Below are my suggestions for 10 essential entrepreneurship books that anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur should read. These aren’t feel good, (most likely) revisionist histories of successful entrepreneur’s stories. Rather, they are theory based, data supported books about entrepreneurship and what works in the real world. Several of them have been around for a long time. I’ve found that there are numerous more recent books that are really just nice rewrites of these classics. Start with the originals before you start reading the latest “guru”‘s supposed “new” revelations. These books have (and/or will) stand the test of time and form the basis of the science of entrepreneurship.
1. Innovation and Entrepreneurship – Peter Drucker
Drucker’s book was the first to present entrepreneurship and innovation as a systematic discipline and explain how they fit within the economy.
“Entrepreneurship rests on a theory of economy and society. The theory sees change as normal and indeed as healthy. And it sees the major task in society – and especially in the economy – as doing something different rather than doing better what is already being done. That is basically what Say, two hundred years ago, meant when he coined the term entrepreneur. It was intended as a manifesto and as a declaration of dissent: the entrepreneur upsets and disorganizes. As Joseph Schumpeter formulated it, his task is “creative destruction.”
― Peter F. Drucker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Practice and Principles
2. Business Model Generation – Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigner
Entrepreneurs search for repeatable and scalable business models. Business Model Generation introduces the Business Model Canvas, a one-page template for creating a business model. The BMC is deceptively simple and amazingly powerful. This book is a wonderfully fun and easy read with lots of important information.
3. How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
Carnegie’s classic is extremely applicable to entrepreneurship, which is all about getting people to think the way you are.
4. The Goal -Dr. Eliyahu M. Goldratt
I didn’t know what to think when my Managerial Accounting professor, Gary Biddle, assigned a novel as a book for his class. My wife and I started listening to this book on Audible on a drive between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. Before going to bed that evening, my wife asked if we could listen to more of the book. It’s really that good!
Goldratt introduces the “Theory of Constraints” as a model for systems management. While the book focuses on a manufacturing assembly line, the same ideas can be applied to many different areas of a business, from supply chains and logistics, to accounting and finance, to sales and marketing.
5. The Lean Startup – Eric Ries
Eric Ries’ classic that put “Lean Startup” on the map. In my opinion, a must read for every entrepreneur. Eric might not have invented “Build > Measure > Learn > Repeat,” but he does a great job in the book of formalizing and summarizing what it means to be a lean entrepreneur.
6. The Founder’s Dilemmas – Noam Wasserman
A systematic analysis of how various decisions founders have to make in the early stages of their company (such as who to co-found with, who to hire, and how to raise money) affect the success of their companies. Wasserman compiled a huge dataset of over 1000 high-potential, early-stage companies in technology and the life sciences over 10 years and uses real-life case studies to demonstrate his findings. Facts from the data, no opinions here.
7. Venture Deals – Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson
If you are going to be raising VC money, read this book. It is by far the clearest, easiest to read book on the topic out there and covers all the major points and considerations when evaluating a term sheet.
8. Crossing the Chasm – Geoffrey A. Moore
Another classic (originally written in 1991 and updated several times), Moore starts with the diffusion of innovation theory and describes how there is a chasm between the early adopters and the early majority. Crossing this chasm is the key to the success of a disruptive innovation. I often feel like half of what Seth Godin writes/talks about is simply lifted from this book and wrapped in fancy analogies.
9. Guerilla Marketing – Jay Conrad Levinson
The marketing bible for entrepreneurs. First published in 1983 (and updated a number of times) this book is chocked full of real-world advice and examples for how to market on a limited budget.
10. Founders at Work – Jessica Livingston
A great collection of case studies, because once you know the theories it’s very useful to read about how they have been successfully applied.