To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be able to juggle several hats at the same time. Identifying a problem and developing a scalable solution is the easy bit. Your initial days as a founder may be spent coding and refining the technical architecture, but then comes a concerted effort on streamlining operations, drumming up sales, and executing a marketing strategy.
In an ideal scenario, founders already have experience in what it takes to build a company. They might have worked different jobs in the past or have a fancy college degree which will, at the very least, point them in the right direction. But startups are tricky; be prepared to dig deep and get your hands dirty. Fortunately there’s a wealth of advice out there from people who’ve achieved brilliant things and want to give their knowledge to others like them. In no particular order, here are four books every aspiring tech founder should read.
1. Zero to One – Peter Thiel
Peter Thiel needs no introduction. As the co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, the American entrepreneur has done and seen it all. In his book, which Forbes says “makes you feel superhuman”, Peter outlines how great companies are born out of nothing. Zero to One urges founders to look at areas which are underserved and where they can carve out a niche – building a loyal base of customers which you can use as a foundation to scale.
Peter knows what he’s talking about – after all his net worth is approximately US$2.2 billion. Other chapters in his book talk about the nature of competition, the essence of building products investors will be interested in, and how it’s essential to have a great team.
2. The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz
Ben Horowitz is the co-founder of one of the most recognized names in venture capital – Andreessen Horowitz. Prior to his role as a VC, Ben worked at Netscape, eventually going on to build an enterprise software company – Opsware – which was sold to HP for US$1.6 billion in cash. He’s been there and done that.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things outlines Ben’s journey in refreshing honesty. It takes you through the highs and lows – an inevitable course for any founder trying to make it big. The book is written more in a personal narrative style but that’s a good thing. It goes to show no founder can ever dream of making an impact without having to go through trials and tribulations. There’s advice on almost everything you need to do to build a world-class company – acting and thinking like a leader, measuring performance, and focusing on product.
3. The Lean Startup – Eric Ries
Rated as a New York Times best-seller, The Lean Startup teaches founders how to hustle, stretch budgets, and scale operations without burning too much cash. Eric wants you to learn how to be successful without wasting too many resources. The book counts on five basic principles as the cornerstone for success, allowing you to make better, faster business decisions in a landscape where speed and execution is everything. It cites Dropbox as one of the companies which successfully incorporated advice to scale quickly.
4. Startup Playbook – Sam Altman
Sam Altman is the president of Y Combinator – a Silicon Valley-based accelerator and one of the most prestigious names in the startup world today. The accelerator counts Dropbox, Airbnb, and Reddit as some of the companies that have graduated from its program. It is known for its unnerving focus on urging founders to “build something people want.”
More than a hundred Y Combinator graduates are worth at least US$100 million or more, with a combined market capitalization of above US$65 billion. Clearly it’s doing something right when it comes to mentorship and advice.
The Startup Playbook is an effort by Sam Altman to collate all the advice Y Combinator gives its resident companies. The book deals with how to start a company – one that users love and are eager to spread the word about. However, Sam clearly outlines that this is probably the first in a two-book series, talking exclusively about the initial stages of a startup. Scaling, which is also important, will be addressed in the second part – yet unreleased.