Ten Best Books for Entrepreneurs — Even Fiction | SetSchedule
The New York Times publishes a list of best-selling business books every week. But what are the best books for entrepreneurs? Entrepreneurs are, after all, the backbone of our economy, creating jobs, designing innovative products, and building great companies. If you’re an entrepreneur, you need to read great books, whether they’re bestsellers or otherwise.
According to former U.S. Secretary of Defense and author General James Mattis, “If you haven’t read hundreds of books, you are functionally illiterate, and you will be incompetent because your personal experiences alone aren’t broad enough to sustain you.” Those may not be marching orders, but the general does make a valid point.
Brain fitness coach Jim Kwik says that CEOs and executives prioritize reading, consuming four to five books a month. And that’s just the average. Some of the most successful, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, read a lot more. Why wouldn’t they? Reading helps to foster creativity, improves business insights, and helps established entrepreneurs — and aspiring entrepreneurs — become more effective leaders.
Some of the best-loved books have been circulating for years. That’s because the information they contain is evergreen. Good business sense never goes out of style. The traditional business genre isn’t the only place to find great books, however. Within the fiction and non-fiction categories in this article, you’ll find a self-help bestseller, as well as classic and newer titles.
Here are ten favorites that have lessons for entrepreneurs. There’s enough variety here for even the most well-read.
1. “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” by Phil Knight
“Shoe Dog” is full of inspiration and reminds entrepreneurs that the right people can take a company far. Readers love the story for its candor and the revealing look into the making of a great company. Phil Knight shares the story of the company’s early days through to current times. He was fresh out of business school and launched the company in 1963 with $50 and a dream. Knight hasn’t talked much over the years. But the story comes tumbling out, fresh, unfiltered and beautifully told.
“We all love to admire and aspire to be like billion-dollar brand Nike, but it’s easy to forget it, too, had a rocky and humble start,” says Daina Trout, the founder and CEO of Health-Ade Kombucha. “I love this book because it’s a great reminder that even the best of the best had to start at the beginning.”
2. “The Outsiders: Eight Unconventional CEOs and Their Radically Rational Blueprint for Success” by William Thorndike
“The Outsiders” is about eight CEOs who have defied the odds to become successful. They have done this via unconventional methods and ascended to the top in non-traditional ways, making them outsiders in their industries. Yet, their companies outperformed the S&P 500 by a factor of twenty. The companies include General Cinema, Ralston Purina, Berkshire Hathaway and the Washington Post Company. There are essential lessons in this book for anyone who leads or invests in a company.
Billionaire Warren Buffet has sung the book’s praises over the years, writing in the 2012 annual shareholder letter, “[“The Outsiders”] is an outstanding book about CEOs who excelled at capital allocation.”
3. “Built to Last” by James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras
“Built to Last” is a must-read for entrepreneurs who want to build a sustainable company that is here for the long haul. The authors, who are Stanford University professors, studied 18 iconic companies over six years. What made them relevant for so long? In this book, they reveal the critical factors that create great companies. Even more revealing, they compare successful enterprises with a group of poorly managed companies.
Leigh Rawdon, the founder and CEO of Tea Collection, says that this book helped her change her approach from adequate to setting big, hairy, audacious goals. “There is integrity in building a company that will stand the test of time. It isn’t about a quick flip or succeeding against someone else’s metrics. The principles of this book have consciously and subconsciously guided the business and our brand since the very first day,” Rawdon says.
4. “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill
Written during the Great Depression in 1937, this book was one of the first bestsellers in the self-help genre. It seems that nothing destroys success like negative thoughts. In “Think and Grow Rich,” Hill stresses that having “a definite chief aim” is the path to happiness and prosperity. This is even more true today when the lure of the next shiny object is stronger than ever. Hill curates the lessons learned from 500 wealthy people over 20 years, including Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
Even for a quintessential entrepreneur like Daymond John, founder and CEO of hip hop apparel company FUBU, you can’t beat a good classic. “The main takeaway from this book that I learned is goal-setting. This book made me realize...that when you don’t set very specific goals for yourself, you can find yourself making excuses for why you’re not working as hard as you can be.”
5. “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ” by Daniel Goldman
Many books have been written on emotional intelligence since Daniel Goldman first popularized the term with this bestseller in 1995. But this classic arguably remains the best. Emotions can change the way our brains function and the way we make decisions, particularly under stress. Emotional intelligence depends on the ability to be self-aware and self-regulating, two must-have skills for entrepreneurs.
Amanda Nguyen, founder and CEO of Rise, a nonprofit that advocates for sexual assault survivors, believes that the book teaches valuable skills. Nguyen says, “Building a company involves treating employees as partners in building your dream. Learning who they are, what drives them, and what makes them happy will make for a better community and workplace culture.”
6. “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz
Ben Horowitz is one of Silicon Valley’s most respected CEOs and the co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz. In this book, he writes about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. It’s his best advice on overcoming difficulties ranging from raising capital to managing money to handling board members. He also reveals how he almost lost everything and what it took to get his company back on track. Horowitz, a rap fanatic, uses lyrics from his favorite songs to describe important business lessons.
Omer Molad, co-founder and CEO of the software development company Vervoe, says that the book has helped him through some rough times. “It’s the best book a first-time founder CEO, or really any CEO, can read. I continue to experience the exact things Ben describes and it helps me to remember that someone else was there and came out the other end.”
7. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell
The classic 1945 novel “Animal Farm” is an allegorical satire about Stalinist Russia. A group of barnyard animals rebels against their human masters to create a utopia where they are no longer slaves. But, unfortunately, the animals represent groups of people who eventually became enemies of one another. Although it is about a political environment, it has poignant lessons for businesses, as well.
Albert Lee, founder of Home Living Lab, sees the similarities with organizations. According to Lee, “The intent of leadership always starts off treating everyone equally, but this can change as a company grows and revenue increases… As a business leader, one must never lose sight of the vision of the company. Lead by example and uphold the fundamentals that the company was built on.”
8. “The Goal” by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
“The Goal” was written nearly 40 years ago. It’s a story about a fictional plant manager, Alex Rogo, and his struggles to save his floundering factory. As the story unfolds, Rogo begins to understand the real goal of the plant. Although the story is fictional and the nature of work has changed, the problems persist even today. The book has been a standard read in business schools for many years.
This classic novel has essential lessons for today’s business people that extend beyond the traditional manufacturing environment. “For entrepreneurs who are struggling to balance it all, ‘The Goal’ will help you design and optimize the way work flows through your company,” says Andrew Filev, founder of Wrike, a software development company.
9. “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho
Brazilian author Paulo Coelho wrote this allegorical novel about an Andalusian shepherd boy who travels to find treasure buried beneath the Egyptian pyramids. It is full of the type of symbolism you would expect to see. The book tells of the wisdom gained during his journey. The lesson for both entrepreneurs and those just beginning their careers is to pursue their dreams.
Some people, like Cambridge Companies SPG managing partner Polina Chebotareva, find the simple story life-changing. “It shaped new ideas, new feelings, new goals, and drive within me. It transformed me from a cautious observer to a more decisive leader. It left a forever mark on me as a person, a forever-inspired entrepreneur and a seeker of knowledge,” Chebotareva says.
10. “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand
In this 1943 novel, Ayn Rand tells the story of a young architect, Howard Roark, who battles poverty when he chooses to pursue an individualistic style of design. The book is basically about sticking to your ideals despite the obstacles. Roark turns his back on the corrupt establishment. But, he eventually returns to New York City when he is commissioned to design a majestic building on Park Avenue by a prestigious client.
Shaz Kahng, chief executive at Ceiling Smashers, a professional women’s organization, felt that this book, though non-traditional, was important for her professional development. “It was the first time I read a story where someone was…bringing innovations to a field and was ultimately able to succeed in their own way and with their integrity intact. It taught me to be fearless in innovating, and that if you believe in yourself, you can succeed with honor,” says Kahng.
Books provide a fountain of inspiration, letting you envision a world of possibilities. So relax with a great book. You might learn something new, relieve some stress, and maybe even come up with a good idea or two. As an entrepreneur, the more you read, the more you discover.