Photo taken in Santa Cruz De Tenerife, Spain
The parents of Bill Gates encouraged their son to be a voracious reader. And yes, Bill has said that this was a key to his success. Being an entrepreneur is about constantly learning.
In fact, when Bill ran Microsoft, he would have a “Think Week” twice a year, in which he would stay in a secluded cabin and read papers, memos and books. It was through this process that he came up with ideas like the Internet Explorer.
OK then, if you want to have your own sort of Think Week, what are some good books to read? Well, I asked entrepreneurs, executives and academics their selections:
Frederic Kerrest, co-founder and CEO at Okta: “If you want to read about a company that made a remarkable comeback, look no further than American Icon. In this book, Bryce Hoffman details how Ford Motor Company was saved from near bankruptcy and went on to become one of the most profitable car companies in the world. Although most entrepreneurs hope to never face the herculean task of saving their companies from bankruptcy, most new businesses will undergo financial difficulties at some point, and American Icon offers guidance on how to steer the course.”
Matt Calkins, co-founder and CEO of Appian: “A detailed life of Cornelius Vanderbilt. I like reading about businesses other than software when they were in their early stages, and when in their uncertainty and mutability they resembled the way our industry is today. I think much can be learned this way about the current state of the technology business. This is a story of adventure, self-authorship, and grasping the essence of emerging business models (transportation, finance) before others. As such, it is full of rich parallels to the technology leaders of today.”
John Furneaux, the co-founder and CEO of Hive: “I’d highly recommend Confessions of An Advertising Man for entrepreneurs at all stages of growth. The tactics and techniques outlined by Ogilvy in this book have been absolutely essential to my growth as a CEO and marketer, and have totally shifted the way I think about advertising. Marketing and advertising are often something that entrepreneurs think of too late in the game, and this book changed my perspective on brand and messaging distillation. I’ve already started implementing some of Ogilvy’s tactics across the organization and have seen great initial results.”
Vanessa Colella, the Head of Citi Ventures: “What makes a successful leader during times of crisis? In 2020, we are certainly all being tested on our ability to maintain our productivity, our creativity, and even our sanity. While many of us are focused on the future and how our world is changing, there is much to be learned from leaders of our past. In Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times, she explores the leadership qualities of four U.S. presidents—Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson—and how they masterfully navigated the financial, social, and political issues of their generations. For any entrepreneur or aspiring leader, this book is an insightful read that will inspire.”
Saher Shodhan, the co-founder and CEO of Traktion: “COVID-19 has brought about so much disruption, but it is also a time of abundant opportunity. New businesses today adapting to the new normal have a wide range of marketing channels to choose from to start their enterprise, through both organic and paid channels. As a business owner it can be really intimidating on deciding where to channel your limited energy on. This book simplifies this by introducing a simple yet effective process that breaks marketing and sales down in to a series of experiments that use data to help you find the right channel(s) for your business without having to spend a lot of money.”
Bruce Hogan, the co-founder and CEO of SoftwarePundit: “The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate America by Lawrence A. Cunningham is a top economics book that is a must-read for anyone who starts, manages or invests in businesses. The author has organized excerpts from Buffet’s annual letters into chapters covering topics such as: corporate governance, investing and valuation, executive compensation, mergers & acquisitions, and taxes. This educational guide distills Buffet’s philosophies on complex business topics into valuable gems of wisdom that will change the way readers think about business, economics and investing. It’s fantastic foundational grounding for entrepreneurs as they embark on their journeys.”
Sri Gaddam, founder of Bansuri Media: “Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance. Everyone sees the glitzy press releases and news events, but very few people have understood the almost insurmountable hurdles Musk has gone through to achieve success. This book serves as a reminder of the type of grit it takes to aim high and keep moving forward.”
Debika Sihi, the associate professor of business at Southwestern University: “This is a great summer read for entrepreneurs or aspiring entrepreneurs. It provides an insider’s perspective on building a business and a brand while highlighting all the missteps and successes in an engaging and humorous way. It also takes a deep dive into designing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program that is deeply integrated into company strategy. It’s set primarily in the 1980s, but the lessons ring true over time. Students in our business program read this book (I can’t take credit for its inclusion because it predates me), but it really helps ground them in an entrepreneurial mindset while reading like a novel.”
Katie Kern, a partner at Media Frenzy Global: “With the current state of the world, The Memo is the much-needed career advice guide for women of color specifically, finally ending the one-size-fits-all approach of business books that lump together women across races and overlook the unique barriers to success for women of color. In a charismatic and relatable voice, Minda Harts brings her entrepreneurial experience as CEO of The Memo to the page, as well as her past career life as a fundraising consultant to top colleges across the country.”
Scott Stephenson, CEO and co-founder of Deepgram: “High Growth Handbook is a great way to start thinking about your startup as an organism that isn’t merely fighting for survival anymore, it’s fighting to thrive. This thrive mode now has a very different structure than the ‘just surviving’ mode of early seed. You need other people to join the organization that have outside skills that don’t help in the early ‘just hack something that people want’ time. HGH helps you understand what that is (board structure, who to get funding from, war stories that give you signposts) and when to do it (varies over time).”
Tom (@ttaulli) is an advisor to startups and the author of Artificial Intelligence Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction and The Robotic Process Automation Handbook: A Guide to Implementing RPA Systems. He also has developed various online courses, such as for the Python programming language.