6 Books to Read on Entrepreneurship and Money
Starting a business is hard. The good news: You don’t have to go it alone. There is a ton of great material out there—from former founders, especially—that can help ease your learning curve. Here are five books that you should consider required reading.
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries
Nearly every successful startup founder touts this book as a must-read. Why? It’s one of the best starter manuals out there when you want to build a business from the ground up but don’t know where to begin. I read The Lean Startup early in my entrepreneurial journey of launching Swivel Beauty—and I was so glad I did. It felt like a revelation—every bad idea I had was thoroughly debunked by Ries, saving me a lot of time and money. His main thesis is around creating a minimum viable product, or MVP, which is the simplest version of your business that you can test quickly to gain insights into its feasibility. The goal: To stop you from building a fully “perfect” product that no one wants. This book gives you the blueprint for testing your idea early (and cheaply!), then iterating on it until you have a winner.
Running Lean by Ash Maurya
Consider this a companion book to The Lean Startup. While The Lean Startup is great for setting up guiding principles for entrepreneurs like creating a consistent loop of iteration, Running Lean is all the nitty-gritty advice you need to put it into practice. For example, Maurya includes a near-perfect script for how to conduct customer interviews to make a sale or get honest feedback on your idea, and shows you how to create your entire business plan on one sheet of paper to ensure you’ve found a problem worth solving. This is the book for doers—all the advice is action-oriented to get you from idea to execution.
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
While this isn’t a founder how-to book, Rhimes’ musings on her meteoric rise in television is refreshingly relatable. Not only does she share the work ethic and mindset (“be a doer”) that helped her bet on herself and succeed, she doesn’t shy away from more personal topics, like the stress and strain of building a family as a working mom. She doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and in the end, you’ll want to heed her rallying cry to be a bit more daring and just go for it. Whatever that it is for you.
Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares
When I started Swivel, I thought it was a real accomplishment getting our app into the Apple Store, available for download. And while it was a big step, it was really only the starting line. What I needed next: customers. Traction creates a systematic approach to thinking through all the possible traction channels available to businesses—and helps you figure out which ones might be right for your company. You won’t know until you test them, but this book will help you think through the right experiments, too. The old belief, “if you build it, they will come,” is pure bunk—you have to go out and find customers, and then win their buy-in. This book can help you figure out how to source users and keep them.
Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson
These days, it’s impossible to hear about a new company and not hear about how much money they’ve raised from this investor or that one. While you can certainly sustain a business without taking money from venture capitalists, you’ll want to read this book if you’re thinking about raising money from investors. Consider it your cheat sheet to startup financing. It’s information every founder needs so she understand the terms of the deal—and, more importantly, what it will mean in the long run. If you’re giving up a piece of your company, you owe it to yourself to know the ins and outs of the numbers so you can feel confident when negotiating. Don’t cheat yourself!
The Founder’s Dilemmas By Noam Wasserman
Entrepreneurship is so much harder than anyone lets on. If you’re swept up in an entrepreneur’s highlight reel on Instagram who makes it look “easy,” you’re not getting the full story. When you’re starting a business, you’ll work harder than you’ve ever imagined. No one can prepare you for the emotional rollercoaster, either: the highs will be high, but the lows can feel devastatingly low. And The Founder’s Dilemmas keeps it real—and helps you answer many of the questions that may be swirling in your head right now: Should I quit my day job? Do I really need a co-founder? And if I have one, how on earth do I manage that relationship? This book is a good starting point to wade through the tricky interpersonal situations every founder has to go through.
Jihan Thompson is the founder of Swivel Beauty, a beauty-booking app for women of color, and a former magazine editor.