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Reading lists (Steve Blank)

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Entrepreneurial Management Stack
Over the last few years we’ve discovered that startups are not smaller versions of large companies. The skills founders need are not covered by traditional books for MBA’s and large company managers. There are now a few books that specifically address founders needs. Alexander Osterwalder’s Business Model Generationis the first book that allows you to answer “What’s your business model?” intelligently and with precision. Make sure this one is on your shelf. Eric Ries was the best student I ever had. He took the Customer Development process, combined it with Agile Engineering, and actually did the first implementation in a startup. His insights about the combined Customer Development/Agile process and its implications past startups into large corporations is a sea change in thinking. His book, The Lean Startup is a “must have” for your shelf. If you’re starting a medical device company Biodesign:The Process of Innovating Medical Technologies is a must have. It has a great customer discovery process.

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Strategy Books for Startups
Do More Fasteridentifies issues that first-time entrepreneurs encounter and offer useful advice.Getting Real is web-focussed. The Entrepreneurial Mindsetarticulates the critically important idea that there are different types of startup opportunities. The notion of three Market Types springs from here and Christensen’s work. The book provides a framework for the early marketing/sales strategies essential in a startup. Delivering Profitable Value talks more about value propositions and value delivery systems than you ever want to hear again. However, this is one of the books you struggle through and then realize you learned something valuable. Schumpeter’s book Theory of Economic Development is famous for his phrase “creative destruction” and its relevance to entrepreneurship. Peter Drucker’s Concept of the Corporation was the first insiders view of how a decentralized company (GM) works. His Innovation and Entrepreneurship is a classic. While written for a corporate audience, read it for the sources of innovation. If you write software you already know about Fred Brooks classic text the Mythical Man Month. If you manage a software company you need to read it so you don’t act like Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss.
Silicon Valley
Jessica Livingston’s Founders At Work are the best case studies/vignettes without a PR rewrite of how founders really start companies. An Engineer’s Guide to Silicon Valley Startups is one of those quirky books that perfectly match Silicon Valley culture. If you’re an engineer in the valley or coming out, this is a useful read. It describes what types of startups are there, how to get a job at one, negotiating your salary, stock options, etc. Geek Silicon Valley is part history and part travel guide. Also useful. Must Read Books
The other side of innovation is the closest receipe I’ve read for getting entrepnreurship right in large companies. Innovator’s Dilemma and Innovator’s Solution helped me refine the notion of the Four types of Startup Markets. I read these books as the handbook for startups trying to disrupt an established company. Crossing the Chasm made me understand that there are repeatable patterns in early stage companies. It started my search for the repeatable set of patterns that preceded the chasm. The Tipping Point has made me realize that marketing communications strategies for companies in New Markets often follow the Tipping Point. Blue Ocean Strategy is a great way to look at what I’ve called “market type.” Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Enterprise
How large companies can stay innovative and entrepreneurial has been theHoly Grail for authors of business books, business schools, consulting firms, etc. There’s some great work from lots of authors in this area but I’d start by readingthe other side of innovation.Then I’d read the short Harvard Business Review articles. Eric Von Hippel work on new product introduction methodologies and the notion of “Lead Users” offer many parallels with Customer Discovery and Validation. But like most books on the subject it’s written from the point of view of a large company. Von Hippel’s four steps of 1) goal generation and team formation, 2) trend research, 3) lead user pyramid networking and 4) Lead User workshop and idea improvement is a more rigorous and disciplined approach then suggested in our book, the Four Steps to the Epiphany.


Harvard Business Review Articles

“Marketing as Strategy” Books
Offering more than some handy tactical tidbits, these books offer a chance to change your entire strategy. Peppers and Rogers, The One to One Future opened my eyes to concepts of lifetime value, most profitable customers and the entire customer lifecycle of “get, keep and grow.” Bill Davidow’s Marketing High Technology introduced me to the concept of “whole product” and the unique needs of mainstream customers. Michael Porter is the father of competitive strategy. His books Competitive Strategy, Competitive Advantage, and On Competitionare still the standards.

“War as Strategy” Books
The metaphor that business is war is both a cliché and points to a deeper truth. Many basic business concepts; competition, leadership, strategy versus tactics, logistics, etc. have their roots in military affairs. The difference is that in business no one dies. At some time in your business life you need to study war or become a casualty. Sun Tzu covered all the basics of strategy in The Art of Waruntil the advent of technology temporarily superseded him. Also, in the same vein try The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. These two books have unfortunately turned into business clichés but they are still timeless reading. Carl Von Clausewitz’s On War is a 19th century western attempt to understand war. The “Boyd” book, The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War is a biography and may seem out of place here, but John Boyd’s OODA loop is at the core of Customer Development and the Pivot. Read it and then look at all the web sites for Boyd papers, particularly Patterns of Conflict. The New Lanchester Strategy is so offbeat that it tends to be ignored. Its ratios of what you require to attack or defend a market keep coming up so often in real life, that I’ve found it hard to ignore. Marketing Communications Books
Ries and Trout positioning books can be read in a plane ride, yet after all these years they are still a smack on the side of the head. Regis McKenna has always been a favorite of mine. However, as you read Relationship Marketingseparate out the examples Regis uses into either startups or large sustainable businesses. What worked in one, won’t necessarily work in another. Read these books first before you dive into the 21st century stuff like Seth Godin.

Seth Godin “gets deeply” the profound changes the internet is having in the way we think about customers and communicating with them. Godin’s All Marketers are Liarstalks about the power of storytelling in marketing. His Permission Marketing book crystallized a direct marketing technique (permission marketing), which was simply impossible to achieve pre-internet. Read his Ideavirus after you’ve read Permission Marketing. Made to Stickgives you the tools to make your messages “sticky.” I putSwayhere because great marketers know how to find these irrational behaviors Lakoff’s book, Don’t Think of an Elephant! while written for a political audience has some valuable insights on framing communications.

Thomas Freese is the master of consultative selling. Both his books are a great start in understanding how a pro sells. Jeff Thull’s Mastering the Complex Salehas a lot of elements of Customer Discovery and Validation, but skip the first 50 pages. Many of the ideas of Customer Validation are based on the principles articulated by Bosworth, Heiman and Rackham. Bostworth’s Solution Selling and it’s successor, The New Solution Sellingare must reads for any executive launching a new product. Its articulation of the hierarchy of buyers needs as well its description of how to get customers to articulate their needs, makes this a “must read”, particularly those selling to businesses. Yet in his new book What Great Salespeople Do he says, ignore those books follow this advice. Heiman’s books are a bit more tactical and are part of a comprehensive sales training program from his company Miller-Heiman. If you are in sales or have a sales background you can skip these. But if you aren’t they are all worth reading for the basic “blocking and tackling” advice. The only bad news is that Heiman writes like a loud salesman – but the advice is sound. Rackham’s Spin Selling is another series of books about major account, large ticket item sales, with again the emphasis on selling the solution, not features. Lets Get Real is of the Sandler School of selling (another school of business to business sales methodology.) Jill Konrath has great strategies and insights for large sales. Baseline Selling uses baseball metaphors but it’s an effective explanation of how to do consultative selling. I sure could have used the Complete Idiots Guide to Cold Callingwhen it was just me and the telephone. The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing provides a great framework for thinking about “how much should I charge for this?” Startup Law and Finance
If you don’t pay attention to the law from the day you start your company it can kill you. But most books (and lawyers) speak in their own arcane language. David Weekly’s An Introduction to Stock and Options should be your first read (unfortunately its Kindle only.) The Entrepreneurs Guide to Business Law is the one book you ought to have on your shelf. While not written explicitly for Silicon Valley startups it demystifies the most common areas you need to know. Term Sheets and Valuations is a great read if you’re faced with a term sheet and staring at words like “liquidation preferences and conversion rights” and don’t have a clue what they mean. Read this and you can act like you almost understand what you are giving away. Venture Capital
If you buy one book to understand how VC’s and fund raising works, Venture Deals is the one. Wish I had it when I did startups. Same for Mastering the VC Game. If you read two books about how to deal with VC’s start here. The rest of the books are personal stories. Bill Draper’s book is both history and advice from a VC pioneer. If you have never experienced a startup first hand, Jerry Kaplan’s bookStartup and Michael Wolff’s book Burn Rate are good reads of a founder’s adventure with the venture capitalists. Eboys is the story of Benchmark Capital during the Internet Bubble. Ferguson’s book is a great read for the first time entrepreneur. His personality and views of the venture capitalists and “suits” are a Rorschach ink blot test for the reader. Startup Nuts & Bolts
Nesheim’s book High Tech Startup is the gold standard of the nuts and bolts of all the financing stages from venture capital to IPO’s. If you promise to ignore the marketing advice he gives you, Baird’s book, Engineering Your Startup is the cliff notes version in explaining the basics of financing, valuation, stock options, etc. Gordon Bells’ book High-Tech Venturesis incomprehensible on the first, second or third read. Yet it is simply the best “operating manual” for startups that has been written. (The only glaring flaw is Bell’s assumption that a market exists for the product and that marketing’s job is data sheets and trade shows.) Read it in doses for insight and revelation and make notes, (think of reading the bible) rather than reading it straight through.
Startup Textbooks
If you take an entrepreneurship class in a Business School or University you’ll probably encounter one of these textbooks.The reason you don’t see them on the desks of working entrepreneurs is that at $100-$150+ they’re all priced for a captive student audience. (Some do have paperback versions for $50-$85.) The other uncomfortable fact is that most startups in Silicon Valley ignore these textbooks once they leave school. In the real-world startups are now built using the business model/customer development/agile engineering stack. Not one of these textbooks teach that. Of all the texts, Technology Ventures is “the gold standard” of entrepreneurship textbooks. Jeff Timmons’ New Venture Creation has too much great stuff in it to ignore. At first read it is simply overwhelming but tackle it a bit a time and use it to test your business plan for completeness. Business Plans that Work summarizes the relevant part of hisNew Venture Creation book and teaches how to write a document (the business plan) that no one ever reads. However, both books are worth having if you’re in a large company thinking about introducing follow-on products.

I’ve yet to meet a manufacturing person that does not reference The Goal when talking about lean manufacturing principles first. It’s a book inside a novel – so it humanizes the manufacturing experience. Lean Thinking is the best over all summary of the lean manufacturing genre. Toyota Production System is the father of all lean manufacturing – it’s simple tone is refreshing.

P resentation and Product Design
Nancy Duarte’s two books, Slid:eology and Resonate are about presentation design. These are the two books I refer entrepreneurs to who want to build a killer customer presentation. The advice may not work for all audiences but it’s a great place to start. Cooper’s book, The Inmates are Running the Asylum, is about product design. It had the same impact on me as Moore’s Crossing the Chasm – “why of course, that’s what’s wrong.” It’s important and articulate. Culture/Human Resources
What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20is the book I give all young entrepreneurs. If you are in a large company and wondering why your company isn’t going anywhere your answers might be found in Good to Great. Written by Jim Collins, the same author who wrote Built to Last, both are books that “you should be so lucky” to read. What differentiates good companies versus great? How do you institutionalize core values into a company that enable it to create value when the current management is long gone? When I first read these, I thought they were only for companies that were lucky enough to get big. Upon reflection, these books were the inspiration for the “Mission-Oriented Culture.” Read these two books together.

Ironically, the best HR stuff for anyone in a startup to read is not a book. It is the work James Baron at Stanford has done. Download his slides on the Stanford Project on Emerging Companies. Baron’s book, Strategic Human Resources – is a classic HR textbook. Finally, if you are working at a startup and wondering why the founder is nuts,The Founder Factor helps explain a few things.

I’m not sure how to characterize The Checklist Manifesto so I stuck it here. It’s a quick read with some insights that match why Business Model strategy need to be translated into Customer Development checklists.

Business History (See here for Silicon Valley History)
Alfred Sloan’s My Years with General Motors is a great read, but not for the traditional reasons. Read it from the point of view of an entrepreneur (Durant) who’s built a great company by gut and instinct, got it to $200M and is replaced by the board. Then watches as a world-class bureaucrat grows into one of the largest and best run companies in the world. Make sure you read it in conjunction with Sloan Rules and A Ghost’s Memoir. If you’re an entrepreneur the one founder you probably never heard of but should is William Durant. Read Madsen’s biography. The Nudist on the Late Shift is a book you send to someone who lives outside of Silicon Valley who wants to know what life is like in a startup. Books/Articles on the Entrepreneurial University
My friend, Stephen Spinelli President of Philadelphia University offered this great reading list on the activity of the university in tech transfer/collaborations with business, community and government. The list also covers the activity/behavior/leadership of the university president.

All of the following four chapters are in the: Journal of the Programme on Institutional Management in Higher Education, Higher Education Management. Vol. 13, No. 2, 2001. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

I feel there are many gaps in available books on startups leading to group think and over dependency on certain texts. i.e. Lean startup is great, but not applicable to all startups or only 75% of it is. Also in word of the GA Stop talking and start making, if you read this full list, you will most definitely have missed the boat! 


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Thanks for the impressive list!
Great to pick some books from it for reading. Yet I fully agree with your last words; If you have read all of them you haven't spend enough time on your startup.

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