Startup Reading List (2018 Edition)
Something most of the startup and product people I look up to have in common is that they read, a lot. They also challenge what they read. Rather than reading a chapter, then immediately trying to implement what they've read, their books are full of post-it notes and scribbles, dinners and emails are full of debates on one methodology or idea v another.
Each has their own constantly evolving approach, but it's one developed with the benefit of the learnings from many hundreds of other people. This reading list is the books and articles which I return to most frequently which have had the biggest impact on my approach.
- Founders Stories (Book). Insightful series of interviews covering everything from unexpected pivots to the impact startups have on your personal life.
- Zero To One (Book). Find an important truth not many people agree with you on, aim to build a monopoly business based on that truth. And make sure you nail Sales, Marketing, Hiring etc while you're at it.
- High Output Management (Book). One of the best books on management I've come across. Heavy focus on a managers output being a leveraged function of his direct reports. So to maximise this output, must maximise ability of direct reports to produce output.
- How to get startup ideas (Article). Don't look for "startup ideas," Look for problems which need solving, which you care about being solved
- Anything you want (Book). Everything should be about customers, good ideas don't feel special, they feel like common sense that no-one else gets. If you create a business you get to write the rules, make sure they're the ones you actually want.
- Making Ideas Happen (Book). Very practical advice on moving from "here's an idea" to actually doing something. Arguably more of a productivity book but essential in unstructured environments like startups.
- The art of the start (Book). Another really practical look at actually making things happen rather than just talking about them.
- Smart and gets things done (Book). Focused on hiring developers but applicable generally, clues in the title, "good" people to hire are smart and get stuff done, the book focuses on how to identify these traits.
- How To Start A Startup (Lecture Series from Stanford). Incredible series of lectures from people who've actually done it. Everything from product to culture to hiring.
Product Development & Product Management
- The Four Steps to the Epiphany (Book). The original and most comprehensive book on the "lean" approach to startups and product development.
- Lean Startup (Book) (first half). The most accessible and widely read introduction to the "lean" approach to startups and product development. Gets a bit repetitive towards the end.
- Good product manager bad product manager (Article). Caveatted with a warning by the author that it was written over 15 years ago but I still think one of the best quick-reads on what's important from a product manager.
- Thinking fast and slow (Book). One of the most comprehensive introductions to psychological biases, how people think and why people often don't behave rationally.
- Do things that don't scale (Article). The initial push that makes startups take off is almost always hugely unscalable. This isn't a bad thing.
- Makers Schedule, Managers Schedule (Article). Makers and Managers are doing fundamentally different things which require different ways of working. Don't fall into the trap of imposing manager ways of working on makers.
- Get one thing right (Article). Descriptions in the title.
- How you know you're in a feature factory (Article). There's nothing worse than feeling like you're churning out features without any real understanding of whether they "worked" and what impact they had on the business. It's also painfully easy to fall into so this post provides a helpful list of things to look out for.
- Working backwards (Article). In the AWS product team, Amazon write the press release, then the manual, then the spec. Defining the end goal first helps focus everything else.
- Using design studios to beat the feature factory (Article). Similar to the Amazon "press release first" approach but more actionable in smaller organizations. Design the retrospective slide first.
- Hooked - How to Build Habit Forming Products (Book) (the first few chapters). This book can get somewhat repetitive but a good look at the principles underlying addictive products and how to leverage this.
- The master algorithm (Book). The single best book on approaches to machine learning / artificial intelligence I've encountered. It's easy to become skeptical with everyone throwing the term "AI" around. This is the book which made me want to get involved with it again.
- The Hard Thing about Hard Things (Book). Drives home that fundamentally there can't be a "playbook" for solving hard problem x, because it's never been solved before. Filled with advice and practical experience for how to handle that.
- Fooled by Randomness (Book). Humans tend to see patterns everywhere, even where there aren't any. Lots of examples of where this tends to happen, how it messes with our decision making and what to do about it. Probably the single book that's had the biggest impact on how I think about the world.
- The Four Hour Work Week (Book). Initially dismissed this book for the spammy title. When I eventually read it found it densely packed with actionable information about how to allocate time and what conventional business & financial wisdom should be considered harmful. Also strongly recommend the weekly Tim Ferris Podcast.
- Elon Musk (Book). Whatever you think about the guy, he seems to ship a lot of stuff...
- Surely you're Joking Mr Feynman (Book). The definition of a curious mind, truly amazing man and life.
- How to win friends and influence people (Book). Still the definitive guide to improving people skills.
- Getting Things Done (Book). I've never met anyone who actually follows the fiendishly complicated ToDo list system Dave Allen suggests here. But it contains pretty much all the building blocks you'll ever need to come up with a task tracking system which suits you.
- How to expose yourself to randomness (Article). Most big things have a huge "luck" component, being exposed to randomness a lot dramatically increases the odds of being lucky.
- How to be an early riser (Article). Something most successful people seem to have in common is getting up early, being a morning person is definitely learnable.
Things I'm Embarrassed I Still Haven't Read
- The Innovators Dilemma (Book)
- The Innovators Solution (Book)
- The Mythical Man Month (Book)
- The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon (Book)
- The Design of Everyday Things (Book)
- Don't Make Me Think (Book)
- Shoe Dog (Book)
But I don't have time!
The above could easily take a year to read, my suggested "hack" to gain maximum knowledge for minimum reading would be:
- Watch every lecture in the How To Start A Startup (Lecture Series from Stanford).
- Read How to get startup ideas and Do things that don't scale by Paul Graham. Generally everything PG has written has a good return on time taken to read v insight provided.
- Read The Four Steps to the Epiphany