Required Reading List for Entrepreneurs--Updated

At the end of 2011 I wrote an article in which I listed the ten books I think every entrepreneur should read. During the past two years, lots of new books have been published, and I got around to reading some older books. Three of my old favorites have been replaced by newer selections, and I’d like to share them with you. So, here is the updated list of my favorite books and why I like them so much.

1. The Startup Owner’s Manual (Steve Blank). Building upon the Business Model Canvas craze, this book delves more deeply into many of the topics first explored in The Four Steps to the Epiphany yet is easier to read. Combined with Blank’s Lean Launchpad program through Stanford (www.udacity.com), this is the book I recommend first to any entrepreneur I encounter. The basis of this book is not only testing customer demand but business model validation—how the company will make money. Until customers can be found and a scalable model developed, no company should move forward into business plan creation and execution. The concepts in this book are simple yet monumentally important and easily implemented. Go buy it right now (and no, I don’t get a commission on every sale!).

2. The Four Steps to the Epiphany (Steve Blank). This is a very deep examination of the process that should be used to coordinate marketing, sales, and business development to bring a new product or service to market. More of a textbook, this is not light reading. It is an excellent breakdown of the important functions of marketing, sales, and business development, of how all the functions are related, and of how to address different types of markets (established, emerging, resegmenting). The concept of Customer Development is explained along with the importance of getting out of the building and talking to customers.

3. So What? Who Cares? Why You? The Inventor's Commercialization Toolkit (Wendy Kennedy). I have met Wendy several times and heard her speak at conferences. Her book is part of an overall entrepreneurial training method that is really good for first-time business owners who need help getting their thoughts into paper. I like the simple templates and worksheets that encourage entrepreneurs to ask the right questions and examine the important aspects of their business, not just their product/service. And access to the online “ToolShed” is a real plus.

4. A Good Hard Kick in the Ass (Rob Adams). I really like Adams’ frank, no-nonsense destruction of the misconceptions many startup entrepreneurs continue to believe. Each chapter breaks down a commonly believed myth, offers alternative actions, and provides real examples from companies Adams worked with. His style is engaging and entertaining and spot on. This book should be required reading for anyone thinking of starting a technology company.

5. If You Build It, Will They Come? (Rob Adams). This second book from Adams delves more deeply into one of the premises of his first book “A Good Hard Kick in the Ass.” This book specifically focuses on market validation and how to design a product or service the market actually wants rather than something the company thinks the market wants. In his usual entertaining style, Adams walks the reader through the steps required to successfully develop a product or service that most closely meets the market’s needs. This book should be required reading for every entrepreneur, no matter what product or service is being developed.

6. The Art of the Start (Guy Kawasaki). Another great all-around startup entrepreneur book, The Art of the Start offers simple, practical, easy to implement suggestions for starting a company. He covers the topic of venture capital very well and I like his 10-20-30 rule for Power Point presentations. Kawasaki’s style is entertaining and easy to read, making the book very enjoyable.

7. Business Model Generation (Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur). This very visual book offers business people new ways to think about business models. There is more than one way to make a buck, and this book helps the reader explore some of them. Nine key elements which serve as the building blocks for all business models are also explained. This book is full of illustrations and easy to read text, just right for a coast-to-coast airplane trip.

8. The E-Myth Revisited (Michael E. Gerber). Written in the form of a case study story, this book really explains the reality of being a business owner–the joys and the challenges. It shows the difference between working in your business and working on it. I really like Gerber’s advice of formalizing business processes in the manner of a franchise. The standardization of processes is what makes it possible to create consistent quality and to train employees to a desired standard. Think about making the business “fool-proof” so that someone else can step into the founder’s shoes and successfully run the business.

9. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand). An amazing fictional novel about an American society in which the government slowly takes control over all industry, including the protagonist’s, Dagny Taggert, transcontinental railroad. In an effort to make all men equal, the government imposes more and more regulations upon successful companies, forcing them to give more to compensate for those businesses that are not as successful and to support the demands of labor. As America crumbles and it’s industries fail, the country’s leading innovators, from industrialists to artists, slowly and mysteriously begin to disappear. Part mystery, part science fiction, and part romance novel, the events unfold against the backdrop of business operations, governmental interference, and the concept of a free market. It’s a huge novel and takes a long time to read, but it’s so engrossing the time will simply fly by. This is actually one of my all-time favorite novels, ever! (Maybe it’s because I love a strong female protagonist, especially when she’s a brilliant businesswoman).

10. Crossing the Chasm (Geoffrey A. Moore). Being a marketing girl at heart, I really think this book rings true, at least for high-tech disruptive types of companies. Moore bases his concept of a market “chasm” on the technology adoption lifecycle’s five main segments: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Moore asserts that there is a large gap between the early adopter segment and the early majority segment. Many companies enjoy early success by appealing to the innovators and early adopters but are never able to “cross the chasm” and achieve traction in the early majority sector. The key, according to Moore, is to focus on one market segment at a time, building momentum, and using the previous market as a base upon which to market to the next group. In many ways, Moore echoes the ideas of Adams.

So, there it is, my new and improved top ten reading list for entrepreneurs. If you are traveling on a long flight or simply can’t sleep, I hope you’ll consider reading one of these.

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