I have the privilege of speaking with founders (or would-be founders) nearly every day. In these conversations, I’m often asked the same kinds of questions. They are generally about product (When should I build an MVP?), sales (how do I get more customers?), marketing (How do I get more customers to find me), and so on. I love meeting these entrepreneurs and I enjoy hearing their business plans and helping to identify which elements they need to get right for their startup to succeed.
But, I’m no wizard. I’ve learned a lot through experience – and through these four books (which I refer to often).
If there’s one book that a startup founder should own, this is it. Steve Blank, a serial entrepreneur and investor, has spent the last few decades researching and working with startups. Over that time, he’s learned quite a bit about what works – and what doesn’t, especially for tech startups.
In the Startup Owner’s Manual, he provides about as close to a step-by-step approach as one could have when building a startup. The book includes information on when and how to build an MVP, how to do customer development, why it’s more important than product development, how to analyze the market/industry you’re attacking, and more. I refer to it often and you should too.
Business Model Generation
Business Model Generation introduces startup founders (and corporate execs) to the Business Model Canvas, which is a really helpful framework for analyzing the core components of a company or product launch. I personally use this canvas daily (there’s a poster-sized version hanging on my wall) and I use it as a helpful heuristic when evaluating other people’s ideas.
Like all frameworks it has its limitations, but it’s about as robust as it can be, especially for someone not typically used to thinking about the mundane aspects of business such as channels, key resources, and customer expectations.
(Note: If you want a poster-sized copy of the Business Model Canvas, send me an email and I’ll get you one)
The biggest risk to a startup’s success is not its product. I repeat, it’s not its product. It’s not having enough customers. Period.
Predictable Revenue helps startups to solve that problem. Written by one of the early members of Salesforce.com’s sales team, the book introduces entrepreneurs to a prospecting, closing, and marketing process that can really help grow the business quickly and efficiently.
That said, it has it’s limitations. I have found the process to work less well for service businesses than for product companies and more for B2B companies than B2C companies.
Despite these limitations, there are some fantastic ideas from one of the most successful companies of the past few decades. It’s definitely worth reading.
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Eric Ries is an entrepreneur, investor, and one of Steve Blank’s proteges. He built his gaming company, IMVU, using a Lean Startup approach and uses this book to document what he learned. He also studies companies like Dropbox and Groupon as success stories. His approach is slightly more quantitative – he discusses creating tests, executing them, and evaluating their successes (or failures). While Lean Startup is less didactic than The Startup Owner’s Manual, it does provide some excellent case studies and concrete ideas for testing your hypotheses about your business.
While no book can guarantee the success of your startup (successful entrepreneurs find a way to win, regardless!), I have found these four books to be really helpful resources not just for myself, but for others. I suggest you check them out!