While week-long beach vacations might be commonplace for most folks, you’re an entrepreneur. You have an endless backlog of new product features to work on, countless new customer relationships to forge, and a myriad of critical strategic decisions to make. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to sneak away for a few days this summer. More than likely, however, a few hours of downtime will have to suffice.

So, what should you do with that time? Why not kill two birds with one stone? Kicking your feet up to relax, and crack open one of the 10 great business books below. Not only will it give you an opportunity to recharge your batteries, you’ll also come across new insights, advice, and ideas on topics ranging from driving scalable growth to leveraging the latest marketing tactics to build a breakthrough brand.

2014 Startup Summer Reading List: Top 10 Books for Entrepreneurs

Startup CEO: A Field Guide to Scaling Up Your Business by Matt Blumberg

Most big company CEOs are groomed for their role over the course of several years and more junior executive positions. Startup CEOs, on the other hand, often learn through a process of trial by fire. Matt Blumberg, who founded his first company in 1999, knows that process as well as anyone. In this book, he shares lessons learned from nearly 12 years as a CEO, and lays out a plan for mastering the art and science of being a first-time chief executive.

Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup by Bill Aulet

Bill Aulet, the managing director for the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, doesn’t believe that entrepreneurs are born with something special. Instead, Aulet argues in this book that becoming a successful founder is all about one simple factor: building great products. Aulet’s guide — which is broken into 24 simple steps — gives you the insight and tools you need to improve the odds of your company’s success.

 Agile Selling: Get Up to Speed Quickly in Today’s Ever-Changing Sales World by Jill Konrath

Salespeople in a startup environment must possess the ability to quickly learn new skills, jumpstart sales of a new product, adjust to transient market dynamics, and, most importantly, deliver immediate results. In other words, they must be agile. In this book, respected sales expert Jill Konrath lays out a framework for “agile selling” that can go a long way toward unleashing your sales team’s potential in the shortest possible time.

Hooked: A Guide to Building Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal

Why do some seemingly great products flop, while other similar offerings capture our attention? In this book, Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Nir Eyal introduces readers to the concept of the “Hook Model,” a simple four-step process entrepreneurs can use to build customer habits and bring users back repeatedly — without investing heavily in costly advertising or aggressive messaging.

Rhythm: How to Achieve Breakthrough Execution and Accelerate Growth by Patrick Thean

At some point, every entrepreneur runs headlong into what seems like an impenetrable obstacle. More often than not, however, strategic thinking, smart planning, and effective execution can help founding CEOs pivot and work around any hurdle when the need arises. In this book, successful serial entrepreneur Patrick Thean introduces a simple system designed to empower everyone in your company to be more focused, aligned, and accountable.

Insight Selling: How to Sell Value & Differentiate Your Product with Insight Scenarios by Michael Harris

Today, empowered buyers have control of the B2B sales process. They know what they want, they possess a clear idea of their companies’ needs, and they often chase B2B sellers down a rabbit hole of product discounting and contract term negotiations. How can you avoid that? InsightDemand CEO Michael Harris says it’s all about delivering the kinds of insight that challenge customers’ thinking without challenging the customers themselves.

Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World by John P. Kotter

Every startup has faced this scenario at some point: Your business is moving along, making progress, and preparing to step on the gas to accelerate growth — only to be suddenly disrupted by a new competitive threat or big opportunity. If your business fails to respond to those issues quickly, you could risk losing value or falling back to the pack. To avoid that, acclaimed leadership expert and bestselling author Dr. John Kotter suggests adopting a powerful framework that will help your growing company compete and win in a world of constant turbulence.

Scaling Up Excellence: Getting to More without Settling for Less by Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao

Every expansion-stage business shares the goal of scaling up farther, faster, and more effectively. So, what’s the key to doing actually achieving that? Stanford colleagues Huggy Rao and Robert Sutton (a bestselling author) share their insight from a decade of research into the challenges every scaling organization faces, and the key principles that help cascade excellence throughout an organization.

The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty by Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi

Many entrepreneurs today blindly buy into the belief that the best way to create customer loyalty is to deliver unparalleled, over-the-top experiences that dazzle, surprise, and delight buyers. But what if that conventional wisdom is dead wrong? As CEB executives Matthew Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi explain in this book, most customers don’t actually want to be “wowed” — they just want an effortless, painless experience.

Growth Hacker Marketing: A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing, and Advertising by Ryan Holiday

As technology companies grow — particularly B2B SaaS startups — they often invest heavily in traditional marketing and advertising. While that approach can fuel brand awareness and provide critical traction, it might not be the best way to grow quickly and efficiently. As bestselling author Ryan Holiday writes in this book, that honor could belong to “growth hacker marketing” — a new strategy that many tech companies (including Dropbox) have used to reach many more people despite very modest marketing budgets.

Bonus recommendation: Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek

Why are some entrepreneurs more inspiring, innovative, influential, or successful than others? And what really separates those founders from the troves of others like them? Bestselling author and famed TED speaker Simon Sinek tries to answer those questions in this book by sharing his research on how the world’s most influential leaders think, act, and communicate. Ultimately, Sinek reveals, every great leader — regardless of background or industry — started their journeys with a very simple question: Why?

What books are you planning to read this summer? Any we should add to the list?

Image courtesy of Bill Sutton

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  • SandeepJ

    I would add a couple of additional ones to this listnn- Selling The Wheel: Choosing The Best Way To Sell For You Your Company Your Customers by Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens. Must read for technical founders who must drive initial customer acquisitionnn- The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz – Good background on challenges of being a startup CEO

  • Ben

    +1 from me on Horowitz, excellent book.nnnThe Everything Store by Brad Stone on the success of Amazaon/Jeff Bezos is good.nnnMade in America: The Sam Walton Story is reportedly a big inspiration for Bezos.nnnI would also add Hatching Twitter by Nick Bilton, for examples of how not to run a startup (but still hit $30bn+ market cap along the way!)

  • Betty Foster

    Great list. I have read a few of those and they would definitely make my list too. I would add one dot, two dots, get some new dots from David Silverstein.nnA perfect read for problem solving and gathering information.nnhttp://www.davesdots.com/

  • Leslie Hoff

    I just finished a book called “Conversations That Sell” by Nancy Bleeke (http://www.conversationsthatsell.com). nThis book focuses on teaching us how to maximize the potential of our nbusiness conversations. I never realized how important this aspect of nthe business world really is but there is so much untapped potential nwhen it comes to the power of conversation. By utilizing proper npreparation and strategy we can accomplish so much more than simply n”winging it” or using a generic strategy. I really learned a lot about nengaging my buyers and how to focus more on the buyers needs. I ntruly believe the strategies in this book can help others as it has nhelped me take a more hands on and confident approach to dealing with ntheir customers and generating new business as well. I hope you will check it out

  • Awesome list! I’m always looking for new books for entrepreneurs. I’ve read a few of these and really enjoyed them. I will have to put the others on my reading list as well. Thanks for sharing your recommendations!