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Required Reading List for Entrepreneurs

I work with entrepreneurs every day. Over the last ten years I have coached, mentored, and counseled hundreds of entrepreneurs, from a single inventor wondering if he should take the plunge and start a company, to a seasoned serial CEO trying to determine the best addressable market for his company's platform technology, and everything in between. In nearly every case, I end up recommending a book for my client to read that may help him or her make a decision and take action. Invariably, I find myself recommending the same handful of books. So, I thought I'd share my favorite books and why I like them so much.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. Who Moved My Cheese? (Spencer Johnson, M.D.). This fun little book can be read in a single sitting and will leave the reader smiling at the end. In a nutshell, it is the story of change--what it is, how people react to it, and how to manage it. Some people find the book simplistic and silly, but sometimes that's okay.

7. Good To Great (Jim Collins). Based upon five years of intense research, this book examines why some companies are able to transition from good companies to great companies and why others don't. I find Collins' basic concepts solid (superior leadership, recruit the right people, culture of discipline) and I think his hedgehog concept and flywheel/doom loop ideas were especially relevant. Want to know what the hedgehog concept and flywheel/doom loop idea are? Read the book!

8. 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).

9. The Innovator's Dilemma (Clayton M. Christensen). History is full of cases in which strong, established companies with plenty of resources with which to innovate were displaced by new products that cut into the low end of the marketplace and eventually evolved to become the market leader. That's because newcomers are often ignored by established players who see them as niche solutions with no real ability to capture the larger market. Once the newcomer is finally perceived as a threat, the larger firm is not able to respond quickly. This book is all about how successful companies with established products can avoid being pushed aside by newer, cheaper products that will evolve into serious threats.

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 top ten reading list for 2012. I'm sure it will change in the next few years as new books are published. But I'll bet some of the books on the list will stand the test of time and be relevant for many, many years to come. I hope you get a chance to read some of these books and that you agree that they are inspiring, helpful, and just plain entertaining.

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