On Startup Books

While many are worth mentioning here, the following 4, I believe, are some of the must reads:

The Lean Startup

The way Eric Ries highlights the pain he felt on spending time and energy working on things that their team thought was valuable to their customers, and the solutions he proposes to shorten that path are very easy to relate to. The concept of avoiding wastage by being very close to your customer (starting with a paying customer) rather than being boxed by sitting on your desk is well put forth.

He also makes a case for not only applying the principle initially, before your get to product-market fit, but throughout your engineering cycle as your product matures. It is the development of an experimental attitude rather than a list of bullet points.

“If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” — Reid Hoffman

Release early, get feedback, improve and iterate.

Word of caution: Make sure you balance the vision v/s customer-feedback.

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” — Henry Ford (or maybe not)

The Innovator’s Dilemma

While The Lean Startup talks about avoiding wastage by listening to your customers, this books lists how listening to your customers makes companies miss out on the technological shifts that disrupt the landscape. It is a great book that highlights the advantages of being small and new over big and established. And captures quite a few studies about how established incumbents were displaced with these technological shifts. It is a great book for all startup founders as well as employees looking for new ideas with tiny markets.

My few key takeaways:

  • Disruptive technologies are often characterized by poorer performance for the mainstream attributes. But they are attractive to a tiny set of customers. Thus they open new markets with different value proposition.
  • Large companies don’t want small markets. And their mainstream customers aren’t interested in the new value proposition. So they don’t invest in disruptive technologies.
  • With high pace of technological progress, disruptive technologies soon surpass established (sustaining) technologies and are appealing even to mainstream customers.
  • Mainstream customers, now, as if all of a sudden, wish to move to the newer disruptive technology that the large company has been ignoring.

And finally, even if the large company invested in disruptive technology, it might do so with a sustaining technology mindset, thus setting up for failure from the get go.

The Hard Thing about Hard Things

Ben Horowitz writes about their journey through Opsware in this book. This is a must read by any founder or startup employees.

They came quite close to the brink a few times as they were going through this experience. It emphasizes how any startup requires improvisation. Particularly, even when they had Ben and Marc (with Netscape success already behind them) as a core part of the process.

For employees who come from non-startup backgrounds, they find the uncertainty, the experimentation, the improvisation too unnerving. And a pivot is really the end of the world for them. These guys don’t know what they are doing they end up thinking. And that helps nobody. All potential startup employees must read this book. Startups aren’t just about getting from 0 to 100, but it is about venturing into the uncharted, defuzzing the uncertainty is the adventure.

Great Management Reference: This also happens to be a great reference book for all things people management. Right from dealing with your best employee who starts feeling entitled, to team culture and accountability and creativity. Always a great book to have close at hand and refer to, in time of crisis or otherwise.

Venture Deals

This is my final recommendation for all startup founders, particularly first-time founders.

It captures details about founder agreements, equity funding process, raising money, term-sheets, fine prints. It even includes samples/templates for the most standard terms that are present in most of these VC documents.

It is a great read for anyone trying to understand how the internals for startup financing work.