Life Changing Books That I Recommend to Startup Founders





I've always been a curious person. I love learning new things and then passing that knowledge along to other people that want to improve or become more successful. One of the ways I've been mentored is through reading books. Books are an easy way to be mentored by some of the best minds in the world…living or not. Here’s a list of the top books that have changed my life, saved me time, and helped my businesses grow faster than I would have been able to accomplish on my own. These are also the titles that I frequently quote or recommend to other people to read. 

How to Win Friends and Influence People - Dale Carnegie

Throughout the years I've mentored a number of young professionals and inevitably this is one of the first books that I recommend they read. For me it was one of the first truly life changing books because I was looking for a guidebook for life. One of the areas I struggled the most was connecting to others. Basically I broke every rule in the book and as a result, I wasn't influencing people, nor was I winning any friends.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People - Stephen R. Covey

This is one of those principle based books that helps to establish a common language and way of thinking about life. Beginning with the end in mind, thinking win-win, and distinguishing between the important and the urgent are all excellent ways of approaching life. It still surprises me how few people have read this legendary book.

21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership - John C. Maxwell

While John Maxwell is a prolific author, this book really convicted me as I read each rule. There were so many that I was breaking, and as a result, people were not following me as a leader. To this day I still instinctively reach for the wisdom in leadership traits that were in this book. It will also demystify why there are some leaders that you respect, and others that you don't.

The E-Myth Revisited - Michael E. Gerber

What I loved about Gerber's book on entrepreneurship is that he very succinctly shows you the 2nd half of a business. The easy part is coming up with an idea. We can all do that... but what happens once you get out on your own and start to actually build it? I believe in his assertion that there are no real entrepreneurs, just technicians with entrepreneurial seizures. Some of us do better than others at adapting to the chaos of actually running a business. He tells you how.

The 4-Hour Body - Timothy Ferriss

When your body is in good shape, your mind works better. For me, this has been a challenge over the years. At one point I was up to 256 pounds of pure fat ass. That's too big. My clothes didn't fit well, getting into and out of the car was harder than it needed to be, and walking up a flight of stairs took the wind right out of me. Also people judge you differently and respond (or don't) to you depending on how attractive you are. We all know this, but how do you lose weight and get in shape easily?

Well, Tim Ferriss has the best hacks and tips for dropping weight. I'm currently down to 219 pounds and well on my way to 8% body fat at around 190 just from following his simple plan that hacks your way through all of what does and doesn't work. If you need a second or third reason to read 4HB, he tells you how to get better sleep and help a woman have a 15 minute orgasm. 2 words: Oh... Yeah...

The 4-Hour Work Week - Timothy Ferriss

The 1st book that I read from Tim Ferriss will help you hack productivity to find the true productivity boosters in work. Not every activity is beneficial, so his system helps you to get the most out of your work without having to take the most time out of your day. Even if you choose to work more than 4 hours per week, the time will be more productive.

Blue Ocean Strategy - W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne

What I loved about Blue Ocean Strategy was the thought that sometimes you just need to step back and take a different look at your work to find less competition. Instead of competing with everyone else, why not do something no one else is doing and win? CCirque du Soleil for example reimagined the 3 ring circus and created a whole new category of entertainment that doesn't use animals, doesn't use big name performers, and is outperforming the industry with a much higher ticket price. You can do the same thing.

The Checklist Manifesto - Atul Gawande

So yeah... a book about checklists. Exciting huh? The reason I love this book is simple. Someone else already knows how to do whatever it is that you are struggling with. When I was managing a law firm one of the problems we had was with consistency in our operations. We had a checklist to make sure every case was processed properly, but it needed to be overhauled. Usually, when you turn a bunch of people loose on overhauling what you usually get is a mind-fucked list that is over-engineered. Atul tells you how to find the right principles to follow so that your checklist makes sense, isn't overdone, and keeps the plane from crashing.

The Goal - Eliyahu Goldratt and Jeff Cox

Eli Goldratt has written this brilliant little business book that is in a narrative form instead of lecture or how-to format. He illustrates the single goal that all businesses have in common. At the time when I read this, it really blew my mind. He also goes into the theory of constraints and has some revolutionary thoughts that are counterintuitive. For example, if you have a bottleneck in your systems, it makes you more efficient if you will produce less instead of making more. Great book that was life changing for me at an early age when I really needed to understand the purpose of a business.

Two off the beaten track choices from the author Jeff Cox:

The Complete Personal Memoirs of General Ulysses S. Grant - Ulysses Simpson Grant
Among other things, he was a darn good writer, but mostly because – despite surprises, setbacks and mistakes – the guy kept pushing forward and never let up.

The 1984 novel Piece of Cake - Derek Robinson
About the Battle of Britain, because no other book that I can think of makes the case so poignantly that the values embraced in one mode of operation can be disastrous when times change – and that truth is not obvious when the change is occurring.

And two others that are more conventional:

Elon Musk - Ashlee Vance
While we don’t yet know the ending to Mr. Musk’s story, the sheer scope of his entrepreneurial efforts is utterly amazing.

The First Tycoon – Cornelius Vanderbilt - T. J. Stiles
Vanderbilt was the prototypical entrepreneur of his time and achieved what is still the American Dream – the universal dream – of those who strive for success.
— Jeff Cox

Good to Great - Jim Collins


Being an analytical person myself, I really loved what Jim Collins did with his research. Good to Great should be required reading by anyone that has anything to do with business. It also applies to churches, non-profits, or even families. Any group can choose to be great, and the enemy of great, which is good, can be eliminated. I love how the book is based on his research of companies that not only were successful, but separated from the pack.

The Great Game of Business - Jack Stack

While not everyone will choose to adopt an open book financial strategy like Jack Stack did, the book tells a great story about how a real business overcame significant challenges to go on to be profitable and spin off many other businesses by teaching people how to play the game of business. Once they know the rules, everyone can be a better player and help the company to win.

The Lean Startup - Eric Ries

There is a way about building a business that seems to work better than others. For me when I read The Lean Startup it was the first time I had seen this concept clearly articulated. Too many times someone will raise money to build a business and go about the process without a clear plan only to fail because their ideas were wrong and all they have to show for it is: "Well... at least we learned a lot." The cumulative cost of all MBA programs throughout the history of time probably is much less than how much investors have paid entrepreneurs to learn and not make money with their business. Lean really is about validation before building. A foundational book for anyone who wants to build a business.

Mastering the Rockefeller Habits (New Title: Scaling Up) - Verne Harnish

Verne has the only newsletter that I refuse to unsubscribe to. He is THE Growth Guy and shows you clearly how to scale up your business. Companies that follow the principles in this book will easily grow top line revenue and profile by 30% to 40%. I've used these techniques in every company I work with, on, or in over the past 10 years (plus anyone who will listen).

The best business book of all time is Eli Goldratt’s The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement which teaches the most important idea any business leader needs to understand – that an organization’s limited resources, time, cash, etc. must be directed at the constraint – whether that constraint is within yourself, your company, or ultimately in the industry – and then getting control of that constraint.
— Verne Harnish

Multipliers - Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeon

This was another book that really convicted me with my weaknesses as a leader. Liz clearly articulates the differences between people who tear down others, and those that build them up to accomplish more than they ever thought possible. Read the book, and then print out the list of traits of multipliers and diminishers and keep it near you at all times.

Perform Like a Rock Star and Still Have Time for Lunch - Orna Drawas

One company actually used this book to help with hiring and selection. They would tell candidates that this book was like a manifesto for performance and encouraged all of their employees to read it. Upon hearing this, the job candidates that were rock stars would read the book without any prompting or recommendation. When it came time for the interview, the interviewer would ask the candidate about their favorite part of the book. For those that read it, the interview went well. For those that didn't, they were not rockstars and missed out on the job. Not only that, but they also missed out on the amazing tips and tricks for how to be more productive at work.

A More Beautiful Question - Warren Berger
This book opens your mind by directing you to the questions that have the power to reveal thoughtful ideas, creative solutions and insightful possibilities for the future.
— Orna W. Drawas

The Personal MBA - Josh Kaufman

What I loved about "The Personal MBA" is that you can immediately apply the principles of the book as you read them. You can debate forever the validity of Josh's claim that you don't really need an MBA, but the principles in this book are rock solid and will get you results immediately. I loved how he approached pricing, validating the effectiveness of marketing campaigns, and basic business strategy. Even if you have an MBA from a great college, this book still will add value as it is purely focused on the basic elements that all businesses share.

Steve Jobs - Walter Isaacson

My only biography on the list. I'm a fan of all things Apple and had much respect from Steve Jobs from a distance. I almost quit reading the book about half way through because he was starting to be portrayed as such a dick to everyone. However, it was about that point that the book turned and I fell in love with him again. It convinced me to follow my gut, push through the naysayers, and to (when necessary) impose your will on other people to accomplish your vision. It will be a very long time before anyone will have such a profound impact on the world as Steve Jobs. I'm grateful to him and Walter Isaacson for approaching this book in the way that they did.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team - Patrick Lencioni

So yeah... if you work with people, they are messed up, and as a result, your team has dysfunction. Luckily there are only about 5 ways you can be messed up and Patrick helps you identify and break them down. Strong people aren't enough. You need to be strong as a group. This book will help you to identify the issues that are keeping the team from reaching its full potential and get to firing on all cylinders. The way it is told is brilliant as well. Similar to "The Goal", it is told in a narrative form that makes the content easy to read, and hard to endure as the sting of your own situations will ring true as you go through each chapter.

Traction - Gino Wickman

Gino has simplified business down to its most essential parts. He says that a business is like a computer and that it needs an operating system. "Traction" is his operating system. Without one, the day to day is just too complicated, so he shows you how to have meetings, evaluate staff, improve the health of the company, and assemble the pieces in the best way possible. I've helped countless companies follow the L-10 meeting format, and to gain a new lens on how they see their business just by recommending this one little known book.

My favorite book – How The Best Get Better: The Art and Science of Entrepreneurial Success - Dan Sullivan.

This is a powerfully, simple book on helping entrepreneurs go to the next level.
— Gino Wickman


"Leaders Eat Last" and "Start with Why"- Simon Sinek

Either book is amazing and the only author that I would make this blanket statement: If Simon Sinek said it, did it, or wrote it, you need to know it. His personal mission is to: "Inspire you to do the things that inspire you." I'm not sure where this guy came from, but everything he does has been profoundly impactful on me. Just search YouTube for Simon Sinek and you'll see what I mean. He goes beyond anecdotal stories and gets down deep into the emotion and biochemistry of why we do what we do, then ties it all back into leadership and inspirational ways of understanding life. These 2 books are at the top of my list of recommendations.

My favorite quote comes from Henry Ford — “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t - you’re right.”
The truth of most truths is that they are perception and not, in fact, true. I keep Ford’s quote by my bedside so, it’s the first thing I see when I awake each day and the last thing I see when I goes to bed.
— Simon Sinek


Pitch Anything - Oren Klaff

So I'm a little hesitant to recommend this book to anyone because it is just that powerful and I don't want you to learn these techniques and use them against me...or anyone I know... ever. I wish I had known this material when I was in high school (or younger) as therein contains the cheat codes to using and taking power from other people in negotiations. (For good and never evil of course). When I asked a friend for a recommendation of a book on how to help startups get better at pitching he immediately said: "Pitch's the only book you ever need to read on pitching or negotiation... period." He was so right... I've never read anything like this. However, I've just got a few minutes to finish this blog post before I get back to an important meeting, so lets wrap up. :)

Venture Deals - Brad Feld

Brad Feld has been a person that I have respected ever since the first time I heard about him. His passion for startups and the success he has accomplished in the Boulder Colorado startup community is legendary. In "Venture Deals" he explains all the details behind the terms and concepts within early stage investing. To us at Seed Sumo it is the definitive book on setting expectations and helping teams understand the subtleties and nuances of angel funding. He also explains it from both sides of the table so you get the view as a startup founder as well as an investor. This keeps the conversation fair and helps you to understand what the other side is thinking.

Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert M. Pirsig
Anyone who does anything around products should read this carefully and thoughtfully.
— Brad Feld


Startup Communities - Brad Feld

My 2nd book by Brad explains the blueprint for building a great startup community. While this book is a little more niche than the others on the list, its a great read for any entrepreneur. Part of the fabric of our world is the premise of "Give before you get." Most startup people that experience success will almost immediately look for a way to dive in and give back. I've never seen a community quite like the startup community. Brad will show you how to plug in and help create a great environment that helps startups to thrive.

A Game Plan for Life - John Wooden, John Maxwell, Don Yeager

John Wooden has made a profound impact on so many people's lives that when I wanted to read a book on mentoring, there was only one author that mattered. He talks about his principles of mentoring as well as little known stories about big names in sports. I have been privileged to be able to mentor young people that were aspiring professionals, musicians, business people, and startup entrepreneurs. This book has been a big help to me as I spent time with them. It is quite a humbling and scary place to be when someone asks you for advice and you realize that they are actually going to do what you say. You don't want to mess up this moment, and John Wooden has made my time as a mentor much more productive.

Delivering Happiness - Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh (Shay) has been an inspiration to many people through his time at Zappos. The way they approached culture is legendary and the story of what he did there really left a mark on me. The book isn't just a chronological history of the company, but more of an insight into how they approached the business challenges. I love how he is very transparent, and down to earth. No matter what you might think it's like inside a multi-billion dollar company, you'll never imagine someone with such a lack of pretense.

What are some of your favorites?