9 Business Books that are Mucho Bueno.

What business books should I read?  After hearing this question over and over from entrepreneurs who are just entering the startup world, I decided to put together a short list of the business books that have had the greatest influence on me over the years.  All of them are awesome.  You should go buy them now!

Linchpin by Seth Godin – A paradigm shifter.  We give a copy of this book to each new employee at GiveForward and make it mandatory reading. It’s that important. If you want to a glimpse of what this book is about, here’s the Linchpin Manifesto.

We have a wall of superheroes at the GiveForward office. If you look closely, towards the top left (next to the green action figure) you'll see Linchpin author, Seth Godin

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh – If I had one word to describe this book (okay, one hyphenated word), it would be game-changer. In 2010 we decided to write down our  company’s core values, and it forever changed our business. It gave us focus and meaning and molded our company culture.  We did it in large part because of this book. I can’t overstate the importance of culture in a startup.  As this book points out, at the end of the day, it’s the only thing that separates you from your competition.

Hug Your Customers by Jack Mitchell – Of all the books here, this one is probably the least well-known; but it may have  had the most profound effect on our business.  From day one, out-of-this-world customer service has been the cornerstone of our business.  This book is one of the reasons why.  Aside from Linchpin, this is the only other book on our mandatory reading list for new team members.  (For more of my thoughts on the importance of customer service, check out this post)

Most the time we hug our customers. But sometimes we'll sneak in a random hug with a stranger.

Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki  –  An excellent book with lots of hands-on instruction.  We read this when we were just launching GiveForward in 2008 and didn’t have a clue as to what we were doing.  If you’re trying to start a business but feeling overwhelmed as to where you should start, read this book as your starting point.  (pro-tip:  for me the single most important piece of information this book offers is the idea that your business should have a mantra rather than a mission).

At GiveForward our mantra is Create Unexpected Joy

Purple Cow by Seth Godin –  If you are not building a remarkable product or service, stop what you are doing, throw it all away and start over.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries – Take as much of the guesswork out of your product development as possible.  This is a very popular book right now.  But it’s popular for good reason, and that’s because the book is dead-on accurate.  Startups all fail for the same reason: they run out of money.  Typically, they run out of money because they spend too much time and resources building shit customers didn’t want. This book helps put an end to that.

Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson – I learned more from this book than I did from three years of law school.  When we were raising our seed round at GiveForward in 2011, my friend Chris Conn of MightyNest told me to read a blog series by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson called The Term Sheet Series that explains in laymen terms all the gobbledygook that goes into a term sheet.   In 2011, Brad and Jason turned this blog series into an immensely empowering book that helps put entrepreneurs on more of a level playing field with investors.  I read this book this past fall, and now as we are about to raise our Series A, I am re-reading it again. If you are ever planning on raising capital from angels or VCs this book is absolutely essential.

Do More Faster by David Cohen and Brad Feld and Rework by Jason Fried.  Both of these books provide very useful, honest and heart-felt lessons written by entrepreneurs who have been there and done that.  If you read these books early in your startup career and you will save yourself a lot of time and heartache.  If you read them later in your startup career you will find yourself nodding and smiling on every page because many of the lessons you will have already learned the hard way.   Both books are super-fun reads that I highly recommend reading before you start your business, not after like I did.


That’s my list, but I’m sure I’m missing many great ones.   I’m curious to find out which business books have inspired you?   Would love to hear your suggestions in the comments.

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34 thoughts on “9 Business Books that are Mucho Bueno.

  1. Mike McGee says:

    You covered a lot of my favorite business books, but here are some other books that I love in the business, education, productivity space:

    Making Ideas Happen – Scott Belsky

    The 99 percent is one of my favorite sites on the web, so this has been my #1 book for productivity and getting things done.

    Drive – Daniel Pink

    Autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I try to do my best to ensure that Code Academy students can achieve these three stages throughout our program. Great read.

    The Talent Code – Daniel Coyle

    This is one of those books that just kind of shatters how you look at the world. Basically, this book says that there is a science behind becoming awesome at whatever you want to achieve. Gave me the confidence that I could learn how to develop web applications as well as execute on Code Academy.

  2. Seyi says:

    Fab list!

    Little Bets by Peter Sims is another good one: the power of taking little actions because they add up.

    Leadership is an Art by Max De Pree is also pretty good. Talks about the ‘why’ of business in a human way/the Herman Miller way

  3. Great list – I just need to read Hug your customers to finish it. I’d also add:

    – Business Model Generation
    – 4 steps to the epiphany
    – Getting to Yes

  4. Aksh Gupta says:

    My favorite “business” book of all time is IACOCCA. Its an autobiography of Lee Iacocca, former CEO of Ford/ Chrysler auto companies. The reason I read it often is because its a great story of a successful businessman who has devoted his life to building a great company and amazing products. Yet, he is somewhat forgotten.

    If you read it, I hope you will find it inspirational as well.

  5. My favorite business books
    – Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, Robert B. Cialdini, Blair Hardman
    – Yes Factor by Tona Reidman
    – Win: The Key Principles to Take Your Business from Ordinary to Extraordinary
    by Frank I. Luntz
    – Do More Faster: TechStars Lessons to Accelerate Your Startup (10/19/2010)
    by Brad Feld
    – The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) (5/10/2007)
    by Seth Godin
    – The Bible

  6. saraaltier says:

    Great list, Ethan! Seth Godin is the man.

    I’ll second Scott’s pick of Scott Belsky’s, Making Ideas Happen and would also add Brains on Fire, about inspiring word-of-mouth movements. I think I’ve re-read it 4 times!

  7. Great list, though I would add:
    1. How to Win Friends and Influence People
    2. Getting Things Done/Making it all work
    3. Running Lean (I like it more than The Lean Startup)

  8. kristin says:

    Interesting that you selected Hug Your Customer. This is one of my favorites from my past job, that like you said many do not know about! :) Gr8 pick!

    Also, we here at MentorMob love Malcolm Gladwell’s books… specifically Outliers and The Tipping Point. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_Gladwell#Works

    • ethanaustin1 says:

      Love Outliers and Tipping point as well. Funny thing about Hug Your Customers is that I stole it off the shelf of my friend Katy in SF a long time ago b/c I needed a quick read for the flight back to Chicago. Turns out it was one of the best finds ever.

  9. I’ll throw a curve-ball here and avoid any straight-forward business/entrepreneurial books. Instead, I’ll offer up a book I read when I was 13, called Verbal Judo, by George Thompson.
    He’s a former cop who goes around teach other cops how to diffuse situations through language, well before they escalate. There are tons of books on persuasion, be it through marketing, incentive, non-verbal behavior, etc, etc, but I found this book, even at thirteen, incredibly straight-forward in the lessons of how to control and manipulate a situation so that, regardless of the passions, you got where you needed everyone to go.
    That’s served me well professionally.

  10. I agree with the mention of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. My dad, who is also a programmer-entrepreneur, is a prime example of an Outlier and has always been really inspirational for me.

    And… I personally love how thoughtful that book is in analyzing the unique components/personality bits that go into talent, success, longevity….

  11. Great list, Ethan. I’m a fan of Gary Vaynerchuk’s Thank You Economy in terms of business books. It goes the extra mile explaining the value of truly giving a shit about your customers. Maybe it’s the small town boy in me : )

  12. Rishi says:

    Thanks for sharing Ethan. So many of my favorites already mentioned. There is also a really solid list here: http://www.quora.com/Book-Recommendations/What-books-should-entrepreneurs-read. I’m glad Alex mentioned Running Lean by Ash Maurya — so good.

  13. Anything from Guy Kawasaki starting with How to Drive Your Competition Crazy could make a list like this, but for my choices, I’m going a little more old school…

    First, the fastball; The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company by David Packard

    If you want to understand “Silicon Valley” and why so many regard HP as the prototypical “tech startup”, this is a must read. Alas, today’s HP has lost its way, but I’ve made the argument elsewhere that today’s standard bearers, like Google, with their emphasis on engineering and decentralize management style, are simply following a path first pioneered by Bill Hewlett and David Packard.

    For the change-up; Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond by Gene Kranz

    A memoir by one of the most famous non-astronauts to be associated with NASA. Kranz was the flight director and manager at NASA (think Ed Harris in the movie Apollo 13) during the space program’s heyday that in turn seeded much of our modern tech world. And I don’t just mean things like integrated circuits and GPS, but management concepts such as systems engineering.

    In a similar vain of “big science” research and management, Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War by Michael Neufeld, J. Robert Oppenheimer: And the American Century by David Cassidy or Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon by James Harford

    And finally the out and out curve-ball; Veeck–As In Wreck by Bill Veeck

    Bill Veeck grew up around baseball operations (his father was president of the Chicago Cubs in the 1920s) and would go on to become an owner who transformed the way the sport was marketed and operated. Now a days we would use terms like “disruptive” and “innovator” but at the time Veeck was seen by his peers as juvenile and a sensationalist, an image he didn’t shy away from either.

    On a related note, while it has been on my to read list almost since it was published in 2003, Michael Lewis’ Money Ball is another good look at disruptive innovation in an existing marketplace.

  14. Vince Leung says:

    As far as books are concerned, I appreciate Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree”….

    But for business books I really liked “The Big Moo” (collection of short stories with tidbits of knowledge) and “The Method Method” (awesome book about team & culture, written by the guys who started Method Soap – the fancy schmancy soap sold at Target)

  15. Viren says:

    Alright, I’ll take this a totally different way. You’ve got the entrepreneurs side nailed, but The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Schroeder is just inspirational on how to be a good/ethical business man or woman. As start-ups grow, it’s easy to get excited and lose personal focus. Hearing Buffett’s values despite success can put things into context.

  16. I’m a big fan of conscious capitalism – how to do great business by doing good, balancing needs for all stakeholders so you create firms that last and outperform even “good to great” companies – and you make a huge difference in the world.

    So along those lines I’d offer “Firms of Endearment” by Raj Sisoda; “Love is the Killer App” by Tim Sanders.

    We spend a lot of time helping small and large companies create goals and achieve them, so “Flipping the Switch” and “Zapp!” are good basic books for beginning leaders to make a difference in their leadership effectiveness quickly.

  17. Hug Your Customers is such an under-rated book. My favourites also include – 4 Hour Work Week, Maverick and LOVE reading autobiographies with a business twist, like Martha Stewart’s book about her early career.

  18. Bill Quiseng says:

    This is a great list for all business people, be they entrepreneurs or veterans in business. I particularly enjoyed “Delivering Happiness” and any book by Seth Godin.

    My favorites are Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends.” My business mantra is “Think Relationships or Go Broke” and Carnegie’s book is the best that has ever been written about building business relationships. While I enjoyed The Art of the Start, I think Guy Kawasaki’s “Enchantment” is the modern day version of “How to Win Friends.”

  19. ethanaustin1 says:

    Thanks Bill. Have read almost all of Seth’s books. Have to agree with you that they are all great. Also agree that relationships are the most important part of business. However, I was a little disappointed with Enchantment. Maybe I’ll have to read it again…

    • Bill Quiseng says:

      I understand about Enchantment. Full disclosure that I bought the first version Macintosh 128k. Walked into a ComputerLand store and told the salesperson I was computer illiterate and I wanted to buy my first computer. Although there were PC’s throughout the showroom, he took me right to the Mac. Been a big Apple fan ever since. At the time, I was a sales and marketing director for a resort so I read Guy’s book “The Macintosh Way”. A breakthrough marketing book for me and I’ve been a little biased towards favoring any book he’s written. When I speak to audiences, I quote, Charlie Tremendous Jones, “You’ll be the same person you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” And I follow up with “Do not read a book for content, but read it for intent.” Then I put up a picture of Enchantment and tell them that the intent of the book is to recognize that “enchanting” people and building relationships is based on three pillars: likability, trustworthiness and a great cause. Simplistic, yes. Common sense. Absolutely. But unfortunately not business common practice.

  20. Fresh from my desk... says:

    Well….I’m starting a new business, believe reading the words of those who have “been there, done” that is great foundation, and I am pretty darned fond of burritos. So, kudos – great post.

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