A good start to a Startup reading list (but only a start!)

I have been a business book club nerd for many years. I currently have a collection of perhaps 1000 business books, mainly autobiographies of people and companies and innovative and strategy processes. I’m often asked to recommend a few or recommend ones for particular circumstances, maybe for startups, or for strategic change, or for sales or marketing

So I decided to try and write a blog about some of my favorite books about why they have been so impactful, and why I would recommend them. But this list cannot be exhaustive because of different situations or for different people faced with particular coaching issues and challenges, you would recommend different books.

So the first book that I would like to mention is Venture Deals by Brad Feld. Brad is the founder of TechStars and one of the leading instigators of the Boulder Colorado startup ecosystem, which is probably disproportionately one of the strongest in the world. His book on venture deals, written from the point of view of a startup is to try and understand how to raise investment, close the legal process and managing your investors is a fantastic resource that he’s also turned into an online MOOC. So while the law is obviously US based, the structure and tone of that book are fantastic grounding to understand the deals of a venture capitalist. Similar books to that would be the Dermot Berkery book on venture investment in Ireland and Kupors Sandhill Road.

The next book that I would mention is called the Hard thing about Hard things by Ben Horowitz. Ben was the founder and successful exiter of a couple of businesses. Now he’s a venture capitalist with Andreessen Horowitz, A26Z, where he’d been writing a blog for a number of years, which is now condensed into a book. It’s about the challenges of running a business. It’s about how to overcome issues, how to deal with the tough days, because startup land and scale up land is not always easy. One challenge you will have with this book is that it’s written from the perspective of a US scaling technology business, that has raised 20 million in VC and has probably got different problems to most startups. But the concepts that he’s talking about are still highly useful, and really well indexed to be able to just drop in and read a particular chapter about a particular subject that you’d be interested in.

The next book that I would suggest is Sprint, how to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days by Knapp. This book is following the Google-y process of how to understand the problem, understand solutions and come up with minimum viable propositions to test with users before you build the long, full product specification. It’s a very fast iterative process that is crucial to starting up new products or new businesses in the 21st century.

The next book that I would recommend is the Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris. A couple of aspects to this that are quite useful. Both the book and the podcast from Timothy Ferris are quite long winded and can be quite tedious. But the core concept and the tools and tips that he outlines in the four hour workweek are crucial to strong success. They’re outlining the 80:20 Pareto Law, focussing your time, your efficiency, the things that are most important. A similar book would be James Clears Atomic Habits, which also helps you to focus on exactly what is the most important and the most valuable thing for you to do right now.

The fifth book that I would recommend is the Mom Test — how to talk to customers by Rob Fitzpatrick. This is written by engineers for engineers who have to go out and do product testing with their customers. It forces you to ask questions and listen in an empathetic way to avoid any bias or to avoid asking questions that you want to get your desired answers to.

Zero to one by Peter Thiel is a great book from a controversial author. Peter is one of the PayPal mafia, one of the original founders of PayPal along with Musk. And he’s been a serial investor in some of the biggest companies in the Valley, including Facebook. And zero to one is his model of innovation. Don’t go for 10% innovation, don’t go for 20% innovation, make it a binary change in the market from zero to one into a new space where you can own that market and be the only competitor in it or have a monopoly in your own area. So while there is controversy around his politics but the concepts of how to try and understand differentiation, marketplace dynamics are very, very important.

The next book that I would recommend is called The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly. Kevin Kelley is the founding editor of Wired. In this, he wants to help understand the 12 technologies that are going to change the world whether it’s AI, whether it’s robotics, whether it’s drones, whether it’s cloud computing, and it’s one of many futurology books that I would recommend, including FutureScoping and the Industries of the Future by Alec Ross (hat-tip to @RonImmink/@bookbuzz for several of these recommendations and the concept of paraphrasing business books!)

The next book is an old book, but still a classic, the Long Tail by Chris Anderson. He describes how ecommerce and the cloud has enabled a much wider, much shallower distribution of sales and marketing online. So now your product can really find its ultimate niche audiences and enabled by Amazon, eBay, Etsy and delivery services from all around the world. The Longtail is one of the first books that understood what was driving the new e-commerce market

The next book is unusually also by a Brad, but this time Brad Stone. He’s a Bloomberg journalist who’s written a couple of books that are sort of biographies of major internet giants. And the book I recommend is the Everything Store — the story of Jeff Bezos, and how he created Amazon from books into everything, and discovered an AWS sideline business along the way. He wrote simply, he writes well, and it’s fantastic analysis of Amazon, which is a company that we should all be aware of — familiar with and scared of in equal proportions. Brad also wrote a book called The Upstarts, and where he’s discussing Uber and Airbnb.

The next book that I would mention is one called the Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham. This is an old book, but it’s one that has formed the basis for money value based investors. People like Warren Buffett would talk about Benjamin Graham being a mentor and a guide to how he invests. In fact, Warren Buffett the Snowball is by Alice Schroeder is another excellent biography.

I recommend Factfulness by Rosling. It is demonstrating the point that actually human development, reading, writing, and liberalisation, scientific access, healthcare access is improving. You can argue that it should be improving faster, but you can’t argue that we’re progressing as a world. It is one of a series of books along these lines Positive economics and positive social progression.

The final book that I would recommend in this blog is How Google Works by Eric Schmidt, the former CEO, and adult in the room for Larry and Sergey for a number of years. Its a fascinating review of how one of the most innovative companies in the world thinks, operates and acts. But it’s also an account of how a small scaling startup becomes a giant and how they continue to develop their management and their leadership theses, even as the company has grown to 100,000 employees and one of the five biggest companies in the world.

Realistically, this is part 1 of a book review set — more to follow on the biographies next! This can only be a reference list rather than a review or insight repetition, but if I had to pick common threads its likely to revolve around:

  • Committed leadership
  • Understand your business model with insight

Find out more on our Corporate blog at www.ndrc.ie where I find, invest in, challenge and support the development of highly innovative startups and link them with the best corporate innovation teams in their sector.




Entrepreneurship, innovation, strategy, Venture invest. #positiveireland. All views are personal. Other links , @alanjcostello (Twitter/Linkedin/TedX)

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Alan Costello

Alan Costello

Entrepreneurship, innovation, strategy, Venture invest. #positiveireland. All views are personal. Other links , @alanjcostello (Twitter/Linkedin/TedX)

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