Best books for entrepreneurs: founders’ top picks from the decade

Kane Fulton, December 19, 2019 5 min read

Whether you’re already a voracious reader or have made a New Year’s resolution to read more books dedicated to your craft in 2020 – these page-turners, which founders across the UK have chosen as their top reads on entrepreneurship from the past decade – are a great place to start.

While familiar titles such as Robert Fitzpatrick’s The Mom Test make an appearance in the list, motivation and lessons about business come in many forms – so expect one or two leftfield entries such as Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run along the way. Without further ado, here are founders’ top reads on entrepreneurship from 2010 – 2019.

Upscale – James Silver

Peter Allan, Managing Director at Surple in Newport, says:

“I found Upscale [link] really valuable in our first year-and-a-half, as each chapter contains specific advice from experts that has helped us to solve problems that I’m sure most startups and scaleups experience. It’s great that you can drop in and out of it for guidance, which is why it’s always near my desk!”

Safe Hammad, CTO and cofounder at Arctic Shores in Manchester, says:

“When I read Upscale, its learnings resonated deeply with me as company founder; it gave me valuable insights into the thinking of those who have been there before me. It also gave me some new approaches to tackling the innumerable challenges of a rapidly scaling company. Most importantly, it assured me that I was not alone in facing these challenges.”

Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How to Get It – Scott Kupor

Marta Krupinska, Head of Google for Startups UK in London, says:

Secrets of Sand Hill Road: Venture Capital and How to Get It [link] is an amazing, easy to read summary of how to raise VC money. Also, The Founder’s Mentality: How to Overcome the Predictable Crises of Growth [link] by Chris Zook and James Allen is an accurate description of what makes startups succeed and how subsequently scale can kill them.”

Atomic Habits – James Clear

Tom Britton, co-founder at SyndicateRoom in Cambridge, says:

“Atomic Habits [link] has changed the way I operate. Forming good habits is the key to being productive and after trying several techniques and apps in vain, it wasn’t until I read it that things started to make sense and my ever-growing to-do list started to melt away.

“In a similar way, Algorithms to Live by [link], written by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths, sheds insight on how long to spend thinking about common entrepreneurial problems before getting on with actually doing it. They cover everything from hiring to scheduling a day, and general probability-related questions can be solved by algorithms originally designed for computers.

“Radical Candor [link] by Kim Scott has opened my eyes to how sugar coating everything may seem good, but ultimately is flawed. To be a great boss, and if you truly care about the people you work with and want to develop, you actually need to create an environment where you and your colleagues do not fear constructive confrontation. When done right, disagreement should be accepted and considered a part of the growth process as individuals and as a company.”

Never Split the Difference – Chris Voss

Manuel Frigerio, founder at ReferalHero in Bristol, says:

“Being an entrepreneur is about negotiating: with your employees, your suppliers, and even your customers. And no-one knows how to negotiate better than the former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss. Another of my top picks, Purple Cow [link] by Seth Godin is the book to read about marketing.

“And then there’s Anything You Want [link] by Derek Sivers, which is about how to run a successful business by doing the most obvious thing: taking care of your customers. Another of my favourites, for me, Company of One [link] by Paul Jarvis redefined the concept of entrepreneurship and what it means to create a business on your own terms. For a fundamental rethink of how to work in the 21st century, ReWork [link] by Jason Fried is a mandatory read for any knowledge worker.

“Influence [link] by Robert Cialdini is a book that every entrepreneur should read. It’s a true eye-opener about the faulty rationality of human beings and explains how not to fall victim of expert salespeople. Finally, The Black Swan [link] by N N Taleb is strictly speaking not a “business” book, but nonetheless one of my most influential reads. As an entrepreneur you must learn to deal with uncertainty and Black Swan is the book about that.”

The Mom Test – Rob Fitzpatrick

Paul Smith, CEO and COO of Ricochet in Newcastle, says:

“I’m still yet to find a better must-read for early-stage founders than Rob Fitzpatrick’s The Mom Test [link]. It effortlessly dissects mistakes made by all entrepreneurs during their intial attempts to quantify and qualify the problems they’re solving. There’s so much practical advice to be had, and it’s so accessible and relatable, but more importantly I think it’s genuinely transformative in how it guides founders through basic frameworks for problem solving and critical thinking, which are vital to any startup’s success.”

Thinking in Systems – Donella H. Meadows

Ian Browne, entrepreneur in residence at Ignite in Newcastle, says:

“Thinking in Systems [link] is an explanation on how to evaluate problems at both local and global levels. It is so important for new founders to understand how they operate within a system and that there are both balancing and reinforcing loops which can have a material impact on the entire dynamic of an ecosystem.

“With a proper understanding of how an industry is configured, a startup can understand where they can have the greatest impact and that a simple lever in one element of a system can have an exponential effect. The entire entrepreneurial ecosystem is a complex adaptive system that can be analysed at a local, national and global level. If you can understand how the components interact, it can lead to a much better targeted business model, go to market strategy and approach to raising capital. It’s a five-star book that I continue to re-read.”

Born to Run – Christopher McDougall

Gary Butterfield, cofounder at Everyday Juice Limited in Leeds, says:

“Let’s start – Born to Run [link] isn’t a book about entrepreneurship, but a book about the author’s journey to develop as a runner, paired with the story of the ultimate ultramarathon that pitted the world’s best ultra runners against the secretive Tarahumara tribesmen of Mexico’s treacherous Copper Canyons. This is arguably one of the best books that I have ever read. It’s about running and human evolution, but in my mind it holds key lessons from the Tarahumara that we can apply to business. They are: 1. Start with the problem. 2. Surround yourself with wisdom. 3. Make decisions like you’re poor. 4. Embrace uncomfort and smile. 5. It’s about the long game – be consistent. This is a book that I would highly recommend to anyone.”

Community, East of England, London, Manchester, Midlands, North East, North West, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South West, Wales, Yorkshire