Many startups fail within the first few years of operations. And those that survive often fall short of their potential. Fortunately, there are things you can do to increase your odds for success, so let’s explore 10 of the best startup books to read in 2021.

These books can help you adopt best practices and avoid common mistakes. The authors cover valuable insights that can save you from having to solve things that other entrepreneurs have already solved for you. By heeding their advice, you can spend less time putting out fires and more time delivering value to customers.

1. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

The Lean Startup Book Cover
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Startups often make the mistake of focusing all of their initial energy on building the ‘perfect’ product. Yet, after releasing it to the market, they are surprised to find out that significant changes are needed. This outcome is often the result of inaccurate assumptions made early in the product development process.

This book can help you avoid all of that wasted time and energy. It stresses the value of identifying all of the underlying assumptions behind your idea. And it provides tips on how to validate those assumptions as quickly and inexpensively as possible. As a result, it can help you turn your idea into a sustainable business in fewer steps.

The Lean Startup is available from Amazon, Audible, and Apple Books.

2. Sprint by Jake Knapp

Sprint Book Cover
Sprint by Jake Knapp

Startups often face many challenges throughout the product development process. It’s almost inevitable that they will encounter complex issues, difficult choices, and other areas of uncertainty. And even minor problems can be exacerbated by having limited resources and a strong sense of urgency during the startup journey.

This book introduces Google Ventures’ unique five-day process for answering critical questions. It’s all about rapid prototyping and testing ideas with customers.  And it can help your team solve a big problem, break out of a rut, or make quick progress.

It pairs well with The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. While that book explains the value of identifying and validating early assumptions, this book provides many powerful tools, frameworks, and procedures for making that happen.

Sprint is available from Amazon, Audible, and Apple Books. You can learn more by reviewing my Sprint book summary.

3. The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick

The Mom Test Book Cover
The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick

One of the fastest ways to test a startup idea is by talking with potential customers. Unfortunately, many of these conversations backfire because people have a natural desire to be supportive and encouraging, rather than blunt and honest. And it’s easy to misinterpret their passive support as a genuine interest in your idea.

This book explains how to properly talk with potential customers to get honest and useful feedback. It can help you ask the right questions in the right way to gather the information you need to validate or improve your idea. And it can help you avoid misleading feedback that can send your startup in the wrong direction.

The Mom Test is available from Amazon, Audible, and Apple Books.

4. Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore

Crossing The Chasm Book Cover
Crossing The Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore

Many innovative startups fail to attract a mainstream audience to their product or service. They may build initial momentum with early adopters but are unable to convince lucrative mainstream customers to participate. And as a result, they are never able to capture the full profit potential of their solution.

This book is about how to market disruptive products to mainstream customers. The insights apply to many technology-related products but are equally relevant to other solutions that require customers to adjust their habits or behaviors. So, if your product breaks with the industry’s norms, I recommend that you read this book.

Crossing The Chasm is available from Amazon, Audible, and Apple Books.

5. Start At The End by Matt Wallaert

Start At The End Book Cover
Start At The End by Matt Wallaert

Even the most popular products can end up buried in a closet somewhere instead of being used as intended. And this lack of customer engagement tends to limit positive reviews, word-of-mouth referrals, and repeat purchases in the future.

This book is about how to build products that create real change. It can help you develop things that customers truly use to make a positive impact in their lives. And this outcome can contribute to the long-term success of your business.

Start At The End is available from Amazon, Audible, and Apple Books.

6. Marketing Made Simple by Donald Miller

Marketing Made Simple Book Cover
Marketing Made Simple by Donald Miller

It’s not enough just to build a great product or service. Startups must also have an effective way to communicate it’s value to potential customers. Otherwise, people may never take the time to seriously consider purchasing it.

This book explains how to create an effective sales funnel. It will help you build a website, an email list, and email sequences. And it provides practical advice on how to communicate in a way that resonates with potential buyers.

If you’re new to marketing, this book is a great place to start. It’s a practical and actionable guide that even experienced marketers will likely enjoy reading.

Marketing Made Simple is available from Amazon, Audible, and Apple Books. You can learn more by reviewing my Marketing Made Simple book summary

7. Traction by Gabriel Weinberg & Justin Mares

Traction Book Cover
Traction by Gabriel Weinberg & Justin Mares

The most common reason why startups fail is due to a lack of customers. So, after you’ve set up your sales funnel with tips from Marketing Made Simple, it’s time to attract potential buyers. And this involves testing various marketing opportunities.

This book provides insight into 19 proven marketing channels. And it explains how to select and execute the best opportunities for your specific business. It’s the perfect compliment to Marketing Made Simple as it can help your business attract a steady stream of potential customers into your sales funnel.

Traction is available from Amazon, Audible, and Apple Books. You can learn more by reviewing my Traction book summary.

8. Contagious by Jonah Berger

Contagious Book Cover
Contagious by Jonah Berger

While there are many great ways to promote a startup, word-of-mouth referral is arguably the most effective and scalable option. People like to spread the word about great products and services. And those that are on the receiving end of a personal recommendation tend to take them quite seriously.

Unfortunately, startup teams may assume the only way to encourage word-of-mouth referral is by creating a superior product or service. While this is absolutely a great place to start, other critical factors can play a significant role.

This book covers six powerful strategies for making your product or service more likely to spread. It taps into the science behind word-of-mouth referral. You can use any of the methods individually or combine them to create an even stronger result.

Contagious is available from Amazon, Audible, and Apple Books. You can learn more by reviewing my Contagious book summary.

9. Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne

Blue Ocean Strategy Book Cover
Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne

Many startups fall into the trap of focusing on what competitive businesses are doing. Then, they try to appeal to the same customers with a slightly better product. And as a result, they often end up playing into the strengths of a well-established business.

This book can help you avoid the bloody red ocean of competition. It explains how to create and capture new demand, break the value/cost trade-off, and redefine market boundaries to create a leap in value for buyers.  The goal is to make the competition irrelevant by creating uncontested market space.

Blue Ocean Strategy is available from Amazon, Audible, and Apple Books. You can learn more by reviewing my Blue Ocean Strategy book summary.

10. Zero To One by Peter Thiel

Zero To One Book Cover
Zero To One by Peter Thiel

The mission of a startup is to create and capture new value. But this is easier said than done. Many businesses successfully generate value for their customers. However, they can still fail to capture enough value, in revenue and profits, to drive future growth.

This book is all about how to build a valuable business. While much of the advice is geared towards wildly ambitious startups, much of it also applies to small niche-based startups. It’s an inspirational read for anyone interested in building a great business.

Zero To One is available from Amazon, Audible, and Apple Books. You can learn more by reviewing my Zero To One book summary.

Beyond The Best Startup Books

Ready for other business topics? Consider checking out the best digital marketing books, the best product management books, or the best entrepreneurship books.

You can also subscribe to The Rick Kettner YouTube Channel or The Rick Kettner Podcast to get updates about future book summaries and reading lists.

Rick Kettner

Rick is an avid reader and lifelong entrepreneur. He co-founded popular online music education platforms including Drumeo, Pianote, and Guitareo. He now spends much of his time sharing tips on business strategy, marketing, and entrepreneurship.

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