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13 Best Books for Startup Founders – Get Your Business Off the Ground

Are you looking for the best books for startup founders? Do you want tips to make your startup a success? Discover 13 must-read startup books today!


Key Points

  • As a startup founder, you don’t have the time to start figuring out which books will help you succeed in the business world. In this post, we’ve made a list of the top 13 books to read for startups!

  • The best startup books written by founders include but are not limited to, Lost and Founder, Zero to One, Founders at Work, and The Lean Startup.

  • The best books for startup founders on leadership and management include but are not limited to, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, The Ideal Executive, and Who.

  • The best startup books that discuss building healthy habits include but are not limited to, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, and Atomic Habits.

  • The best sales and marketing books for startups include but are not limited to, Built to Sell, Predictable Revenue, and The Startup Checklist.

  • Want to read most of these books faster? Try the Headway app for informative, bite-sized, interactive book reviews that fit your workday routines!

Whether you are a startup founder or a veteran entrepreneur, you should never stop your development. Start-up books are one of the many ways to get inspiration and stay motivated! If you think you’re in over your head or are just plain curious about what others have been through, startup books are a great resource full of entrepreneur advice, strategies, and inspiration. There are so many options to choose from, though, that selecting just a few to check out from your local library or bookstore can become an overwhelming task in itself!

That’s why we’re here to help. Of course, there are many more books in this field that are worth reading. But here, for the sake of simplicity, they were limited to 13 fundamentally different books and resources that every startup founder should read!

Our Must-Read List of Books for Start-Up Founders:

Start-Up Books Written by Founders

When it comes to operating a startup, there is no better person to learn from than a founder or operator who has been there before. Our must-read books from founders of startups are: 

1. Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Guide to the Startup Worldby Rand Fishkin

Lost and Founder is a masterpiece when it comes to business and startup books. It truly is “painfully honest” in a way very few resources or entrepreneurs in the startup world ever are.

Fishkin (well-known previous CEO at Moz) details his significant ups and downs as an entrepreneur. He talks about how it took fifteen long years to grow both his business and his personal reputation after he got his start leading a mother-and-son business that was deeply in debt. 

He’s blunt about the very high highs and the very low lows of startup life, including seemingly devastating facts like how sometimes the wrong time for launch can destroy any potential growth or how venture capitalism can have its own significant pitfalls. 

This book walks you through everything Fishkin has learned at every stage of startup ownership. You’ll walk away having learned some seriously valuable lessons, you’ll know some critical mistakes to avoid making, and you may feel a little less alone with potential perceived failures you’ve already experienced!

2. Zero to One by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters

Zero to One is all about innovative thinking. It is an inside look at Peter Thiel’s philosophy and strategy for making your startup a success by looking at the lessons he learned from founding and selling PayPal, investing in Meta, and becoming a billionaire in the process. 

The book argues that it’s important to use creative and innovative thinking to break the mold and offer something truly new. Zero to One discusses valuable tactics that will help you break free of “uninspired thinking” by asking specific questions that can help you discover untapped value in places you may not have expected before. 

3. Founders at Work: Stories of Startups Early Days by Jessica Livingston

Jessica Livingston’s Founders at Work is an exceptional compilation of interviews where founders of famous tech companies discuss their earliest days with their companies. 

Steven Wozniak from Apple. Max Levchin from PayPal. Caterina Fake from Flickr. Sabeer Bhatia from Hotmail. They share their stories about how they learned to build their now-famous companies, including how they got the idea for their businesses, how they won over investors, and how they recovered when plans went sideways. 

What’s unique about this book compared to many others is that the interviews are the entire focus of the book. They’re in-depth and from a variety of sources; it’s not just one founder’s story, and it’s not just a few quotes from experts that are dropped in to prove someone else’s point.

You’ve got diverse experiences, all leading to incredible success. Author Jessica Livingston also happens to be a founder of the world-renowned startup accelerator Y-Combinator.

4. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Eric Ries defines a startup as an organization dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty. This is just as true for one person in a garage or a group of seasoned professionals in a Fortune 500 boardroom. What they have in common is a mission to discover a successful path to a sustainable business. 

The Lean Startup approach fosters companies that are both more capital efficient and that leverage human creativity more effectively.

Rather than wasting time creating elaborate business plans, Reis offers entrepreneurs—in companies of all sizes—a way to test their vision continuously, to adapt and adjust before it’s too late. Ries provides a scientific approach to creating and managing successful startups in an age when companies need to innovate more than ever.

Start-Up Books for Leadership and Management

Start-ups are in constant competition for capital and talent. A founder or CEO’s ability to lead and manage their team is vital to a startup’s ability to attract and retain top talent. Our must-read books on leadership and management are:


5.The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Even the title of The Hard Things written by Ben Horowitz is extraordinarily relatable to most startup founders because it often truly feels like there are only hard choices to make— and so many of them.

The core priority of this book is to share practical wisdom about how to get through some of the most difficult and real problems that you’ll face in the startup world. 

Ever thought about the predicament of needing to fire a friend? Do you know how to poach top talent from direct competitors? 

Business ownership can be lonely and frustrating, but this startup book can help you feel better and more prepared for some of the hardest challenges you may have to face. It’s a fun and easy read; there’s some great humor, and he’ll include some rap lyrics to drive home the point he’s making while sharing his real-life experiences and the lessons he’s learned along the way.

6. The Ideal Executiveby Ichak Kalderon Adizes

The book tells a story about a mythical creature that the author compares with a fabulous unicorn. That mythical creature is the ideal leader. It is beautiful, but it does not exist in nature. However, few people know about it or at least think about it. Many companies are confident that such a person can be trained, while others subscribe to the notion that it is better to hire someone already prepared. However, they just get one disappointment after another. And all because the ideal manager must combine the qualities that are too much for one person.

7. Who by Geoff Smart and Randy Street

Is centered around the fact that so many small businesses make a crucial error. They focus on what they’re selling or what problem they’re solving and forget about the who

Who have you hired? You can save millions by avoiding costly hiring mistakes, and this book is all about that. 

They include:

  • A 4-step method for hiring the right team members 

  • The promise of potentially saving $1.5M by avoiding basic hiring mistakes

  • Interviews with over 20 billionaires and 60 different high-profile thought leaders, including CEOs and investors

The book is well-written, concise, and has two authors that have multiple decades of relevant experience (and success) each. This is one hiring guide startup owners should read right away!

Start-Up Books For Building Healthy Habits

Consistent entrepreneurial success rarely happens by accident. The most successful founders have cultivated habits that help them become more effective, work smarter, and make better use of their time. Our must-read books for building healthy habits are:


8. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey has a successful career as a business and self-help author. In this book, Covey studies highly successful people and lays out the 7 habits that help individuals move from dependence to independence. The 7 habits he outlines are:

  1. Be proactive

  2. Begin with the end in mind

  3. First things first

  4. Think win-win

  5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood

  6. Synergize

  7. Sharpen the Saw; Growth

9. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal

Any product can have a solid GTM strategy, good timing, and a little bit of luck that results in a successful launch. But what about long-term retention? That’s something else entirely. A big part of high retention rates comes down to habit. When someone uses your product as part of their established routine, and it’s a true habit, your value goes up. 

Hooked is all about how you can create habit-worthy products through “hook cycles” that keep users coming back over and over, all while you spend most of your marketing budget on initial customer acquisition.

Learn about Eyal’s Hook Model, which is a four-step process that many successful companies use (knowingly or not) to drive repetitive customer behavior. This book is actionable, and it also includes outstanding examples that help you understand the core points and lessons.

10. Atomic Habits by James Clear

In this book, James Clear, one of the world's leading experts on habit formation, reveals practical strategies that teach how to form good habits, break bad ones, and master the tiny behaviors that lead to remarkable results.

Clear distills complex topics into simple behaviors that can be easily applied to daily life and work. In Atomic Habits, he draws on the most proven ideas from biology, psychology, and neuroscience to create an easy-to-understand guide for making good habits inevitable and bad habits impossible.

One of the core concepts in this book is to focus on minor improvements. For example, the impact a 1% improvement per day can make may appear negligible at first, but Clear makes a compelling argument that in the case of habits, thinking small produces the most significant results over time.

Start-Up Books for Marketing and Sales

11. Built to Sell by John Warrillow

Most business owners started their companies because they wanted more freedom—to work on their own schedules, make the kind of money they deserve, and eventually retire on their own time.

Unfortunately, according to John Warrillow, most owners find that stepping out of the picture is extremely difficult because their business relies too heavily on their personal involvement. Without them, their company—no matter how big or profitable—is essentially worthless.

But the good news is that entrepreneurs can take specific steps, no matter what stage a business is in, to create a valuable, sellable company. Warrillow shows exactly what it takes to create a solid business that can thrive long into the future.

12. Predictable Revenue by Aaron Ross

“This is not just another book about how to cold call or close deals. This is an entirely new kind of sales bible for CEOs, entrepreneurs, and sales VPs to help you build a sales machine”.  

Aaron was responsible for creating an outbound sales process that helped Salesforce add $100M in recurring revenue in the early 2000s. After his time at Salesforce, Aaron published Predictable Revenue.

Are you wondering what it takes for your sales team to generate as many highly-qualified new leads as you want, create predictable revenue, and meet your financial goals without your constant focus and attention? This is the startup book for you.

13. The Startup Checklist by David S. Ross 

The Startup Checklist works as a 25-step program to get your startup off the ground. This is about as actionable as it gets! The book is broken down into 25 very specific steps of startup execution and management, including everything from launch strategies, growth faces, and even potential legal issues.

There’s so much information here that can give you a detailed look into what it’s really like to run a startup and what will be required of its owners. The goal, of course, is to build a great startup that you can grow to the point where it can sell.  

Know what you need to do, when, and whose help you’ll need to do it. It’s a great, detailed guide to get you going. 

Want to Read these Books Faster? Try the Headway App! 

While above, we have cherry-picked in detail some of the very best startup books for founders, let us now consider another alternative for consuming ideas from books faster without taking all that time to read them…

What is Headway?

The Headway app is designed to offer the world’s best ideas in a nutshell! It helps you grow your personality, negotiation, leadership, and technology skills scientifically. It offers bite-sized book summaries that fit your workday routines, even when your calendar is full. The app motivates you to practice self-development in the following ways:

  1. It offers 15-minute summaries of the world’s best nonfiction books. 

  2. It provides educational and informative content in interesting ways. 

  3. For effective learning and recollection, the app utilizes the renowned spaced repetition feature.

Learning On the Go 

Headway’s concise book summary contains only the main ideas and a few quotes. So, if you can’t invest hours in reading all our above recommendations and deciphering their learnings, you only need to invest 15 minutes!

Starting a company can be extremely overwhelming and time-consuming, even if you know all about effective time management. That’s why Headway offers a solution to learn everything a book has to offer within a short period of time. Additionally, there are audiobook summaries on the Headway app, so you can also learn when you are on the go! If you do not have access to the internet or are busy traveling, you can download the content on the app to consume book summaries anytime, anywhere.

A team of experts consisting of editors, writers, voice actors, and moderators creates high-quality book summaries for the Headway app. It only keeps the thoughts and pieces that help you grow and filters out all the book's non-essential sections. Mostly, the book summaries contain five chapters. The editorial team creates the book summary so that the reading or listening is interactive and educational. 

Start-Up Book Summaries

Headway’s intelligent programming suggests book summary reads that help you to grow. At the set-up stage, you need to fill up a quiz about your goals. You can also choose which areas to improve. The goals include choices like winning at work, having more money, being productive, etc. There are many areas that you can focus on. 

If you are a startup founder, you may want to start with leadership, management, planning, time management, and communication. You can choose multiple goals and areas to garner content from depending on your target. The app will curate a list of reading suggestions in the “Today for you” section of the app home screen.  

Frequently Asked Questions

What book is the best for starting a business?
There are countless wonderful books written that are helpful to read when starting a business. Overwhelmingly, Peter Thiel’s Zero to One makes it on almost every list for new business owners and entrepreneurs alike!

What books should entrepreneurs read?
It is always helpful to read stories about people who have been in similar positions as yourself. In this article, we recommend reading Lost and Founder: A Painfully Honest Guide to the Startup World, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future and Founders at Work: Stories of Startups Early Days.

How can books help startup founders? 

Books encourage self-educating, self-improvement, and success. Entrepreneurs read books to discover marketing secrets and get advice on business strategies, as well as develop necessary skills and get new business ideas and motivation. The trick is, successful people are highly selective about what they read, choosing books for education rather than entertainment.

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