7 Books Every Entrepreneur Must Read

Silicon Valley is an overwhelming place. Or it should be, if you're paying attention to the news. Here are some highlights from the last few weeks: the next generation of Artificial Intelligence is comingreal-life transformers are now fighting each other; and connected device technologies took a huge leap forward with Google's answer to Apple's iBeacon.

Many people who want to successful work/live in the Valley consume media about it without any sense of context. That's a bad idea. Game-changing technologies are lumped into a few broad categories. Startups are an undifferentiated mass of moonshots. Every entrepreneur looks like a Zuckerberg doppelgänger. This leads to a lot of sloppy thinking about the future, specifically the role that any of us can play in it.

We deal with this at BMNT Partners all the time. Whether it's government executives or brilliant Stanford students in the Silicon Valley Innovation Academy, misconceptions abound. Questions start flying about raising capital and finding tech talent before bothering to understand how this incredibly rich ecosystem actually functions.

Everyone should want to understand what is actually happening at a 30,000 foot level. It's the "Why?" behind the "What?". One option is to spend a lot of time stumbling around until you learn enough (and meet enough people) to be considered an insider. If you want a bit more structure, however, plow through this reading list beforehand.*

These books will help you empathize with the people who actually do work at the companies and universities that are developing all the crazy stuff that you read about. It's not magic - it's hard-ass work. 

HistoryThe Innovators by Walter Isaacson
Silicon Valley did not materialize out of thin air. There is a long, complicated, butunderstandable history, and Isaacson does a phenomenal job summarizing it. Read this if you do not understand the basics of "the internet", "tech", or "venture capital". A cheat on this one would be the equally interesting (if less in-depth) YouTube video of Steve Blank called "The Secret History of Silicon Valley". It's well worth the hour.

VisionZero to One by Peter Thiel
Why does Silicon Valley exist? What does it do that no other place in the world can do? Read this short (<220 page) book to find out. I listened to this on my phone (usingAudiblefour times before my wife made me stop. Some of Thiel's thoughts are so controversial that it forces you to think through the host of assumptions you have about how the world (esp. business) actually works. 

ExecutionFour Steps to an Epiphany by Steve Blank
This, along with Eric Ries' Lean Startup, kickstarted the adoption of the Valley's methodologies and mindset around the world. These are the "bibles" for anyone who practices Lean. I love this because Blank does a great job laying out practical exercises and checklists for you at just the right point in the book. It is the most comprehensive attempt to date that explains the art & science of entrepreneurship.

MindsetThe Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
Reading this is like getting kicked in the teeth repeatedly. Books like this separate the men from the boys, the entrepreneurs from the wantrapreneurs. Horowitz lets you into his world of sleepless nights, difficult decisions, layoffs, near bankruptcy, and more. If you can read this entire book and still want to spend ten years building your startup idea then I applaud you. You may just be one of the few who actually builds something valuable that has the potential to endure. 

GrowthCrossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore
This was recommended to me by an awesome new friend, Andrew Goldner [AG]. The thesis is simple: early growth is way different than mature growth, but in ways you can predict and account for. Anyone who is doesn't yet understand their customers' purchasing behavior should read this. Moore clearly lays out the rationale behind the behavior of each main group of customers, and how you can address the concerns of them one at a time.  

SalesPredictable Revenue by Aaron Ross
Also an AG recommendation, I plowed through this just last week. Like Blank's Four Steps, I loved the practical nature of a lot of the content. As someone who is not trained in (or yet good at) sales, I appreciated the concise way Ross walks the reader through the way he built a $100M business during Salesforce's early years. The book also breaks down a lot of the notions about sales as a "greasy" occupation, which should be useful for many of us.

Venture CapitalMastering the VC Game by Jeffrey Bussgang
I read this a few years ago before I had much experience with venture capitalists (as distinct from angel investors or other categories of private investment). The key takeaway for me was to treat each VC firm - as well as each partner at a firm - as distinct. They have different interests, strengths, and funding capabilities. Bussgang condensed learnings into a great SlideShare for the time challenged.

In you want/need more, there is also a phenomenal reading list put together by Misha Chellam's startup Tradecraft. That's another great set of resources if you want to dive deeper into more specialized areas.

*Disclaimer: I have actually read all these books, I'm not just blindly recommending things based on user reviews or Wikipedia articles. 

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