Startups are notoriously difficult to operate. Many fail outright, and those that survive often fall short of their potential. However, there are steps you can take to increase your odds for success. So, let’s explore advice from the best startup books.

While every startup is unique, the core challenges are largely the same. As a result, experienced entrepreneurs can help you adopt best practices and avoid common mistakes on the road to success. The books in this list tackle five key themes:

  • How to navigate the predictable challenges of a startup
  • The best way to spend your time and energy in the early days
  • The right way to talk about your idea to get useful feedback
  • How to prepare for the tough challenges that founders face
  • Tips for how to build an incredibly valuable business

While the books contain some overlapping ideas, each one provides a unique and essential perspective for startup founders. If you only ever read five books along your journey to building a business, these five will serve you well.

1. The Start-Up J Curve by Howard Love

The Startup J Curve Book Cover
The Start-Up J Curve by Howard Love

It’s no secret that many startups fail. But what is less understood is that the path to success often involves making dramatic changes to the original idea. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs are not prepared for this possibility. As a result, they can feel lost and even consider giving up when facing predictable setbacks. 

The Start-Up J Curve can help you put common challenges into context. It explains how the startup journey unfolds in a predictable six-step pattern. By understanding each stage of the journey, you increase your odds for success. Instead of feeling lost when you face setbacks, you’ll have a clear sense of how to move your idea forward.

The Start-Up J Curve is available from Amazon and Apple Books. If you want to learn more before picking up a copy, check out my Start-Up J Curve book summary.

2. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

The Lean Startup Book Cover
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

Many startup founders make the mistake of focusing their early time and energy on building a predefined product or service. Then, after months of hard work, they’re often surprised to find that the final result fails to attract customers. People do not want to buy it, and the only chance to save the startup is to make expensive changes.

The Lean Startup can help you figure out the right thing to build, the product that customers want and are willing to pay for, as quickly as possible. The book stresses the value of identifying key assumptions early on, so you can test those assumptions quickly and inexpensively. When done right, this approach can help you turn your idea into a sustainable business faster and with far less waste along the way.

The Lean Startup is available from Amazon and Apple Books.

3. The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick

The Mom Test Book Cover
The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick

One of the fastest ways to validate a startup idea is by discussing it with potential customers. Unfortunately, many of these conversations backfire because most people want to be supportive and socially polite rather than blunt and honest. As a result, it’s easy to misinterpret their encouragement as a genuine interest in your idea.

The Mom Test explains how to properly talk with people 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 could send your startup in the wrong direction.

The Mom Test is available from Amazon and Apple Books.

4. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

The Hard Thing About Hard Things By Ben Horowitz Book Cover
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

Startup life is hard. No matter how much planning or research you do, there will be unexpected surprises along the way. Unfortunately, there is no recipe or formula for dealing with the most difficult challenges that founders face. Not to mention the emotional struggles that come along with them.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is a collection of advice, practical wisdom, and humbling experiences that can help founders prepare for difficult challenges. It tackles tough topics like firing friends when they’re no longer a fit, poaching employees from competitors, and dealing with the potential of bankruptcy. It’s a must-read for founders who face tough challenges or want to be better prepared to do so.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things is available from Amazon and Apple Books.

5. Zero To One by Peter Thiel

Zero To One Book Cover
Zero To One by Peter Thiel

The goal of a startup is to create and capture new value. Unfortunately, generating value for customers doesn’t always translate into business success. A startup can fail to capture enough value, in the form of revenue and profits, to fund the operation. As a result, they can struggle to survive even as customers benefit from their work.

Zero To One is about how to turn a startup idea into a valuable business. While much of the advice is geared towards wildly ambitious startups, many of the insights can be applied to smaller, niche-based startups or even small businesses. The book is an inspirational read for anyone interested in building a more valuable company.

Zero To One is available from Amazon and Apple Books. If you want to learn more before picking up a copy, check out my Zero To One book summary.

Other Great Books For Startup Founders To Read

After learning how to build a startup, it’s helpful to dive into related topics, including digital marketing, product development, and business strategy. So, when you finish reading some of the best startup books, consider reviewing my other business book reading lists for other interesting options.

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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