Collection of the Best Readings For Founders (& Anyone Interested in Scaling Companies)

Let’s be honest. Most business books aren’t that great. Even the famous ones. Think Collins’ Good to Great (see why). Even the most impacting ones are very flawed. Think Christensen’s Innovator Dilemma (see why).

Yet, books can provide you incredible value. It’s like having a one-to-one meeting with a brillant mind. And for a dozen of euros you can have hours of unlimited access. On top of it, what takes you a couple of hours for reading, took them days, if not weeks to write.

So here I am, outraging decency, trying to make my own selection of the books that truly needs to be read. The criteria? They’ve made a tremendous impact on me, are accessible even if you didn’t study for years the topic beforehands, are dense enough (eg: each Seth Godin book has a great insight but it could be said in tenth the volume) and yet pleasant to read.

On managing high-growing companies:

  • MBA Mondays by Fred Wilson. eBook (& PDF) available here.
    The title explains it quite well, it covers the basics taught in business schools (legal & finance 101, accounting, forecasting, etc.), with some specific focus on high-growing companies & venture capital (role of CEO, operations, raising funds, M&A, etc.). If you had to read only a tiny fraction of it, you can have a look at the part “Projections, Budgeting and Forecasting” (p33–45).
  • Andressen Horrowitz’s blogs posts. Ebook available here.
    This time it’s really focused on high growing companies, covering people, funding, psychology in entrepreneurship. If you had to read only a part of it, you can have a look at the part8: Hiring, Managing, Promoting & Firing Executives (p59–72). And have a look page 73 ;)
  • Paul Graham’s blog posts. Ebook available here.
    Hard to select on the very broad spectrum of subject covered by the co-founder of YCombinator. You can have a look at the following essays “Not Spending It” (18–21) or “Working Harder” (p46–47).
  • Hard Thing About the Hard Things (book), by Ben Horowitz

This book is the opposite of bullshit. You can smell sweat across the pages. Easy reading, full of practical advices & business wisdom. He talks a lot about management (“a good one-to-one meeting is the employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting), leadership (the pay for not giving feedback is crappy company performance) & tenacity (when ask great CEOs how they did it, they all say “I didn’t quit.”)

I nicknamed this book the tech entrepreneurs & managers bible in a previous essay. Grove, former Intel CEO, shares techniques and indicators to maximize leverage across a company, and thus ensure “high output”. He talks a lot about management, culture, KPIs monitoring, meetings and delegation.

Peter Drucker was a long lasting business guru, but unlike many peers, his advices are very useful and he raises the right questions. He covers topics such as goal setting, decision making, effectiveness, building on strength, running meetings & contribution.

On strategy

  • Information Rule (book), by Shapiro

If you’ve never taken the time to think of the specificity of the digital economy, this is a book you need to read. It will explain you precisely what are switching costs & lock-in, different types of network effects, first mover advantages (and disadvantages) and applied game theory in the network economy.

A very good book on what strategy should be, and what it is commonly. Once you’ve read it, you see bad strategies all around you (hint: failure to face the challenge, mistaking goals for strategy, bad objectives). And you start refining yours. (hint: a coherent response to critical issues, following the path diagnosis > guiding policy > coherent action).

I’ve always loved lessons learned by the military forces applicable to the business world. This book is a goldmine. It explains very well the needed evolution of organization in a complex world (hint: empowered execution with a shared consciousness).

Because strategy is also a question of taking the right decision, here are some essays I’ve written about this wonderful topic. More about this in my other reading advice (for anyone interested in business, not only startups). Check especially Klein, Kahneman, Tetlock & Heath.

A very good, documented overview of the impact of the startup economy on strategy. Don’t worry, it will start with Porter. (But surprisingly doesn’t mention Christensen)

Maybe the best, and most accessible book on game theory going far beyond just the canonic prisoner’s dilemma. It is built on many exemples and help you learn the dynamics of a game (anticipation, competition, cooperation, coordination, commitments, bargaining, incentives, etc.). They will become super useful frameworks to think of competition & cooperation.

You believed you had read everything you needed to know about the diffusion of innovation in Moore’s book Crossing the chasm? Well, bad news there are tons of research traditions — anthropology, early sociology, rural sociology, education, public health & medical sociology, communication, marketing, geography and general sociology — that discovered many types & dynamics of diffusion of innovations. Rogers made a wonderful job of synthesization. And if you’re not yet convinced, remember that the 6 ideal types (innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, laggards) that you’ve read in crossing the chasm… has been developed by Rogers in 1985.

On people

This book covers many very interesting topics mostly about people: setting the right incentives, motivations and goal, setting OKRs, decision & hiring processes and management.

Few companies have both the resources and culture to design a very data-driven, academically-supported. When the SVP of People Operation at Google(which include all areas related to the attraction, development and retention of employees) is sharing his beliefs and process, you’d better learn them. It’s quality business intelligence for cheap.

  • Who (book), by Geoff Smart

Hiring should not be improvised. Or done without a clear process. A useful How To guide.

On Venture Capital

A guide to escape scepticism about the soundness of raising fund.. or of investing in a company that isn’t profitable (for a very long time).

You’ll be better at pitching, I promise.

Liquidation Preference, Drag along, Tag along or Ratchet won’t be a mystery for you anymore.

If you intend to raise funds, you’ll certainly confronted to these terms. Better understand them in advance, don’t you think?

Other topics

You want other great, recommended readings? 
Check out my suggestions.

You have other great, lasting suggestions? (books & article series?) Let me know!

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Reading Further

Don’t forget to check my latest book: Human Resources For Startups, that you can find in your local Amazon (US, UK, GER, FR, ES, JP, IT!)