10 books every entrepreneur should read

Book piles in the wild 5

Image by Andrew B47 via Flickr

A question “What books should Indian entrepreneurs read” on Quora set me thinking. The good news is that Indian entrepreneurs should read, for most part books that entrepreneurs anywhere would do well to read. The trick is picking the 10 or fewer, that would make reading (or starting) seem not so daunting and that you’d have a snowball’s chance of completing. My own recommendations (& favorites) include the following. Much like a travel guide that tells you what to see if you have only one day in Paris, a week, a month or more, I have attempted to bin them in an attempt to bring coherence and priority.

Plan to ready only ONE book

  • The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker: Forty years after its first publication, this book, like good wine, has aged well. If you are going to read only one book, this should be it. Even if you are only contemplating to be an entrepreneur, you should read this. You’ll do better in any role with this one.

If you can squeeze in two more
Particularly for tech founders and any first time entrepreneurs, knowing about sales and design, particularly as it related to customers, these two books work.

  • Selling the Wheel by Jeff Cox and Howard Stevens: Most entrepreneurs are surprised when they build something and the world does not beat a path to their door on its own. This novel is the gentlest way to get acquainted with selling.
  • Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman: How many times have you had to re-print your document to get the two-sided printing working? Or needed to paste instructions on your copier or building door. Before we build it – anything – it would be nice to understand what folks are trying to get done.

Now you are on a roll, here are three more
Now its time to hear others’ stories and to see what part of it is relevant to you.

  • Growing a Business by Paul Hawken: The first person conversational tone of the book speaks from the heart and is as applicable today as when it was written more than a decade ago.
  • Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days by Jessica Livingston: this is probably the newest book in this list – and one that I am still working my way through. The breadth of entrepreneurs covered alone would make it worthwhile.
  • Made in Japan – Sony’s story by Akio Morita, Edwin M. Reingold and Mitsuko Shimomura is a timeless story of innovation, perseverance – that’s particularly relevant from Indian entrepreneurs trying to enter global markets

If you are still with the program, these can help you round it off

Bonus number ten
If you got this far, you need to read a darn good yarn of how a set of engineers got a new machine built.

  • Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder – this book helped the author land a Pulitzer prize – a non-technical journalist covering the story of how Data General went about trying to beat Digital at the microcomputer game. Human drama and much that goes on in the name of startup success.

It is hard to pick a finite list and any such list if likely to be highly subjective. You will notice I have not picked any Indian entrepreneurial stories – its just that they don’t figure in the top 10 – in which itself only one book younger than 5 year old figures. This is in a sense a foundational reading course rather than here’s how some specific company has done it, in India or overseas. It is important in the first instance to read – which I am still surprised how many tech folks in India don’t seem to read and freely admit to not doing so :).

Happy reading!

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13 thoughts on “10 books every entrepreneur should read

  1. Prasanna, thanks for the strong pitch (the second time) for Steve Blank’s book. As you can see he figures in this Quora (#17 of top 200?) list as well here http://www.quora.com/What-books-should-entrepreneurs-read – I will read this and if required, as you believe, update this list. I have confined myself to books that I have personally read myself so far. Steve Blank through his blog has already taught us all a whole lot. Will get it and read it right away before we meet the next time 🙂


  2. Indeed – I found High Performance Entrepreneur Bagchi’s earlier book hard to finish but “Go Kiss the World” far more appealing – tho its a personal memoir more than a business book. The promise of “Stay Hungry Stay Foolish” was ruined for me by the poor job the editors had done – it detracted from the stories themselves. It would be great to compile an Indian author only list


  3. Just to give the photo credit to Andrew B47 on Flickr … 🙂

    Oh, and “The Soul of a New Machine” was an exciting read 30 years ago … I think it was back then, at the dawn of the PC age.


  4. Pingback: 10 books for Enterpreneurs | Inspired by Technology

  5. Pingback: 10 Non-business Books Every Entrepreneur Should Read | Design of Business

    • Indeed, as an earlier commentator remarked, there are books (& authors) such as Lean Startup (Eric Ries), The Four Steps to the Epiphany (Steve Blank), Positioning (Al Ries & Jack Trout) that are both popular and potentially invaluable to entrepreneurs – some I did NOT pick, given their recency and others I picked primarily for their broader perspective than necessarily tactical (or utility) value. Of course any list is subjective and will look to build on this. Thank you for your comments.


  6. Sri ,
    There isn’t a perfect 10 as we all know. But what such articles ignite is the ‘Oh yeah! Gotta catch up! Oh hell! I’m missing that gyan.’
    While I thank u immensely for making me feel like that, let me also add my bit to the -1 or 11th book, which ever way u’d like to see it, ‘LEAD OR BLEED’ by Rajiv Talreja. Its simple, straight & sagacious! No entrepreneur should miss this, I opine.


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