People often ask me if I run a startup. I always say no. My “team” is quite small, and while I think scaling is essential to any business, I don’t apply the rapid-scaling objective of most startups to my own business. I started DeckSavvy more as a freedom/lifestyle endeavor (I’ll write more on this too), so I retain the option to scale up in the future. Still, I’ve been part of a startup myself, work in startup world, and have a constant involvement in the startup pitch process, whether that is in preparation of pitch decks, pitch coaching & critiquing, or any number of steps involved in the journey from “idea” to “startup.”
I love to read. I’m always reading something any given week. I read a lot before venturing out on my own, which probably delayed my start because I was too busy reading and not doing. But that doesn’t mean reading isn’t essential. Maybe you’re on the fence yourself – wondering if a startup is a better fit for you than what you do now. Maybe you’d rather work three times as hard for half the salary and benefits and no job security? (ha!) All jokes aside, if you’ve ever thought of breaking out into the wild, fast-paced world of startups but don’t know where to start, here’s a short list of 5 essential books that can help you in your journey. This is not meant to be a ranking, rather, they all complement each other well and help build a solid foundation for entrepreneurial thinking and an introduction to startup culture.
Daniel Pink is one of my favorite authors, and this was my first introduction to his works and way of thinking. We are in the midst of a fundamental shift in both our domestic and global economies. Pink observes that we are moving beyond the Information Age and entering the dawn of the “Conceptual Age.” This new age is driven by right-brain thinking (creativity, emotion, and big-picture mindset). Ideas, not manufacturing or information, are the new economy. This book is a great exercise in thinking differently, and learning to recognize the basics of good design & developing a creative approach to problem solving.
If you’re a fan of “Shark Tank,” you’re probably very familiar with this book already. If not, this better be first on your list. In startup world, your idea is one thing, but the finances and valuation of the company are a completely different animal. Most budding companies need to raise significant amounts of investment capital in order to scale rapidly and effectively. Especially for founders who do not have a business or finance background — “Venture Deals” is a must. If you aren’t familiar with terms like “Series B,” “pre-money,” or “IPO,” this is an excellent reference for common practices and terminology utilized in the funding round.
I graduated with around $30K in student loan debt. I don’t come from a wealthy family, nor am I intelligent enough to earn many scholarships into an MBA program, so I really struggled with a decision to go into a master’s program because of I’d have to go into more debt and use my savings towards more education rather than funding a business venture. Generally, debt is toxic to one’s well-being and potential, as it limits both freedom of choice and hinders dreams — especially for the entrepreneur. Student loan debt is often referred to as “good debt,” but I believe the higher education system is already broken. It seems everyone has an MBA these days, too, but an MBA doesn’t necessarily mean you are any more capable of starting a successful business. One book that helped me opt against enrolling in an MBA program, for now, was Josh Kaufman’s “The Personal MBA.” The best entrepreneurs are self-made, and personally I would trust them over an MBA any day. This book is an excellent reference and teaches you universal, fundamental business concepts like value creation, pricing, and market strategy. The Personal MBA is a valuable asset to any startup journey.
You might see a trend by now, in that I place a much greater emphasis on the entrepreneur mindset over the skill set. My reasoning is that most skills can always be taught and learned as-needed throughout any stage of the entrepreneur journey, but the mindset is essential at every stage of the journey — particularly at the beginning. One major aspect of this is our decision making process. We make thousands of decisions daily, but we often can’t explain why we make some of those decisions. TFAS breaks it down for us, highlighting both the logic and emotion that drives our decisions and classifying these are two separate modes of thought. This is a fascinating journey through the mind and I could write a whole post on this book alone, but one of the more surprising (or not surprising?) revelations concerns many early economic theorists and the faulty assumption that humans are rational, logical beings 100% of the time. More often than not, we make irrational, illogical, and just plain stupid decisions based entirely on our emotions and behavioral tendencies. Kahneman’s book further applies the theory of heuristics to many common scenarios, providing a major insight into consumer behavior and applications in marketing, sales, and promotion. Want to really know your customers? This is a good start.
I don’t see this book on many lists of similar subjects. This might be more of a personal choice, but it’s probably my favorite book on here. Founders and those in the entrepreneurial community are usually comfortable talking about their failures — after all, failure is usually the impetus for many to create bigger and better ideas. But there’s another side to failure — one which encompasses deep shame, depression, loss of confidence, and paralyzing fear. For some, this can be too much to bounce back from. For others, this can prevent them from ever taking that first step at all. Reading this book was my first foray into thinking more like an entrepreneur. I realized my fears were valid, and began truly listening to what they were trying to tell me. Jonathan Fields’ book is emboldening and empowering. If you’ve ever thought about taking the plunge but still not sure if you should make the move, reading this book will help you trust in yourself and think about the world around you in a more creative way.
This is by no means and exhaustive list — I could easily add 20 more books to read after these. But if you’re not sure where to start, please start here! Good luck on your journey from idea to implementation.