Building a startup means learning how to do a lot of things you have never done. Things that are hard (scaling a product). Things that turn out to be really fun (talking to customers). Things that are tedious (filing financial reports, getting people to agree to and sign legal documents). Things you may never have imagined you’d ever have to do (move a company internationally). Lots of other things that you forget about because in the meantime you’re developing a product, fixing bugs, selling, doing customer support, blogging, talking to investors, and nine million other things that have to get done on a daily basis.
Not surprisingly, no one is an expert in all of these things immediately after creating a company for the first time. While I have been reading a lot of great fiction lately (good for clearing your head and helping you think creatively — another thing on your to-do list!), I have learned a lot about building and running Woopie from the books below, several of which I wish I would have read before I had even considered starting a company.
BEFORE YOU GET STARTED
There’s a lot of pressure in startup land to “just get started!” “Get it out there!” “Quit your job!” “What do you have to lose?!” The tough reality is that not everyone has thick enough skin or the determination to create a company, especially a high-growth startup. These books will help you figure that out. If you’re still convinced you have a great business idea and you want to make it happen after reading these, go for it. If reading them has you in the fetal position clutching your 401k with a death grip, you might want to wait a bit.
- The Founder’s Dilemmas by Noam WassermanMan I wish I had been introduced to this book four years ago, it would have saved me a lot of money and stress. Wasserman has been studying startups that succeed and fail for years. He has smart advice about how to build a team, structure equity and set up a company. If you don’t read this before setting up your company, chances are you’ll have to spend money to fix your company’s structure later.
- Zero to One by Peter Thiel & Blake MastersA lot of companies get confused when they can’t get funding. Thiel describes the difference between an okay business idea and a VC-fundable company. This book will force you to think about whether you want to focus on a huge problem like the Googles, Facebooks and Microsofts did in their infancies, or you want to build a stable business around an existing market need (note: both are totally fine choices! But knowing which path you want will change a lot about how your company comes to be.).
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben HorowitzThis book makes even my toughest days seem like a much smaller problem. Horowitz has built large companies & huge, loyal teams and carried them through incredibly difficult times. You will not only learn a lot from this book, but it will be helpful for those dark days because you’ll realize how much worse your problems could be.
- All of Paul Graham’s essays, but especially this one: http://www.paulgraham.com/before.htmlThere are entire quora threads on which of Paul’s essays are most indispensible, and I find myself going back to them again and again to remind myself and reality-check myself. Start, What Startups are Really Like, How not to Die are all classics to me, and reminders of what it actually takes to build a product customers love.
- Delivering Happiness by Tony HsiehWhatever about the problems that Startup City is having right now, this is a great book and will tell you a lot about building a company and a culture that make a difference. Tony candidly discusses his mistakes and lessons in the companies he built, and there is a lot to learn from this book. I found it really inspiring.
- Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason MendelsonDon’t talk to any investors, whether they’re in an accelerator, an angel, a VC firm, whoever — until you’ve read this book. It explains everything about funding companies, how people will try to screw you over, and how to set yourself up to be an investable company.
Any books you wish you had read before you started working in a startup?