There are A LOT of business books out there. If you do a quick search on Amazon, you will find that they have 34,594 books in the “Entrepreneurship” category. If you expand that to “Small Business & Entrepreneurship”, that number goes up to 66,639!
If you are thinking about starting a business, that is an overwhelming amount of potential books for you to read to get you started in the right direction. I see people constantly ask the following question:
It seems that everyone is trying to figure out how to narrow this list down to the essential book (or small selection of books) that will really help them to get their business going. This makes a lot of sense, as focus and action is critical when starting a business, but can be a major challenge in a sea of information overload (and we haven’t even started talking about other mediums such as podcasts).
So after answering this question many times, we decided to put together this blog post to answer the question based on our experience of starting and coaching dozens of different startup business.
What New Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Bodybuilders
Years ago when trying to start our first business, I constantly struggled with where to focus. I’d get stressed. One of the ways I would deal with this stress was to go to the gym.
While at the gym, I’d see many other people there; from bodybuilders to novices. After observing the behaviors of various gym goers for a while, I noticed a pattern; new gym goers would not know what do to, so they would model their workout based on what bodybuilders were doing. So you would see them doing things like bicep curls (obviously hitting your bicep) and tricep extension (obviously hitting your tricep).
This seems like a great strategy, right? Those people are successful and have a body that I want, so if I copy what they do, I will achieve success as well.
But here is the problem… they are at step 8 in their fitness journey, and you are at step 1. This means they are doing activities that move them from step 8 to step 9. You don’t need activities that move you from step 8 to step 9, but from step 0 to step 1.
You see, when you just start working out, you want to leverage your exercises and hit on several areas of your body at once. This means doing compound lifts such as squats (muscles worked: quads, glutes, abs, etc.), bench press, deadlifts and the like. These compound lifts target multiple muscle groups in a single exercises, as opposed to something like a bicep curl that only targets a single muscle group.
Working a single muscle vs. working multiple muscles at simultaneously.
Advanced body builders typically use these compound lifts as a base, then add isolation lifts to target specific muscles. But people new to working out should just be targeting compound lifts.
So how does all this exercise talk help a new business owner figure out what book to read? Keep with us, we are almost there.
Just like there are many muscles in your body, there are many different areas of business: mindset, product development, sales, marketing, finance, etc. Within each of those, there are sub-segments: marketing can be online or offline, include psychology, copy-writing, etc.. Even within those, online marketing can be broken down into various social networks, content mediums and specific strategies.
Successful businesses have a base and balance among these various key areas of their business. Therefore, to keep improving, they may dive deeper into a specific area or advanced strategy.
But a new business owner does not need to dive deeper into this advanced strategy. Instead, they need to lay the foundation for which they can build a successful business upon. So instead of reading and learning about an area in isolation (ex. marketing), they need to focus on learning about multiple areas at once.
These 3 books that we recommend below establish this basis and build on each other.
I started my career at a large company developing software. Very quickly learned about the concept of Lean, which focuses on maximizing customer value by identifying and removing waste from the process.
When I started my first business, I took this concept from my career and applied it to my business. It was a natural fit, especially in a startup environment where we did not have a lot of resources to waste.
Needless to say, I very very excited when this book was released in 2011. It took several of the ideas that I was already using in our business, but expanded on them and put them into a model that was being used by startups everywhere.
The main premise is that most businesses begin with an idea that the founder believes is great (but does not test or verify), then spend years working hard and “hustling” to try to build the business and make it successful. They often spend a lot of time creating the product or service, only to have it flop or not gain the traction when it hits the marketplace.
Reis instead defines a different model in the business. Startups need to focus on “validated learning”, that is, running a series of experiments to learn about their customers, what works and what doesn’t. The faster we can run these experiments and pivot, the more likely we are to have success in our businesses.
Why This Should be Your First Book
There are many great business books out there. I have read hundreds if not thousands of them. Although they all have their strengths and weaknesses, most of them do not speak directly to startups while also providing a lightweight and easy model for validating and evolving a business idea.
The single most important thing to focus on when starting a new business is validating the business. This book provides you with the best model that I have found (and one that has been used in tens of thousands of businesses) to help them validate and scale.
Everyone that registers for the webinar will be entered to win a free copy of “The Lean Startup”.
So after reading “The Lean Startup”, what book should you read next?
The Lean Startup movement started many years before the book was published, but was really shifted to the forefront once the book was published. Even though the book and idea was wildly successful, there seemed to be a gap where startup founders struggled with how to translate the ideas into actual actions. They didn’t know the step by step process to actually implement the Lean Startup Model.
Introduce Running Lean. Ash Maurya took a concept was that gaining traction, the one page Business Model Canvas, and adapted it to create the Lean Canvas. This was a one page sheet helped entrepreneurs trying to implement Lean Startup get the core ideas down on paper.
Then throughout the remainder of the book, he shows a strategy for running experiments and testing/validating the ideas defined on the Lean Canvas.
By following this book, entrepreneurs can systematically take the concepts from The Lean Startup and strategically run experiments to validate and iterate on your idea.
Scaling Lean picks off where Running Lean ended. Whereas Running Lean was about testing your idea and getting to a point where you have a validated idea and a running business, Scaling Lean helps you take your new startup and scale it in a smart and sustainable way. It continues to provides models and guidelines on where to focus and what to pay attention to. This is critical because growing a business can be overwhelming.
There are many things to measure and focus on, and it is easy to drown in a sea of metrics and spreadsheets, each of which can tell you a completely different story for how your business is going and what to focus on next.
From Knowledge to Action
Knowledge and learning is definitely an important part of becoming an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are typically life-long learners. That is great, but sometimes it can be a negative.
New entrepreneurs often spend a lot of time learning and not enough time taking action. There are several reasons why this can happen:
- You don’t feel like you know enough. Reading one more book will give you the “secret” to success, but it always seems to be one more book away.
- You don’t have clarity on what steps to take. Even though the 3 books above lay out a great foundation, it can be a challenge to balance and prioritize all of the potential things that you could be doing as you start and grow your business.
- You are afraid and that keeps you from taking action. Sometimes entrepreneurs don’t have the right support and guidance, so they “play it safe” and just continue to learn or do activities that keep them busy but don’t move their business forward.
There are many more potential reasons why you as an entrepreneur may not be taking action to move your business forward, or if you are taking action, not getting the results to want.
After working with several dozen entrepreneurs, as well as starting a handful of businesses ourselves, we have developed a model and roadmap for helping address the challenges above.
We are offering a free upcoming webinar to walk you through the roadmap. It contains 5 main phases, as well as specific steps and related information to help you at each step of your journey. Click here to save your spot for the free class.
Bonus: We are going to be giving away a free copy of The Lean Startup book to a random person who signs up for the webinar. By signing up, you will be entered into the content.