Startup Book Recommendations

Over the last couple of weeks a few people have asked me for startup book recommendations. I’ve divided them up into a few areas I think are important and given a quick snapshot of why I think they’re good. If you’d like more ideas Steve Blank has a longer list. We also run a Bethnal Green Ventures Startup Book Club which you’re very welcome to come along to.

History of technology

  • What the Dormouse Said by John Markoff — A great history of personal computing and how 1960s counter-culture influenced the development of technology.
  • A Brief History of the Future by John Naughton — a much more British angle on the invention of modern computing. Full of great stories about the people who created the technologies we take for granted today.
  • Surfing on the internet by J C Hertz — the internet before the web. Tells you a lot about online culture and where it came from.

Startup stories

  • Founders at Work — Jessica Livingston’s collection of interviews with founders of Y Combinator companies and many more is a great set of snapshots of the early days of creating a startup.
  • Boo Hoo — the story of perhaps the biggest UK dot-com boom blow out. More a set of examples of what not to do than anything but I have to admit I find those pretty useful.
  • Bringing Nothing to the Party — Paul Carr’s book has plenty of what not to dos as well but it’s written with such candour and good humour you can’t help thinking he probably learned a lot.

Personal productivity

  • Getting Things Done — the classic system by David for organising tasks. Many of the tools in productivity and task apps are based on his basic framework and it’s well worth understanding.
  • Never Check Email in the Morning — a very cheesy self-help book that’s worth having around even if it’s just for the title staring out at you. It’s all about being proactive rather than reactive.
  • The Power of Habit — Charles Duhigg’s excellent book is about the science of habits but also full of interesting insights you can use in everyday life.


  • The Five Dysfunctions of a Team — a complete classic that tells the story of a semi-fictional startup CEO who comes in to analyse and fix a senior management team by using a simple heuristic for what goes wrong in teams and how to tackle each dysfunction in turn.
  • High Output Management — Andy Grove was Chairman and CEO of Intel for many years. His thesis is that process should always be there to improve output.
  • Quiet — Susan Cain’s book about introverts has broader lessons about different working patterns and how diverse teams can best work together.


  • The Lean Startup by Eric Ries — probably the one book that all founders should read to get their head in the right place to start. The book is just a snapshot though and it’s worth reading around a lot to get more practical lean startup advice.
  • The Startup Owners Manual — Steve Blank is the originator of the ‘customer development’ school of startups. This book is a set of exercises and worksheets based on his ‘Lean Launchpad’ courses at Berkeley and Stanford.
  • Business Model Generation — Alex Osterwalder et al’s guide to thinking about your business model compliments Lean Startup very well. Again some of the online materials are even better than the book.

Branding, marketing and sales

  • Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore explains pretty clearly how your early adopters might not give you much idea about more mainstream customers.
  • After Image by John Grant — actually quite difficult to get hold of but probably my favourite book about branding. In the future all brands will be about helping people learn not making people buy.
  • Yes! is based on the academic work on influence by Robert Cialdini. There’s some pretty counter-intuitive stuff in there as well as some obvios points about how to sell stuff.

I’m sure I’ve probably missed a few but those are the ones that come to mind straight away. Let me know if there are others you’d recommend to a first time startup founder.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *